The Fourth Wave of Innovation and Leadership

August 26, 2020      By Janine Nicole Dennis

Ultimate Takeaway
  • The Fourth Industrial Revolution continues the trend of rapid automation but aims to blend our physical, digital, and biological lives.
  • Employees and managers reported a 9% and 11% decrease respectively in feelings of preparedness to do their job between Mid-May and Mid-June of 2020.
  • The old paradigm of authority and figures in power equating to knowledge is changing in favor of more collaborative decision making.

Leadership has never been a simple task. It’s a job made more difficult when leaders lack a basic understanding of the complexities of the humans they’re meant to lead, yet they are charged with seeing that these very same people complete tasks and produce outcomes that make the enterprise profitable. For even the most seasoned leader, there isn’t necessarily a blueprint for leading under the weight of a global pandemic, civil unrest of global proportions, and a quantum leap into the fourth wave of innovation and human evolution known as the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

What is the Fourth Industrial Revolution?

If the Fourth Industrial Revolution were a work of art it would probably most resemble a Picasso painting. This shift is as much an abstract reality composed of distortions as it is a work of art and heart that will inevitably shape the way we live and work in positive and complicated ways for decades to come. Simply put, the Fourth Industrial Revolution marks a continuation of rapid automation but is distinct in the sense that it will bring about the fusion of the physical, digital, and biological. As defined by the World Economic Forum, “The Fourth Industrial Revolution is about more than just technology-driven change; it is an opportunity to help everyone, including leaders, policy-makers and people from all income groups and nations, to harness converging technologies in order to create an inclusive, human-centered future.”

Friction Leads to Collaboration

Employees are used to looking to their management and leadership for answers. Leaders and managers are used to having the answers to their employees’ questions and concerns. The challenge presently is the lack of predictability of conditions. An old paradigm of authority and figures in power equating to knowledge is quickly dying. This is the first time in our modern lives that we have to admit to one another that we don’t know what we don’t know. Uncertainty is a constant in life and business, but we have veered into chaos in some ways which makes for stress, speculation, and a deafening silence in many workplaces. Whether it is society we are talking about or our organizations, it is clear we are going to need people of all kinds communicating effectively and working towards a well-defined common goal together. We need to have clarity around the problems we are solving in unison to be able to live another day in business.

A Gallup poll for this month states that employees and managers reported a 9% and 11% decrease respectively in feelings of preparedness to do their job between Mid-May and Mid-June. If there is one thing employers will be competing for during this fourth wave of innovation, it is attention span. Neglecting to bring your employees along as partners of the business through regular and effective communication is sure to have their minds wandering and their efforts waning in the face of what looks like a concerted effort to curate and/or withhold the truth of the trajectory of the company. The Fourth Industrial Revolution brings with it the sentiment of meaning-making at work. The fourth wave worker will want their individual talents to connect to the greater good of the business without any of the mounting challenges of business detracting from their wellbeing at work or after work hours.

The way we solve for complexity where answers evade us is to lead with curiosity. Here are a few tips to assist you in making sure your employees are Fourth Industrial Revolution aligned:

1. Don’t Stop Communicating

It is in times of chaos where leaders need to be most proactive about keeping their employees abreast of how things are developing. Your employees are likely mature enough to appreciate candor over the old way of withholding information to preserve the organization over the employee. Additionally, you need to be checking in regularly to ensure your people have what they need to do their jobs accordingly. This is especially true as many people continue to work from home and at a distance from a physical office.

2. Focus on Quality Over Quantity

There is no better time than the present to acknowledge the fact that quality and quantity don’t necessarily go together. The faster and less mindfully an employee works the more likely they are to become stressed, burnout, make mistakes, and where applicable injure themselves. Set reasonable expectations for a finite number of tasks to be executed in a work day. Encourage a consistent start and end to the day so your people can decompress and tend to other aspects of their lives. Be sure you lead by example as well.

3. Encourage Innovation & Reimagining Work Protocols & Processes

It’s possible that your employees have found efficiencies long before being sheltered-in-place that were never heard let alone considered. Allow your team members to help you see the multiple perspectives of company challenges. Involving them in critically-thinking through and creating solutions to some of your more pressing problems can create opportunities of meaning-making and purpose in their work.


With every shift in human and technological evolution, we lose pillars that provided comfort, but we also gain new insights, new ways of sustaining life, and hopefully improve our overall definition of what it means to be human.

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