Home Books Book review: Humanity Works by Alexandra Levit

As the workplace evolves, how will leaders and managers develop their own roles and those of their teams?

A question. What will work and workplaces look like in the future? For the purposes of this book, the author positions "the future" to be 2030 – a reasonably distant date that gives us some scope to consider possibilities. How will leaders maintain their organisations in times of increasing transformation, competition and automation?

An excellent, thought-provoking tome — excellent to keep the young leader's mind engaged on a long flight — pick up Humanity Works at the airport, you won't be disappointed.

In setting the scene, we start by analysing demographic shifts and labour market participation, observing that by 2030, pretty-well every 'Boomer' would have retired and that Generation-X (aka the "lost generation") will be running the place.

Having been in charge for such a long time, and very difficult to remove, Boomers hold an enormous amount of institutional knowledge. Levit posits that they won't disappear into retirement but out of necessity, many organisations will keep them on part-time and retainer connections to ensure a full knowledge transfer.

Having set the scene somewhat, Levit moves to discuss where technology is taking us – the "rise of the machines" and all that. The following chapter then brings humans back into the mix by showing what it we do well that machines (robots, AI, machine learning etc.) cannot. As an example, Levit offers the recent United Airlines 'issue' where a passenger was somewhat violently removed from the flight because a crew member needed to be transferred to the airplane's destination. She describes this as a perfect example of mechanised thinking – the flight was full, the crew member needed to be on the flight, therefore the passenger had to be removed. Human thinking OUGHT to have kicked in to say, either don't check a passenger in, stop them boarding of find some other softer solution. But instead everyone followed 'the rules' laid down by the computer; no-one thought to ask, how will this look in tomorrow's newspaper?

The book also attempts to look at how people might interact in their work. Will we still have monolithic organisations that employ thousands or hundreds of thousands of people, or will they move to more of a contracting model where work teams will be put together 'on the fly' through rapid recruitment systems (perhaps this is where LinkedIn might be headed). In this area, readers might also want to consider the work of Ricardo Semler, a corporate visionary who encouraged his own factory workers to form into their own companies and to contract their skills back to Semler's company.

With this in mind, the book seems to skirt around the concept of "personal brand", a concept that will be crucial in this new age of short-term professional engagements.

As this short-termism grows, there will be major implications for corporations and their leaders, and Levit offers plenty of advice on how to grow in this new economy.

Every chapter is filled with case studies and concludes with an "action plan" composed of questions to cause pause for thought along with a short set of concluding statements that attempt to summarise the content.

In conversation with the author, I asked her who she would describe as her "ideal reader". Levit offered, "The book is written for current leaders, who need to be putting the pieces in place to secure their legacies and their future organisational health and success, and for emerging leaders who need to take steps to develop themselves and their workforces in a particular way in order to compete effectively in the prime of their careers."

That sounds like the ideal reader.

Humanity Works by Alexandra Levit was released on 3 October and is available widely both online and in book stores (hopefully in airport book stores, too!). On Amazon, it is listed at US$13.36 and on Book Depository, AU$22.43. Dymocks lists it locally for AU$25.37. 

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