The Next Killer App: Work

As a technologist, I'm obsessed with searching for the next killer app. Today, there are many companies that are offering amazing services and products that some may deem "killer apps." What I find interesting is that many of these are aimed at improving our virtual world--becoming a mayor on a social networking site, getting a hole in one or building an empire on a gaming site. It seems so simple when we escape for a few minutes (or hours) from our real world commitments to the fantastic online world we have created! But what about improving our offline "real" world?

To me, the billion-dollar question on the quest to create the next killer app is this: How can we harness the same spirit and imagination we are applying to make our virtual worlds fulfilling to solve our biggest and ugliest problems? How do we tap the innovation and apply the energy around these games and virtual worlds to education, health care, reducing poverty? Of course, another area ripe for revolution is work, which is my passion and focus. What if we didn't have to look to online communities and games for self-fulfillment? What if we could harness these online technologies in a way that will make our companies more profitable, our country more competitive, our environment better off, and allow people to become more productive at work and also spend more time with their families at home? What if the next killer app is work?

This is a timely topic. Unemployment is 9.6% according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and every politician is talking about work, with many politicians making job creation their number one priority. And while this is pressing now, it would have been appropriate five years ago and it will be as important again in five years from now.

Jobs will come back when the economy recovers, but they will never be the same. People today are looking for something different than work as we've known it historically. Generation Y values flexibility more than Generation X, or any other generation. And this is a global phenomenon. As recently reported in the Sydney Morning Herald (September 2, 2010), "The concept of working from anywhere at any time is second nature to Generation Y, something they never even question. It's an option previous generations never had, when laptops, Wi-Fi and broadband were scarce."

And whereas most people once wanted to work for corporations, young people today -- some 80% -- want to be entrepreneurs. In Michael Malone's fantastic book The Future Arrived Yesterday, he notes that high school children are telling pollsters they never plan on working in a real corporate environment ever in their lives! They want to be CEOs of their own companies. And really, having witnessed the collapse of business institutions we had viewed as "built to last" -- Circuit City, Washington Mutual and Lehman Brothers to name just a few, who can blame them? The safety net they can count on is themselves: their experience, their skills, and their values. Interestingly, research by Deloitte's Center for the Edge found that self-employed people are more than twice as likely to be passionate about their work as those who work for firms.

Meanwhile, as we see more desire for independence with workers, companies are trying to find qualified workers. According to CareerBuilder's 2010 Mid-Year Job Forecast, 22% of employers reported that despite an abundant labor pool, they still have positions for which they can't find qualified candidates. Some 48% of human resources managers reported that there was an area of their organization in which they lacked qualified workers.

We have a serious problem with making work work. We are living in an entirely new era of computing, with entirely new tools and possibilities, but we are viewing work the same way we always have -- even applying the same rules and guidelines developed pre-Information Age. I believe if we want our real world to catch up with our virtual world, it is time to stop ignoring the trends and start finding ways to leverage the technology and innovation that is within our grasp.

There are lots of jobs in search of talent. And there's lots of talent in search of meaningful work. It's time to let the elephant loose about work. If we do it right, the herd will move faster than we ever imagined. How do we start? First, businesses and individuals need to examine what changes can be made to leverage new technologies and communications services available to improve the opportunities for work and the ways in which we go about it.

There is not a quick fix for shifting the way we work; it will take innovation, collaboration and dedication to change. I ask you to join in the dialog, share your ideas and change the way we work. It will certainly take the power of a crowd to shift ideals that for some have been deeply rooted in the way we have worked for decades. Care to join my crowd?