I met Ana years ago in Portugal at a conference, and we have remained in contact ever since. She’s a leading advocate about making work more human, as in a recent TedX talk in Porto, so I thought I’d walk through her thoughts on that.
About Ana Silva
Ana’s work is digital marketing and social media strategy for a large multinational, but her true interest is, as she says on her blog,
The impact this Social Era – the era of the connected consumer and the empowered employee — is having on our lives, societies and organizations, (re)defining the future of businesses and work.
Stowe Boyd: I wanted to ask you about bringing humanity back into work, and diminishing the industrial/mechanistic metaphors and thinking around business. What is holding us back? What are first steps?In order to bring back humanity into business we should start by exploring what makes us unique: our ability to emotionally understand others through empathy, our capability of caring for others (including our customers and colleagues) and the gift or recognizing the work and help of others. - Ana Silva
Ana Silva:I believe that a combination of factors is holding us back. Our notion of what a business should look like is based on how our parents approached work, what the university and business schools teach us, what is portrayed in movies and TV series, and how the corporate world we end up working in actually works. And it all tends to reinforce the concept of the machine-organization.
I’ve proposed in a recent TEDx talk that in order to bring back humanity into business we should start by exploring what makes us unique: our ability to emotionally understand others through empathy, our capability of caring for others (including our customers and colleagues) and the gift or recognizing the work and help of others.
SB: I wrote recently about social sensitivity as a personality attribute that leads to better small team performance, and its complement, quiet transparency. The first is the skillset of being able to understand the mental states and viewpoints of other people, and the second is being authentic — without self promotion — so that others can readily pick up on your feelings, motivations, and views. This seems to be part of being more human at work, right?
AS: Totally. Social sensitivity is empathy in action. Transparency and authenticity will also mean we will need to stop pretending to be someone we’re not just to fit in some corporate stereotype. But it’s usually easier said than done and for most people it will take small steps until they feel comfortable with it.
SB: I know in your writing you’ve raised the question of whether technology amplifies our humanity or just our vanity. You’re ambivalent about the role of technology, then?
AS: I don’t think that technology per se is good or bad. We should look at technology as an extension of ourselves, an amplifier of beliefs and behaviors, so it all depends on how we use it and what for. What I’ve seen too many times is people using social technology just to amplify what I’ve called their vanity: how fabulous their lives are, how they are smarter than everyone else up to the point of mocking and diminishing others.
So each of us should take responsibility for how we use technology. We have this incredible gift of global connectedness through social platforms, so why not use it to amplify our humanity?
SB: But as my friend Jamais Cascio once noted, human behaviors include xenophobia, revenge killing, and genocide, so we have to keep our eyes open. Every atrocity can have its own hashtag, now.
AS: Of course, technology augments everything. And those that are determined on spreading hatred seem to have far more energy and determination than the rest of us. That’s why we need to keep our eyes open but also take responsibility for our contributions and seek to act as a counterbalance.
SB: What science do you think might have the biggest impact on making the business more human, and why are we not employing it in the corporate setting already?
AS: It’s hard to select just one! Given the challenges we face I think that social sciences such as sociology and anthropology could help us better understand individual and group dynamics inside organizations and also give us tools to help redesign them with humanization in mind. For example, we talk a lot about customer experience but I think we should also be mapping employees’ experience.Every atrocity can have its own hashtag, now. - Stowe Boyd
But generally speaking social sciences and business do not go hand in hand and we spend too little time exploring them in business school curricula.
SB: Yes, I was talking with Valdis Krebs (see Socialogy Interview: Valdis Krebs) recently about the obsession with trying to get people to study engineering sorts of math in college (calculus, differential equations, etc.) instead of discrete math (like logic, statistics, and graph theory) which would be more helpful in social sciences.
AS: Yes, I saw that interview. The way we approach learning, especially formal education, has definitely to change and adapt to a postnormal world as you call it.
SB: Thanks for your time, Ana.
AS: Always a pleasure talking to you Stowe, obrigada (thank you)!
SB: Não há de quê (you’re welcome).
This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.
Ben Thompson thinks the only jhope for Microsoft is a break-up, This is in parallel with what I have been saying: if Microsoft is to grown into a modern enterprise software player, Nadella will have to jettison Windows.
Here’s Thompson’s take:
Ben Thompson, It’s Time to Split Up Microsoft
For all the talk of moving beyond Windows (and Windows Phone), I am deeply skeptical that Microsoft can truly pursue its potential as a software and services company as long as Windows is around. Culture is developed over years, and for decades everything at Microsoft was about Windows. Read again Ballmer’s statement:
Nothing is more important at Microsoft than Windows
The problem for Nadella and Microsoft is that ultimately this wasn’t a declaration of strategy; it was a declaration of fact, and facts don’t change by fiat.
In other words, keep Windows as a cash cow, but be explicit that the future was in cross-platform services. Unfortunately, this was before the Nokia deal. The effects of that deal – and understanding why it was made – have convinced me that Microsoft cannot truly reach its potential as a services company as long as Windows and the entire devices business is in tow.
In short, it’s time to break Microsoft up.
I would create two companies: the devices side, which includes Windows, Windows Phone, and Xbox, and let them do the best they can to grow that 14% [the percentage of total devices running Windows COO Kevin Turner talked about last week]. Heck, make Kevin Turner the CEO. Windows profits will keep the company going for quite a while, and who knows, maybe they’ll nail what is next.
The other company, the interesting company, is the services side – the productivity side, to use Nadella’s descriptor. This company would be built around Office, Azure, and Microsoft’s consumer web services including Bing, Skype and OneDrive. These products don’t need Windows; they need permission to be the best regardless of device.
Of course, the Windows company does need Office, and Azure, and all the other Microsoft growth engines, and this cleavage would likely hasten Windows’ decline. But that’s exactly why a split needs to happen: anything Office or Azure or Microsoft’s other services do to prop up Windows – that focuses on that 14% – by definition limits Microsoft’s opportunity to address the far bigger part of the pie that ought to be the future.
We’ll have to see if Nadella does any of this, but so far all he has done is announce layoffs and cancel the Android experiment on Nokia phones.
Will Nadella be a Tim Cook or a Marissa Mayer? Will he have the courage and vision to steer a post-Ballmer/post-Gates Microsoft into a new future, or will he lose years fiddling at the margins and ‘building culture’ while Apple, Amazon, and Google come to dominate the enterprise space?
Paul Ford, Doomed to Repeat It
Open office? Cubicle? Why not both? Herman Miller’s Metaform furniture makes the question of workspace layout obsolete. Now you can morph your desk from a conference room to a cubicle, any time you want.
Now that I am standing ~100% images like these make me realize how sitting-oriented office furniture is. Not a single standing desk set up in these photos, although the lower left one might be usable that way, if you rolled the chairs out of the way.
Elizabeth Kolbert, How the Paleolithic Diet Got Trendy
Future of Work: Cracking the Code to Create High Performing Teams http://t.co/gPHa1Ywa0I I’m speaking at a webinar next week with Bob Zukis— Stowe Boyd (@stoweboyd) July 21, 2014
David Carr, Riding the Juggernaut That Left Print Behind
Organizational metaphors can be helpful to think about what’s going on in work culture. Gareth Morgan’s Images of Organizationis a great compendium of metaphors: organization as a machine, organism, brain, culture, political systems, etc. I also find Joanne Martin’s analysis of contending perspectives in management thinking a compelling technique (see Metaphors matter: Talking about how we talk about organizations).
Dan Pontefract has an interesting metaphor to share:
Maybe if we were to act like a peloton in our organizations, we might see higher levels of employee engagement.
What’s a peloton?
In cycling speak, it’s what a pack of cyclists are called when they ride together. Check out the photo to the right for an example.
A peloton is a massive group of riders who ultimately work together — as a team — to move from one distance to another. Take away competitive cycling competitions for a moment (eg. Giro d’Italia or Tour de France) and think about amateur cyclists going out for weekend rides or events like the GranFondo between Vancouver and Whistler.
These women and men ride together as a team but what happens along the journey?
- Sharing The Lead
- Cyclists take turns at the front of the pack (ie. the peloton) to both set the pace and to protect others behind them from the wind. (A process known as drafting)
- Those in front exert extra effort so others in the back can save some of their energy for their turn at the front at another interval in the ride
- Proactive Communication
- Often in a peloton, cyclists are proactively communicating with each other
- If there is debris on the road, hand signals from whomever is in front alerts cyclists in the back to be careful
- “On your right” or “stopping” are simple examples that cyclists shout out in the peloton to inform others of their intentions
- “My turn to share the front” or “anyone need food or water” are other proactive examples of communication happening inside the peloton
- Encouragement and Recognition
- Whenever there are difficult impediments like tough gradients, sideways wind, pellets of rain, or even the successful maneuvering around unforeseen wildlife, cyclists from within the peloton are quick to recognize the effort or encourage the effort to continue
- It really is a culture of encouragement inside the peloton
I like the peloton metaphor for the way that riders take turns as leader, and then fall back after making that contribution. This aligns with the notion of leanership very well.
Robert A. Heinlein, Time Enough for Love
Terrible book, but a great quote.
Forebruary is a wall calendar that you do not need to replace every year. The movable frame above the surface contains the month needed.
- Ilya Birman