Joseph Pistrui, Ph.D, Professor of IE Business School: The future of human work

Joseph Pistrui, Ph.D, Professor of IE Business School: The future of human work

You are a co-founder of the Kinetic Thinking organization. What is “kinetic thinking” and how does it stand out?

At Kinetic Thinking we focus on how thinking shapes what we see and what we do as human beings. This makes our style of thinking—how we form perceptions and determine actions—fundamental to how work, how we manage others, and how we lead organizations. Over time our thinking forms into habits, operating just below the surface of consciousness, and can become stuck at the very moment things around us are changing. This can lead us to operate with frames of reference which are backward looking (because they are based on past experiences) and prevent us from seeing new opportunities around us. Kinetic Thinking is all about making our thinking visible to us—metacognition if you will—so that we can be both aware of our own thinking and make adjustments where needed as the world around us changes.

There is much talk about how technology will revolutionize the labor market and people will no longer be needed. Is kinetic thinking the answer to these fears?

It seems beyond debate that technology is going to replace jobs. Few industries will be untouched. Yet technology doesn’t have to replace the people who have done that work. The future of human work is imagination, creativity and strategy. Thinking intensive roles where there is a need to envision a different future, establish new meaning, and create novel solutions that solve real problems are innately human endeavors. Technology has always been a powerful tool when combined with these human capacities and our current times are no different.

How do solutions based on new ways of thinking improve the work of an organization? How important are the practices offered by Kinetic Thinking in this regard?

In may regards technology is well ahead of an organization´s capacity to deploy it, and this is hindered by our willingness—not our capacity—to envision a different future enabled by technology. Back in the day IBM imagined the future of computing through the lens of mainframe hardware. Bill Gates (and others) shifted thinking to focus on software—the operating system—and change the trajectory of computing. And Steve Jobs found that a combination of hardware and software was the secrete sauce as he imagined the personal computer as something akin to a household appliance. These shifts in thinking led to different visions for the future of computing, and each defined the meaning of action for their respective organization. That is how thinking impacts organizations, and why awareness of your current ways of thinking set the stage for developing new ways of thinking.

Do companies see the limitations of a traditional, closed organization today? What is the correlation between a company’s innovation and liberation from conventional leadership assumptions?

If you define the domain of thinking as the traditional boundaries of an organization, it is clear that thinking has moved beyond transactional relationships with stakeholders (customers, suppliers, etc.) toward more collaborative partnerships. However, in my experience few leaders have fully shifted their thinking to reimagining their organization as a actor within an ecosystem of value. This shift in thinking challenges deeply held assumptions about management and governance. Yet there is clearly an opportunity to shift thinking further toward viewing one´s ecosystem as a emerging epicenter for value creation. Envisioning the future in this way may indeed prove beneficial to organizations and the system as a whole.

You can boast of experience in management, gained while working with many global organizations. What features should a manager have in order to successfully function on the border of cultures?

I have been fortunate in my career to have had a diverse set of experiences that span geographies and industries alike. What I have learned in working with organizations is that they are first and foremost a collection of people. Organizations do not think, their people do. And individuals do not think in isolation, as thinking is influenced and shaped by the people working around you every day. This means that thinking, and how it shapes perception and actions, is both individual and collective. Because there are countless stories where someone (or a small group) envisioned a new opportunity yet the organizational immune system overwhelmed the thinking or blocked the action required to realize the opportunity. This means that good managers and successful leaders must protect thinking and encourage those willing to challenge the status quo. The tension between managing current operations and creating future competitiveness is real in organizations, and the balance of power is not evenly distributed (it heavily skewed in favor of managing the present). And this is why thinking about the future must be protected, especially in this day and age when any organizational advantage is likely transient.


Dr. Joseph Pistrui

Joseph Pistrui has more than 25 years of management experience, first working for Bristol-Myers Squibb in the United States (eleven years) and later working with global organizations such asAstraZeneca, BBVA, Bosch, BT, Citi Group, DT, Financial Times, HSBC, Microsoft, Rio Tinto, Royal Dutch Shell, Siemens, Thomson Reuters, Unilever, Vestas, and others (fourteen years to date).  Joseph´s contribution to these organizations has been based on his distinctive ability to navigate between the practice of management and a wide-ranging set of management theories.

Joseph is a member of the faculty of Entrepreneurial Management and was previously the Dean for Executive Education and at IE Business School based in Madrid.  Additionally he holds a Visiting Fellowship at the London School of Economics and Political Sciences, where he lectures and researches issues related to new enterprise formation and innovation as part of the LSE’s Department of Management.

Joseph holds a Doctor of Philosophy in Strategic Management and Entrepreneurship from Universidad Autonoma de Barcelona, a Master of Arts in Liberal Studies from DePaul University, and a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from Ferris State University.  He was born in Detroit, Michigan USA and has lived and worked in Europe since 1993 and currently resides in Madrid, Spain.

Last Updated on April 7, 2021 by Karolina Ampulska

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