In looking at the changes bringing about the new S curve I quite like the CIPD's focus on the changes in three things - work, the workforce and the workplace. Let's take work first.
The nature of work (the business processes which need to be implemented by people on behalf of an organisation) has clearly changed over the last 10-20 years, and the rate of change is accelerating all the time.
First there is the increase in knowledge work - work which uses and produces knowledge, conversation and other intangible value. Linked to this there's an increase in the proportion of employees who are knowledge workers ie who concentrate on knowledge work. And even those remaining employees who aren't knowledge workers are finding the proportion of work they are doing which is actually knowledge work is increasing (for example a production line employee is now typically
responsible for the quality of their own products or at least their step in the production process and this
includes the opportunity to stop the line if inventory is building up or there are signs of problems in the raw materials or production process. Plus they'll be involved in quality circles and will be expected to provide ideas for improvement and they may even be working in self managed teams.
Secondly there’s an increase service work – where inputs and outputs are intangible and variable, and transformation from one to the other depends on networks rather than processes. There’s also an increase in team work, made more complex by virtual working, global teams, and by participation in multiple teams and communities.
These changes are important. For example, it’s this new working environment which Dan Pink refers to in Drive where he reviews research which suggests that extrinsic motivation doesn’t work and instead simply reduces whatever intrinsic motivation existed previously. This and other requirements in the new world of knowledge, service and team work imply a very different way of managing and developing people.