Business is changing rapidly, and the future of work will be defined not by blue-collar or white-collar workers, but by what I call the “blank-collar” era. In this model, employees are empowered to take on multiple roles simultaneously, enabling a whole new era of work. As an executive at an international corporation and co-founder of a Swiss fintech firm that embraces the blank-collar philosophy, I’ve seen firsthand how technology and strong frameworks enable individuals to be more productive and take on broader responsibilities.
To stay ahead in this new era, organizations must embrace innovation and adopt a new philosophy that recognizes that work is for bots and life is for humans. We must rethink how we structure organizations and abandon traditional five-year planning cycles. Instead, companies must think of themselves as products and embrace design thinking, agile development, and MVPs to continuously evolve and improve.
The Future Enterprise is a hypothetical example of a corporation that embraces a highly agile and product-focused approach to corporate innovation.
The Blank-Collar Philosophy
The Blank-Collar philosophy recognizes that we are entering a new era of work and technology. Rather than traditional notions of blue- and white-collar work, Blank-Collar workers need to be agile and adaptable and to incorporate automation into their work. This recognizes the idea that work is for machines, and life is for humans.
Real-Time Data and Short-Term Sprints
To keep up with the rapidly changing market, the Future Enterprise understands that it needs real-time data and knowledge. Instead of relying on the traditional five-year planning cycle, it embraces short-term sprints and takes feedback from employees and customers along the way.
To enable this approach, the Future Enterprise has a data hub with a dashboard that automatically aggregates all data produced within the organization in real-time. This includes data from finance, HR, CRM, and any other department within the company. Each division or department has its own real-time dashboard that it can make informed decisions based on data. By breaking down the silos between different departments and aggregating all data in one place, the Future Enterprise is able to generate insights that are not possible with isolated data sets.
Many companies claim that their business decisions are data-driven, but in reality, they often fail to use the available data effectively. By combining all data into one place and using it to inform decisions, the Future Enterprise can achieve higher performance and efficiency. This approach enables the company to stay ahead of the curve and pivot quickly in response to changes in the market.
The Future Enterprise prioritizes knowledge management. Having information stored in silos, where it may be inaccessible to relevant stakeholders, is not enough. The Future Enterprise makes its knowledge accessible to everyone in the corporation who needs it. This approach allows for autonomous work and frees up time to focus on creating new things, rather than exchanging information in meetings. It also ensures that the Future Enterprise can leverage past successes and failures to inform future decisions and innovations.
Design Thinking and Product-Based Frameworks
Using design thinking and product-based frameworks, the Future Enterprise takes a coalition approach with multiple stakeholders and creates prototypes that solve small problems, rather than focusing on creating something big that may never come to fruition. This approach prioritizes testing new ideas, focuses on building minimum viable products (MVPs), and iterates quickly based on feedback.
The Future Enterprise creates an MVP as the first step in an innovation that can be used and tested immediately. This process is like starting with a skateboard, then improving the design to get a scooter. If the MVP provides value, the Future Enterprise starts working on version 1.0 with additional features. Each MVP is usable, unlike traditional enterprise approaches that build one component at a time and can’t do anything with it until the final product is complete. By adopting this approach, companies can avoid creating unnecessary initiatives that end up being useless and work more collaboratively with employees and customers to create solutions that meet everyone’s needs.
The Future Enterprise views everything as a product, including teams within the organization. The company starts by building a team as an MVP and evaluates whether it brings value to the organization. The team, as a product, may require changes, including swapping out team members, to move from MVP to 1.0. This process applies to every process within the company. The Future Enterprise understands that business is a continuous journey, and it must remain agile as what is right today may not work tomorrow. A product is a living organism that is influenced by exogenous factors.
Continuous Adaptation and Evolution
The Future Enterprise, as a product-focused company, understands that it needs to continuously evolve and adapt to the market’s needs to stay relevant. For instance, Apple started as a computer company, and over time, it evolved into a mobile phone company and may continue to develop into an extended reality firm. This ability to change course and pivot quickly is the hallmark of a product-focused organization.
One of the key advantages of this approach is that a company can quickly correct small mistakes and make continuous improvements. If a company fails to listen to the market and its customers, it may suffer the same fate as Nokia or Blackberry, which failed to adapt to changing market needs.
The Future Enterprise understands that research and development and quality assurance are crucial for a company to succeed as a product. By investing in these areas, a company can continually improve its products and services, stay ahead of the competition, and remain relevant in the market.
When a company views itself as a product, it must embrace the idea that failures and mistakes will happen. What’s most important, however, is that these failures are short-lived and that the company learns from them. For example, Apple’s Newton was ahead of its time and failed, but the company learned from that experience and was able to apply that knowledge to create the iPad, which has been a massive success.
Building a Culture of Continuous Improvement
The Future Enterprise recognizes that MVPs are not only about creating successful products but also serve as a marketing tool to promote innovation and motivate employees. It engages early adopters inside the organization to help create and test MVPs, and their positive experiences can gradually build a following inside the organization that will eventually lead to a critical mass of encouraged employees who are excited about innovation and change.
This approach is in stark contrast to the traditional model of pushing large-scale transformation projects that often fall short due to low engagement and adoption rates. With a focus on MVPs, the Future Enterprise can harness the power of early adopters to drive innovation and create a culture of continuous improvement. By empowering employees to take on multiple roles and encouraging experimentation, the Future Enterprise stays ahead in the fast-paced world of business and remains competitive in the long term.
As the MVPs gain traction and more early adopters come on board, the Future Enterprise begins to build a network of change agents who can help drive innovation and change throughout the organization. These folks may be individuals who have demonstrated a strong aptitude for innovation and change management, and who are willing to take on leadership roles within their teams and departments. By creating a change agent network, the organization spreads innovation and change more effectively across multiple countries and regions, resulting in more rapid adoption rates and higher levels of engagement.
Moreover, by leveraging the expertise and knowledge of these change agents, the Future Enterprise can identify areas where innovation is needed and develop new MVP projects that address those needs. This approach ensures that the organization remains agile and responsive to changing market conditions and customer needs, while also fostering a culture of continuous improvement and innovation.
The Blank Collar Equation
The Future Enterprise fully embraces the Blank Collar equation to constantly transform itself into an agile and highly innovative organization. The equation’s modular approach makes it easy to track progress, which allows the company to quickly identify areas of success and improvement.
The equation starts with a defined mission and vision, which serves as the North Star for the organization. Data is used in conjunction with the mission and vision to guide decision-making and ensure that the organization stays on course.
The ship, or the foundation of the organization, is built on culture, processes, and acquired knowledge. By breaking down silos and making knowledge available to all employees, the organization can potentiate its knowledge base and avoid losing critical information when employees leave. Processes are also critical for success, and by defining and documenting them, the organization can ensure that everyone is on the same page and working toward the same goals.
User interface (UI) and user experience (UX) are key components of the equation. The UI and UX must be designed to make work enjoyable and engaging for employees, much like the interfaces of smartphones and other consumer devices. When all of these components are in place, advanced technologies such as AI and automation can further enhance the organization's performance.
Embrace the Enterprise as Product
To remain competitive in the blank-collar era, companies must think of themselves as products, continually evolving and adapting to the market's needs. By embracing design thinking, agile development, and MVPs, the Future Enterprise can continuously improve and stay ahead of the competition. The company invests in research and development, quality assurance, and knowledge management, making data accessible to all stakeholders to inform decisions. Finally, a culture of continuous improvement and innovation allows the Future Enterprise to create a collaborative work environment that motivates employees and promotes innovation, ultimately achieving higher performance and efficiency.