Although technology is positioned to reshape the future of work, without a critical component—acceptance and adoption by people—it can never fully achieve its promise. How are people the driving force for technology, and why are skills, which only people can bring, essential to creating the future of work?
Do you recognize the names Matt Barrie, Ahti Heinla, Priit Kasesalu and Jaan Tallinn? Tony Fadell? Tim Berners-Lee? What about Freelancer.com, Skype, iTunes, the iPhone, the World Wide Web?
When an exciting new technology arrives, it’s often forgotten that a big breakthrough starts as a big idea, the brainchild of a person or team.
Like any product, technology creates value and gains market share by solving real people’s problems. When an innovation strikes gold, the connection between the value that’s created and the team behind the technology is often lost. But without these exceptional individuals, the value could not be realised.
Firms should view high-performing, high-potential people—those capable of creating great value for them—as high-value assets. That’s because, in the future, these innovators and achievers—not real estate, machinery, or inventory—will drive growth. Consider that the economic value Barrie, Berners-Lee, Fadell, Heinla, Kasesalu and Tallinn have released amounts to trillions of dollars.
After Berners-Lee conceived hypertext mark-up language, he famously refused to put a price tag on the first Web page. Although he noted in his 1989 proposal that the United States military and librarians worldwide would find value in the World Wide Web, he could not have predicted the commercial impact of his advance. In 2015, the US online retail market alone was worth an estimated $342.9 billion and is expected to reach nearly $700 billion by 2020. Google, today almost a synonym for the Internet, enjoys a brand worth estimated at $82.5 billion. With the number of online transactions projected to pass eight trillion globally by 2020, plus revenues from advertising, and the nascent Internet of Things (which by itself is projected to inject $200 billion into the UK economy alone by 2020), the true commercial value of Berners-Lee’s innovation is still unfolding.
The coders who created Skype, the Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) software that gained a million users within its first month, are almost national heroes in their native Estonia. VoIP technology had been on the market for 10 years when programmers Ahti Heinla, Priit Kasesalu and Jaan Tallinn pioneered their key innovation as Skype, bypassing a central server or telecommunication providers’ lines to connect people via their PCs and home lines. Originally designed for the consumer market, it’s now firmly part of the business landscape. Microsoft bought the company for $8.5 billion in 2011, replacing its native Lync product with Skype for Business in April 2015.
Seven years ago, Matt Barrie’s Freelancer.com did not exist. Today the Australian start up is an empire worth more than $3 billion and is one of the world’s biggest peer-to-peer platforms to connect freelancers with potential clients across the world. Barrie started Freelancer.com after he had a firsthand experience of hiring a freelancer online. He needed to get some data entry done and couldn’t find anyone to do the job until he checked online and found GetAFreelancer (a company he later purchased). Freelancer.com had a capital injection from angel investors back in 2009 and from a Sydney start-up it grew to a company with 21 million users and presence in over 200 countries.
Many see Steve Jobs as the mastermind behind iTunes. It was the brainchild of entrepreneur Tony Fadell, who saw the opportunity to connect an MP3 player with a digital music store. Apple hired him and gave him a team of 30, and the iPod’s release in 2001 helped to disrupt the music industry. In the first three quarters of 2016, Apple made $18.03 billion from iTunes sales alone, and although the iPod has quietly slipped into the tech dust bins of history, its creation was a key milestone in developing the iPhone, which hit 231.2 million unit sales worldwide in 2015. Presumably Apple is glad it made such a smart hire.
Apple’s experiences with Fadell prove the rule: Although technology clearly releases great value for people, whether it enhances people’s lives or enlarges shareholder’s dividends, it cannot (yet) create itself. Now and for the foreseeable future, innovations require people to conceive them, create them, and drive them to productive use.
So companies seeking success should focus on their talent by looking within the organisation or bringing smart people in. It’s how they will find their unique—human—catalysts for growth.
Download our latest report The Trillion Dollar Difference to find out why people can’t be neglected in the future of work.