Elsewhere

Socialogy Interview: Benjamin Dyett

First Meeting of the NYC Chapter of Future of Work

We had a great start in New York last night. A long list of attendees — some old friends and many new — came together for a chance to discuss their personal reasons for coming, and then were subjected to me laying out my own rationale: for trying to bring together a Future of Work community as the start of a movement, a movement dedicated to changing the ways of work. 

I offered up a subset of my manifesto for a new way of work, entitled Leanership: A New Way Of Work (see the presentation here, at Haiku Deck). And I sketched out some thoughts about how the community might work, at the chapter level, but I know that will grow and evolve as more people become involved, and the chapters start to take on a life of their own.

Big thanks to Grind, whose wonderful Broadway coworking space was our venue. The staff were immensely helpful, and I got a minute to chat with Benjamin Dyett, one of the founders. He told me that the Chicago Grindspace has now opened, joining the two in New York City, (And the Grindism manifesto is awesome.) Later today I will be publishing an interview with Benjamin, in the Socialogy series. 

I want to especially thank Guy Alvarez, the NYC Chapter chief, for his efforts, and the larger task ahead. He and his fellow chapter chiefs — Kat Mandelstein in Austin, and Laura Gaunt in Boston — will be working over the coming months to reach out to their respective communities to pull in new voices and contributors, with new ideas about formats, speaker, and other activities.

Austin’s first meeting is this Thursday 27 March 6:30pm Austin time (Tech Ranch, 9111 Jollyville Rd, Austin, TX 78759). Please RSVP if you plan to attend. I am hoping that we can use the Interwebs so I can be piped in.

Boston’s first meeting is next week, and I will be attending. That will be held at Ideapaint, 40 Broad St, Boston MA 02109 on Thursday 3 April at 6:30pm Boston time. Please RSVP.

I’ve only seen one photo so far from last night’s event. Here I am with three members of Change Agents Worldwide, with (left to right) Rob Cladera, Joachim Stroh, me, and Dany DeGrave.

And a final invitation to join us, and to consider starting other chapters. This is the start of a movement, and we will need to incite a disruption — a discontinuity — so that some of the old, bad ways can be halted, and a new way of work can be coaxed into existence.

Neil Usher, All tomorrow’s parties

http://workessence.com/all-tomorrows-parties/

I’ve posted this before, but it’s falling into that ‘always repost’ category.

Neil Usher, All tomorrow’s parties

Instructionsread as quickly as you can. It’s more fun that way. And you’re probably on a conference call.

The future of work: it’s going to be dispersed flexible agile dexterous and very bendy and driven by presence-mimicking technology and sophisticated collaborative tools replicating our everyday functionality that mean we don’t have to be in the office at all ever again (hooray, maybe) so we don’t need to commute with all of the other people who don’t have any choice because they are condemned to process monitored roles in the taylorist tradition like this black and white photo of an old office with people sitting in rows at typewriters and so our carbon footprint shrivels to that of an amoeba until we take the whole extended family on holiday to the Caribbean and yet the office is actually quite useful and brings us together because there is really no substitute for genuine face-time especially if you have a café with real lattes and of course you can’t go for a beer online and so we may well need the office after all because it’s a club and a club is a good thing. Isn’t it?

Technology: it’s great because its liberated us from all sorts of stuff that we can’t think of and we have social tools and channels we never had before to meet new people and expand our networks and share pictures of glasses of wine we are having with other people or probably on our own wishing we were with other people and we can all quip about our favourite operating system which of course isn’t windows as a matter of principle but then again its maybe not such a good thing because we are always on 247365 despite the existence of the off button or a flat battery and we will never get another job again because of that beach party photo on facebook with the swedish volleyball team we’re dopamine slaves it’s like our lives have been intruded upon irrevocably and will be a lot more and the next thing our fridge will be online and spying on our eating habits and reporting them to MI5 or someone else secret and untouchable and so we should be very frightened. Probably.

Workplace design: it’s all about collaboration and team spaces because we all work much better together and no-one wants to sit at a desk and do e-mails because that’s all so last year we want to sit around in huddles on soft things with culturally obtuse names that took longer to source than the product took to design so we cram all of the desks over in the corner on top of themselves because they are so not de rigueur and instead put in slides and tabletennistables and climbing walls because we all spend the majority our lives at the office or maybe don’t anymore and everything has to look like a poodleplex or it won’t win an award but it’s been proven that some people work better alone there was a TED talk about it along with a talk about everything else and we can’t forget that personal introspective time is vital because we lose 95% of our productive day being disturbed by unproven statistics based on a representative sample of five people at the burger van on the A13 and we shouldn’t shun the quiet unsocial types and need to design space that suits them too because there is a chance that under their enormous noise-reducing headphones they may be doing great work even if they can’t play tabletennis. Potentially.

Go read the whole thing.

Ross Douthat Things A World Without Work Is Fine. It’s Not.

Ross Douthat sees a world just ahead where blue collar work is steadily on the decline:

[…] the decline of work isn’t actually some wild Marxist scenario. It’s a basic reality of 21st-century American life, one that predates the financial crash and promises to continue apace even as normal economic growth returns. This decline isn’t unemployment in the usual sense, where people look for work and can’t find it. It’s a kind of post-employment, in which people drop out of the work force and find ways to live, more or less permanently, without a steady job. So instead of spreading from the top down, leisure time — wanted or unwanted — is expanding from the bottom up. Long hours are increasingly the province of the rich.

Of course, nobody is hailing this trend as the sign of civilizational progress. Instead, the decline in blue-collar work is often portrayed in near-apocalyptic terms — on the left as the economy’s failure to supply good-paying jobs, and on the right as a depressing sign that government dependency is killing the American work ethic.

But it’s worth linking today’s trends to the older dream of a post-work utopia, because there are ways in which the decline in work-force participation is actually being made possible by material progress.

Douthat’s arguments are macro-economic, and conveniently blur the details, particularly the micro-economic troubles of specific people who had assumed they’d have continued employment when they joined the workforce in the past, or as the graduate high school, today. The social safety net that a prosperous society could — in principle — provide is often absent. As a result, people scramble to make ends meet with multiple part-time jobs, at the mercy of employers who are optimizing for margins, not employee convenience.

So in the final analysis, his argument boils down to a ‘maybe someday’ scenario. Yes, we may have a future where people that might have once worked 40 hours a week on an assembly line, cleaning floors in office buildings, or pumping gas are instead working 20 hours a week at a community center in exchange for their basic needs. But today, people who run through their savings and unemployment benefits while trying to find work can hit a wall, and afterward, their finances and options might be permanently damaged.

Douthat makes this seem like the workless are opting out of work, philosophically:

There is a certain air of irresponsibility to giving up on employment altogether, of course. But while pundits who tap on keyboards for a living like to extol the inherent dignity of labor, we aren’t the ones stocking shelves at Walmart or hunting wearily, week after week, for a job that probably pays less than our last one did. One could make the case that the right to not have a boss is actually the hardest won of modern freedoms: should it really trouble us if more people in a rich society end up exercising it?

This is the subtlest form of blaming the victim: choosing one aspect of victimhood that seems positive, and arguing that those who comment on the sad state of the victim are trying to deny them that positive aspect. So if I make the case that in a healthy and supportive society, all those that want work should be able to find it, Douthat wonders why I would deny the workless the joy of having no boss.

Stress, Trust, And Meditation

The biggest single problem in most workplaces is stress. Stress can be caused by a hundred different factors — like fearfulness, feeling overwhelmed, lack of autonomy, aggression — but it likewise can be reduced significantly by a number of well understood techniques. 

The most important single thing that management can do to increase the well-being of the workforce is to stem factors leading to stress. As perhaps the most important example, we should agree to a complete end to any attempts to control people’s behavior through fear, such as threats about being fired, demoted, or forced to take on unwanted tasks. 

The single best thing management can do is to foster trust in the workplace. John Helliwell’s research shows that workers are willing to make considerable economic tradeoffs to work in companies where there are higher levels of trust (see What to do about the disengaged workforce). His work showed that ‘a firm managing to provide better jobs (as measured by some package of the non-financial job characteristics connected to higher levels of life satisfaction) would be able to reap rewards in some combination of dimensions: lower quit rates, lower monitoring costs, easier (and hence less expensive) hiring, and more effective effort from employees at all wage levels.’

But companies can also attack stress head on, and help workers cope. One promising area is meditation, which starts with a bad rap, but offers a great deal in stress reduction, as Mirabai Bush relates in a piece about her company’s efforts in teaching meditation within the corporate setting:

Teaching Meditation Techniques to Organizations - Mirabai Bush via the NYTimes.com

At first, resistance was everywhere, but so were the possibilities. A litigation lawyer thought that if he became more compassionate toward the opposition in his cases, he couldn’t be a zealous advocate for clients. But he found that being calm, clear and compassionate gave him better insights and better timing.

An environmental leader thought that if others knew he practiced meditation, they wouldn’t take him seriously — and would write him off as a tree-hugger without scientific rigor. Instead, he found that he became more resilient, and less overwhelmed by climate-change predictions, and that he collaborated better with colleagues.

Magazine editors thought that they would miss deadlines; in fact, they learned to focus on priorities and work better in teams to meet the deadlines in new ways. Data-driven Google engineers questioned the value of developing capacities that can’t be quantified, but many of them learned better ways to communicate. One engineer told me his wife had noticed a change in the way he listened to her. She asked him: “What happened to you?”

[…] Neuroscientists have confirmed much of what we were experiencing: that meditation improves attention, reduces stress hormones, increases appreciation and compassion for others and helps us recover faster from negative information.

Personally, this work has made me feel more connected to the world. Watching the responses of so many people — from an economics professor to Army soldiers — I’ve come to believe that it’s a basic human need to be calm and clear, to be aware of ourselves and others, to be kind and collaborative, to be fully present in each moment.

When you take away the residue of stress, even if nothing else in a person’s work setting is changed, things slow down. There is time to think, time to reflect before acting. 

As T.S. Eliot styled it, we can be ‘at the still point of the turning world’, and then get back into the dance of work, but breathing a bit deeper, and seeing a bit farther.

Do Meetings Make Us Stupid?

Meetings really do decrease our cognitive abilities.

Attending meetings lowers IQ, makes you stupid - Rebecca Smith

Meetings make people stupid because they impair their ability to think for themselves, scientists have found.

The performance of people in IQ tests after meetings is significantly lower than if they are left on their own, with women more likely to perform worse than men.

Researchers at the Virginia Tech Crilion Research institute in the US said people’s performance dropped when they were judged against their peers.

Read Montague, who led the study, said: “You may joke about how committee meetings make you feel brain-dead, but our findings suggest that they may make you act brain-dead as well.

"We started with individuals who were matched for their IQ. Yet when we placed them in small groups, ranked their performance on cognitive tasks against their peers, and broadcast those rankings to them, we saw dramatic drops in the ability of some study subjects to solve problems. The social feedback had a significant effect."

Students from two universities with an average IQ of 126 were subsequently pitted against each other, and told how they were performing in comparison to the others after answering each question.

Researchers found that most people performed worse when they were ranked against their peers, suggesting the social situation itself affected how well they completed the IQ tests.

[…]

The study raises questions over how intelligence is measured and whether it is fixed, experts said.

Co-author Steven Quartz, professor of philosophy in the Social Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory, said: “This study tells us the idea that IQ is something we can reliably measure in isolation without considering how it interacts with social context is essentially flawed.

"Furthermore, this suggests that the idea of a division between social and cognitive processing in the brain is really pretty artificial. The two deeply interact with each other."

There is a growing body of evidence for social cognition, showing how tightly our reasoning is linked to social context and interactions. Obviously, learning what makes us more productive is primary, but seeing proof that some behaviors have negative impacts on our reasoning — like small-group competition of the sort that can occur in meetings — means that we should be reorganizing work to minimize those effects.

Study: Remote-Work Programs Benefit Employers Too

http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/news/features/2010/mar10/03-11Telework.aspx

The majority of respondents in a recent Microsoft-sponsored survey believe they are more productive away from the office, but management hasn’t gotten the memo:

via press release

Sixty percent of respondents to the Microsoft Telework survey — conducted among 3,600 employees in 36 cities nationwide — say they are actually more productive and efficient when working remotely. With less time spent commuting and fewer cubicle “drive bys” causing distractions, respondents say, more time can be spent on the task in front of them.

The catch? By and large, employers aren’t catching on. Only 41 percent of those surveyed work for companies with established remote-working policies, and just 15 percent believe their company supports flexible work arrangements. Despite a wealth of new technologies that can facilitate collaboration among workers no matter where they are, employers are still concerned about whether they’re getting the most from employees.

And a lot of insecure managers want to eyeball employees, even when it doesn’t add to productivity at all.

Future Work Skills 2020

futurist-foresight:

The Institute for the Future released a report on future work skills that will be needed by 2020. They are:

  • Sense-making.
  • Social intelligence.
  • Novel and adaptive thinking.
  • Cross-cultural competency.
  • Computational thinking.
  • New-media literacy.
  • Transdisciplinarity.
  • Design mind-set.
  • Cognitive load management.
  • Virtual collaboration.

(Gigaom gives a quick breakdown)

The graphic below from that report highlights areas of focus:

Future Work Skills 2020

Getting To Trust: Better Swift Than Deep

Venessa Miemis is trying to get a group of ‘change agents’ to collaborate, and is finding it hard going:

Venessa Miemis, How Will We Collaborate if We Can’t Trust Each Other?

The next few years are going to be defined by a culture of learning and interactivity that involves more trust, and so naturally, more risk. If we’re going to go beyond just sharing links with each other to actually *helping* each other, working together, experimenting, prototyping, and adapting to changing circumstances, *we* have to first change in order to make that possible.

I’m in the process of experimenting with this firsthand, bringing people together into an online collaboratory space, and I’ll admit – it’s not easy. We’ve got a group of ‘change agents’ who want to do things together, to form ad-hoc teams around short-term projects, make something cool happen and improve our world and our lives — but how to begin?

Each of us is a free agent, delicately riding the edge of chaos and uncertainty as we try to pave our own path. Each of us likes the sound of a peer-to-peer culture, a transition from scarcity to abundance, a move from a transactional economy to a relational economy (ht jerry michalski), and a redefinition of value and wealth. Each of us sees the promise of a new way of working, living, and Being.

And yet there is still fear.

Are you gonna steal my idea? Are you gonna follow through with your commitments? Are you gonna take the credit? Am I gonna get screwed — yet again?

My question to you is: How do we transcend this, surrender, and take the next leap of faith?

(ponder it)

Assuming you are curious enough about the possibility to find out how it could work, what is the critical component that’ll inspire you to jump?

For me, it all comes down to trust.

Not just blind trust in everyone else, but trust in myself and a commitment to move past fear and into action. Lead by example and see who wants to come with me. Become aware of who I’m connected to and choosing carefully with whom I want to build things. Take small risks together so we can gain momentum. Start having some Collective Epic Wins.

I think Venessa is trying to do something that’s very hard: she’s trying to get a group to form a collective, with a shared set of principles and shared goals. And she’s right. To get there you have to build deep trust: a polite way to say that the folks in the collective have to sort out the politics involved. In general that can take months, even when the participants share a great deal in common in education, background, and temperament.

But why form a collective? As she points out, it’s risky. If you want to build things, you can define a small project to test some ideas, and form a Hollywood-style project team to accomplish it. Instead of trying to collaborate on a big, wholly integrated vision of the future — where everything has to be discussed and agreed on before the first thing gets done — just cooperate on something fast, small, and low risk.

The way of the future is cooperation, not collaboration.

Among other reasons cooperation merely requires swift trust, a well-researched human universal. People are capable in some circumstances of relaxing their general desire to establish deep trust — that time-consuming, political practice —and will simply adopt a role in a project, and suspend their disbelief about other’s motives, etc. This is a way to get folks to suspend their innate concerns about trust and control. In these contexts, people start with the presumption that the others in the project are professionals and that everyone will focus on doing their jobs as best as the can. A lot of communication is needed to keep it all working, but much less than in deep trust organizations, like the conventional enterprise.

This is how freelancers generally work, and it’s the way that cities work.

But Venessa and her friends are involved in forming a collective, and there is no short cut for them. They will need to build deep trust, and establish processes and practices, and politics to manage them.

My recommendation to Venessa was and still is to take the short cut, though. Define some constrained projects, with more modest goals and defined time frames, and work on them with a few others. It might lead to deep trust, but even if it doesn’t you can still be working, making headway, and maybe some money, too.

Me, I’m trying to work on a few interesting projects with some smart people, but I am not pushing them into one group and trying to create a way that all of us can be involved in everything. I’m going to work with Teresa DiCairano of Intervista on ‘ambient innovation’, which is our term for social, bottom-up innovation. I’m going to work with Claude Théoret of Nexalogy exploring the science underlying social networks, and trying to make that more accessible to the average person. And I am going to push ahead with my analysis in work media — the use of streaming social media tools in the enterprise — and I will be pulling a few others into that project with me, too. But these will be three discrete projects, with non-overlapping groups of participants. I am not making everything, everything.

I am trying to remain liquid, loosely connected to others, heading the same general direction. I am specifically not trying to solidify relationships — build deep trust — before getting something done with others.

So, my general recommendation is that people should favor loose connectives — social networks with less tight ties — that rely only on swift trust. If and when you establish deep trust with individuals, perhaps during short-term, swift trust-based projects, then perhaps your can form a collective, where the principles shared common, long-term purpose.

But such collectives are not a higher form of human solidarity that we should aspire to, and are not what we have to build in order to get big things done. On the contrary. An increasing proportion of professional work is being performed by freelancers, who live in a short-term project based economy. Why should I have to agree on a long term strategic vision about the future of work media just to work with other researchers on the state of that industry, for example? Or to take the example of the city, all the stores on Main Street do not have to agree to not compete with each other, or to pool their profits, or even to paint their storefronts the same color.

The costs of deep trust are too high, in general, for what they return. This is one reason that work is changing so quickly. Companies are loosening their hold on employees, providing them more autonomy, relaxing the requirements for deep trust: becoming more like cities and less like traditional armies, with everyone is made to march in step, and pointed in the same direction, all the time.

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