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The Future of Work and Its Impact on Extension Systems

In the networked society ideas have become the new global currency. The economies of developed countries have evolved to the point now where creativity and innovation are our primary product. Michael Walden, an economist at my own institution, North Carolina State University, went so far as to say:

"The current estimate for the United States shows that we have about 3 percent of our wealth in natural resources. We have about 16 percent of our wealth in things like equipment and technology. But a whopping 81 percent of our wealth is intangible wealth. It is in our skills and in our brains."

In this new economy the most important creator of wealth is having the ability to dream big. This is exactly the type of work that more and more people find themselves engaged; as creatives, makers, and sensemakers. Even in the midst of the most severe economic downturn in 75 years, the percentage of workers engaged in creative work is rising. Yet, we continue to manage people as if they were on the factory floor. Few are allowed to deviate from the work-centered aspects of the typical day. Management is still overly focused on the external factors of work such as time, place, and productivity rather than optimizing the work environments to fuel greater ideation… the creation of the very ideas upon which their future depends. There is a body of science to assist us with creating these new work environments. It is not rocket science, but it is absolutely the antithesis of the scientific management principles that have dominated our workplaces since the turn of the 20th century. Success today will require a willingness to let go of the controlling mechanism of the past. New conditions demand new and more progressive management schema.

This seminar will explore several issues that have no clear answers:
o Value creation in the networked economy
o The ethos of the new networked worker
o The characteristics of the new work environment
o Leadership approaches for crossing the chasm
o Preparing, attracting, evaluating, and retaining the next generation of Extension workers

This is the second in an ongoing series of Web conferences from the North Central Regional Center for Rural Development (NCRCRD) focusing on working differently in Extension systems. Web access and support provided by eXtension. For more information please contact Jerry Thomas, NCRCRD Fellow, at or 419.306.9400. For more information about the NCRCRD go to:

This Web conference from the North Central Regional Center for Rural Development is in cooperation with eXtension.


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About the Extension Foundation

The Extension Foundation was formed in 2006 by Extension Directors and Administrators. Today, the Foundation partners with Cooperative Extension through liaison roles and a formal plan of work with the Extension Committee on Organization and Policy (ECOP) to increase system capacity while providing programmatic services, and helping Extension programs scale and investigate new methods and models for implementing programs. The Foundation provides professional development to Cooperative Extension professionals and offers exclusive services to its members. In 2020 and 2021, the Extension Foundation has awarded 85% of its direct funding back to the Cooperative Extension System, 100% of funds are used to support Cooperative Extension initiatives. 

This technology is supported in part by New Technologies for Agriculture Extension grant no. 2020-41595-30123 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture and membership funding. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the content are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. For more information, please visit You can view the terms of useat

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