Work Futures is an exploration of critical themes of the future, present, and past of work, led by work ecologist Stowe Boyd.

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Tuesday, March 13, 2018 

Work Futures Daily - Alexa Goes To Work

What impact will voice assistants have on the workplace?

2018-03-13 Beacon NY - Alexa has become a fixture in my home, providing the most basic answers (Alexa, what time is it?), support for planning and to-dos (Alexa, put broccoli on the shopping list), and as a conduit to other services (Alexa, open Big Sky. (Big Sky is the Dark Sky weather service.)).

So, it’s fairly simple for me to imagine how Alexa could play a similar role in business contexts, as explored in the section below.

I wonder about the transition and merger of mobile devices, wearables, and ambient voice. Will goggles (like the old Google Glass) become a real thing? Can eyeglasses with bone-conducting sound input and output replace text and touch interfaces? If offices ‘know’ who we are through video observation (surveillance sounds so intrusive), can we talk with Alexa or other assistants wherever we are?

I bet we are headed for a Cambrian explosion of competing solutions, of all shapes, sizes, and approaches. But I am certain of two obvious starting points:

  • Alexa Echo (and competitors’) devices used in contextually-defined locations, like meeting rooms (see Vogels use case below).

  • Siri, Google Now, and Alexa assistants on our mobile devices, which are identity-linked to the owner of the device.

Expect to see other experiments, and a long shake-out before a new paradigm obsoletes today’s type-and-touch-on-mobile standard.

Voice Assistants at Work

Werner Vogels, the CTO of Amazon, has a great post making the case for Alexa for Business, after the company announced that they are planning to bring Alexa into work contexts. Vogels uses a great use case for Alexa playing the role of meeting assistant:

Voice-enabled spaces

Just like Alexa is making smart homes easier, the same is possible in the workplace. Alexa can control the environment, help you find directions, book a room, report an issue, or find transportation. One of the biggest applications of voice in the enterprise is conference rooms and we've built some special skills in this area to allow people to be more productive.

For example, many meetings fail to start on time. It's usually a struggle to find the dial-in information, punch in the numbers, and enter a passcode every time a meeting starts. With Alexa for Business, the administrator can configure the conference rooms and integrate calendars to the devices. When you walk into a meeting, all you have to say is "Alexa, start my meeting". Alexa for Business automatically knows what the meeting is from the integrated calendar, mines the dial-in information, dials into the conference provider, and starts the meeting. Furthermore, you can also configure Alexa for Business to automatically lower the projector screen, dim the lights, and more. People who work from home can also take advantage of these capabilities. By using Amazon Echo in their home office and asking Alexa to start the meeting, employees who have Alexa for Business in their workplace are automatically connected to the meeting on their calendar.

Vogels also touches on Alexa integration into enterprise applications, but we’ll have to see how that rolls out.

subscript: Is Alexa a Path to Enterprise Work Management For Amazon?

On Dropbox IPO

Dropbox is apparently headed for a ‘downround IPO’, meaning that the value of the company in the upcoming IPO, around $7B, will be less than the valuation in its last VC round back in 2014. Unless the stock rises, those who paid at the old $10B value will be losing money, or forced to hold for an eventual payoff.

My bet is that the Giants will dominate the file sync-and-share niche — Microsoft, Google, and Amazon — and the pure-play startups are in a downdraft. Which is why Dropbox’s value has dropped $3B in four years.

May be a good time for them to cash out, since in another few years they might be worth only $5B.

On Performance Management

Steven Sinofsky has a great rundown on performance management:

Like so many company processes, when a company is doing “well” then the processes are exactly the right ones and magical. When a company is not doing so “well” then every process is either a symptom or the cause of the situation.

For as much as many might wish to think of performance management as numeric and thus perfectly quantifiable, it is as much a product of context and social science as the products we design and develop. We want quantitative certainty and simplicity, but context is crucial and fluid, and qualitative. We desire fair, which is a relative term, but insist on the truth, which is absolute.

He offers deep insight throughout, like this:

Those that look to the once a year performance rating as the place for either learning how they are doing or for sharing feedback with an employee are simply doing it wrong — there simply shouldn’t be surprises during the process.

A must read.

On Building Networks

Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton researched social networking research in the workplace, and learned Why New Hires Need New Friends:

In a 2005 Babson College study of onboarding practices, researchers found that new hires who got up and running quickly and successfully were better at building strong networks than their less newbies did.

One of the companies studied was a global energy firm. The researchers found that while most of the firm’s new hires communicated regularly with only a few colleagues–mostly within their own teams–one new hire, Jake, “quickly become a central player.” He established solid connections with many more members of the team and others outside his group, and became a valuable source of information, effectively tapping all the new people he met for what he needed.

Some people, like Jake, are simply better at developing personal networks quickly, which might suggest that it isn’t a manager’s job to encourage this. But the Babson researchers argue that actually the lesson here is the reverse: Leaders who most successfully onboard people take what they call a “relational approach” to the task, actively assisting new team members in creating those all-important social bonds right from the get-go.

Consider this finding in light of what I laid out in the recent newsletter issue, Work Futures Daily - Emergent Leadership and Social Capital:

More employers are opening new paths to leadership by encouraging employees to develop spheres of influence that have nothing to do with the org chart.

Such informal power is increasingly important—and valued—in today’s flatter organizations, where more jobs confer responsibility for teammates’ performance without the authority to give orders or dish out rewards or punishment, says corporate trainer Dana Brownlee, of Atlanta.

We will continue to see confirmation of these ideas, and incentive for companies to take active steps to make the workplace conducive to people making more connections, more business relationships, and more friendships.

A study by Alex Pentland’s group at MIT in 2012

studied the communication patterns among high-performing teams versus lower-performing ones. What they found, somewhat unsurprisingly, is that social ties like friendship at work were crucial to performance. Friendships at work foster not only stronger communication, but stronger bonds to and within the organization overall.

However, businesses seldom do much to explicitly increase the number of social connections, despite all manner of talking about ‘building strong organizations’, a term that generally is code for other negative activities, like groupthink, and indoctrination to the philosophies of the founders.

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Monday, March 12, 2018 

Work Futures Daily - Not In Milan, After All

I gave the '10 Work Skills for A Working Future' talk via Skype, and will be posting a video later in the week

2018-03-12 Beacon NY — I wasn’t supposed to be writing a newsletter today, because I planned to be in Milan Italy giving a presentation for Microsoft. However, Saturday at JFK I learned a wrinkle of US passport rules: if you have less that three months of valid time on your passport, you can’t leave the country. At least not until you get a new one. Apparently, my passport would still work to return to the US, if I had only left a few days earlier.

So, I spent most of Saturday going to the airport, turning around, and heading home.

Instead of presenting in person, however, I will be giving my talk, 10 Work Skills for A Working Future, via Skype for Business to a hall with 200 executives and Microsoft folks.

The only upside of this mess-up is that I have recorded the talk as a back-up, and so later this week I will be posting the talk in various forms and formats.

I’ll still be headed to San Francisco on Wednesday for a DHL event, so newsletter service will be spotty Wed-Fri.

On Makeup

Turns out that the perception of women’s leadership abilities involves a sort of Goldilocks range of alternatives, where too much, too little, or none puts women at a disadvantage, but a minimal amount is required to be considered competent at all.

Sarah Knapton collates research on the topic:

  • Heavily made-up women were judged in one study as as having poorer leadership skills.

  • A Harvard University study showed that ‘that women who wore make-up were deemed more competent at their jobs and more likely to be promoted. A ‘professional’ look also earned markes for likability, while a ‘natural’ look won out for trustworthiness. However the study also showed that women who were wearing more ‘glamorous’ looks were deemed less trustworthy, suggesting there is a makeup line which, when crossed, damages professionalism.’

  • Another survey found ‘two thirds of British employers would be less likely to employ a female job applicant if she did not wear makeup to the job interview’.

Since no other information is available the people taking these surveys, I wonder what is the cause of these beliefs? Do the most competent women simply learn that a baseline of make-up is necessary, but that too much works against you? Whatever is going on, there is no natural correlation with make-up and competence: it’s all cultural.

On Phonebooths and Headphones

Phonebooths are making a comeback. Not on street corners, but in open plan offices, reports Dodai Stewart:

Five new, maple-sided, portable, modular Zenbooth phone booths were installed late last year at the 17th Street headquarters of Gizmodo Media Group, the home of several websites, including Deadspin, Lifehacker, Jezebel and Splinter (where this reporter was previously employed).

But because approximately 230 employees work out of the GMG headquarters, the booths are frequently occupied by writers and editors looking to make a private call. Thus, the company’s facilities manager, Will Sansom, recently ordered four additional Zenbooths — including one two-seater that acts a small stand-alone meeting room — explaining that there has been “positively positive feedback across the board.”


But doesn’t installing a free-standing phone booth in your company’s sleek office admit some kind of failure of planning?

Yes, says Nikil Saval, the co-editor of n+1 magazine and the author of Cubed: A Secret History Of The Workplace.

“There has rarely been a premium placed on privacy for American office workers,” Mr. Saval said in a phone interview, noting that while cubicles cut down on visual distractions, “you still have to deal with noise, and noise travels pretty easily. It’s an incredibly common problem in open office plans.”

Added Mr. Saval: “The clearest instance of how much of a problem it is? People put on headphones all the time. Headphones have become the new walls. It’s also a signal: Don’t disturb me. Because you’re constantly surrounded by other people, and you’re cheek to jowl, just crammed in with other people.”

Mr. Saval said surveys have shown that while workers overwhelmingly prefer private offices to open-plan arrangements or cubicles — where they are often forced to hear a co-worker make dinner reservations, check in on the babysitter or, most awkwardly, argue with a significant other — there are economic forces that take precedence. “There are no measurable benefits as far as human interaction, sociability, running into each other, serendipitous encounters,” he said of the open floor plan. “It’s just cheaper, and that’s why it exists."

The classic confrontation of market forces versus human rights, in the form of phonebooths and headphones as a reaction to businesses cramming more and more people into ever-shrinking office space.

On Work Uncertainty

In a recent Gallup/Northeastern University survey, AI Seen as Greater Job Threat Than Immigration, Offshoring. Top line:

  • 23% of U.S. workers worry they may lose their jobs to technology

  • 58% in U.S. say new technology — like AI — is the greater threat to jobs, more than twice as many as the 12% that think they’ll lose jobs to immigration.

Note that 52% of Republicans believe immigration and offshoring is a greater threat, while 67% of Democrats worry about new technology.

On Inequality

In what may have been a cost-cutting measure, United Airlines announced a few weeks ago that it was retiring a performance-based bonus system in favor of a lottery-based system, and it pissed off its workforce enormously.

It seems fairly clear that United’s brain trust did not test this brilliant move with a sample of employees because they might have avoided the fiasco that occurred, with employees creating an online petition against the move.

Dana Wilke offers this analysis:

Swapping a merit-based bonus program for a lottery based on chance may strike some as a way for United to save money—a move that may be viewed as especially greedy at a time when the economy and stock markets are humming. Paying out bonuses to rank-and-file workers and executives costs United tens of millions of dollars a year. Some experts speculated that the lottery system that United envisioned would award far less.

"When United announced its lottery bonus program, it broke its promise to employees," said Deb Gabor, CEO of Sol Marketing, a brand strategy consultancy based in Austin, Texas. "But more importantly, it broke its promise to its customers by creating a system that rewards randomness and variability, rather than consistency and caring, creating a condition in which employees aren't incentivized to deliver experiences that reinforce the company's promise to customers." 

United Airlines spokeswoman Maddie King referred SHRM Online to a message that United President Scott Kirby sent to employees indicating that he was putting the new bonus program on hold "to review your feedback and consider the right way to move ahead." He explained in the message that the new bonus approach was designed to "introduce a better, more exciting program, but we misjudged how these changes would be received by many of you."

"We will begin a series of listening sessions across our system to get feedback on how we should structure the new incentive program," King told SHRM Online. "We want to create confidence across our employee base in the new program that will help build morale, as we continue running a great operation and providing excellent customer service."

Yes, as they ‘continue to run a great operation’. And the run it so, so well.

So, they tried to ratchet down their compensation system another notch, attempting to increase pay inequality. First, United and many other corporations started a shift — decades ago — away from giving cost-of-living-plus-performance-based pay raises, and instead shifted to annual bonuses. That led to across the country stagnation of wage growth, and diverted billions into company profits.

Now, United tried to take the next step down the path to neofeudalism: they attempted to get rid of across the board merit based bonuses and cut costs again by rewarding only a small proportion of the workforce with showy, shiny toys, like expensive cars, or $100,000 in cash.

Doesn’t it sound something like the Hunger Games?

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Friday, March 9, 2018 

Work Futures Daily - Emergent Leadership and Social Capital

In a connected world, the most important choice is who to follow.

2018-03-09 Beacon NY — Only a few snippets today, as I am behind the eight ball on a number of fronts, and I’m leaving for a week of travel tomorrow.

On Emergent Leadership

On Twitter, Jennifer Van Dale drew my attention to a Wall Street Journal article by Sue Shellenbarger:

Shellenbarger collated research from various sources about how those with less ‘formal’ power in an organization — meaning an explicit organizational management role — can create ‘informal’ power through curating social networks:

More employers are opening new paths to leadership by encouraging employees to develop spheres of influence that have nothing to do with the org chart.

Such informal power is increasingly important—and valued—in today’s flatter organizations, where more jobs confer responsibility for teammates’ performance without the authority to give orders or dish out rewards or punishment, says corporate trainer Dana Brownlee, of Atlanta.

Specific behaviors can predict informal power, and many of them can be learned, she says. Networking across departments, building expertise in new areas and cultivating charisma are all ways to gain power, and make you a go-to person for colleagues.

People who build strong networks ask lots of questions of colleaguesshow respect for co-workers’ roles and accomplishments, and look for openings to help with projects that excite them, according to a 2017 study of 20 employers and 160 managers co-written by Robert Cross, a professor of global leadership at Babson College in Massachusetts. “These people create enthusiasm in the networks around them,” making colleagues more likely to offer them new opportunities, says Dr. Cross, who heads a 70-employer consortium studying collaboration. “I call them energizers.”


Increasingly, employers value this kind of influence, too. Employees with strong internal networks tend to be high performers, according to a 2016 study in the Harvard Business Review.

Another aspect of social networking that leads to increased social capital lies in what Ronald Burt calls structural holes: connecting groups that have few or no other connections. As I wrote in Social Capital Is All About Where You Are, Not Who You Know, referring to Burt’s work:

Those who bridge across a gap in a social network, connecting otherwise disconnected subnetworks, have greater social capital than those who do not act as potential bridges in this way. For example, I know many people in Portugal, and if some innovative idea arose there I would have a greater likelihood of learning of that innovation before others in the U.S. And if I were to pass that information along, my value to those without that connection would rise.

The social capital is only potential until I actually broker it to others. Burt makes the distinction between different sorts of brokering information in the context of this structural social capital:

  1. Awareness — to make people on different sides of the structural hole aware of “interests and difficulties” of those on the other side

  2. Transferring best practice — to become familiar enough with innovative practices in one group to help them become established in another group

  3. Drawing analogies — to reflect on the practices in one group and to infer through analogy how those practices might be adapted in a second group

  4. Synthesis — to reflect on activities in practices of disparate groups and to meld together ideas, coming up with an innovative combination

The takeaway — there is a practical advantage to being at the edge: It confers social capital. 

Which led me to the observation:

In a connected world, the most important choice is who to follow.

Which echoes a one-liner of Burt’s:

Seek to be worth knowing.

So that others will follow you.

Those who develop those connections today that can be drawn on as needed in some unanticipated future are developing the groundwork for emergent leadership. In fact, building anticipatory social networks is perhaps a key indicator of emergent leadership potential.

On The New Unions

Many articles recently on the astonishing uprising of teachers in West Virginia, who have succeeded in getting their demands for a 5% pay hike and a better deal on health care.

Alia Wong notes,

It’s debatable as to why exactly West Virginia was the state to precipitate this fledgling national teachers’ movement, but experts tend to agree it comprised, in the words of Paul Reville, a professor of education policy and administration at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, “a perfect storm of factors.”

For one, unlike most other states, West Virginia doesn’t allow for collective bargaining at the local level; the same is true of Oklahoma. When that limitation corresponds with a notably low salary, a statewide strike is more likely. Meanwhile, a sizable chunk of West Virginia’s 55 counties is contiguous to other states, where average salaries are sometimes as much as $20,000 more than they are locally. That results in a double whammy, contributing to an exodus of quality teachers to districts right across the borders and making it difficult for West Virginia to attract qualified, experienced teachers to its own schools.


The West Virginia teachers’ strike may also be gaining national traction because it is proof that organized labor can still have clout despite political efforts to undermine such movements, Reville said, pointing to a forthcoming ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court that’s expected to outlaw mandatory public-sector union fees and therefore weaken such labor organizations. Unions elsewhere, including those representing educators and other public-sector workers, may find it inspiring “that a group of teachers [across the state] came together largely on their own, stood up, took a position, and then held fast when they felt like they weren’t receiving the proper support from state officials,” Reville said.

In that sense, the West Virginia teachers’ strike is symbolically important, according to Reville: “People will take faith in this—they will feel emboldened and empowered to act,” he said. “The fact that [West Virginia’s teachers] made some headway and came out victorious, I think, is a real shot in the arm for the labor movement.”

Jess Bidgood writes,

The strike ground the state’s public schools to a halt for nine days, a remarkable show of defiance by the teachers in a state where the power of organized labor, once led by strong mining unions, has greatly diminished. Along the way, the teachers disregarded union leaders’ advice to return to work when the governor first promised them the raise last week, deciding in meetings at malls and union halls and in Facebook groups that they would stay out until their raise was enacted in law.

“Maybe our voices are being heard, finally,” said Danielle Harris, a third-grade teacher from Fayette County, whose eyes filled with tears after Mr. Justice announced the deal on Tuesday. “These strikes aren’t for nothing.”

This is an example of a bottom-up, spontaneous rebellion of the teachers, not a top-down, planned union action. This is fluidarity — where all involved find common cause in a small set of demands — instead of solidarity — where a leadership group hammers out a complete platform of demands and attempts to convince/coerce the rank-and-file to go along with it.

We’re starting to see a shift in the labor world, toward a fast-and-loose style of cooperation in networks in what has traditionally been a slow-and-tight style of coercion inside of hierarchies.

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Thursday, March 8, 2018 

Work Futures Daily - Losing Control of My Reading Pile

Upcoming travel hell likely to disrupt newsletter service. Apologies in advance.

2018-03-08 Beacon NY — I may have to declare reading pile bankruptcy: I have something like a hundred links in my ‘read later’ list in Dynalist (the tool I use for bookmarks and notes).

Luckily (?), I will be spending a lot of time on airplanes in the next week, so maybe I can catch up. A trip to Milan, leaving Saturday, where I am giving a talk for Microsoft Italy on Monday, and then I fly through New York to San Francisco for an event there, and then return to New York next Friday. Whew.

Newsletter service is likely to be sporadic, although as I work through the read later list I will be pulling the most interesting out for you.

For subscribers — as an outgrowth of the Milan talk, 10 Work Skills for A Working Future, you’ll be seeing the presentation, and a deep investigation of the tenth of the work skills: Sensemaking. Coming soon, maybe written at 30,000 feet.

Thomas Didrel asks, in response to making Work Futures a non-profit organization, not just a newsletter:

Just a thought: eventually extending this .org with a conference could be a great complement.

Yes, I’ve started to think about that.

On Automation

SAM laying brick

A contest for best bricklaying is also a convenient locale to demonstrate SAM, or Semi-Automated Mason, a product of Construction Robots. Apparently, the tightening job market is making it hard to find bricklayers:

Nearly two-thirds of bricklaying contractors say they are struggling to find workers, according to a survey by the National Association of Home Builders . And it can take three to four years before a person with no experience can become a journeyman bricklayer.

In addition, productivity — how much brick wall a laborer can complete in an hour of work — isn’t much better than it was two decades ago. Bricklaying’s most important tools — a trowel, a bucket, string and a wheelbarrow —  haven’t changed much over centuries.

These factors would seem to put the trade at risk of a robot takeover.

At present SAM is expensive — $400,000 each — and they can’t do all that human masons can, like corners, curves or reading blueprints. But they can work all day in the hot sun.

Innovations like these could ease the pressures of construction costs that are worsening the housing shortages in some parts of the country. Even Jeff Buczkiewicz,president of the Mason Contractors Association of America, acknowledged a role for robots.

“The machines will never replace the human,” Mr. Buczkiewicz said. “They will help down the road and they will make it that we won’t need as many workers, but given the shortages we’re seeing now, that’s probably a good thing.”

But he added, “There’s a human element to a craft that you don’t get from a robot.”

Sounds like another opportunity for 40 Acres and a Bot — a human mason augmented by a robot assistant or two (or vice versa).

On Self-Management

Yesterday I was notified by a reader, who goes by George, that an active (acrimonious?) discussion was going on at George Pór’s Enlivening Edge group on Facebook about the Corporate Rebel’s post on Self-Management I had written about.

It may be a little ‘inside Baseball’ for many readers, but for those that are interested in the hair-splitting between self-managed teams versus self-managed organizations, what is permissible in self-promotion, or whether the Corporate Rebels are a bit too rebellious, well, you may find it interesting. There is also a long thread on the original post at Corporate Rebels, as well as a follow-up today.

On The Process of Work

Alexandra Samuel has a great chart on her work process, which sounds like mine:

On Organizational Theory

I encountered a longish post (16 minutes) by Richard Bartlett, a deep-thinking member of Enspiral and co-founder of Loomio, called The Vibes Theory of Organisational Design. He’s wondering about the formulation and use of written agreements in decentralized organizations. He offers a variety of examples, and asks great questions, like this:

What holds a group together?

And later on, after a lot of spadework, he offers his answer:

I believe that groups are mostly held together by good feelings, and the explicit structure is just an artificial scaffold. Enspiral’s written agreements are important because of what they symbolise, not necessarily because of the precise words they say. I think a group is held together by history and relationships and collaborative meaning-making and amorous feelings and psychological responses and co-imagined futures and shared identity, and yes some written agreements and explicit roles too, but I’m convinced the explicit stuff is just the tip of the iceberg.

One thing he doesn’t touch on is the notion that the explicit ‘stuff’ — the written agreements — are principally for those who haven’t yet internalized the principles that underlie ‘good feelings’: the sense of belonging to a shared culture with common narratives about values and goals, and in which people feel safe to operate and cooperate.

And then he’s off to another good question:

Can we do better than written agreements?

Go read it, if you can spare the time.

On Thinking

I reread Euan Semple’s Ancient Reasons To Stop And Think, and you should too. He notes that at work,

We are encouraged to focus on anything but our own thoughts. Sitting thinking is seen as doing nothing. We are encouraged to busy ourselves with what other people are doing and should be doing.


We have not been encouraged to develop the self-awareness required to think hard about our motivation and the effects of our actions. We are more used to be reactive than responsive in our work relationships. Even 2000 years ago this was a challenge:

Say to yourself in the early morning: I shall meet today ungrateful, violent, treacherous, envious, uncharitable men. All of the ignorance of real good and ill… I can neither be harmed by any of them, for no man will involve me in wrong, nor can I be angry with my kinsman or hate him; for we have come into the world to work together…

| Marcus Aurelius


In fast changing and unpredictable times true strength and leadership come from integrity and self-awareness, what the Stoics would call virtue, and these are going to be increasingly called for in the world of business. As the world around us begins to change more quickly and more profoundly than perhaps ever before, there will be a greater need for people who exude the sort of calm and stability that a more thoughtful approach leads to.


We don’t have to sit around doing nothing all day. Even grabbing a moment to sit in silence before an important meeting can make a huge difference. The centering, calming, effect of being aware of our thoughts and emotions can have a greater impact on our effectiveness than running around like a mad thing all day. It also improves our relationships. And relationships, in a soon to be real world of robots and artificial intelligence, are increasingly key to our effectiveness at work. It is our USP*. We should aspire to become better at it. Stopping to think is our secret weapon.

* Unique Selling Proposition

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Wednesday, March 7, 2018 

Work Futures Daily - Envisioning a Working Future

We don’t have to become mutants to thrive in the future. But we do need new skills: without them we may fail to find a workable future.

2018-03-07 Beacon NY - I’ve been getting ready for a talk next week in Milan for Microsoft Italy. The talk is derived from 10 Work Skills for the Postnormal Era, although I am playing down the postnormal angle, so I called the talk 10 Work Skills for A Working Future. The thesis of the talk is we need a different set of skills for the future — I list ten — but these skills can be learned, even those -- like curiosity and creativity -- that seem to be personality characteristics. As I say in the talk,

We don’t have to become mutants to thrive in the future. But we do need new skills: without them we may fail to find a workable future.

These 10 — and other skills — form a necessary foundation for that future, but not a sufficient one. We will need more to happen, particularly a broad education, policy, and regulatory shift, to ensure that working future comes to pass.

I used Deckset to create the presentation, which is a cool app that relies on Markdown for content, and it made the work of formatting the deck simple and easy.

I will be posting the presentation — for subscribers — next week including notes, after I return from Italy.

By the way, the post, The way we work doesn’t work anymore, continues to get a lot of attention so if you haven’t read it yet you might want to.

On Self-Management

The Corporate Rebels make the case that self-management has been around a long time:

In older academic papers, researchers advocate that ‘organizations must radically change their managerial structure by converting to worker-run teams and thereby eliminate unneeded supervisors and other bureaucratic staff.’ This particular statement originates from Professor James Barker’s 1993 article ‘Tightening the Iron Cage, concertive control in self-managing teams‘. Although published more than two decades ago, the statement sounds suspiciously like advice from the top-notch management gurus of today, right?

If we delve further into Barker’s landmark article, he makes the case even stronger: ‘workers in a self-managing team will experience day-to-day work life in vastly different ways than workers in a traditional management system. Instead of being told what to do by a supervisor, self-managing workers must gather and synthesize information, act on it, and take collective responsibility for those actions.’

A must read.

On Automation

Scott Neuman reports on Flippy the Fast Food Robot, now online at Caliburger in Pasadena CA. Miso, the company behind the robot, began working with Caliburger two years ago, and the press release does the usual job of pushing off the question of eliminating jobs:

Miso, the company — which bills Flippy as the world's first burger-flipping robot — began working with Caliburger two years ago to develop it as a "cost-effective and highly efficient solution" that is "specifically designed to operate in an existing commercial kitchen layout and to serve alongside kitchen staff to safely and efficiently fulfill a variety of cooking tasks."

"The kitchen of the future will always have people in it, but we see that kitchen as having people and robots," said David Zito, co-founder and CEO of Miso Robotics tells KTLA in Los Angeles. "This technology is not about replacing jobs — we see Flippy as that third hand."

In its current version, Flippy needs a human coworker to place the patties on the grill, put the cheese on top at the right moment and add the extras, such as lettuce and sauce before wrapping the sandwiches for customers.

But next month’s upgrade may do those tasks, too, of course. McKinsey says fast food is one of the industries most likely to be automated.

Jeannette Neumann looks into how Zara Turns to Robots as In-Store Pickups Surge:

One-third of its global online sales are now picked up in the store, the company says, but that has created long lines in some cities and waits for attendants to retrieve packages, customers say. To speed up the process, Zara said earlier this year it would roll out a robot-run version of click and collect, automating the service.

The collection points in brick-and-mortar stores will allow shoppers who have ordered items online to scan or enter a code, triggering a behind-the-scenes robot to search for the customer’s package in a small warehouse, and then deliver it quickly to a drop box.

On AI in Healthcare

Healthcare is dominated by fax communications, according to Jonathan Bush, the CEO of athenahealth:

Each year, some 120 million faxes still flow into the practices of the more than 100,000 providers on the network of athenahealth, the healthcare technology company where I’m CEO. That’s right: faxes. Remember those?

In healthcare, faxes remain the most common method that practitioners use to communicate with each other, and therefore often contain important clinical information: lab results, specialist consult notes, prescriptions and so on. […] Faxes don’t contain any structured text — so it takes medical practice staff an average of two minutes and 36 seconds to review each document and input relevant data into patient records. Through a combination of machine learning and business-process outsourcing that has automated the categorizing of faxes, we’ve reduced time-per-fax for our practices to one minute and 11 seconds. As a result, last year alone we managed to eliminate over 3 million hours of work from the healthcare system.

And that’s just the beginning for our AI team. Next year, we hope to reduce the time it takes to import data from a fax into a patient record to 30 seconds. And we’re developing software that can scan lab results and flag urgent findings for human attention and an algorithm that can help automatically schedule high-risk patients for routine follow-ups.

Reading faxes and scheduling appointments don’t exactly quicken the pulse. But here’s why this sort of work is so important. First, we are in the midst of a burnout crisis among U.S. physicians. They’re crushed by administrative overload and feel they are becoming box-tickers rather than clinicians. Patients, too, feel overwhelmed by the cumbersome work required to chase referrals and ensure basic clinical information follows them through the health system.

AI to the rescue! And lowering the cost of healthcare, while improving the bottom line for athenahealth.

On The Workplace

I’ve railed against the Anywhereism prevalent in open office workplaces,

The official story is that today’s workplace is designed to increase the likelihood of serendipity, creativity, innovation, and human happiness, but the hard reality is that most companies are decreasing the square footage of offices to save money, even when evidence suggests that many people are less happy, and less productive in open spaces, especially introverts.

A set of 21st century design conventions make up what Kyle Chayka has termed Airspace: open plans, glass walls, communal table-desks, high ceilings. Shiny and monochrome devices. Artisan touches, like finished plywood and Edison lightbulbs. And all places are taking on the same contours and affordances, from our bedrooms to our offices to cafes, hotels, and co-working sites.

Leave no trace behind. Remember: You have never been here. — Tokumitsu and Mol

The aesthetics and cultural underpinnings of Anywhereism — the inherent rootlessness and interchangeability of places, parts, and people — is now deeply engrained in work culture. We live in occupied territory. The mandate is we can (and must) work anywhere, that there can be no boundaries between work and non-work, and everywhere we work (which is anywhere) should look and feel like everywhere else.

I am encouraged by a new Steelcase technology, called Workplace Advisor that helps companies actually understand how space is being used, and to help humanize the workplace:

Workplace Advisor was built on the Microsoft Azure IoT platform and uses strategically placed sensors and gateways to track precise, real-time space usage, identifying which rooms are open versus ones that are reserved but sitting empty. Newly-engineered sensors, precisely located in each workspace, allow Workplace Advisor to achieve great accuracy. In addition, proprietary algorithms apply Steelcase’s deep knowledge of work, workers and the workplace to extract meaning from the data and display it in a real-time, intuitive user interface.

“We’re using technology, big data and workplace insights to help companies create human-centered workplaces.”

JIM KEANE | CEO Steelcase

The insights revealed by Workplace Advisor are often surprising. Jenny Carroll, user interaction designer, says one reason is that most businesses are unaware of how their space is actually used. She also notes that 46 percent of space goes unused in a typical workplace. “Work is changing so quickly, you can’t really prescribe how a room is used. People use conference rooms for phone calls. Groups collaborate in open lounge spaces. Some people roam around as they talk on a phone. Having real-time data about your work environment helps you understand user behaviors, how people work, and how space can help them. Workplace Advisor is like a Fitbit for the office.

Nice tagline, and a smart ethnographic approach: observe what people are doing, don’t tell them what to do.

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Work Futures is an exploration of critical themes of the future, present, and past of work, led by work ecologist Stowe Boyd.

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