At 5 a.m. this Saturday morning, I will be in a huddle of a few dozen hardy individuals in subfreezing temperatures. At the hour, we will begin a “race” through 60 kilometers of beautiful desert surrounding Utah’s Bryce Canyon. I put “race” in quotation marks because, except for the premier athletes at the front of the pack, for most of us the race isn’t between each other; it’s between us and the terrain, between us and our own minds.

To tackle a 60-kilometer run with 4,500 feet of vertical climb, you have to start by studying the map, learning the terrain, and monitoring conditions. But that’s not enough. You also have to perform a thorough assessment of your own fitness for that race. Do you have it in your legs, core, heart, and mind to go the distance?

The metaphor is not at all subtle. We are, all of us, about to run headlong into a future of robotics, AI, and automation that none of us have ever traversed before. We can chart out the terrain in advance; Forrester will build a map of what obstacles there will be. We are tenaciously focused on helping you know what’s coming.

But that’s not enough. We all have to perform a thorough assessment of our own fitness for that future. Do we have it in our legs, core, heart, and mind to go the distance?

One wonderful thing about running ultra-marathons on remote trails is the spirit of the people who run them. The unofficial motto of the race is: “Let’s get everyone across the finish line.” When I stop to relax my cramping legs, people stop to check on me, offering me a salt tablet. When a guy is checking his blisters, others are pulling out bandages or offering a change of socks. We’re not happy if we don’t do everything we can to get everyone across the finish line.

The future of work is similar. Unlike back in 2001, when we studied the original iPod, we could use our data to identify the people who were likely to adopt the new thing and ignore those who didn’t want it. Some people would, and some people would not. We could leave the “would-nots” out without any concern.

That is not the case for the future of work and the future of technology more broadly. AI, automation, and robotics are going to dramatically alter everybody’s life. Those of us who are ready for it — the people I describe as being the most “fit for the future” — are going to be fine. But they can’t cross the finish line into the future on their own. Everybody else has to get there, too.

That’s the ethic behind our newest report. Today we published an overview report summarizing the investments we’ve made in understanding the future of work. It’s titled “Four Main Players Star In The Future Of Work.” As the title suggests, there are four key groups we are rooting for in this drama; they are customers, employees, leaders, and robots. We believe that any approach to the future that doesn’t provide a path forward for each of these groups will fail — because these players have the power to magnify and amplify each other, but only with the right investment in each. Forrester clients can read the report for the details, but we sum it up by saying:

Our frameworks help you measure the readiness and ultimate success of customers, employees, leaders, and robots. New data shows they can all thrive if execs do their job right. Take a stand with us on human flourishing: More people earning more benefits with the help of automation is a good thing.

Let’s set the goal to get everyone across the finish line, to get everyone to the future. Yes, the race ahead is on completely novel terrain, and we’re going to help you map that out. But just as importantly, we have to take a look at ourselves: Are we fit to make this journey? Are we creating the employee experience that will invite our employees to bring their best? Are we, as leaders, demonstrating leadership by our actions and not just our words? The more we can answer affirmatively to these questions, the sooner we’ll get through the challenging terrain ahead.

See you on the trail.


James McQuivey, PhD is a vice president and principal analyst at Forrester. He is also the author of the book Digital Disruption: Unleashing the Next Wave of Innovation.