Are Open Concept Offices Ageist? Op-Eds from the Future, and more

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Volume 5,
Number 6
June 7, 2019

Generations at Work—or, Are Open Concept Offices Ageist?

Almost everyone, regardless of age, finds the now-common open office configuration distracting, according to a study Future Workplace commissioned for audio communications firm Poly. The distractions are largely due to noise from co-workers—talking on the phone or on video conference, or even simply passing through a work area.

But compared with older generations (baby boomers and Gen X), Gen Z and millennials are better able to deal with distractions, the study found. Among the youngest group of workers, Gen Z, 35% report doing things like wearing headphones, compared with only 16% of boomers.

Interestingly, the younger workers also say they prefer the more-distracting environment. “More than half of Gen Z (52%) say they are most productive when they were working around noise or talking with others; 60% of Baby Boomers say they’re most productive when it’s quiet,” the researchers report.

More than half of the workers surveyed say their organization could reduce distractions by establishing quiet spaces or zones, changing the office layout, or using technologies to reduce background noise.

“When you consider how many different workstyles and different generations are thrown together in one place, it’s no wonder that almost everyone reports being distracted at work,” says Amy Barzdukas, executive vice president of Poly. “It’s equally clear that the right mix of technology and environment can reduce distraction and improve productivity—and that is what employees are asking for.”

Comment: To answer the question in the admittedly provocative headline, No, I don’t believe the trend toward open concept work spaces is a deliberate move to annoy older workers out of their jobs. Generational cohorts are shaped both by their physical, technological, and cultural environments and by their movement through their life span. The distinct differences between today’s older and younger workers’ preferences in shared office environments—with the younger generations hungering for the energy of collaborative, open environments—suggest that future employers will face choices over which generational cohorts to accommodate and how. My bet is on the open concept trend staying around for the next generation or two. Pass the ear plugs. —CGW

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New York Times Launches “Op-Eds From the Future” Series

All the speculation fit to digitize? The New York Times has launched a new series in its Opinion pages, “Op-Eds from the Future,” which will consist of essays by science-fiction writers, futurists, philosophers, scientists, and others. The essays present what the authors imagine might appear in the Times’ op-ed section 10 to 100 years in the future.

In the inaugural essay, “It’s 2059, and the Rich Kids Are Still Winning: DNA tweaks won’t fix our problems” (May 27, 2019), science-fiction author Ted Chiang, describes the effects of a Gene Equality Project. Though well-intended to lift the prospects for the less fortunate, Chiang concludes that “We won’t solve [society’s structural inequalities] by trying to improve people; we’ll only solve it by trying to improve the way we treat people.”

In the series’ second essay, “Keep Your Augmented Reality. Give Me a Secret Garden” (June 3), science-fiction author Hannu Rajaniemi describes discovering what augmented reality omits from the user’s experience, such as a secret garden where “my friends and me [could] be alone, [without which] we would never figure out who we really were.”

It’s not clear from the NYT’s intro to the series whether these op-eds from the future are by invitation only or open to submissions. To pursue the question, visit the publication’s “How to submit an Op-Ed Essay” page.

Futurists Vacation Reading List: New and Coming Soon

  • The Case for Space: How the Revolution in Spaceflight Opens Up a Future of Limitless Possibility by Robert Zubrin (Prometheus Books, May 14, 2019). Astronautical engineer Zubrin describes the potential of the new space race, in which the competitors are not superpowers but entrepreneurs.
  • The Future of Energy: Technologies and Trends Driving Disruption by Jason Schenker (Prestige Professional Publishing, May 16, 2019). Schenker, president of Prestige Economics and chairman of The Futurist Institute, argues that while “the push toward less carbon-intensive fuel and power substitutes is gaining momentum, ... material science realities present some significant challenges and limitations.” He examines a dozen major trends affecting energy and demand, with recommendations for industries, companies, and individuals.
  • Local Is Our Future: Steps to an Economics of Happiness by Helena Norberg-Hodge (Chelsea Green Publishing, June 3, 2019). Anti-globalization activist Norberg-Hodge shows how a number of seemingly unrelated trends, such as climate change, financial instability, and depression, have common roots in the globalized economy. “For our species to have a future,” she writes, “it must be local.”
  • The Future of Immortality: Remaking Life and Death in Contemporary Russia by Anya Bernstein (Princeton University Press, June 25, 2019). Anthropologist Bernstein explores the work of contemporary Russian scientists pursuing immortality from a variety of perspectives, including cryonics, biogerontology, and neurotech.
  • The Future of (Almost) Everything (new edition) by Patrick Dixon (Profile Books, July 4, 2019). This updated edition of Dixon’s 2015 book demonstrates how recent developments such as Brexit, the MeToo movement, and fake news confirm his belief that the future is “Fast, Urban, Tribal, Universal, Radical and Ethical.”
  • Nurturing Our Humanity: How Domination and Partnership Shape Our Brains, Lives, and Future by Riane Eisler and Douglas P. Fry (Oxford University Press, July 31, 2019). The latest work by Eisler, author of The Chalice and the Blade and Tomorrow’s Children, debunks the idea that humans are hard-wired for selfishness, war, rape, and greed. The book explores a new perspective on our personal and social options and shows how we can build societies that support our great human capacities for consciousness, caring, and creativity.
  • Talking to Robots: Tales from Our Human-Robot Futures by David Ewing Duncan (Dutton, July 16, 2019). Journalist Duncan offers two dozen possible human-robot scenarios, including Teddy Bots, Warrior Bots, Politician Bots, and Sex Bots.

Mack Report: Generalists in Foresight

In his latest article for the Foresight Signals Blog, AAI Foresight Managing Principal Tim Mack cites research on the validity and usefulness of expert panels (in which competing experts dismiss each other’s views) versus that of nonspecialized futurists and other generalists. He writes that “individuals [who] weighted the viewpoints of their colleagues and adopted elements they found persuasive, … were able to integrate apparently contradictory worldviews.” Mack thus concurs “with the opinion that the best forecasters view their own ideas as hypotheses in need of testing. When they are wrong, analyzing why becomes part of the forecasters’ ongoing learning process.” [Read more]

Help Wanted, Futurists

Quantitative Modeler, Pardee Center. The Frederick S. Pardee Center at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies (University of Denver), home of the International Futures global modeling system, seeks a quantitative modeler with “demonstrated model development experience, including work that goes beyond statistical approaches to the creation of larger-scale structural models that are dynamic across time.” Application requires a cover letter, CV, and names of three individuals who could provide recommendation letters. Best consideration date is July 31, 2019. [Learn more]

Strategy Interns, Gemic. Gemic, a global growth strategy firm with offices in Helsinki, New York, and Toronto, seeks participants in its full-time internship program, a two- to four-month paid engagement with one of its project teams. The position includes potential travel for fieldwork and client meetings and mentorship with a senior team member. Apply by June 30. [Learn more]

In Memoriam: John W. McDonald, Gary Marx

John W. McDonald, U.S. Ambassador (ret.), died May 17, 2019, in Arlington, Virginia. He was 97 and is survived by his wife of 48 years, Christel McDonald. Ambassador McDonald worked tirelessly for nonviolent conflict resolution, founding the innovative Institute for Multi-Track Diplomacy in 1992 after serving a 40-year diplomatic career, retiring from the U.S. Foreign Service in 1987.

McDonald brought his skills to the next generations as a professor of law at George Mason University and as president of the Iowa Peace Institute in Grinnell, Iowa, where he was also a professor of political science. He was a committed supporter of the World Future Society and a founding chairman of The Millennium Project. Among other accomplishments, McDonald was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994.

“John McDonald was a great friend to foresight worldwide,” said AAI Managing Principal Tim Mack. “He and Christy got me involved in the Club of Rome, and were always holding gatherings at their home to host visiting futurists from around the world. John and his leadership will certainly be missed.” [Read more]

Gary Marx, education futurist and founder of the consulting firm Center for Public Outreach, died May 31, 2019, in Vienna, Virginia. He was 80 and is survived by his wife, Judy Marx. Prior to establishing his consulting firm, Marx was a senior executive of the American Association of School Administrators for 20 years. He was also a longtime supporter of the World Future Society, contributing to its student scholarship fund, and spoke at many conferences. His influential books include 21 Trends for the 21st Century and Future-Focused Leadership: Preparing Schools, Students, and Communities for Tomorrow’s Realities.

“I first met Gary Marx in the context of the past, instead of the future,” Tim Mack recalled. “I had been contracted to develop a curriculum for U.S. high school students concerning the Vietnam War by the Veteran’s Memorial Fund, and Gary was a very active member of our Development Advisory Committee, bringing his enormous understanding of what worked in secondary education to bear on those challenges. He was also a consistent supporter and wise adviser for both Futures Research Quarterly and World Future Review. He shall truly be missed.” [Read more]