The Future of Work: The People Imperative

The Future of Work: The People Imperative

 

Last month, Josh Bersin delivered a keynote speech at Singularity University Global Summit titled “The Future of Work: The People Imperative.” Because of the rise in popularity of topics such as artificial intelligence and the “gig” economy, countless economists, journalists and other “experts”(including yours truly) have been analyzing and trying to predict the future of work. I’ve been following Josh on Twitter and Linkedin for quite some time, and even though I ignore most talking heads’ opinions on the topic, this was one talk I wanted to watch carefully.

Bersin kicks off his talk with a sentence I wish more people would understand:

“It’s not as simple as technology taking over jobs. It’s far more complex than that.”

There’s a reason Bersin feels we need to start here, and it’s because the mainstream narrative of the future of work has been too simplistic, and focused on shocking people rather than helping them prepare. Complexity is media poison; to understand it one requires patience and dedication, two things the media has trouble profiting from.

Later, Bersin mentions a statistic that surprised me at first, but “feels” right after some reflection:

“This industrial revolution, the one based on mobile and social technology, is producing the least amount of productivity of any industrial revolution that passed.”

Half-way through his talk, Bersin gives us his opinion on the impact of automation:

Are jobs going away? I don’t believe they are. Everything I’ve read essentially says that every time automation comes, we simply do different things. […] Things like courage, empathy, listening, understanding how people react… When you’re in a meeting and somebody doesn’t understand what’s going on, that’s a human skill to try to bring somebody up to speed and align a team. There are a whole library of skills in the occupational database that are not yet, and maybe will never be, automated by a computer. I think that’s something we have to get a little bit beyond in the public press.”

To support these claims, Bersin gives many examples from history where people predicted jobs going away because of new technologies but instead created more jobs.

Now, are some jobs going to disappear? Of course. That’s always been the case with progress. But to arrive to a doomsday scenario like the media and many futurologists tend to do is usually the result of a shallow analysis by those that only observe and report, as opposed to those working on the field with the people and businesses that are dealing with the changes (like Josh does).

Another major topic in Bersin’s talk is the issue of work-life balance and how many technologies and jobs’ expectations are affecting people’s health and their poor engagement and satisfaction with their work:

“Most of the technology providers that are making a lot of money are selling addictive drugs. They would love you to get addicted to their tools. They would love you to have high leves of “engagement.” They would love to have “gamification” that’s so exciting, you can’t put it down. […] Our job as employers, as organizations, as HR people, as business leaders is to understand this and help people deal with it. And that is not simply adding more automation.”

On the last part of his talk, Bersin delivers his main point: The future of work is all about people, it’s not about technology. He brings up Starbucks, pioneer in taking care of their employees, as an example of how a business that could automate many of their current tasks and jobs, chooses not to because they understand the value that people bring to a task, a business, and a customer.

Bersin goes on to mention some of the main reasons focusing on people is crucial if we want to build thriving, adaptive business. First, he explains that healthy organizations work as a network of small teams (not a hierarchy), and that fluid organizations that help people navigate different roles, different responsibilities and different teams are seeing both growth and and higher employee satisfaction and retention (the best-seller “The Alliance” describes this trend quite well).

Second, he talks about the importance of having a strong company “culture.” As Bersin comments, few people know how to define culture – I define it as “the internalized, repeatable way of doing things in a company” – but everyone agrees that it’s important. Josh explains that culture, leadership, and putting people first, are the only constant behind companies with the highest employee engagement and satisfaction.

Third and fourth, Bersin reinforces the requirement for companies to help their employees learn and reinvent themselves over and over (I like the term “career-hacking“). Ben Casnocha suggests businesses and leaders to “develop a reputation for being a career launch pad instead of a career parking lot.” I agree with both of them; only those organizations that see their employees as “allies,” with desires and aspirations that go beyond the description of their job at any particular moment in time, will (ironically) find ways to keep collaborating with them.

Finally, Bersin talks about how to bring design thinking to work:

The employee experience is the customer experience. When you get on an airplane and the flight attendant is unhappy because of something at work, guess who gets the brunt of it? You do! […] Thinking about the design of your work place as a holistic thing is an important part of the future of work.”

I see two big takeaways from Josh’s talk:

1) Complexity: the future of work is complex, so we should be hesitant to accept to any extreme or simplistic analysis from talking heads that show too much certainty about what’s going to happen. As a rule of thumb, the broader the strokes of the expert, the higher the odds of getting the future wrong.

2) Independent Thinking: With so much going on, the worst response is to let someone else tell you how you should run your business or career. Inform yourself and experiment with new technologies, but in the end, each person and organization should come to their own conclusions of what path they should take. Don’t let the media and talking heads, with their conflicting incentives, paint your future.

22 Leadership Reminders

22 Leadership Reminders

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Last few months, I spent a considerable amount of time going through some leadership literature and conversations with a good friend in search for a valuable leadership development framework.

In the process, each of us crafted a list of leadership reminders: instructions we want to review frequently to help us avoid common pitfalls, and become the kind of leaders we want to be.

Here are my 22 leadership reminders:

1) My job is to “manage meaning” and make sense of where we are headed and why what they’re doing is crucial to get there. If I see further than others, it’s my responsibility to communicate that vision and path.

2) I’m expected to act with integrity and according to our values. When the leader doesn’t embody the values, everything crumbles. Without showing integrity, values are meaningless. Actionable values are the only way for leadership to permeate through every aspect of a team, community and institution.

3) My responsibilities are to lead us towards our vision, and to help each person reach their fullest potential. I’m not there to be their best friend. My job is to see that they do their part for our cause, and to be the discipline they sometimes may lack to grow, no matter how much it hurts me or them to do so.

4) My success as a leader depends on my capacity to create new leaders. I work as a vehicle of our vision and values, and I must focus on cultivating leadership throughout the system so everyone can embody our vision and values as well.

5) I must consistently find time to reflect on my actions, our direction and ways to improve my leadership skill set. The axe that is my mind can’t get dull.

6) Every person I work with has more facets than just their professional side. For people to have the kind of intrinsic motivation that brings the best results and requires no managing, we must align their impact in the organization with their path to the full life they aspire for themselves.

7) A leader is a coach that tries to bring out the best of people. As a coach, I’m not there to provide answers but to help them solve their problems on their own. A coach that tells people what to do is lazy and selfish. I must “tame the advice monster.”

8) To improve our culture I must focus on language and relationships. Individual actions follow the way people talk and relate to each other.

9) I must remind people that “failure” is part of any growth and experimental process, and it should not be punished but rather analyzed and improved upon. A leader helps people embed learning and the chance of failure into a work process, instead of encouraging goal setting that has no chance of failure.

10) As a leader I must show the ways of system thinking, and stress the superior effectiveness of creating systems to solve challenges that arise over and over again.

11) I must dispense credentials, labels and titles only as confidence builders when necessary, but never as signals of someone’s performance or potential.

12) A leader shows more appreciation for people that solve bigger problems by imagining new ways to collaborate with others, than for those that can only excel through their individual and isolated efforts.

13) I must carry out clear punishment when someone disobeys the rules or values of the organization. If/when necessary, I must carry out the punishment in public to make an example out of the transgressor.

14) If I want people to grow, I must show more appreciation for their resourcefulness, adaptability and grit over their delivery of results that come easily and are to be expected of them.

15) A leader is always recruiting, always looking for the right people to join us in our mission. Some recruiting reminders:

  • Look for values before skills.
  • Be 100% honest with my weaknesses and our team’s and search for people that can cover them.
  • When trying to fill a position, set standards and expectations first, and find the people who can check the boxes second (no matter where they are).
  • Choose thriving talent at weaker systems over any talent at thriving systems.

16) A leader keeps people in the present, and reminds them that we have already succeeded and that’s what success looks like at that moment. A leader doesn’t show defeat, pessimism, negativity or deflation. “A leader is a dealer in hope.”

17) Every day I should be able to have a clear, specific answer to these two questions: 1) what do I want of my team?, and 2) what do I want FOR my team?

(The last reminders I borrowed from my friend’s list, since I think they are valuable for me too and he phrased them perfectly).

18) One-on-one conversations are useful, but triads are the leader’s way of communicating. I always try to loop someone else in on conversations. When problems strike, I ask myself “What triad, if formed, could solve this problem?”

19) I must remind the organization that crazy ideas are safe. We’re all better if we share our ideas and work through them together. Holding things in is a sin; speaking up is not.

20) I hold people accountable to their expectations of themselves and of their team. They set their goals and ways to accomplish them, but I help them aim higher and hold up an honest mirror of how they are performing on their way to become “world-class” in their particular field.

21) It’s my fault if people think too much or too little of themselves. For them to see where they stand and how to grow, I must provide honest assessments that are always a combination of appreciation and criticism.

22) A leader trusts, but verifies.

The Future Of Work: An Optimist’s Take

The Future Of Work: An Optimist’s Take

Last May I had the opportunity to speak about my perspective on the future of work at the Techne Summit event in Alexandria, Egypt, to an audience of local entrepreneurs and government officials.

You can watch the video below. Talk ends at ~min. 14, rest of the video is Q&A.

I enjoyed the experience very much, and I’m grateful to the Techne Summit team for inviting me.

What we lose when we bet on the media

What we lose when we bet on the media

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We collaborate with the media every day; we give it our time and attention in exchange for information. We invest our resources in the media because we believe that not knowing what it says will put us at a disadvantage in the world. We believe that the media is the best way to stay updated with the ever-changing landscape that we must navigate in our lives and careers.

When we decide to learn from the media, we don’t simply collaborate with them; we also decide to collaborate with the people and organizations that the media talks about. When the media interviews a particular author, or talks about a celebrity, or gives the front page to what a politician said in her speech, it’s telling us that those are the things that matter. It follows that it’s also telling us what doesn’t matter.

We invest in what we know is out there and neglect what we ignore.

The incentive to follow what the media says is a good one; we SHOULD strive to stay up to speed with the changes. But the premise is wrong; the changes in the world are not accurately portrayed by the media. We are doing the wrong thing for the right reason.

I believe that we have reached a point where the media does more harm than good. I believe that the more attention we give it, the lower our chances of finding the collaboration opportunities that can help us reach our goals. And I contend that the same connectivity that has made the media ubiquitous also allows for more customized and optimal ways to stay informed.

The Price of Free

When information became abundant, people stopped paying for news. Basic economics. Most media businesses now survive by amassing readers/viewers and “selling access” to that audience to advertisers. In his bestselling book Trust me, I’m lying, Ryan Holiday explains the incentives and dynamics that rule the media (online and offline), and the specific ways he has exploited them to promote individuals or companies he was working for. He describes in detail how journalists, bloggers, and those that want to be seen as leaders in social media, conferences, etc. will spread any content as long as it brings them clicks or eyeballs. As Ryan explains, we all lose:

“You cannot have your news instantly and have it done well. You cannot have your news reduced to 140 characters or less without losing large parts of it. You cannot manipulate the news but not expect it to be manipulated against you. You cannot have your news for free; you can only obscure the costs.

Most information online today is free, but it comes at the expense of quality. By design, free news have to be cheap and misleading because the real customer is no longer the reader/viewer. The goal is no longer to get people’s money because people won’t pay. The goal is to get their attention. And it turns out that true, relevant, precise information is NOT what gets the most attention. Quality information with proper contextualization comes at a worth-paying price. As Holiday puts it: “No marketer is ever going to push something with the stink of reasonableness, complexity, or mixed emotions.”

Any business that needs to generate attention over quality is a marketing-driven business. In the age of free information, journalists have become marketers.

Does it spread?

For the media, the most valuable action the audience can take is to share what they read or saw. To tell others about it, to email the video to a friend, to post the news on Facebook, to like it and tag others to see it. Every aspect of the media is designed to increase shareability and popularity, because that’s the only way to draw enough attention to sustain the business. If the media gives valuable information but people don’t share it, their business fails.

If every article is engineered to increase its chances of being passed around, it follows that we ask ourselves: what makes people share online content? It turns out it’s not quality, but a very particular set of emotions. Holiday expands:

“Things must be negative but not too negative. Hopelessness, despair—these drive us to do nothing. Pity, empathy—those drive us to do something, like get up from our computers to act. But anger, fear, excitement, or laughter—these drive us to spread. They drive us to do something that makes us feel as if we are doing something, when in reality we are only contributing to what is probably a superficial and utterly meaningless conversation.

And Holiday stresses this point over and over: “The most powerful predictor of what spreads online is anger.”

The media doesn’t want to inform us. It wants to make us laugh and get angry, and excited, and afraid, so we feel enthralled with the story and tell others about it. Similar to when we see a movie. The media and the entertainment industry are driven by the same need for attention, and quite often we should treat them alike: semi-fictional and vague representations of events.

World-famous professor and statistician Hans Rosling recently had a heated debate with the TV host about the media’s misportrayal of the world. The whole video is worth watching, but this quote explains the problem perfectly:

You can’t trust the news outlet if you want to understand the world. […] News outlets only care about a small part, but you call it the world. You can choose to only show my shoe, which is very ugly, but that is only a small part of me.”

Is the media worthless?

No. The role of the media in shaping and improving the world is unquestionable. It’s only recently that the media, with the advent of new technologies, found new competition for attention and lost its way. I’m skeptical that the current system can evolve, it’s too polluted. I can see signs of new systems being developed today that will replace traditional media as our source of information. When that happens the world will be a better place.

In the meantime, we should be strategic about how we approach the media, so we can benefit without playing directly into its agenda and suffering heavy consequences:

1) Trace the incentives

A known fact about getting on TV and on stage is that the fastest way is to know the right people in the industry and give them the kind of content that can capture the most attention. In other words, the fastest way to become “famous” is not to give accurate information, but the type of fast, simplistic, emotional content the media likes to publish. As a member of an audience that pays with either time or money, I ask you: are you ok with that system? Do you feel you are being taken care of?

Every time a person or an organization (let’s call it “X”) is promoting some other person/product/story (let’s call it “Y”), there is an incentive for X to pick Y over other options. We can only trust the media’s choice of what’s important and what’s irrelevant if we trust the process as well. If the process is corrupted, and we don’t know it, we can’t defend ourselves against the its biased choices. Ask yourself:

Why is X promoting Y?
How did X choose to promote Y over other options?
What does success look like for X?
What does success look like for Y?
Is it in the best interest of X that Y is true and high quality?
If so, how does X guarantee the veracity or quality of Y? 

2) Share responsibly

Life is a podium. Everything we say may reach more people that we can imagine. Quoting what we read as a fact without knowing if the source is trustworthy is how inaccurate information gets passed around. Sharing without questioning is exactly what the media wants us to do. When we spread bad ideas, we are hurting ourselves by making our own social context more ignorant. On the contrary, when we are ambassadors of a few but well understood ideas, we improve the intelligence of our network.

3) Look for ideas, not truths

My former mentor Gerry Garbulsky says that an idea is “a lens to see the world”. That’s how we should approach every article we read, every interview we watch, every conference we attend. To doubt is to remain free. We should not immediately dismiss what we hear, but rather use them as lenses and triggers to think about those topics and come to our own conclusions. The moment we become passive followers of any channel or personality, we lost.

Teacher, leave us kids alone

We live in the world that we build in our minds. If we only read about other cultures, we will have a different notion of those cultures than those that have visited them. If we think that people are selfish and that the world is dangerous, then we will live scared. The future is yet to be created, and it will be the result of what we think is possible.

The media has the power to create self-fulfilling prophecies; if every week there’s a new article about how artificial intelligence will take over all jobs, people may stop imagining how they could build a different, better future. Optimism and independent thinking are more than hopeful perspectives; they are the fuel we need to build the world we want. When the media reduces the world to a few topics and simple ideas, it also discourages its audience to create something different and better.

When we decided that the media was worth paying attention to, we gave it permission to create the world we live in. As Alain de Botton explains on his book “The News: A User’s Manual”, the news is our teacher:

“Once our formal education has finished, the news is the teacher. It is the single most significant force setting the tone of public life and shaping our impressions of the community beyond our own walls. It is the prime creator of political and social reality. As revolutionaries well know, if you want to change the mentality of a country, you don’t head to the art gallery, the department of education or the homes of famous novelists; you drive the tanks straight to the nerve center of the body politic, the news HQ.”

Uncle Ben taught us that “with great power comes great responsibility.” The biggest problem I have with the media is that it neglects and abuses the permission that people give it to learn what the world is like. To survive as a business, the media looks for spreads, no matter how paralyzing, confusing or irrelevant it may be for the success and daily life of its audience (you). The most dangerous design flaw of the media industry is that it can’t be a responsible teacher.

To make smart bets, we must teach ourselves to see the world as accurately as possible. Reading things that anger or scare us every day is a great way to make dumb bets. Life is more mundane and boring than the media would like us to believe, and the road to fulfillment is quiet, slow, and personal.As Alain de Botton says, we must always be ready to walk away:

A flourishing life requires a capacity to recognize the times when the news no longer has anything original or important to teach us; periods when we should refuse imaginative connection with strangers, when we must leave the business of governing, triumphing, failing, creating or killing to others, in the knowledge that we have our own objectives to honour in the brief time still allotted to us.” 

Quotes April 2016

Quotes April 2016

“You can’t trust the news outlet if you want to understand the world.” – Hans Rosling

“Whoever said money can’t buy happiness didn’t know where to shop.” – Gertrude Stein

“Success is getting what you want; happiness is wanting what you get.” – Ingrid Bergman

“An idea is a lens to see the world.” – Gerry Garbulsky

“A flourishing life requires a capacity to recognize the times when the news no longer has anything original or important to teach us; periods when we should refuse imaginative connection with strangers, when we must leave the business of governing, triumphing, failing, creating or killing to others, in the knowledge that we have our own objectives to honour in the brief time still allotted to us.” – Alain de Botton

“The most valuable businesses of coming decades will be built by entrepreneurs who seek to empower people rather than try to make them obsolete.” – Peter Thiel

“‘What is a person?'” If I knew the answer to that, I might be able to program an artificial person in a computer. But I can’t. Being a person is a not a pat formula, but a quest, a mystery, a leap of faith.” – Jaron Lanier

“The learning of life is about what to avoid.” – Nassim Taleb

“It’s safer to comment on our culture than to step into the Rooseveltian ring and attempt to wrestle it into something better.” – Cal Newport

“Knowing how to use a tool does not mean knowing what you should do with it.” – Carlos Miceli

“In an age of images and entertainment, in an age of instant emotional gratification, we neither seek nor want honesty or reality. Reality is complicated. Reality is boring. We are incapable or unwilling to handle its confusion.” – Chris Hedges