Work Futures Daily - A Deeper Order

| Kill The Messenger | 996 | Walmart Robots | Talent Bottleneck | We Working | Stuart Kauffman |

Beacon NY - 2019-04-19 — There isn't any obvious theme in the various stories I've collated for this issue. Perhaps the lack of a pattern is the pattern: there is so much surfacing in the discourse about the future of work that it can appear at times to be all surface and no apparent order.

However, as today’s quote of the day from Stuart Kauffman suggests, there are deeper patterns below the surface; however we need a final theory of work to discern their lineaments in the daily flow of stories and events.

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Stories

We Really Do Shoot the Messengers of Bad News, Research Suggests | Leslie K. John, Hayley Blunden, and Heidi Liu confirm what we may have suspected: being the bearer of bad news does come at a cost.

All jobs require us at some point to deliver bad news—whether it be a minor revelation such as a recruiter telling a prospective employee that there’s no wiggle-room in salary, or something major, like when a manager must fire an employee. We dread such discussions even when the revelations aren’t at all our fault. It turns out that our aversion is for good reason. Our research shows that people are prone to derogating those who tell them things they don’t want to hear—we shoot the messenger.

[…]

The bad news is that there’s not much that can be done to change the deeply ingrained tendency to shoot the messenger. Interventions to warn recipients of this tendency so as to prevent them from making unwarrantedly harsh judgments of their messengers are unlikely to be fruitful. And clearly avoiding breaking bad news altogether is also unacceptable, for it is often the first step toward a remedy.

Instead, our research suggests that messengers can take measures to avoid the likability penalty through the way they convey bad news. Specifically, we have found that recipients are less likely to dislike bad news messengers when those messengers explicitly convey the benevolence of their motives—for example, by prefacing bad news with a statement such as: “I’m really hoping for the best for you.”

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Work harder or the communists will win! | David Heinemeier Hansson takes on Jack Ma and Jason Calcanis regarding the 996 work style (9 to 9 6 days a week):

The ideological underpinnings of capitalism are already in an advanced state of ethical decay. You don’t save the good parts of said capitalism by doubling down on the worst, most exploitive parts. Racing to the bottom just gets you there faster.

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Walmart Is Rolling Out the Robots | Sarah Nussauer and Chip Cutter dutifully repeat the higher-value tasks mantra that Walmart and other companies are using as a smokescreen for rolling out automation in tasks like floor cleaning and shelf scanning. The storyline is that they are not attempting to cut costs, but are instead trying to direct workers to 'higher-value' or 'more interesting' tasks. However, the net effect of deploying floor cleaning robots is to cut costs.

The company said the addition of a single machine can cut a few hours a day of work previously done by a human, or allow Walmart to allocate fewer people to complete a task, a large saving when spread around 4,600 U.S. stores. Executives said they are focused on giving workers more time to do other tasks, and on hiring in growing areas like e-commerce.

Instead, Walmart is spending to battle Amazon.com Inc. and serve more shoppers buying online. Walmart has hired around 40,000 store workers to pick groceries from shelves to fulfill online orders. The company is also raising wages, adding worker training, and buying e-commerce startups.

Store workers spend two to three hours a day driving a floor scrubber through a store using the manual machines, said a company spokesman last year. The automatic conveyor belts cut the number of workers needed to unload trucks by half, from around eight to four workers, said executives at a company presentation last June.

“With automation we are able to take away some of the tasks that associates don’t enjoy doing,” said Mark Propes, senior director of central operations for Walmart US. “At the same time we continue to open up new jobs in other things in the store.”

Executives in Asia are less reluctant to state outright they are automating to cut costs. But that appears to be socially inappropriate in the US.

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Demand for Talent Converges on Critical Roles in the U.S., U.K. | Gartner has released the results of an analysis of millions of job postings, finding a small number of roles make up almost half the job listings:

What Gartner TalentNeuron found:

  • 49% of all job postings by S&P 100 companies in 2018 were for just 39 roles. The remaining 51% were for 872 other roles.

  • 41% of all job postings by FTSE 100 companies in 2018 were for just 20 roles. The remaining 59% were for 641 other roles.

  • The most competitive roles are in critical functions across IT, research and development, marketing, sales and customer service.

The push to jump ahead on critical technologies explains the need for more R&D and IT expertise (AI, data analysis, IoT, etc.). Marketing, sales, and customer service corresponds to higher levels of competition. But these numbers don't show the transition to new ways of organizing the workforce.

I stumbled across a Gartner-created phrase in looking at this work on 'demand for talent': We Working [emphasis mine].

6 Ways the Workplace Will Change in the Next 10 Years | Sharon George

“We Working” will take out middle management

Currently, teams are formed of people pulled together by reporting structure or in an ad hoc fashion. Teamwork is therefore considered more of a behavioral necessity (for example, to foster team spirit and collaboration) than a legitimate organizational principle.

But in 2027, the complexity and scale of business objectives will demand the involvement of brain power and expertise across boundaries in more intricate ways.

As a result, companies will gravitate toward a new work philosophy called We Working. This philosophy involves designing small and flexible teams in response to fluctuating workloads, shrinking time frames, and intense flurries of information exchange and coordination. We Working will encourage businesses to create small, autonomous and high-performing teams that form, converge, act and dismantle as assignments change.

What’s more, the rise of algorithmic management will displace middle managers whose jobs revolve around collecting data, supervising actions and ensuring compliance. The philosophy of We Working, fueled by autonomy and trust among teammates, also reduces the need for human managers to assemble teams and monitor performance.

An almost perfect match with what I have been calling the fast-and-loose workstyle for years. (And I favor the term workstyle because philosophy sounds too academic.) However, I doubt the term We Working will catch on because the conflict with the company name, We Work.


Quote of the Day

If biologists have ignored self-organization, it is not because self-ordering is not pervasive and profound. It is because we biologists have yet to understand how to think about systems governed simultaneously by two sources of order. Yet who seeing the snowflake, who seeing simple lipid molecules cast adrift in water forming themselves into cell-like hollow lipid vesicles, who seeing the potential for the crystallization of life in swarms of reacting molecules, who seeing the stunning order for free in networks linking tens upon tens of thousands of variables, can fail to entertain a central thought: if ever we are to attain a final theory in biology, we will surely, surely have to understand the commingling of self-organization and selection. We will have to see that we are the natural expressions of a deeper order. Ultimately, we will discover in our creation myth that we are expected after all.

| Stuart Kauffman, At Home In The Universe


Elsewhere

What is the origin of the question mark? | Oxford Dictionaries says we owe thanks to Alcuin of York who invented the punctus interrogavitus after moving to the court of Charlemagne in 735.

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I am currently researching Complexity Economics, about which more later.