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The Official Baldrige Blog

The Future of Work: Tensions, Battles, and the Fish Bowl

Seth Mattison Quest 30th Keynote Speaker blog photo showing a business man holding a fish bowl with gold fish swimming around.
Credit: violetkaipa/Shutterstock

Seth Mattison Quest Keynote Speaker photo
Seth Mattison

Founder and Chief Movement Officer of FutureSight Lab,

Author and Speaker on workforce trends, generational dynamics, and business strategy.
Fish Don't See the Water Outside Their Bowls

Fish don’t see the water they swim in. Their behaviors are automatic, and they certainly don’t see outside their fish bowls.

Such a fishy thought could be the launch pad for Seth Mattison’s mission “to start to create some awareness” about what is happening today in the world of work.

The Hierarchies and Networks Battle

There is currently a “dynamic tension” playing out between two worlds, says Mattison, founder and chief movement officer of FutureSight Lab, and keynote speaker for the 30th Anniversary Quest for Excellence® Conference. The “battle playing out” is between what he calls hierarchies and networks; it’s a battle between the generations and how they relate to work today.

“We’re upgrading every single other system that allows organizations to function, yet we’re still essentially running on a leadership and organizational structure based on a 150-year-old model,” he said. “It’s our fundamental belief that we’re moving more and more into this new, hyperconnected, networked world . . . a digitalization of absolutely every aspect of our lives today.”

Mattison believes that anyone who is around 35 years of age or older came of age in a world built on structures and a “deeply embedded hierarchy.” Such hierarchies are reflective of our education system, government institutions, religious institutions, and nonprofits, he said.

“We have literally been shaped by this pyramid structure since birth, and along the way, we’ve picked up and adopted a collection of unwritten rules and a lens by which we see the world and each other,” he said.

The challenge facing organizations today is that this world of structure is colliding with an emerging digital transformation (i.e., “the age of the networks”).

“I have yet to walk into a single institution, a single organization . . . that doesn’t see the tension playing out between these two worlds, across generations. Inside the organization, this tension shows up in how we think about the marketplace and customers, and how we show up, respond, connect, and relate to them,” said Mattison.

“Who must we become as leaders and individuals to be able to sustain, survive, and continue to bring value into the new environment?”

He encourages growth as individuals and as teams by “developing our resiliency muscle” and embracing a “learners’ mindset . . . because as fast as you can learn, something new will change,” he said. “We need to grow and develop a remarkable resiliency. . . . I would encourage us to continue to face that. To try, learn, fail, and not get beaten down [by change].”

Three Universal Principles Tomorrow's Leaders Need

According to Mattison, tomorrow’s leaders will need to continue to develop some universal principles that have always been true, but three new things should be considered:

According to Mattison, it used to be that the most senior leaders would go into the boardroom to decide and then dictate the future to the rest of the organization. But today, organizations need to tap into resources both within and outside the organization. Some of this can be done using new digital tools, but the most successful leaders will ask questions to the entire organization to filter up answers and perspectives—typically from the people on the front line.

Mattison said leaders of the future must be able “to unleash our own humanity as leaders from a vulnerability standpoint, an authenticity standpoint.” The concept that work and life are two separate things will not ring true in the future, he said.

The three most difficult words for most leaders to say are “I don’t know,” said Mattison. “As we’ve risen into these positions of leadership, we have these feelings of everyone’s looking to you and you’re supposed to have the answers. . . . For leaders to be able to . . .  lower their egos and say I don’t know . . . that leads you . . . to be able to commit to the process of learning and growing every single day.”

Quest for Excellence Keynote Insights

Mattison plans to bring actionable insights and advice on these future topics and more as the Wednesday, keynote speaker at the 30th Anniversary Quest for Excellence® Conference in April 2018.

And he has an interesting Baldrige connection: he was a student at the University of Wisconsin-Stout when it became the first Baldrige Award-winning university in 2001. He added that hearing about the award as a student “made you feel proud. I remember it was a big deal.”


Baldrige 30th Anniversary Logo artwork

Quest for Excellence® Conference

BALTIMORE | April 8–11, 2018
Join us for the 30th Anniversary Quest for Excellence Conference showcasing the best practices of the 2017 Baldrige Award recipients!


Sunday, April 8
Join us Sunday evening for the Award Ceremony and Dinner honoring the 2017 recipients.

Register Now | Book Your Hotel Room

About the author

Dawn Bailey

Dawn Bailey is a writer/editor for the Baldrige Program and involved in all aspects of communications, from leading the Baldrige Executive Fellows program to managing the direction of case studies, social media efforts, and assessment teams. She has more than 25 years of experience, 18 years at the Baldrige Program. Her background is in English and journalism, with degrees from the University of Connecticut and an advanced degree from George Mason University.

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Dawn - Very timely and well written article. Thank you.

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