Be more fox – to invent the future workforce

Written by
Dr Chris Yapp, Independent Consultant

05 May 2020

05 May 2020 • by Dr Chris Yapp, Independent Consultant

To navigate uncertainty, you must consider the future from different angles, writes Dr Chris Yapp, an independent consultant with an interest in innovation and futures thinking.

Over the past 50 years, automation has transformed the working lives of both blue-collar and white-collar workers. Advances in machine learning, big data and other technologies, it is argued, will have the same impact on professional work in the 2020s. 

How will these changes affect the jobs and role of HR professionals when it comes to recruiting future talent in relevant disciplines? I would argue that, until recently, it has been all too easy to recruit in our own image in terms of skills and perspectives. 

Will your HR division be fit for purpose in 2030?

Consider the following: how have your criteria for the HR professional of the future changed over the past five years? How do you think these need to evolve over the next five to ensure that the HR department of 2030 is fit for purpose? 

Factor into this the range of professional competencies that your organisation will require for 2030. Are you confident that the strategic conversations within each discipline, and collectively across disciplines, are sufficiently informed, broad and well-resourced to generate the ideas and actions to deliver success? 

Four years ago, the HR director of a large professional services organisation said to me, “I suspect that half of the people we recruited over the past five years won’t want to work the way we will need to in 10 years’ time.” I fear that his is not a lone voice. 

Yet, making sense of the hype around technology, alongside the other major challenges of the 2020s (notably, climate change and sustainability), creates a level of uncertainty with which few organisations feel comfortable. 

The fox and the hedgehog

Futurists have, for many years, used a simple model — the fox and the hedgehog — to help organisations think about their own future. Support for this approach can be found in Phil Tetlock’s book Superforecasting. It’s time for this model to go mainstream inside leadership work, not just around strategy, but in operational thinking and delivery. 

Essentially, ‘hedgehogs’ have a world view that has a single dominant model. They may see everything through a lens of, say, money or politics. Wider considerations such as religion may also play a part. ‘Foxes’ tend to have multiple world views, from which they select according to the problem being addressed. The mistake is to believe that any individual is pure hedgehog or fox; most of us have a mix of characteristics. 

What the evidence suggests is that foxes are better than hedgehogs at considering the future from different angles, and generating insights into how it might look. Many ambitious young professionals suppress their fox tendencies when seeking leadership positions, believing them to be too risky. The trick will be to encourage future leaders to value these skills and to create space in leadership to allow ‘fox behaviours’ to come to the fore. 

Balancing cultures

I don’t believe anyone could truthfully come up with a low-risk view of the world of work in 2030. Disruption in careers will happen, but how far and fast in any individual sector or organisation is unclear. 

What I would argue is that those organisations that balance the fox and the hedgehog cultures will better navigate the uncertainties that we all face. To quote educator and computing pioneer Alan Kay: “The best way to predict the future is to invent it”. 


Register for insights and updates or implement one of our levy-funded leadership programmes by clicking on the buttons below.