America, Please Get Ready To Swarm


Have you ever walked into a 7/11 store at an all-night self-service gas station in the United States and pitied the poor soul working the graveyard shift?

In the next 10 years that person could be you as your traditional job morphs into a 24/7 standby shift randomly interrupted by digital ‘tasks’ in the form of interactive visual ‘Minority Reports’.

You will briefly join groups or “teams” of online worker bees who will attack a problem (or project), solve it in hours (maybe minutes), not days, and then dissipate until the next assignment arrives.

This “swarming” approach has been predicted by Gartner, Inc. as one of 10 new trends in the workplace requiring a non-routine or unconventional approach to both finding and completing “work”. This is expected to happen between now and 2020.

In Gartner’s landscape, you will wander the online world alone, at most forming weak online bonds, with no fixed physical work location. The jobs available to you will be those left behind AFTER automation; skills that require the use of conceptual thinking or Emotional Intelligence (EI) to complete a ‘sale’ or engage in high level problem solving or analysis.

Read the dark side of social media: Anonymous “Swarm” Outgames Google Algorithm

Your survival will depend on your “Right Brain” — an ability to cope with change-to-the-power-of-10 with the arrival of the “Imagination Age” touched upon in the article “How killed my dreams of becoming an inventor.”

Those worker bees more attuned to the requirements of this digital shift (put forward by such authors as Dan Pink, “A Whole New Mind“) may be able to anticipate the needs of the turbulent decade ahead and seek out opportunities more quickly.

They will be the “action leaders” or “snipers” who like the Great White sharks of False Bay carefully select and isolate the “right” information (viz. prey) at the “right time”.

This discriminatory or predatory mindset will become a key to success between 2011 and 2020. Those who subscribe to the “shotgun” approach, both in terms of the dissemination and consumption of information, may find themselves casualties of war. (See comments by Sexton further below).

But, don’t worry worker bee. It’s not just you, the employee, that needs to shift into fifth gear and acquire the digital sixth sense: So too will your traditional employer fighting to keep up with the pack leaders on the autobahn.

“Smart business executives discern how to live in a business ecosystem they cannot control; one they can only influence,” said Gartner.

Pattern recognition will become crucial for the traditional business owner. He will engage in simulated war games or what-if scenarios attempting to predict the patterns of the “mob,” that collective “swarm” which exhibits a dangerous ability to detect his blood in 1 million pixels of bandwidth.

“Meaning” will need to be extracted from “Information,” exemplified in the two different approaches offered by products such as Google Goggles and Amazon’s “Mechanical Turks”, respectively. One relies exclusively on automation; the other on the human analysis. Both, unfortunately, by themselves are unreliable. However, the next decade seeks to remove these defects by combining both approaches simultaneously.

This means major change, major quick!

The most perceptive businesses will leverage contrarian thinking and an ability to “sell” when everybody else is “buying”. This will require interactive data, both qualitative and quantitative, that filters the reported data through a funnel into a holographic dashboard that allows a business owner to act — and act fast.

It is part of that overused buzzword called “visualization” and reflects the age-old idea that a picture tells a thousand words. Since the transaction between the employer and employee, and, between the business and the customer, will be online, non-verbal cues will be more difficult but not impossible.

Video conferencing, voice, mood gravatars and the audit trail of self-reflective posts on Facebook and Forums will be warning signs of the customer mood and consequently the “swarm.”

You can already see this happening in social mechanisms such as Twitter where users are bypassing the traditional company websites and phone systems to shout out their product problems.

Your dirty laundry gets exposed on a public forum and needs to be washed, rinsed and dried in record time. Please soften the fabric with friendly replies and brighten the colors with a free trial extension or quick escalation of the trouble ticket to a senior engineer.

This requires non-traditional methods of tracking customer interactions in the public sphere similar to what the South African Tourism Board did with Twitter integration into their new Salesforce CRM platform, allowing them to gauge ‘support’ trends in the run-up to the World Cup Soccer Event.

It is also why Salesforce has released their new collaboration system called “Chatter” which seeks to bring the company conversation indoors and super-charge the traditional employee / employer relationship with Facebook-like and 37Signals Project Management features.

Or, in the way micro-collaboration takes place on Twitter around a particular theme and engages all stakeholders in a collective journey to come up with solutions, new ideas or ways forward. See this in play on the “Association for Education in Journalism and Mass CommunicationTwitter channel as tweets and re-tweets spin around this subject.

But simply engaging in he conversation is not enough. The ability to filter out the “noise” and identify the real contributions and “answers” will be the hallmark of the “Conceptualist” in the Imagination Age, whether customer, business owner, blogger, journalist or university student.

This “noise” is sometimes also referred to as gladiatorial discourse where random thoughts rebound in the echo chamber of Blogs, Twitter and Forums. The same idea or comment endlessly spat out across the digital sphere and comes dangerously close to being labelled that heinous word called spam.

These ideas were put forward eloquently by John Sexton, President of New York University on a recent Charlie Rose interview where he argues that even as the “information age informs it misinforms” and highlights a disturbing trend in the United States which puts a premium on simple answers “having a horrible affect on discourse”.

“The nuance has gone and we are losing the ability to talk complexly about topics in a hyperchange environment,” he said.

Complex thinking may not be the only casualty of the information age; your sensory health may be at risk, too.

As Gartner puts it:

Individuals, of course, need to manage the complexity created by overlapping demands, whether from the new world of work or from external (non-work-related) phenomena. Those that cannot manage the underlying “expectation and interrupt overloads” will suffer performance deficits as these overloads force individuals to operate in an over-stimulated (information-overload) state.

In fact, the above could already be a major problem for the best and brightest minds in America, including undergraduates at famous institutions such as New York University.

“Student suicide is a national condition where every day 4 undergraduates commit suicide…it’s a vexing issue,” Said Sexton.

According to Sexton, a number of campuses including NYU offer 24/7 counseling services to help new students cope with the demands of University life. But this in itself may ultimately reflect the growing loss of meaning facing students where hyperbole, change and short term success are their guiding beacons in the digital age.

“It’s almost as if we need a wellness index,” says Sexton.

“We need to use praise and shame… praise the thought leaders and condemn those who don’t use nuance.”

Thus, worker bee, choose very carefully what Twitter channels you decide to follow, which cable package to buy and and what newspapers (Err, I mean blogs) you choose to read because as Bob Dylan said “The Times They Are Changing.”

Your future job security and health may literally depend upon it!

Review the 10 changes predicted by Gartner, Inc. between 2010 -2020


  1. Anonymous “Swarms” Out-Game Google Algorithm | Jason Stevens - 10. Aug, 2010

    […] seize internet’s power for mass disruptions” which dovetails with my recent synopsis “America, Please Get Ready To Swarm” suggesting that a Gartner Inc., report may be prescient in predicting an online “mob” […]

  2. And then quite suddenly they gave up | Jason Stevens - 19. Feb, 2012

    […] The same way the Boers taught the English a lesson in the Anglo-Boer War (1880-1881) using guerilla warfare, is what Smartphone web servers will do to the hosting industry. There will eventually exist an army of billions swarming together to serve up their content (or others) as they see fit, in largely unexpected ways. I briefly touched up this swarming concept in an earlier article entitled America, Get Ready To Swarm. […]

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