I recently read The Female Persuasion, a novel with compelling themes of power, friendship, ambition and mentorship. The novel follows characters and their searches for meaningful jobs upon graduation. At its heart, the story is about the desire to be pulled into the light, and to make an impact.
This got me thinking, as this brings us to a larger conversation - with technology transforming so many aspects of the workplace, how can one find meaning and purpose in a landscape fraught with change? Will technology help or harm that pursuit?
In today’s technologically advanced society, discussions are rampant as to whether technology is going to replace workers by outsourcing the dull, dirty, repetitive and dangerous jobs to machines, so much so that some are claiming this will be the Fourth Industrial Revolution. People are left wondering: will my job be performed by a robot?
Technology could free workers to do things they are passionate about - tasks that are fulfilling. “The real shift that has to happen for us is focusing not just on the efficiency that technology brings us,” noted futurist and CEO of futurethink Lisa Bodell. “It’s more about letting us be efficient so we can be valuable.”
Many struggle for a sense of meaning in the workplace. A recent survey discovered that the average worker would give up $21,000 a year in exchange for a role in the workplace that offered them meaning, which may equate to a clear sense of purpose or growth opportunities.
It is interesting that the concept of a job itself is changing. I like the description offered by Doris Viljoen, Senior Futurist at the Institute for Futures Research and the University of Stellenbosch, USB Executive Development (USB-ED): “The concept of a job as we know it could be altered significantly; we may have to find new words to describe what we do,” she said. “Maybe instead of a job we’ll call it something like economic activity. This is due to the fact that a person will probably be economically active in different ways, doing different things for different people simultaneously.”
What skills are necessary for the workplaces of the future? Viljoen highlighted the importance of forming connections - learning to connect people with other people, people with things, and things with things, as well as focusing on creating experiences for customers and employees.
Important skills to develop include digital fluency, communication, ethical awareness and curiosity, to “not be intimidated by new information or ways of doing things.”
So perhaps the key to navigating the future of work is a mindset shift - as Bodell advised, “you just have to be open to the possible changes that come with it.”
And so, the characters in The Female Persuasion go through various job changes on this quest to make an impact, in jobs ranging from working for a prominent feminist foundation, writing a best-selling novel, designing video games and cleaning houses. “...but you could also just say that it was work, and that work was admirable, even if it was hard or unappealing or undersung,” mused one character engaged in house cleaning work. And they all find their way, in the end.
“It's not what you know - it’s the quality of the questions you ask. Ask great questions,” Peter Diamandis urged the cohort of founders, executives, and innovators at the Singularity University Executive Program in the Valley.
The power of questions is a recurring theme when it comes to creating impactful change and leading with purpose. All it takes is one person to ask “What if…” to change the course of industry - and history.
As technologies rapidly accelerate and we face an uncertain future of work, resource scarcity, and global economic shifts, questions are more important than ever. Taking space to approach change from a skeptical and thoughtful perspective will ensure the future we build is one that we want.
Great questions are challenging but necessary to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past and anticipating the possibilities, repercussions, and outcomes of a hyperconnected, evolving, and redefined future for people, communities, and sectors.
5 Questions to Guide Your Impact
Here are five questions that we believe are critical for an ethical and truly innovative approach:
The more challenging - and bigger - the questions you ask, the more ambitious and resilient your impact will be. Always dig deeper and consider the implications of your personal and organisational actions.
Be bold. Ask great questions. Catalyse impact.
Visions for smart, connected cities are gaining momentum as viable technologies emerge and policymakers, architects, and unlikely players open their minds to new approaches in city building. The incredible potential of IoT, open data, digital integrations, and machine learning offer countless new approaches to urban planning, city life, and community building. In many ways, Toronto is leading the conversation and welcoming innovation at the centre of its planning initiatives. As cities around the world attempt to integrate these technologies in ways that respect citizen privacy and enhance the experiences of every resident, Toronto is committing to major innovation projects that push boundaries and extend possibilities.
My personal interest in city building began two years ago. On a 6 month backpacking journey through Southeast Asia, I began to recognize the influence of place, space, and the built environment on my emotional state and interactions with others. Time and time again, I felt most comfortable, and even a sense of pride, in spaces that had a distinct design and made community connections possible and engagement visible. The sense of ownership and joy created by dynamic environments, creative expression, and teamwork seemed to extend to everyone who entered space - even those just passing through.
As I returned home to Toronto and discovered local coworking spaces and mixed-use buildings, my interest in the physical spaces and urban planning forces that impact us all only became more pronounced.
Toronto's Growing Influence
The current buzz around Alphabet’s smart city has driven many people to take notice of the city plans that impact their daily lives and begin to consider the implications of data-driven, privately-run enclaves in an urban centre. UPPlift: Toronto’s urban pilot program challenge is also elevating the conversation, asking community members to submit tech-enabled solutions to transform the existing infrastructure in the city. The nature of rapidly accelerating technologies means that new possibilities and innovations are constantly emerging to transform how we live, work, and play in the world and bringing our relationship with place and space to the forefront of the public consciousness. This unchartered territory comes with its own risks and rewards, though, and a new, more collaborative and conscientious approach to smart cities must be undertaken for success.
Key Approaches for Smart Cities
'City as platform' concepts have, thankfully, been rooted in a thoughtful approach to inclusion and sustainable development goals. As we forge ahead with new technology and collaborative approaches to city building, there are many careful considerations that must be made. What follows are three that ensure developments benefit the most people possible and create resilient cities that are not just smart, but brilliant for their (intended and unexpected) uses, neighbourhoods, and population segments.
The city is not a blank canvas. Approaching it as such is not only unrealistic but wasteful. When reimagining urban futures and integrating technology into daily city life, we need to leverage existing infrastructure to make it economically and ecologically sustainable. At all stages of development and decision-making, we must keep a lens on efficiency and long-term environmental impact. Population growth and concentration in cities means that systems must be resilient, adaptable, and efficient to be smart. As more and more projects and voices arise, strong focus must remain on solving existing problems, not just creating new solutions. Improving less aesthetic and less visible realities, such as resource consumption, traffic, and waste management, that are essential to a livable city must be at the top of the priorities list.
New models and technologies result in uncertain outcomes, creating space for diverging opinions and perspectives. Security and privacy concerns, as well as reinforced power imbalances, have been a big debate in many smart city conversations. People are raising concerns about access to information, risks associated with collecting and storing massive pools of data, consent, and the right to privacy in a democratic society. A meaningful debate helps to shine a light on the dark corners and potential downsides of tech integrations. Input and a reflective, open approach to account for all voices and concerns must be taken by the city to mitigate the potential for unforeseen and/or negative outcomes in this new era of city planning. Catalytic governance models, that unite stakeholders around conceptualizing plausible outcomes, must be used to ensure the city is being built, transformed, and co-created with those who will live in and define the spaces every day.
Beyond the physical reality of buildings, city plans and high tech integrations cannot ignore what already works in a neighbourhood. There are no shortcuts or perfect science when it comes to city life, so developing mindful and tailored solutions for different areas, even within a single city, are essential. Ignoring or striving to transform the multiculturalism, diverse income levels, and most recognizable qualities of an area through non-inclusive, inaccessible, or otherwise unexamined technology will not serve to enhance, but only degrade and mutate the city. Culture is essential, so keeping sight of how progress will impact interactions, existing populations, and relations with the built environment itself should be carefully taken into consideration when determining if plans are viable.
As Toronto gains recognition as a hub for technology and an epicentre for innovation, ensuring our city reflects the activity, passion, and diversity of its residents is essential. Citizen input and action are easier and more important than ever before. Dream up your ideal city and share your key considerations for urban planning innovations that will have a true, tangible, and direct impact on all residents.
The start of a new year is a great opportunity to reset your outlook and make positive changes toward a more balanced, healthy, and impactful lifestyle. No matter your industry, passion, or personal goals, small adjustments can create more meaning in your daily life and help you make a difference in your local and global community.
There is an emerging philosophy that ‘personal life’ and ‘work’ should not be separate or distinct. People are no longer subscribing to notions of a strictly divided work and personal life. An integrated and more flexible lifestyle, where you don't have to leave facets of yourself in any one place, is becoming standard. Instead of filtering yourself, find ways to bring a more holistic perspective and approach to your work and life so that you can do what you love and love what you do. The more engaged you are, the bigger your impact - for your year and your career.
Here are three simple techniques you can use in your personal and professional life to make a difference and create positive change all year long:
Pinpoint what gets you excited - and dedicate time to cultivating it.
If something gets you excited, it can unlock new levels of passion and motivation that you never knew were possible. Take time to reflect on those joys and try reframing your goals and contributions around your passions. It may not seem obvious how your love for live music or cooking will make a positive impact but, with some creative thinking and focus on underlying themes, you could uncover a new path or discover a new method to inject your work with some fun. Maybe a team PechaKucha presentation challenge can recreate the thrill of a live performance or your approach to inventing recipes can be used in your daily workflow. Get inventive and find ways to connect your work and your pleasure.
Be a more conscious consumer.
“Don’t let better be the enemy of good,” said Voltaire. We're letting this guide our efforts toward sustainability. The goal of perfection shouldn’t stand in your way to more conscientious spending habits. Make small changes by deciding to shop local, vowing to keep your reusable shopping bag handy, or encouraging your organization to switch to reusable or recyclable supplies. Recycled options, Keep Cups, socially-motivated service providers, and local vendors can help you make a positive difference and feel good about your purchases, whether they are for a client or a friend. Our team works with Good Foot for local deliveries and will be focussed on reducing food waste this year.
Activate - or be active in - community.
Whether it’s rallying together for positive change, learning something new, or just getting social, convening a group is a great way to make a difference at the local level. Encourage new ideas, access new understanding, and deepen the connections within your neighbourhood, company, or social group. No matter the cause or reason, when people come together, great things happen. Chances are, if you are excited about an idea, other people will be too! If you can’t commit to organizing something, commit to attending and sharing. The more people meet, understand, and connect, the smaller and more empathetic the world becomes.
How are you resolving to make an impact this year?
We'd love to hear about your mission and the methodologies, frameworks, or technologies that you’ll use to achieve your goals!
Impact Spotlight: Digital Opportunity Trust
It’s no secret that we are passionate about organizations and individuals that leverage the incredible potential of technology to create social innovation. Bridging the gap between the human and the technical, the present and the future, these organizations walk the walk when it comes to making a better future for us all.
One organization we are happy to support embodies this approach to the fullest: Digital Opportunity Trust (DOT). DOT is a Canadian charitable organization that enables youth to create meaningful change and sustainable opportunities in their local communities through digital technology.
Putting digital tools in the hands of the next generation of thought leaders, innovators, and entrepreneurs ensures communities around the world are equipped to solve existing challenges and handle the next wave of technological transformation.
Rather than prescribing the best solution or a universal path forward, DOT invites people between the ages of 18 and 29 to explore, experiment, and develop their own sustainable solutions to implement right at home. DOT provides the knowledge, network, and support to turn the youth-led ideas into a reality.
“Start from where you are with what you have,” says Paul Tinkaman, a DOT Uganda program graduate. DOT initiatives have been launched around the globe and have driven progressive, socially-motivated results in robotics, agriculture, art, and entrepreneurship.
We draw inspiration from their unique approach that accounts for context, centres participants, and focusses on empowerment through every project and at every stage. Learn more about the keys they use to unlock success for their program participants and consider how you can apply their model to your organization's learning, development, and give back initiatives.
3 Ways DOT’s Participant Focus Makes a Bigger Impact
DOT’s youth leadership program emphasizes nurturing the development of three key characteristics: community leaders, digital champions, and social innovators. We love their participant-centred approach that provides meaningful experience, skills development, and collaboration opportunities.
Here’s how their program model goes further:
Creating a supportive and tailored experience for each program ensures that youth and their local communities leave the program better off. Equipped with the skills to self-identify and solve their most pressing local needs, participants can use a proven framework to chart their own path forward.
Read research reports put together by program participants and find out how you can empower youth around the world with DOT.
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