The Future of Work – Driven by People’s Values (Part 1)


Why do we look at society from the perspective of demographics? Partly because it’s easy – and partly because it used to be a useful tool, especially for identifying consumers. Those demographic descriptions may provide an indication of what people might do in the marketplace and workplace, but they don’t address the why – the motivation. And today, it’s the motivation that matters more than anything else.

There is a new way of thinking about people that cuts across traditional demographics – especially age and educational levels – and that is values. We discussed values in the previous two articles.   When we have people in their 70s and 80s running marathons, why should we assume that they can’t be employed? And when young people, even teenagers, drop out of formal educational institutions in order to start their own companies and they succeed, why do we think it odd that they are not “rising through the ranks” in some traditional business?

Millennials are getting a lot of press, but they are not some unique, homogeneous category, they are just an age cohort. Yes, because they have had a fairly homogeneous education, and they are more “digital” than previous generations, they may appear to behave a bit differently, but they are still human beings with the same mix and spread of values as the rest of us. Indeed, we make problems for ourselves in business, if we treat people according to their age (and other demographics) rather than their values. If we looked at the population, as some organizations are beginning to do, through values (and related motivations) we could open up all kinds of opportunities for businesses and individuals. (The use of values is not a new idea – the methods for doing this have been tested and validated for almost 40 years.)

Current State of the Driving Force

As mentioned in the previous articles, values underpin every aspect of society, including its culture, politics, economy, industry, attitudes, consumption, and even the development of technology.   They are emotional constructs that underpin attitudes and behavior, and they are long term – in some cases lasting a lifetime.  They provide us with a deep understanding of people – as employers, employees, consumers and other stakeholders – and they are the prime driver for what, why and how people do in the workplace.

Also, because they are long-term, they can be used to forecast behavior much more reliably than models that use only extrapolation of behavior.  Our values model is based on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs[1], and augmented by the work of Shalom Schwartz[2], Geert Hofstede[3], Ron Inglehart[4], Cultural Dynamics[5] and others.   In this article, I will describe some of the different values – one set in particular – and indicate how it has already, and will continue to create changes in work.

Values form an ongoing driving force, but the impact depends on the size of values groups/cohorts at the time.  We have identified 3 main groups in every country we have surveyed – based on Maslow’s hierarchy:   Sustenance Driven (sustenance needs), Outer Directed (esteem needs), Inner Directed (growth needs.)   Within each of those are 4 subgroups, but for forecasting purposes, these three will do.  Inner Directed are the long term trendsetters, Outer Directed close followers, while the Sustenance Driven lag behind.  Each group has very different wants and needs from work, based on their values.  They also affect choice of profession.  While the following statement is an over-generalization, we have found that many Accountants and Lawyers are Sustenance Driven (looking at history, precedents, detail), Politicians, Entertainers, Business Leaders are Outer Directed (seeking influence, power and status) and Scientists, Healthcare workers, Special Operations Forces (SOF) Operators are Inner Directed (seeking autonomy, wanting to understand things, taking care of people – individuals, nations.)[1]

[NOTE:  To pick up on the idea about Millennials…     In our values models they are under-represented in the Settler Group, over-represented in the Outer Directed Group and normal in the Inner Directed Group.  So they have the same basic values as any other age cohort.]

Sustenance Driven.  In most of the countries we have surveyed, the Sustenance Driven have been declining for decades.  However, over the last 10 years, there has been a slight increase in the US and a larger increase in most of Europe because of immigration.   Most Settler needs are deficiency needs, and Sustenance Driven primarily want to “hold on to what they’ve got;” they don’t like change.  While there are some young Sustenance Driven, the majority are middle-aged to old.  They are found in traditional industries and jobs, and frequently believe that once they have been educated/trained, that will last them for their entire career.  They are not believers in continuous education.  They were the last group to use modern technology, although they are now familiar with the current information technologies, but they are likely to be slow to pick up on new technologies.  On the other hand, they can be a source of stability in a fast changing world.

Outer Directeds. Outer Directed rely heavily on external indicators of their own self- worth.  Outer Directed measure themselves against other people; and their self-esteem depends upon finding themselves “better off” than someone else – usually in some materialistic way.  They work, primarily, for money and power, although young Outer Directed also want excitement and opportunity to use modern technologies.  Virtual reality and gaming are frequently their route to technology interests.  Leaders in politics and large businesses tend to be Outer Directed. They are do-ers, action-oriented and highly competitive. These people need and want information, but frequently they want only enough to enable them to make decisions. They used to prefer hierarchical organizations with clear paths to advancement, but this is changing as job mobility has become more the norm.  However, they are not very comfortable in complex and uncertain situations.  Again, these characteristics are not as visible in younger people, partly because they have grown up in an increasingly changing and uncertain time, with access to technology, and partly because a lot of their behavior is patterned on the Inner Directed groups.

Inner Directeds. Inner Directed derive their sense of personal direction, their personal rewards, and their criteria for success from inside themselves by exploring the bounds of their world: physical, intellectual, and emotional. The standards by which Inner Directed measure themselves, and the world, tend not to be the materialistic standards of wealth, social class, income, status, or possession, but rather abstract standards such as integrity, honesty, meaning, quality, and appropriateness to a situation.  They are frequently idealistic and want meaning in their lives – especially young people.  Most Inner Directed are very technology-oriented and interested in “new” fields such as neuroscience, virtual/augmented reality and big data. They are “infoholics”: they love information and can’t get enough of it. Of all the groups, they have the greatest ability to take a systems view, and they can synthesize material into a coherent whole. They have the greatest capability to conceptualize. Inner Directed are the least likely to be overwhelmed by sudden crises because they have the greatest flexibility and adaptability in dealing with the unexpected. Some may have thought about the problems ahead of time and already have devised alternate courses of action.  Inner Directed have self-confidence and prefer to operate autonomously.  They are entrepreneurial, establishing their own (especially online) businesses. They can cope with ambiguity, complexity, uncertainty, and risk. Organizations that appeal to these Inner Directed tend to be small and to operate as networks. They are the only people who can feel comfortable being leaders one moment and “go-fers” the next. Inner Directed are the long-term trend-setters in every society.

How work and working environments are changing based on values.

Trends towards more networked organizations were started by Inner Directeds – especially in Silicon Valley. At one time we expected more and more organizations to adopt this structure, but we found that beyond about 100 people, the organizations divided into smaller networks, and later became known as “Starfish” organizations.[2]

A group within NATO completely redesigned its physical workspaces to be more conducive to its Inner Directed staff and their needs.

Several Military and Police organizations in the US, AUS and CAN have redesigned their training programs based on values.

A major Pharmaceutical company wanting to expand its R&D into new areas hired Inner Directed scientists for its lab – obtaining their interest by very interesting recruitment ads.

A global food manufacturer looking to expand its business hired a new Marketing Director who had values on the cusp between Inner Directed and Outer Directed, so that he would be able to communicate with customers and identify with their needs, and communicate those ideas to their own R&D people.  They, too, used interesting recruitment ads that appealed to values.

A particular Bank in England recognized that its customers were mostly Sustenance Driven.  They wanted to expand, and since they understood that the Sustenance Driven and Inner Directed both have a strong people-orientation, they used their knowledge of the groups’ values to redesign their branches – making them more open and friendly – and they hired Inner Directed as branch managers and even some tellers.  Their customer base increased significantly.

However, there needs to be a caution with too many Inner Directed.  An example comes from the Shell Oil Company, where many of its Oil Engineers were Inner Directed.  At a workshop where they were wanting to get ideas for new business areas, the Inner Directed were coming up with many different ideas, but had real difficulty turning them into solid business propositions.  It was only when they brought in a few Outer Directed and Sustenance Driven, that they got closure on the propositions.

An entire conference center in the UK was designed around Inner Directed values, and has been very successful – and the architectural firm that designed it is almost entirely Inner Directed.

We have not seen values used to recruit people on a large scale, although we have seen them applied after recruitment to identify best matches for positions.  But it would be easy to do.  The major applications of values so far have been in education, training and incentives.

Current State of the Trends

The USA, Germany and Australia have the largest percentages of Inner Directed and in the US and Australia they are still growing.  Europe has stagnated.   Most of the developing world has fast growing groups of Outer Directed.  These are the two groups that will have most impact on the future of work around the world.  Since most people understand Outer Directed, I’m focusing on Inner Directed as the major driving force for change in the world of work.

Part 2 will focus on the implications of the Inner Directed groups for the Future of Work

[1] Data collected and Analyzed by Cultural Dynamics Strategy & Marketing

[2] Brafman & Beckstrom, The Starfish and the Spider, Portfolio, 2006


Christine MacNulty
Christine MacNulty
CHRISTINE MacNulty has forty years’ experience as a consultant in long-term strategic -planning for concepts as well as organizations, futures studies, foresight, and technology forecasting, technology assessment and related areas, as well as socio-cultural change. For the last twenty years, most of her consultancy has been conducted for the Department of Defense and the Services, NATO ACT, NATO NEC, the British Army’s Force Development & Training Command, and the German BBK. Prior to that her work was in the commercial arena where she had Fortune Global 500 clients. During the last thirty-five years Christine MacNulty has contributed methods and models for understanding social and cultural change through people’s values. She was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce in 1989. She is the coauthor of two books: Industrial Applications of Technology Forecasting, Wiley, 1971 and Strategy with Passion – A Leader’s Guide to Exploiting the Future, August 2016. Her paper: “Method for minimizing the negative consequences of nth order effects in strategic communication actions and inactions” was published in NATO Defence Strategic Communications Journal, p 99, Winter 2015. Two monographs “Truth, Perception & Consequences” (2007) and “Transformation: From the Outside In or the Inside Out” (2008) were published by the Army War College. Perceptions, Values & Motivations in Cyberspace appeared in the IO Journal, 3rd Quarter, 2009, and The Value of Values for IO, SC & Intel was published in the August 2010 edition of the IO Journal.

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  1. I love stuff like this. Great article.

    Nailing down motivations for groups and individuals is getting harder to gauge the more connected we’re becoming. For observable behaviors, their motivations are very time consuming to uncover. It’s much easier to measure observable behaviors and what triggers them to change than it is to determine the underlying motivations for those behaviors. Then again, I do a lot of forecasting models so I am very biased.

    • Thank you, Chris! I appreciate it. It’s true that the more we’re connected, the more difficult it is to ascertain real ideas from mirrored responses. And of course, it’s easier to measure observed behavior, but I think we have to try to impute motivation. As a forecaster, I saw so many people make errors in their forecasts because they just extrapolated in some way. Anything that gives us a bit more real information is worth looking at.

    • I agree. There are some people out there that just use scummy stats.

      For the forecasting I’m involved with, the question is investment and return. How much money are people willing to invest for the certainty of the right answer. What does it cost for us to come up with the wrong decision based on a forecast? That position drives the forecast.

      I feel when it regards human behavior it’s a risky business practice to use linear regression (extrapolation) as the main foundation for a forecast. That’s not how behavior works. Behavior is best predicted by historic context and chaotic theory.