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4th industrial revolution

Wake Up! The 4th Industrial Revolution Is Here!

9 new ways to look at people at work to thrive in the 21st century

Over the last thirty years the introduction of new technology has generated massive changes in our society. We switched from landline to smartphone, created the internet and are now uploading virtual worlds. The World Economic Forum asserts that the pace of change so far has been mere child’s play compared to what lies ahead. A Fourth Industrial Revolution has started and it is fundamentally altering the way we live, work, and interact with one another. 

The global scope and pace of change is leading to disruption from unexpected places. Rules change quickly amidst the current political, economic and environmental turmoil. Also, the needs and expectations from customers, employees and society change fast when it comes to how companies act and the solutions they deliver. It is a rapidly changing, complex and uncertain jungle out there. 

In his ‘Origin of Species’ Darwin asserts “It is not the most intellectual of the species that survives; it is not the strongest that survives; but the species that survives is the one that is able to adapt to and to adjust best to the changing environment in which it finds itself”. The same goes for organizations. In our ever-faster changing business landscape the commonly used catch phrase “adapt or die” will be more relevant than ever. 

In this article we explore how our world of work has changed and what it takes for us to thrive in this new reality. 

How technological innovation changed our work environment

Thirty years ago (aka in the 80’s) you’d show up at the office in the morning, sit down at your desk and if you were really “high-tech”, check your landline voicemail and fax machine for anything that came in overnight. You would likely head to the break room to grab a coffee and catch-up with your colleagues about the latest hit tv-show whos new episode had aired last night (never to be seen again unless you caught it on VHS tape). From there you’d swing by your post box, usually a massive wall of “cubbies”, where letters and post were distributed. From there you’d set about your day….

Write to someone: great! Fire up your word processor and type up a quick letter or memo. Spelling error? Start over again or pull out the smelly white out and type over it. But wait which address do you send your communication to?

Find an address: if it’s not in your own rolodex, pull out the phone book, not in there? Call information. Not there? Pick up the phone and call someone who might know, or start writing a new letter to someone that might and wait for a reply…by post. 

Make a phone call: sure! Make sure you know the full 10 digit number. Don’t know? Pull out that heavy phone book again, oh and hope someone answers. If not it might be a few days before they hear your voicemail message and get back to you. 

Arrange a meeting: no problem, stick your head out your door and call a meeting in 5 minutes. Oh wait not everyone in your building? A quick virtual meeting via skype, zoom or facetime? Not possible. Give your secretary or office receptionist a list of names and in 2-8 weeks your meeting could be slotted in after a tiresome series of phone calls and letter exchanges. 

Travel: sure! Pull out that phone book again to look up a travel agent. After waiting for 20 minutes on hold you could make an appointment to visit their office in a few days to get flight possibilities. Usually, multiple visits and several reservation “holds” were required while an elaborate puzzle was coordinated and research was done on the best route and connection. All for a handsome fee and several weeks of planning. 

International phones calls: yes! But wait, how do you find the country code? Better know someone that knows, or call the operator. Don’t forget to look up the world atlas to find the time difference. Oh, and you’d better have a small fortune because even calling the house in the next county costs a lot of money, never mind another country.

And these are just the basics. No email, no mobile phones, no Google, no social media or LinkedIn to find people, products or services. It used to be a real circus trying to find information and coordinate things, make progress, especially over large distances or territories. It was hard work to make simple connections. Now all you need to connect to most of the world is that smartphone you’re probably reading this on. 

Bottom line, we can do things at work more easily, faster and globally. Today you can book an international flight halfway around the world in less time than it took to find your neighbors phone number in your local phone book. Our work environment has evolved from a relatively slow-paced local environment with shortage of information to one with a global presence, a fast pace and abundance of information. The shift is very real.

A world of information abundance

It is estimated that we get five times more stimuli in our fast-paced environment than 30 years ago. The information humanity produces is literally mind blowing. It is estimated that globally every minute humans send: 

  • 156 million emails
  • 16 million text messages 
  • 456,000 tweets on Twitter
  • 600 new page edits to Wikipedia


  • 4,146,600 videos are watched on YouTube
  • 527,760 photos are shared on Snapchat
  • 46,740 photos are posted on Instagram

 That’s a lot of information. 

At the current pace there are 2.5 quintillion bytes of new data created each day and the pace is only accelerating. Over the last two years alone 90 percent of the data in the world was generated. Right now we have access to more information on our smartphones than Bill Clinton had at his disposal 25 years ago as the President of the USA. Since it’s just impossible (as of yet) for a person to process all that information, it is increasingly important to be able to assess what really matters and what to ignore.

future of work

A world of information abundance

Studies have shown that nearly 50% of subject knowledge acquired during the first year of a four-year technical degree is outdated by the time students graduate. Another study predicted that. McKinsey has predicted that 1/3 of current tasks could be automated by 2030. Meaning that within the next 10 years, at least one third of your current tasks today might be done by automation. Jobs will still exist. People will still be needed. But it’s becoming increasingly difficult to predict what work will look like and what skills and knowledge will be needed. It’s a fascinating world indeed. But how can people and organisations prepare or upskill themselves for a future they don’t know? How can they thrive in uncertainty?


The term singularity describes the moment when a civilization changes so much that its rules and technologies are incomprehensible to previous generations. Imagine trying to explain the internet to someone living in the year 1320? Their understanding and frame of reference is so far removed from the current reality, it would be nearly impossible to convey. 

Only now this is happening within generations. Ever tried explaining cryptocurrency to your father? We no longer have to wait hundreds of years for large shifts to take place. 

So we find ourselves in this paradox of knowing more than ever before, producing more information than ever before, and yet being more uncertain than ever before. It’s getting harder to “know” things in the way we used to. What can you do when the only constant is change and the only certainty is uncertainty? It means that many of the tools, habits, and behaviours of the past that once served us well, will have to change and adapt. 

A fresh perspective to thrive during the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

So, how do organisations need to change the way we look at people and work to thrive in the 21st century?


Moving from …  Moving to …
Ad hoc learning – where you updated your skill set every couple of years. Continuous learning – where there’s learning every day, in almost everything. A constant curiosity to keep up with the pace of change and innovation in the world. 
Learning for the happy few – talent and high potential programs. Learning for all – the need for everyone in our knowledge economy to learn and grow.
Programmed learning – only formal learning through a fixed program of courses and hierarchical exchange. Peer learning – learning everyday in peer collaborations, mentoring, reverse mentoring, non-hierarchical exchange. 
Fixed mindset – where it was believed that intelligence and talent are fixed or inherited. Growth mindset – our brains are constantly changing & learning through neuroplasticity. This mindset cultivates a love of learning & resilient growth that is needed for sustainable success. 
Status Quo – sticking to the tried and true. Maintaining transactions, but with diminishing returns.  Agile & Adaptive – the power and courage to update and change your views, try new things and innovate . 
Data Only – only taking action where data and science are available, ignoring intuitive knowledge. Often resulting in analysis paralysis.    Actionable Insights – translating data & and intuitive knowledge into actionable insights that bring meaningful action. 
Perfection – only show and ship your work when it’s completely done and great. Experimentation: demonstrate progress early and often. Production is more important than perfection in order to learn and progress faster. 
Do it All – Complete all your tasks Essentialist mindset – the ability to prioritize, assess urgency and importance in a world of ever-increasing abundance and digital distraction
Failure = Shame & Blame 

Finger pointing for errors to and fear of   failure

FAIL = First, Attempt, In, Learning

Inspire and empower people to experiment and learn to achieve future success. 


So, wake up! The fourth Industrial Revolution is here. How do you think we should change our perspective on people at work to thrive in our 21st century? As lifelong learners we would love to hear your thoughts and experiences!

About the authors:


Lisa Dempsey is the founder of Leadership Labs where 21st Century Leaders can grow, experiment, and step into the mindsets that will unleash the full potential within themselves and their teams, now and the future. She empowers people to live, love and lead in meaningful ways. 


Wouter Smeets is co-founder of Prototype You where he helps organizations to build ecosystems for continuous learning in which employees become director of their own development and career. He aims to inspire people to look at our world in new ways, including why and how we work.




Origin of Species; Charles Darwin