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

Wednesday, February 21, 2018 

A Working Future

Telling Lies to Get at the Truth about Work

Science fiction isn’t just thinking about the world out there. It’s also thinking about how that world might be—a particularly important exercise for those who are oppressed, because if they’re going to change the world we live in, they—and all of us—have to be able to think about a world that works differently.

| Samuel Delany

We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art, the art of words.

| Ursula K. Le Guin

I think that my generation, the generation that grew up in the ’60s, we were supposed to be such idealists. We were going to change the world, and look what we have.

| Jill Abramson

I have written a number of manifestos intended to lay the groundwork for a new way of work, such as A Manifesto for a New Way of Work, written in 2015 as the starting point for a book that I never wrote. I agree with much of what I wrote, but now, in 2018, I am taking a new tack.

I won’t be laying out a logical, consistent, well-considered and footnoted argument for a new way of work, with all the reasons why standing up in sequence like a domino show, just waiting for the reader to push the first domino. That approach, which I now reject, implies that if we just convince enough people to make enough changes in themselves, their teams, and their businesses, then — once all the dominoes have fallen — we will find ourselves in a new world of work.

Now, instead of pretending to be a grand architect — or sorcerer — that can design or conjure a new way of work into existence with a few thousand well-chosen domino-shaped words, I’ve decided to bail on that sort of writing project. Perhaps I’m not enough of a charlatan to pull it off, or, to be more charitable and self-aware, I just don’t have it in me to write a book that I might not really want to read.

One reason I wouldn’t want to read such a book is that it might just focus on the narrow context of work and ignore the unsurprising fact that we live in a larger world, whose externalities define and channel the world of work totally. We can’t ignore income inequality, climate change, or political unrest, and look only inside the walls of the business. We can’t paint all the windows black, and pretend that people are unidimensional drones who have no life, connection, or purpose outside of the office and their work.

So, I’ve decided on another course. Being more of a brick-through-the-window sort of subversive than anything else, and a self-described futurist, instead I plan to write a series of future scenarios, and accompanying commentary. The goal is to explore the near future through the interactions of fictional characters, who are living their lives in the 2020’s. These stories are speculative, inconclusive, and partial. And by partial, I mean in two ways:

  1. They are incomplete, and have only fragments of what might be called story arcs.

  2. I am taking sides. These stories are not balanced, they aren’t reportage or journalism, they are deeply subjective. These stories are oppositional, or are intended to incite strong opinions, and perhaps, conflict.

And I don’t know how it all comes out. Some stories may be utopian, others dystopian. A single story might have elements of both. Different stories might contradict each other. People in one story may show up in others, but some may appear in only one. Some are focused on technology, others on ethics, or education, or leadership.

Basically, I am telling lies to get at the truth about work, or something like it. With my fingers crossed behind my back.

We’ll just have to see where it goes. I make no promises, but I am unambivalent about the project, at least. I bet it will be a book I would like to read, at least.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018 

A Manifesto For A New Way Of Work

We need a revolution in our thinking about business

<update 2018-02-21> — This was written in 2015, as the starting point for a book that I never wrote. I agree with much of what I wrote, but now, in 2018, I am taking a new tack, which I have laid out in a new post:

Stowe Boyd | A Working Future: Telling Lies to Get at the Truth about Work

I won’t be laying out a logical, consistent, well-considered and footnoted argument for a new way of work, with all the reasons why standing up in sequence like a domino show, just waiting for the reader to push the first domino. That approach, which I now reject, implies that if we just convince enough people to make enough changes in themselves, their teams, and their businesses, then — once all the dominoes have fallen — we will find ourselves in a new world of work.

Now, instead of pretending to be a grand architect — or sorcerer — that can design or conjure a new way of work into existence with a few thousand well-chosen words, I’ve decided to bail on that sort of writing project. Perhaps I’m not enough of a charlatan to pull it off, or, to be more charitable and self-aware, I just don’t have it in me to write a book that I might not really want to read.

</update 2018-02-21>


We need a revolution in our thinking about business, and how we organize ourselves to accomplish work, as individuals, networks, and businesses. This new form factor of work cannot be a soft layering of a handful of new ideas on top of the enduring premises of today’s way of work. We’ve tried that before. It’s what we have today, really. 

Yes, a few innovations have been adopted over the past few decades, like the first wave of information technology, employee empowerment, matrixed organizations, and social media. These have led to some modest successes in some areas, but the underlying premises of business have remained the same since the start of the industrial era. The management and organizational model that arose in the early 20th century has only been moderated by these innovations of the later 20th century.


While the coercive controls of early industrialism have gradually transitioned toward a more consensus-based managerial regime, and hierarchies have flattened, businesses remain profoundly undemocratic on the whole.


While the coercive controls of early industrialism have gradually transitioned toward a more consensus-based managerial regime, and hierarchies have flattened, businesses remain profoundly undemocratic on the whole. Today’s late industrial form factor of work is a tailored version of its predecessor, but it is the same fabric and style. It is not as slow to change as the industrial behemoths of Henry Ford and Thomas Edison’s day, but today’s way is too slow and tight for the economy we are now in: the postnormal.

The changes necessary to accommodate the postnormal are sweeping. As just the most obvious example, success in this brave new world will require rewiring work patterns with next generation web-based social and mobile tools — new way tools — at the core of business, not as an afterthought. These tools will serve as the actual basis of business operations not as an adjunct or support for unmediated business operations. A new generation of work management tools is coming that will, to quote Ginni Rometty of IBM, serve as your production line, not as your water cooler.


Advocating this agenda is naturally oppositional, not just ambling toward a shiny new future. This new way of work is explicitly and loudly a break with — and even at times a condemnation of — the ways of the past.


Advocating this agenda is naturally oppositional, not just ambling toward a shiny new future. This new way of work is explicitly and loudly a break with — and even at times a condemnation of — the ways of the past.

Perhaps the single most important characteristic of this new, postnormal way of work is its embrace of a scientific understanding of the human mind and human sociality, based on research findings from cognitive science, social networks, and organizational psychology. This is a rejection of the folklore that underlies a great deal of the explicit and implicit baggage of today’s management practices. What is emerging is a break with the orthodoxies of the industrial age, one much like the movement that spread across Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries, whose advocates came to be known as ‘freethinkers’. Freethinkers hold that beliefs should be grounded on reason, derived from facts, scientific inquiry, and rational analysis, independent of logical fallacies and cognitive biases, and should sidestep the barriers of authority, conventional wisdom, prejudice, tradition, myths, and all other dogma.

Most of what defines freethinking about work is a displacement of practices and cultural norms. The reality is there can’t be a permanent compromise between freethinking and earlier dogma, and it may be necessary to quickly make adjustments, transitioning to a new basis for work. A baby may spend nine months in the womb, but its birth is necessarily of only a few hours duration.


The new way of work is as big a break with the industrial model as the industrial model was with the time of artisanal and agricultural work that preceded the rise of steam power and electricity. Unlike that transition, however, we will not be looking for inspiration from armies, or the slave battalions that built the pyramids. No, instead we will look to nature, or the growth of cities for inspiration.


Here are the major theses of A New Way of Work, which will be chapters or sections of the eventual work coming out of my investigations:

  • Dissent (versus Consensus) — Active and directed dissent is a better way to counter the cognitive biases of groups and individuals, and to sidestep groupthink. This is essential to increased innovation and creativity truly driving business.

  • Cooperative (versus Collaborative) — The new way of work sidesteps the politics and collectivism of consensus-based decision making, and shifts to looser, laissez-faire cooperative work patterns.

  • Creativity (versus Tradition) — We are in a time when new solutions to problems need to be contrived, and traditional approaches may be not only broken but dangerous.

  • Autonomy (versus Heteronomy) — Paradoxically, as we come into a time when we acknowledge that we are more connected to each other than ever before, a great degree of autonomy will become the norm. The old demands to subordinate all personal interests to those of the collective will be displaced by a personal reengagement in our own work and a commitment to a deeper work culture that transcends any one company’s corporate culture.

  • (Hyper)democracy (versus Oligarchy) — Today’s management theory and organizational structure is basically a holdover from the earliest days of the industrial age, a time prior to democracy, when monarchies ruled. Businesses today are oligarchies, where the few lead the many. In recent decades, there has been a transition from coercive controls to more consensual ones, but if we are to move fast enough to compete in the new economy we will have to more to a hyper lean, agile democratic form factor for work.

  • Fast-and-loose (versus Slow-and-tight) — Companies need to become much looser — higher degrees of autonomy and voluntary association into working teams — in order to run faster, increase innovation, and provide the sort of environment that top performers best operate in.

  • Laissez-faire (versus Entrepreneurial) — The growing uncertainties in complex, interconnected, global economy means that predicting the future and judging risks has become extremely difficult if not impossible. Therefore, the notion of organizing any reasonably sized company around a single ‘official future’ is broken. We’ll need to adopt a laissez-faire operating system for business, where many experiments based on different hypotheses can run in parallel, instead of lining up all the troops and making them march to a single unified strategic plan.

  • Hyperlean (versus Waterfall) — All business operations will transition away from top-down, long-term, waterfall-style models to a bottom-up, short-term, hyperlean approach. Those closest to the problem will work on its solution, and divvy up the pieces in a way that makes sense to them, and refactor as needed.

  • Small-and-Simple (versus Large-and-Complex) — The technological advances that will disrupt markets and patterns of business in the future will increasingly be small-and-simple, but paradoxically, may force the reevaluation of everything, like file sync-and-share applications, which are destabilizing the enterprise software market.

  • Open and Public (versus Closed and Private) — The number one factor today in work happiness is the transparency of management practices, and that happiness is likewise reflected in higher engagement at work.

  • Emergent Strategy (versus Deliberate Strategy) — The nature of strategy changes in a time of great change, when the future is difficult to foresee. The role of leadership changes with it, as well. Instead of concocting a strategic vision and pushing it out to the organization through cultural and managerial channels — the deliberate style of strategy — leadership must shift to distributed, action-based strategic learning about what is actually happening in the market: emergent strategy. This, as Henry Mintzberg observed, does not mean chaos, but unintended order.


The fast-and-loose business that is emerging as the new way of work runs more like a forest or a city than a machine. We need to learn by imitating rich ecosystems, where the appearance of chaos yields to emergent order, and reject order imposed by fiat.


The new way of work is as big a break with the industrial model as the industrial model was with the time of artisanal and agricultural work that preceded the rise of steam power and electricity. Unlike that transition, however, we will not be looking for inspiration from armies, or the slave battalions that built the pyramids. No, instead we will look to nature, or the growth of cities for inspiration.

The fast-and-loose business that is emerging as the new way of work runs more like a forest or a city than a machine. We need to learn by imitating rich ecosystems, where the appearance of chaos yields to emergent order, and reject order imposed by fiat.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018 

Swift Trust in the Gig Economy

Almost all of the 10 million ‘jobs’ ‘created’ in the period of 2005 through 2015 were not actually jobs, but gigs.

There’s growing evidence that recent growth in U.S. employment has been almost totally the result of an increase in part-time and freelance work. A startling analysis by economists Lawrence Katz of Harvard University and Alan Krueger at Princeton University, reported by Dan Kopf in Quartz, lays out a stark reality:

We find that 94% of net job growth in the past decade was in the alternative work category,’ said Krueger. ‘And over 60% was due to the [the rise] of independent contractors, freelancers and contract company workers.

So, almost all of the 10 million ‘jobs’ ‘created’ in the period of 2005 through 2015 were not actually jobs, but gigs.

This trend is simply building on the move into a gig economy, one characterized by shorter-term working relationships than the norms that prevailed in the 20th century. However, there are some industries — like Hollywood — where working fluidly on short-term projects has long been the traditional practice. So, perhaps we can learn from those successes, to determine how other industries can leverage the flexibility of gig-based work patterns and minimize the downside. The key question might be this: How is it that Hollywood can product great movies with teams that only come together for a short period of time — often with no prior contact — and then go their own ways, maybe to never work together again? Doesn’t that fluid and temporary model seem to fly in the face of what we think we have learned in other parts of the world of business, where companies invest a great deal of time in hiring and integrating staff into an organization intended to last for a long time, if not forever?

However, as Lawrence and Krueger point out, an increasingly large proportion of companies regularly use freelancers or subcontractors on a temporary or project-based basis, where they seem to operate under a different set of principles than full-time, permanent workers, where the various team members — permanent and temporary — manage to get their jobs done, and dovetail their activities, without getting involved in long-term organizational rationalization: they put aside other considerations and just start doing the work. This ability to put aside the political aspects of organizational trust building is called swift trust, where the normal rules about building confidence in the abilities and agendas of others are put aside. The historical notion of an employee is no longer viable, and it is imperative to learn the new rules that govern the overwhelming number of workers joining the gig economy. We knew what drove employees when they were within our four walls, but now we have to learn how to manage them spread across cities, countries, and even the globe.

Debra Meyerson and others have researched swift trust extensively:

Debra Meyerson, et al, Swift Trust and Temporary Groups

As an organizational form, temporary groups turn upside down traditional notions of organizing. Temporary groups often work on tasks with a high degree of complexity, yet they lack the formal structures that facilitate coordination and control (Thompson, I967). They depend on an elaborate body of collective knowledge and diverse skills, yet individuals have little time to sort out who knows precisely what. They often entail high-risk and high-stake outcomes, yet they seem to lack the normative structures and institutional safeguards that minimize the likelihood of things going wrong. Moreover, there isn’t time to engage in the usual forms of confidence-building activities that contribute to the development and maintenance of trust in more traditional enduring forms of organization. In these respects, temporary groups challenge our conventional understandings regarding the necessary or sufficient antecedents of effective organization.

Leaders who understand the underlying components of swift trust amongst temporary groups can leverage tactics to more effectively understand and manage their subcontractors, freelancers, or gig workers. As the gig economy continues to flourish, leaders must quickly adapt to techniques that are fit for these new types of temporary workers. Check out these 9 tips for understanding how swift trust plays a role in the success of gig workers, remote teams, and entire organizations.

Again, derived from Meyerson, et al.:

1. Participants with diverse skills are assembled by a contractor to enact expertise they already possess — The core principle of swift trust is that all involved are professionals with deep expertise in the domain they will be working on.

2. Participants have limited history of working together — Where participants have a long history, more conventional deep trust begins to dominate.

3. Participants have limited prospects of working together again in the future — This decreases the rationale for any organizational politics, for example, jockeying for the possibility of a permanent job.

4. Participants often are part of limited labor pools and overlapping networks — The participants are experts that are in demand, and as a result there is less of power imbalance between the contractor and the participating experts.

5. Tasks are often complex and involve interdependent work — Again, the need for experts in various domains, but also the need to cooperate to meet contractor’s goals.

6. Tasks have a deadline — This sets the context for each participant, and enforces the need for trust at hand-off points.

7. Assigned tasks are nonroutine and not well understood — Each participant’s expertise, creativity, and application of domain-specific knowledge is taken as a given.

8. Assigned tasks are consequential — All work is important, and everything must come together for project success.

9. Continuous interrelating is required to produce an outcome — Frequent interaction among the project experts is a central element of projects based on swift trust.

As Meyerson says,

To convert the individual expertise of strangers into interdependent work, when the nature of that interrelating and work is not obvious, people must reduce their uncertainty about one another through operations that resemble trust. Interdependent strangers faced with a deadline also face the need to handle issues of vulnerability and risk among themselves.

So, almost paradoxically, the acceptance of vulnerability and risk inherent in working in concert with those you don’t know well — and the knowledge that all involved are operating under the same set of circumstances — leads to the increased likelihood of success.


Debra Meyerson’s nine characteristics of Swift Trust read like a how-to manual for project work the gig economy.


In recent research that I conducted with Mavenlink, as summarized in The 2017 State of Services Economy Report, we also found that service sector companies — agencies, consulting companies, and the like — were moving quickly toward an increased reliance on subcontractors and freelancers. In fact, eighty-nine percent of the survey’s stated that it’s important, or even critical, to be able to tap subcontractors to scale the workforce to meet surges in demand. Furthermore, 96% are actively seeking new subcontractor relationships.

In a strong parallel with the Hollywood system, thirty-five percent say that their primary motivation for working with subcontractors and freelancers is to tap their specialized skills that full-time, in-house staff lack, as well as forty-five percent saying they bring outsiders in to meet client demand. This is much like a Hollywood production house reaching out for the best cinematographer for a new project, and bringing in a team of set designers because their in-house team is already committed to other projects. And Debra Meyerson’s nine characteristics of Swift Trust read like a how-to manual for project work the gig economy. Although we sense the correlation of her model and what we found in The 2017 State of Services Economy Report, we did not explicitly explore the boundaries of deep versus swift trust in the survey. In future research we hope to explore the interplay of swift trust and the desire of most services firms to rely on well-known and trusted contractors. Forty percent 40% say they use the same contractors because the contractors are familiar with the business processes and the work being done for the end customer, and 33% say it’s due to trust they’ve established.

Meyerson points out in her work that swift trust transitions to deep trust as individuals begin to know each other, and indirect, temporary mechanisms can be replaced by more direct and permanent connections. Still, as we move even further into the gig economy, we will likely be confronted with the need to manage through both swift and deep trust, and to negotiate the subtle transition from one end of the trust spectrum to the other.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018 

Work Futures Daily - Work Uncertainty Index

Trying to create a metric to track how concerned people are about the state of work

2018-02-20 Beacon NY - I've been catching up with a hugely backlogged reading pile, which caused some coincidences and convergences, like in the first section below on the ideas that collided in my head and led to the Work Uncertainty Index concept. Likewise, Dawn Foster and Zuzana Boehmova converge on the inescapably gendered workplace.

I don't think I'm getting any closer to the bottom of my reading pile, though.


Work Uncertainty Index

Last week, I experienced one of those chance juxtapositionings of convergent information, and it led to a potentially useful insight. In the same day I read about two metrics:

  1. Robot density is a measure that the International Federation of Robotics uses to compare the prevalence of robots relative to human workers, or the rate of change in that measure. It is expressed as robots per 10,000 workers. Europe, for example has a robot density of 99 (or 99 robots per 10,000 workers). (Note that I wrote about this in Robot Density Is On The Rise.)

  2. A group of economists have developed 'a new index of economic policy uncertainty (EPU) based on newspaper coverage frequency. Several types of evidence – including human readings of 12,000 newspaper articles – indicate that our [ Economic Policy Uncertainty or EPU] index proxies for movements in policy-related economic uncertainty'. Basically, they are counting the number and percentage of articles published in dozens of newspapers that appear to be discussing subjects related to economic uncertainty. In recent months the 7 day moving average for the US index has ranged from 160 in November 2017 to just under 100 today.


It occurred to me that we need an index that includes measures like these two, and which would serve as a measure of the uncertainty surrounding work: a Work Uncertainty Index

I discovered that the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has developed a 'better life' index and one of the 'petals' making up each countries' index is a jobs index, which involves a blend of factors, like job security, personal earnings, the long-term unemployment rate, and employment rate. However, the publishing cycle is slow: the last report on the US is 2016. 

The World Economic Forum has published a number of reports related to work uncertainty (like Towards a Reskilling Revolution), but I have not discovered anything that represents an index of the sort I'd like to see.

A recent Pew Research Center report, Americans see both good and bad in trends that are changing the workplace, may be the third leg of the stool. 

One set of questions from the report ask the survey's respondents whether various economic and sociological factors have helped or harmed the respondent's job or career.


So, a quick-and-dirty index can be pulled from the net of all the votes for 'helped' minus all the 'harmed', which in this case works out to a unitless 26. A little bit of reflection -- and maybe some discussion with the report's author, Nikki Graf, might tweak that first-order approximation with some weightings based on the relative importance of the various questions, a. through g.

Maybe this Help-Hurt index could combine with the robot density and the EPU index, and yield the Work Uncertainty Index, especially if paired with regular (monthly? quarterly?) reapplications of the survey to similar populations. We'd have to determine how to weight the various figures and not just simply add them together. It appears that the EPU is highly variable, and we can expect that robot density will be steadily increasing ^1. (That caret indicates a footnote.)

More to follow, but I think I'm on to something.


Links

Cade Metz explores the office proximity that is intended to pair executives with their most strategic innovation groups, in Why A.I. Researchers at Google Got Desks Next to the Boss:

At Google’s Silicon Valley headquarters, the chief executive, Sundar Pichai, now shares a floor with Google Brain, a research lab dedicated to artificial intelligence.

When Facebook created its own artificial intelligence lab at its offices about seven miles away, it temporarily gave A.I. researchers desks next to the fish bowl of a conference room where its chief executive and founder, Mark Zuckerberg, holds his meetings.

“I can high-five Mark and Sheryl from my desk, and the A.I. team was right next to us,” said Facebook’s chief technology officer, Mike Schroepfer, referring to Mr. Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer.

Even Overstock.com, the online retailer based in the Salt Lake City area, now runs a mini-research operation called OLabs. It sits directly outside the office of the company’s chief executive, Patrick Byrne.

A growing number of tech companies are pushing research labs and other far-reaching engineering efforts closer to the boss. The point is unmistakable: What they are doing matters to the chief executive. It may even be the future of the company.

There are potential downsides: office rivalries as those farther away resent those in close proximity to senior execs, and brainstorming sessions with the CEO may make it hard to know where blue sky ends and policy directions start.



I listened to a discussion between Dawn Foster (author of Lean Out) and Zoe Williams (Guardian journo and author of Get It Together), where

she takes issue with the corporate-style feminism outlined in Sheryl Sandberg’s influential bestseller 'Lean In’. Does this trickle-down feminism offer any material gain for women collectively, or is it merely window-dressing PR for the corporations who caused the financial crash? She concludes that leaning out of the corporate model is a more effective way of securing change than leaning in.

I particularly enjoyed the discussion of what we are 'allowed’ to like or dislike by the cult of overwork. Parents (and women, specifically) are allowed to love their children – or the plan to have children – more than work, but that work must come before everything else. We aren’t supposed to be involved in civic activities (aside from rooting for local sports teams), or outside interests like art, or politics. And the critique of Sandburg’s avoidance of discussing anything aside from the business and the woman herself that could lead to positive change, like unions, or any other sort of agency other than the nepotism inherent in 'mentorship’. Or as Foster or Wallace said, 'Once you put tits on mentorship, it’s now feminism, not nepotism.’


Salon contributor Zuzana Boehmova makes a compelling economic argument in Stop Saying Breast Milk Is Free, subtitled 'Our workplace structures make nursing extremely costly to women and fail to recognize its monetary value'. [Emphasis mine.]

As someone who grew up in Europe, I noticed a striking paradox after having children here in the U.S.: Breast-feeding is heavily promoted, yet there is hardly any time for actual nursing if you're a woman who needs to work (and that's most mothers). High-fives all around if you are one of the lucky women who seamlessly pumps during conference calls, in your private office with full control over scheduling calls at a convenient pumping time--when you're presumably also relaxed and well-hydrated! In general, however, while workspaces are supposed to provide some women with pumping breaks and facilities, the employer is not obligated to pay them for time spent pumping, and workplaces with less than 50 employees can claim that such breaks impose “undue hardship” and not provide a woman with any accommodations.*

And the reality is that even under the best of circumstances, pumping and nursing are not the same activities: many women who made the rhythmic sound of milk expression an integral part of their work day will tell you that their milk supply began to dwindle over time, and they ended up having to supplement with formula. In other words, they had a resource that they were not able to maintain.

So how do we ensure breast-feeding is actually valued and protected for women who want to do it? One way would be to make the actual financial value of breast milk to our economy more visible.

Human milk production---even milk that is expressed to be sold or donated---is still not measured in GDP in any country, although Norway calculates breast milk production in with its national food statistics. Treating breast milk as a “food commodity,” a 2013 study in Australia tried to quantify the potential loss of economic value caused by not protecting women's lactation from competing market pressures. Using United Nations System of National Accounting guidelines and conventional economic valuation approaches to measuring production, it provided a year's “milk worth” estimate for Australia (\(3 billion), and Norway (\)907 million). It notes that the United States has the potential to produce breast milk worth more than US$110 billion a year, although currently nearly two-thirds of this value is lost due to early weaning. But these costs are deceiving, as they focus on the output but do not include the time cost of breast-feeding to women.

Go read the whole thing.


Footnotes:

  1. Perhaps in both cases the answer might be to use a second-order derivative, like the degree of deviation from an average over time? So, for example, the Help-Hurt Index of 26 might be 4 points higher that the average over the past few quarters (if we had historical data). Likewise, US Robot Density may have increased 2 points, up from 97, since last month.

Sunday, February 18, 2018 

Work Futures Weekly - Friends and Inspirations

I am made greater by the sum of my connections, and so are my connections

2018-02-18 - Beacon NY — Two of the sections below relate to the thinking of friends of mine: Celine Shillinger and Esko Kilpi, both of whom I ‘met’ and got to know online because of our shared interests in the past, present, and future of work. I have been massively enriched by contacts like these remote but warmly collegial friendships to an extent that is difficult to express.

I once wrote,

I am made greater by the sum of my connections, and so are my connections.

which points in the right direction, but perhaps doesn’t go far enough, in the end.

I don’t know Farhad Manjoo, personally, but it feels like I do, especially when he writes something like this:

The future doesn’t stop coming just because you stop planning for it. | Farhad Manjoo, Why We Need to Pick Up Alvin Toffler’s Torch


Links

[from Work Futures Daily - Secondhand Stress]

My friend Celine Shillinger shares some key insights in One Human at a Time, a distillation of her experiences in change management. I recommend it strongly. Here’s one of her 10 recommendations to whet your palate:

 2.      Change is done with people, not to people

People don’t resist change, they resist change done to them (for a blunter elaboration, read this by friend Peter Vander Auwera People don’t resist change, they resist bullshit). It’s just human. I have a hard time understanding why it is not more understood.

My hypothesis is that our culture of expertise and efficiency, our passion for control, combined with the lack of diversity in decision-making spheres, business schools or consulting companies, supported by individual-based merit reward systems, creates systems with small brains (few people think), many hands (many people execute) and little to no heart. This sort of monster used to work well in the past, when changes in technology and business were slow, compatible with anticipation and long reaction times. It is not the case anymore.

What we now need instead are organizations where thinking power is shared more fairly, where more people are involved in the decision-making because we trust their judgement. Projects that engage the majority of people in the execution phase (“when things get clear enough to be shared”) are doomed to fail. People don’t own the change, therefore hardly commit to it. Don’t try to mitigate with a few pre-project surveys, or suggestion boxes. Take the time to engage with people, create decision-making bodies that are diverse in skills, ranks and gender, that are truly representative of the collective. Entrust front-line workers and volunteer networks with some decision-making. Create organizations where each and every cell is a brain, a heart, and a pair of hands.

Celine starts out by discussing bad systems:

It is easy to go with the flow, to keep ourselves busy, to navel gaze and to raise all the good reasons for which things cannot change. It is easy, but in doing so, we are complicit of bad systems. Bad systems waste people’s energy, passion and desire to do good. They turn good intentions into soul-crunching bureaucracies, corporate puppet theater and dysfunctional societies. They shrink minds and hearts. They bring about toxic competition, division and wars.

This resonates with something I read earlier this week, Irony Doesn’t Scale by Paul Ford, who wanted to share what he had learned in founding an agency called Postlight, and working there for the past two years:

A lot of businesses, especially agencies, are sick systems. They make a cult of their “visionary” founders. And they keep going but never seem to thrive — they always need just one more lucky break before things improve. Payments are late. Projects are late. The phone rings all weekend. That’s not what we wanted to build. We wanted to thrive. I made a list:

Characteristics of a Well System

  • Hire people who like to work hard and who have something to prove.

  • Encourage people to own and manage large blocks of their own time, and give people time to think and make thinking part of the job—not extra.

  • Let people rest. Encourage them to go home at sensible times. If they work late give them time off to make up for it.

  • Aim for consistency. Set emotional boundaries and expectations, be clear about rewards, and protect people where possible from crises so they can plan their time.

  • Make their success their own and credit them for it.

  • Don’t promise happiness. Promise fair pay and good work.

Read the whole thing, there’s a lot to unpack there. The title derives from Ford learning that his dry wit is fine, but irony doesn’t scale:

Jokes and asides can be taken out of context; witty complaints can be read as lack of enthusiasm. People are watching closely for clues to their future. Your dry little bon mot can be read as “He’s joking but maybe we are doomed!” You are always just one hilarious joke away from a sick system.

Oh, and Postlight is hiring! I bet it would be a good place to work.


[from Work Futures Daily - Here Come The Robots]

Kim Azzarelli and Deanna Bass say The most common excuses for not having enough women leaders are myths :

  1. The Women-Lack-Ambition Myth — because self-confidence in women is not expressed exactly like men, that doesn’t mean they aren’t confident. For example, research shows women seek promotions and ask for raises as often as men, but get shot down more frequently.

  2. The Pipeline Myth: There aren’t enough qualified women — Women hold 52% of all professional jobs in the US, 42% of MBAs from the best schools, and 47% of those with law degrees. They are out there, but companies aren’t putting them in top jobs, or on their boards.

  3. The Man Myth: Advancing women hurts men — My favorite myth, since men benefit when companies do better, and companies with female CEOs perform three times better than those run by men.

These myths are just lies that make it easier to continue the status quo, and holding women back.


Esko Kilpi on the Architecture of Work

I interviewed Esko back in 2014, but it’s timeless. Some quotes:

It is not the corporation that is in the center, but the intentions and choices of individuals. | Esko Kilpi

The architecture of work is not the structure of a firm, but the structure of the network. |  Esko Kilpi

The focus of industrial management was on division of labor and the design of vertical/horizontal communication channels. The focus should now be on cooperation and emergent interaction based on transparency, interdependence and responsiveness. It really is a fast-and-loose world.  | Esko Kilpi

The variables of creative work have increased beyond systemic models of process design.  | Esko Kilpi

As we want to be more creative and human, the focus of management and management theory should shift towards understanding participative, self-organizing responsibility and the equality of peers.  |  Esko Kilpi

Go read it.

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