A Work Futures Reading List

Of course, I’ve taken a shortcut, being hugely lazy.

I’ve put together a reading list, something that an intelligent person with little or no background in what I call work futures (and which many refer to as ‘the future of work’) could use to get a grounding in the field.

There are two sensible ways to approach such a task. One is to aggregate everything that could be considered relevant to the field, and carefully evaluate them to determine the smallest number that could lead to the broadest possible understanding. The second might be to select a handful of the most recent writings, in the hopes that they would represent the most advanced thinking and perhaps reference back to earlier, important work.

Being constitutionally unable to do either of these sensible approaches, I’ve taken a short cut. Instead, I’ve assembled a list of writings that I have found helpful in my own search to understand what is happening in the world of work, as well as a short list of my own writing on the subject. My larger list is perhaps 10 times as long as this, and constantly expanding.

Also note that I have avoided the philosophical social critics — like Zygmunt Bauman and Frederick James — that have informed my own viewpoints, but which may be a bit weighty and less immediately accessible to business folks. But by all means, for those who have the inclination, look into them.

I suggest people start with What’s My Agenda: the Future of Work and Work Technologies, or Work Futures, something I wrote last summer and updated recently [now, in 2021, somewhat out of date]. Note that I find the thought processes about ‘the future of work’ and the tools we are using to get our work done — work technologies — inextricably intertwined. In that piece, I also define many of the central themes and memes making up the domain, and the confluence of thinking from ‘social business’ and ‘enterprise 2.0’ into work futures, and the contrast between work futures and ‘digital transformation’:

The growing interest in work futures has arisen as a central area of discussion about organization, management, and adaptation to new technologies, especially those which are based on the form and function of social networks and social media. This is an expansion and absorption of the discipline called social business, that started in the early ’00s and had been drained of emotive force by 2010, principally due to the blur caused by vendor marketing that has drifted back into the ‘right information to the right people at the right time’ vein, and lost the thread of a more humane workplace and the aspiration for people to find meaning and purpose in work.

The first wave of social business was principally an adoption of technologies like blogging, wikis, forums, intranets, community software, and various sorts of messaging. This was an early phase, much of which predated social networks like Twitter and Facebook.

The second phase of social business tech was more of an aspect of Web 2.0 era technologies, transitioning to software-as-a-service, and increasingly mobile. However, it was principally a desktop-based era, and newer solutions and practices have emerged which are much more mobile at their core, and less likely to be deployed behind the firewall on company servers.

Enterprise 2.0 was a school of thought that was strongly technology centered, based on the parallelism with the term Web 2.0. It was a school of thought that took the ‘tech’ side in the perennial debate about ‘which is more important, the technology or the people side of social business?’ Andrew McAfee of MIT is perhaps the leading advocate for the term, but it has been displaced first by ‘social business’ and now by ‘the future of work’ and ‘digital transformation’.

Digital transformation can be thought of as an industrialization of the thinking behind the research and practice of work futures, building around the growing popularity of customer experience as a unifying metaphor for customer-centered business thinking in an increasingly digital world.Just as fast as social business has been eclipsed by work futures, in turn work futures is rapidly being crowded out in entrepreneurial and existential management and tech circles by digital transformation. Digital transformation can be thought of as an industrialization of the thinking behind the research and practice of work futures, building around the growing popularity of customer experience as a unifying metaphor for customer-centered business thinking in an increasingly digital world.

At any rate, I suggest readers begin there, to get a sense of the lay of the land.

Some of my recent writing [all 2016 or earlier] may be illustrative:

I’ve interviewed a number of thinkers in the space, for example:

Innovative consultancies like Post*Shift, August, and a few others have solid thinking showing up on their blogs. Lee Bryant of Post*Shift is an old friend, and he and Esko are perhaps the two people whose thinking converges most with mine, I think. For example, Lee’s The chat overload is just beginning.

Of course, all the contributors here at workfutures.io — even those not in the table below — have made great contributions.

The Pew Internet organization published a great study called AI, Robotics, and the Future of Jobs, by Aaron Smith and Janna Anderson, which canvassed a thousand or so experts, and which is a deep treasure trove.

Yes, there are others writing on the topic. See other posts here on workfutures.io for some recent posts, for example. And here are some other thinkers/writers that could be helpful. [Update: The wonderful Jessica Guzik@jessicaguzik earns my undying regard for taking the image I originally pasted below, and building a text analog, with links!]

  1. Work in 2030: Even More Precarious Than It Is Now, by @flipchartchat of Flip Chart Fairy Tales

  2. The Operating Model That Is Eating the World, by Aaron Dignan of The Ready

  3. Are the Long-Term Unemployed on the Margins of the Labor Market?(PDF) by Alan B. Krueger, Judd Cramer, and David Cho of Princeton

  4. Social Physics: How Ideas Turn Into Action, by Alex Pentland of MIT and Sociometrics

  5. Simple Office Policies That Make Danish Workers Way More Happy Than Americans, by Alexander Kjerulf

  6. Professional papers of Alice Wooley, CMU

  7. Why Women Still Can’t Have It All, by Anne-Marie Slaughter of The Atlantic

  8. The Father’s Example, by Arthur C. Brooks of the New York Times

  9. The Future of Work: Awakening the Artist Within, by Ayelet Baron

  10. Brad DeLong’s blog (Professor of Economics at UC Berkeley)

  11. The Future of Employment: How Susceptible are Jobs to Computerisation?(PDF) by Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A. Osborne of Oxford University

  12. Dead Man Working, by Carl Sederstrom and Peter Fleming

  13. How to Measure Culture Change Without Killing It, by Celine Schillingerof Sanofi Pasteur

  14. The Full-Stack Employee, by Chris Messina

  15. Cognizant Future of Work site

  16. The China Syndrome: Local Labor Market Effects of Import Competition in the United States, by David Autor of MIT

  17. Why Square Designed Its New Offices To Work Like A City, by David Zax ofFast Company

  18. Professors are Prejudiced Too, by By Dolly Chugh, Katherine L. Milkman, and Modupe Akinola, the New York Times

  19. Why Intuit Founder Scott Cook Wants You To Stop Listening To Your Boss, by Drake Baer of Fast Company

  20. The Second Machine Age and The Race Against the Machine, by Erik Brynjolfsson of MIT

  21. The Temp Economy, by Erin Hatton

  22. Dancing with Robots (PDF), by Frank Levy and Richard J. Murnane, Third Way

  23. AI, Robotics, and the Future of Jobs, Pew Research Center

  24. The 40-Year Slump, by Harold Meyerson of the American Prospect

  25. An Appeal to Our Inner Judge, by Howard Ross, New York Times

  26. JPMorgan Algorithm Knows You’re a Rogue Employee Before You Do, by Hugh Son of Bloomberg

  27. The Recent Decline in Employment Dynamics (PDF) by Hyatt and Spetzler of the U.S. Census Bureau

  28. The Science Behind Why Small Teams Work More Productively, by Janet Choi of iDoneThis

  29. Why individuals in larger teams perform worse (PDF), by Jennifer Mueller of Wharton

  30. Productivity and Potential Output Before, During, and After the Great Recession (PDF), by John Fernald of the Federal Reserve

  31. Deloitte’s Center for the Edge, cofounded by John Hagel and John Seeley Brown

  32. New Approach Trains Robots to Match Human Dexterity and Speed, by John Markoff of the New York Times

  33. One Single Woman for Twitter’s Board, One Giant Step for Gender Equality in Tech? Well, No., by Kara Swisher of All Things D

  34. The Anxieties of Big Data, by Kate Crawford on the New Inquiry

  35. Wieden & Kennedy HQ Does Away With The “Office As Playground” In Favor Of Useful Workspaces, by Leah Gonzalez at PSFK

  36. It Takes a New Kind of Worker to Make “Instant” Happen, by Liz Gannesat recode

  37. Rookie Smarts: Why Learning Meets Knowing in the New Game of Work(Book), by Liz Wiseman

  38. Bringing Humans Back to Work: Is Democracy the Answer?, by Lucas Michel on the Drucker Forum

  39. The Shift: The Future of Work is Already Here (Book), by Lynda Gratton

  40. A Part-Time, Low-Wage Epidemic, by Mortimer Zuckerman of the Wall Street Journal

  41. My Ideas, My Boss’s Property, by Orly Lobel for the New York Times

  42. Short Cuts, by Paul Mysercough

  43. The Politics of Getting a Life, by Peter Frase for Jacobin

  44. Can the elephant learn to dance? by Raymond Hoffman

  45. Our Cubicles, Ourselves: How the Modern Office Shapes American Lifeby Rebecca Rosen of the Atlantic

  46. The Rise of the Creative Class (Book), by Richard Florida

  47. Discovery-Driven Growth (Book), by Rita Gunther McGrath and Ian C. Macmillan

  48. There Are Still Only Two Ways to Compete, by Roger Martin for the Harvard Business Review

  49. Why Millennials Understand the Future of Work Better Than Anyone Else, by Sarah Horowitz of Fast Company

  50. Fear of Failure And Lack Of Speed In A Large Corporation, by steve blankfor Forbes

  51. A New Center Of Gravity For Management? by Steve Denning for Forbes

  52. Continuous Productivity: New tools and a new way of working for a new era, by Steven Sinofsky

  53. The Future of Work (Book), by Tom Malone

  54. Automation Alone Isn’t Killing Jobs, by Tyler Cowen of the New York Times

  55. Who Will Create the Future? by umair haque for the Harvard Business Review

This is only the merest scraping off the top for this topic. Every day new and important work is published, and I will periodically summarize those contributions to the field, here. Keep your eye on workfutures.io where I am trying to stay on top of the avalanche, and not get buried too deeply.


Originally posted on Medium.