My good friend, cartoonist Simon Ellinas shared this video today and I think its stunning. It is the author and visionary Arthur C Clarke being interviewed by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in 1974 about the computer, and what it will be like in 2001.
In the video Clarke stands in a room which houses a computer (yes all those cabinets are part of it) and predicts not only the personal desktop computer, but also the internet, explaining how in 2001 the ‘…businessman will be able to live anywhere in the world he wants and still conduct his business’. He mentions viewing bank statements and buying theatre tickets using his computer.
The viewers of this programme must have thought he was bonkers! 1974 was the year of the Three-Day Week. Yet it is uncanny that 40 years after this video was made, how much of his incredible predictions ring true. He didn’t predict the advent of the business woman though, at least, not in this interview.
However what I’m more interested in is this. If we looked ahead to 27 years from today, what will life be like then? In construction, this type of visioning is being led by the Construction Industry Council (CIC)’s 2050 group, and their sister group BIM2050.
CIC 2050 Report Looks at How We Feel Today
The CIC 2050 group ran a survey this year to ask if people are satisfied working in the construction industry and what inspires them. The survey covered four themes:
- Attitudes to the Industry;
- Progress on Sustainability;
- Social Media, and
I’m interested how the survey results picked up a consensus within the industry that social media is not being used properly in the construction industry (60% of respondents agreed).
Over half the respondents thought that social media could be used to help overcome some of the challenges the industry faces, including 67% thinking it could improve the image of construction.
The ways Social Media could be used mentioned in the report include:
- Raise awareness of the industry
- Communicate ‘making the difference’ to the world
- An industry with a wide range of entry points and roles (blue collar and white collar)
- Communicate the need for driven individuals
- Create a more ‘human face’ of construction
- Demonstrate the impact you can have with the sector (individually and corporately).
In contrast however, the authors report “A polarised view of social media” between positive and negative. Negative comments they quote include:
“Social media is largely trivialising…I’m not sure that it helps with an issue like this.”
“I don’t think it is relevant or to be encouraged in a work environment. It is highly unregulated, unmanageable and a potentially serious risk to reputation… Being bombarded with information, most of which is not relevant to you personally, is one of the main pitfalls and drawbacks of modern communications systems. No- one even gets email training, let alone social media training, so it is ripe for misuse and abuse.”
Now of course I could correct both the assumptions made above, but that isn’t the point. These are commonly held views in our industry today. On the other hand the report’s authors quote a respondent full of enthusiasm:
“The public are fascinated by construction. We need more videos and photos ‘behind the hoarding’. There could be YouTube videos of projects showing how things are done, and why things are done in certain ways. Photos of sites, images, progress, project Facebook pages where ‘boots on the ground’ can upload their photos. Sites could have videos on the internet showing what the project will achieve, how it will be done etc. It is great for stakeholder involvement, manages their expectations and gets them excited about how the project will benefit them.”
I imagine when the speakers with the negative view of social media read the report (if they did), the concept of someone posting directly photos off site onto a facebook page would fill them with dread!
The authors of the CIC 2050 report that these significant differences of opinion about social media, and also about sustainability, appear to be delineated by the number of years working in the industry, where people with fewer than 10 years experience appear to want more action on sustainability and have a strong opinion about social media being important.
This certainly chimes with my experience. I think the younger generation take sustainability more seriously, and as millenials, will have grown up with the computer in a way that our more senior colleagues have not. What interests me is how when the next generation enters the world of work over the next five years, whether their use of social media in their social and school lives will translate into their use of it at work, and how enormous the potential for improving communications will be if it happens, and how the industry will cope with its fears and benefit from the outcomes.
BIM2050 future gazing
In contrast the BIM2050 group have produced a report into what interdisciplinary working might look like in 2050, and they are really gazing into the future, thinking about what a construction industry would be like, that would adopt a digital-led, data-driven approach to education, technology and culture.
In essence they are leaping over the short-term concerns such as social media and its potential positive or damaging effect on the world of work, and looking straight into the eye of a future where construction embraces and is changed by that new digital world that is already upon us and is only going to grow.
When we look ahead like this, the question is no longer about ‘BIM or no BIM’ or the potential of 3D printing. It is about a complete cultural change in how our industry works, driven by the way the world is changing and in particular by the lives of the people who will very soon make up the new construction industry.
The Future is Now
The immediacy of some of these changes was brought home to me again this week by a post on the G4C (Generation for Change) blog about Minecraft. G4C featured very heavily in the Constructing Excellence conference this month, where they helped predict the future of the industry from the perspective of young people. The blog describes the virtual worlds that the computer ‘game’ Minecraft creates, and how they can be built and changed by participants collaborating all over the world.
This is happening now, as we speak, in homes all over the country including mine. My 10 year old son spends several hours a week in virtual minecraft worlds like the one above, collaborating with his friends from school and with others across the globe to make, explore, play in and change worlds they create in Minecraft. When these young people (many of them between 9 and 16 now) enter the industry, and I hope they will, their attitude to collaboration, cooperation and communication will be so much more mature than ours.
Paul Wilkinson says
I attended the CIOB conference on Monday, coincidentally entitled Inspiring the Future of of Construction, and I found myself comparing some of the messages from this event with those from the Constructing Excellence conference you mentioned 10 days earlier. You can read my post about it here.
A recurring theme was the need to communicate better, as was the expanding adoption of new technology by Generation Z (born since the internet began). Social media was discussed at both events, but – to the evident frustration of some existing users – such new communication tools are too often scorned, ignored or dismissed by today’s managers. I finished my post by saying “Leaders in construction who are either ignorant of or scornful of social media are failing the younger generation.”
I think we are in agreement on this.
Su Butcher says
Absolutely we are, and isn’t it interesting how everyone is talking about the future but there’s this ‘problem’ with the tools?
I find your CIPD survey responses interesting. So many people within construction companies (especially products but also contractors and consultants) bemoan the lack of interest in social media. The people who come to my courses are often in house marketing professionals who are given the job of social media as if it is something they can solely control. And meanwhile many people within these companies are busying away doing their work better by using social media to communicate across the company, across countries and continents, across disciplines, and sometimes (though not always) the board has no idea and doesn’t want to know.
There are exceptions to this, which is good to see, but now we have some companies who are ‘early adopters’ rather than a few individuals alone. The vast bulk of the industry at a senior level views these tools with suspicion, but considering how useful they are, its such a wasted opportunity.