Top Leadership Trends for 2019: A User’s Guide to the Open-Office Apocalypse

After a comprehensive year-end review of key leadership trends in management over the past year, I have concluded that four trends from 2018 will accelerate in 2019.  Keep reading for powerful career-enhancing insights!

In the future, people will visit museums designed to show children what life was like working in an open-office environment.
  1. Building More Playgrounds for Extroverts

Managers will continue to join the open-office movement that aims to turn every workplace into a tech startup. Allegedly, they claim to believe that it will promote information sharing, cross-functional cross-pollination between groups, and design thinking and also breakdown walls and silos. Here’s the thing: Most of these leaders aren’t running small tech startups. There’s no reason to think that non-startup operations can perform like startups if managers use their culture-changing magic powers. The great new business ideas behind startups usually started with one person or a few people who were obsessively motivated, not with a large complex full of people. (Plus, most startups are engines of failure, not of amazing success.)

As a result, the main achievement of the open-office obsession is to build playgrounds for extroverts. Nothing will do more faster to promote the groupthink that the very same managers claim to fear. (You get bonus points if you noticed that the managers impose open offices through a top-down decision made by a small elite, not as a result of “the wisdom of crowds.”) Some of the deepest, most creative work often begins with introverts, the kind of people who have ideas because they spend a lot of time thinking. Stories about great intellectual heroes aren’t usually about people coming up with brilliant insights as a function of group consensus. You can’t think differently when you’re stuck in a chronic state of impersonating a jolly conformist running around the extroverting playground. But now, by default, being an introvert has become a maladaptive loser who can’t keep up. If you’re not making a show of extroverting yourself to the point of inducing a hernia, you’re suspect, not an enthusiastic team player, or (the horror!) a bad cultural fit.

It’s not quite killing the goose that lays the golden eggs. It’s more like putting the goose in a sheep pen in the hope that there will be some kind of cross-pollination that produces a golden goose with a herding instinct that makes them easier to deal with. And if the farmhand points out that it won’t work because neither sheep nor geese use pollen to reproduce, he’ll be branded a negative silo thinker.

2. More Deep Dives into Shallow Work

Trend #1 will lead to more deeper dives into shallow work and less doing of deep work, which is basically work that depends on the ability to think deeply. In Cal Newport’s excellent book Deep Work, he writes that “deep work is like a super power in our increasingly competitive twenty-first century economy. And yet, most people have lost the ability to go deep—spending their days instead in a frantic blur.”

Some of the frantic blurring of work is by management’s own design. Don’t get me wrong. Shallow work is important and vital of course. It’s not less valuable. But managers love the shallow stuff because it is (1) their specialty and (2) something they can easily observe and count. If you define productivity as being very busy all the time, you can know productivity is increasing if you can see everyone being very busy all the time. Deep work, however, tends to be slow, and in an open-office paradise, deep thinking doesn’t look busy. It doesn’t light up the dashboard of measurable deliverables. And it can’t be easily captured in slides for presentations. Deep work requires creative concentration, which is exactly the kind of thing the open-office paradise disrupts. This year will bring more shallow managers saying they want to stimulate more deep work—deep work they can see exploding like a kettle full of popcorn—which will lead to deep work being redefined as the stuff that gets done in meetings.

3. The Rise of AI (Artificial Imbecility)

Trend #2 follows from #3. The more that shallow work drives your operation, the more you can boost productivity by using AI to get it done. Now I’m not trying to suggest that AI will eat our brains (there won’t be much left for them to eat after smartphones get done with us), but I foresee a lot more artificial imbecility than artificial intelligence. For example, one of the major online job services uses vast computational resources and sophisticated processes to suggest jobs that it claims are a good match for my resume. Although I have never lived anywhere near the Midwest, have no experience working in banks, and don’t have any of the typical characteristics of an entry-level bank teller, this brilliant algorithm keeps suggesting that I apply for jobs as a teller at a bank in the Midwest. Expect the use of AI in the workplace to follow a similar pattern—increasing the efficiency with which misidentified problems are solved incorrectly. I’m not talking about the replacement of workers. We’re not that lucky. Just imagine the behaviors of a dysfunctional workplace intensified and accelerated by a heartless algorithm that can’t see a meaningful difference between someone with experience writing about investing and a bank teller.

4. More Self-Promotion of the Leaders by the Leaders for the Leaders 

Have you ever wanted to become a enlightened, transformative thought leader in management, business, or industry? The best way is to start imitating their behavior. For example, you will know you have leadership potential when you start posting a series of touching testimonials to your own leadership on social media. If you are leadership material, you will lack the self-awareness to have a hint of embarrassment about posting what you claim is a series of pieces about, say, great leaders who inspired you but that turns out to be an infomercial for what a great leader you claim to be. Say things like “Other leaders talk about technology and digital transformation but I believe in the power of teams” when you yourself have been one of the people on the senior management team pushing the relentless drive for digital transformation at your firm and have been pushing out employees and rearranging teams on a bimonthly basis as if the humanoid lifeforms were plastic bricks that could be snapped together in new combinations to make different designs.

And since the candid perspective of people led by you will never make an appearance in any of your social media posts, this strategy is perfectly safe because you can never be contradicted. The fear of being branded a malcontent or violating a legal nondisclosure agreement will scare away former employees who know your flaws only too well. If you’re a future great leader, you’re probably into mindfulness, so remember that you can be the change you want to see in the world’s reflection in your own mirror, a mirror which just happens to show you standing in the foreground.

But, hey, let’s try to keep some perspective. It’s important to avoid getting stuck in negative silo thinking. Despite these four trends, I’m sure the future managers’ paradise will be a vision of progress, prosperity, and a greater sense of purpose for workers. After all, the great leaders have skimmed the latest trendy new books on leadership and have mastered the art of repeating key empty phrases in public. In fact, they might even believe some of the stuff they’re saying. Onward to the future of humanitarian progress and prosperity, comrades!

Author: R.S. Mitchell

R.S. Mitchell is a writer who lives in Central Virginia. StampedingToads.com is where he shares his satirical alternate-reality take on things. He is the author of "Career Secrets of Fairy-Tale Endings" and "The View Finder."

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