Workers of the World Untie

Gapingvoid - Freedom from spreadsheets

Outside the prison or military, it’s hard to conceive of a less free institution for adults than the average workplace.” – Clay Shirky

The real source of wealth and capital in this new era is not material things…it is the human mind, the human spirit, the human imagination, and our faith in the future.” -Steve Forbes

May Day, May Day! The good ship HMS Marxism is sinking fast. And one of the icebergs it has struck is the changing nature of work.

Marxism withers away on the political landscape as a now endangered species of economic theory clinging to existence in a few remote micro-climes. Many factors have contributed to its decline, but a big one is the shift to the digital revolution of the Information Age. The Social dialectic was a theory born of the Industrial Revolution which now, like the Manifesto, enters its twilight days.

In a certain way, Marx can declare a form of victory. Workers of the world now have more ownership of the ‘means of production’ than ever. The factory is now their brain. In the Industrial Age, humans possessed intelligent muscle. Machines could pound, melt and move, but you needed a human to manoeuvre, assemble and finish. Then, as the industrial complex grew ever larger, a legion of office work factories were built in countless suburban office parks to handles the complicated gears of paperwork and bureaucracy.

Today, computers, robotics and control systems have put human dexterity and knowledge worker factories on the inexorable path to obsolescence. Manual and organisational dexterity yields to analytical and social skills. The key jobs left of economic value are those things machines can’t do (yet): relate and create. Thus, the two enduring areas of work are those which leverage those skills. Customer relationships, service, management, leadership, entertainment, art all require ‘relating’. Analysis, problem solving, strategy, design, and art all require ‘creating’ (in ways that computers have not yet mastered).

Just because exploitative Capitalists have not yet figured out way of detaching the human brain from workers, it doesn’t mean that clever Fat Cats aren’t able to find other ways to dispossess the labour force essential asset. Misinformation, underinvestment in training and contrived work practice all serve to corral the workers most valuable tool.

For those of revolutionary spirit wishing to exploit May Day as the traditional celebration of worker progress, the banners today should read ‘More Investment in Education’ and ‘Down With Media Propaganda.’ Anything that enriches the minds of workers enhances their utility, competitiveness, value and ultimately their quality of life. Anything that deludes, misinforms or otherwise weakens the minds of the labour force becomes the new means of exploitation and subjugation. The Fat Cats may not be able to literally ‘own’ your brain in a financial sense, but they can ‘own’ it in a figurative sense if they have deceived, manipulated or brainwashed it.

Dynamic Work – flexibility of time, location and contract – is the new clarion call for the legions of labor seeking a better work life.

Re-Re-Imagining Work

Dave Coplin - Re-imagining Work

Dynamic Work all started at Microsoft. It stemmed from a convergence of post-millennial technology and business trends I witnessed from a front-row seat. My examination of all business “dynamic” started with executive briefings at the company as well as some of Microsoft’s own initiatives, and inspired me to embark full-time on the crusade. Despite being lured back to an executive position, I continue to track the topic and even make the occasional post here.

So it was a bit nostalgic to stumble upon this piece presented by former UK colleague now Chief Envisioning Officer at Microsoft Dave Coplin. A half decade on and the messages are still the same. But the presentation is superbly enhanced by the inimitable RSA animation. A few gems I pulled from Dave’s treatment include…

· “Flexible working is about taking control of how you work”

· “Openness of sharing. Open by default.”

· “The biggest concern about remote working is ‘trust’. And not between boss and staff, but among team members themselves.”

One of the reasons I got lured back into corporate life was that Microsoft had de-prioritised this area (making it harder to partner with my Microsoft-centric network). It is reassuring to see my professional alma mater still evangelising these changes in the workplace.

Dynamic Manoeuvres

Poppies in the wind


Armistice Day today celebrates the contributions and sacrifices of men and women in uniform whose own extraordinary experiences bring insight and perspective to our ordinary lives. The crucible of the battlefield tests principles at the extremes that we can apply in more peaceful contexts. Perhaps literal life and death is not on the line, but financial and emotional survival can be at stake facing the challenges of everyday life and business.

One of the seminal works on battlefield insight is Robert Greene’s, 33 Strategies of War. In it he espouses the dynamic approach to flexibility and versatility…

Understand, in life as in war, nothing ever happens just as you expect it to. People’s response are odd or surprising, your staff commits outrageous acts of stupidity, on and on. If you meet the dynamic situations of life with plans that are rigid, if you think of only holding static positions, if you rely on technology to control any friction that comes your way, you are doomed: events will change faster than you can adjust to them, and chaos will enter the system.”

Office Worker Factories

Factories - assembly line   Factories - steno pool

‘Office Worker Factories’ are on their own deathbed. .

The ‘Industrial Age’ of the 20th century was defined by factories that produced goods at scale. When you mention ‘Industrial’, people think Rust Belt, smokestack, blue-collar engines of manufacturing. But just as prominent to the Industrial Age (probably more so in the final decades) were the ‘Office Worker Factories’. Behemoths of assembly-line processing by white-collared, college educated ‘knowledge workers’. But just as automation and globalisation has displaced most of the Rosie the Riveters, the same forces have now made redundant the legions of Peter the Paper Pushers. Documented in William Whyte’s classic ‘Organization Man’, regimented In and Out Trays worked on synchronised 9-to-5 shifts managed by overseers.

The ‘Service’ economy (eg. finance, information technology, logistics) has long looked down its nose at ‘Manufacturing’ sector as outdated and obsolete. Little did it realise that the Service sector is just Manufacturing’s younger sibling. Now it too has hit its dotage in the Industrial family.

Seth Godin recently penned a post “The forever recession (and the coming revolution)” which dramatically dissected the decline of the staid, fixed, old infrastructure across all sectors of the economy. Clearing the way is the Dynamic new approaches to business…

There are actually two recessions: The first is the cyclical one, the one that inevitably comes and then inevitably goes…The other recession, though, the one with the loss of ‘good factory jobs’ and systemic unemployment–I fear that this recession is here forever. Why do we believe that jobs where we are paid really good money to do work that can be systemized, written in a manual and/or exported are going to come back ever? The internet has squeezed inefficiencies out of many systems, and the ability to move work around, coordinate activity and digitize data all combine to eliminate a wide swath of the jobs the industrial age created…The industrial age, the one that started with the industrial revolution, is fading away. It is no longer the growth engine of the economy and it seems absurd to imagine that great pay for replaceable work is on the horizon.

I'm not a pessimist, though, because the new revolution, the revolution of connection, creates all sorts of new productivity and new opportunities…Most of the wealth created by this revolution doesn't look like a job, not a full time one anyway. When everyone has a laptop and connection to the world, then everyone owns a factory. Instead of coming together physically, we have the ability to come together virtually, to earn attention, to connect labor and resources, to deliver value.

Stressful? Of course it is. No one is trained in how to do this, in how to initiate, to visualize, to solve interesting problems and then deliver. Some see the new work as a hodgepodge of little projects, a pale imitation of a 'real' job. Others realize that this is a platform for a kind of art, a far more level playing field in which owning a factory isn't a birthright for a tiny minority but something that hundreds of millions of people have the chance to do.

This revolution is at least as big as the last one, and the last one changed everything.”

Factories - industrial center   Factories - office park

Dynamic Classroom

Diana Laufenberg - How to learn From mistakes

Dynamic Work can start in the Dynamic Classroom.

This is ‘Back to School’ season and I have done a few pieces in one of my other blogs (‘Leadership and Management / Turning Adversity to Advantage’) on the timely subject. Both pieces feature endorsements of ‘dynamic work’ applied to the classroom.

Diane Laufenberg’s TED talk explored new modes of flexible learning and complemented, as with Dynamic Work, with the latest technology like laptops which could go between home and class…

“I moved there primarily to be part of a learning environment that validated the way that I knew that kids learned, and that really wanted to investigate what was possible when you are willing to let go of some of the paradigms of the past, of information scarcity when my grandmother was in school and when my father was in school and even when I was in school, and to a moment when we have information surplus. So what do you do when the information is all around you? Why do you have kids come to school if they no longer have to come there to get the information?”

FailureMag’s piece on ‘Geeks’ proposed unconventional furnishing to areas like the cafeteria to promote intermingling and the breakdown of destructive cliques (‘Dynamic Lunch’!)…

“One of the easiest things a school can do is to change the cafeteria seating so that there are a varying number of chairs at each table to accommodate groups of different sizes. And schools can set out a handful of loose chairs so that floaters—kids who don’t belong to any single group—can go from table to table and don’t have to feel they have to choose one group and stay there.”

The Filing Cabinet

Marshall McLuhan on future work

While Dynamic Work is growing in mainstream acceptance daily, it is still seen as rather forward thinking by most. Actually, the thinking has been around for decades. Admittedly by one of the most prescient social commentators ever – Marshall McLuhan. One of those seers insanely ahead of his time like Gaudi, da Vinci and Lloyd Wright. In this television interview (thanks Eileen), he describes the heart of Dynamic Work with chilling foresight. He envisions the ‘Internet’ long before its invention described as a variation of ‘closed circuit TV’ (not far off there).

Here he describes the insanity of the current structure of the workplace and how new approaches will change all of this including more distributed working environments…

“In our own world, we are hurrying back and forth across town morning and night to situations which we could quite easily encompass by close circuit.  Why do the wheels keep hurrying us downtown?  As some people are puzzled by this and have come up with the answer, it’s the filing cabinet.  Downtown and the offices that makes it still necessary to rush back and forth from suburb to the office.  That it is this obsession with the contents of the file…documents, contracts, data.  All of these materials could be available, actually, on closed circuit at home.  The stockbroker long ago discovered this.  That the telephone enables him to conduct his business anywhere.”

Synchronicity, Intimacy and Productivity

Seth Godin Purple Cow

Seth Godin has been a real inspiration to me in marketing (‘Purple Cow’ which inspired the ‘Best Of Maldives’ section to my Maldives Complete blog) as well as in Leadership and Management / Embracing Failure.

Godin even offers some sage insights into workstyles and the balance between when face-to-face is important and when getting people out of your face is important. Unfortunately, traditional work environments with their one-size-fits-all don’t readily cater to this dichotomy.

“A shortcut to customer and co-worker intimacy is to respond in real time. A phone call is more human than an email, a personal meeting has more impact than a letter. On the other hand, when you do your work on someone else's schedule, your productivity plummets, because you are responding to the urgent, not the important, and your rhythm is shot. The shortcut analysis, it seems to me, is to sort by how important it is that your interactions be intimate. If it's not vitally important that you increase the energy and realism of the relationship, then insert a buffer. Build blocks of time to do serious work, work that's not interrupted by people who need to hear from you in real time, right now. On the other hand, for interactions when only a hug or a smile will do, allocate the time and the schedule to be present. Confusing the two is getting easier than ever, and it's killing your ability to do great work.”

I’m doing research for Maldives Complete right now (my dynamic work space has taken me to underneath a palm tree in the Indian Ocean) and I often get asked ‘What is the best Maldive resort?’ (there are over 100 of them). My answer is ‘There is no best resort, there is only the best resort for you.’ The same response applies to dynamic working. I often get asked, ‘What is the best work environment?’ There is now best environment, only the best environment for the combination of you and your work to be done.

Dynamic Changes

Red Bee Piero

Sometimes the dream overwhelms the vision. I have long maintained a vision where people worked more flexibly and dynamically. Dynamic Work Ltd. was a great undertaking to translate that vision into a viable business of helping organisations move in that direction. I was delighted with the support, interest and progress which reinforced my vision that this is the direction the world is going. However, the dream opportunity for me professionally and personally has presented itself.

As a result, I have taken the decision to cease offering Dynamic Work consulting services in order to take up the position of General Manager to a company called Piero. In use by 30 sports broadcasters in 20 countries, Piero is a platform for adding graphic effects and even 3D recreations that illuminate live video and highlight commentary.

Sometimes you can have your vision and your dream as well. As it happens, Piero has a heritage linked tightly to BBC who are UK innovators in the field of flexible working through their ‘BBC Flex’ programme and other initiatives. I look forward to working in an environment receptive to innovation where I can continue to live the vision as I follow this dream job.

I plan to continue posting to this blog regularly for those many readers who continue to take an interest in this dynamic topic.

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By Royal Proclamation

Opening of Parliament Queens Speech

With all of the UK election and coalition mayhem sorted, the UK government can now get down to the business. The official starting pistol is the opening of Parliament quite literally crowned by a “Queen’s Speech” which sets out the new government’s challenges and agenda. The text included the expected subjects of foreign policy priorities, various proposed reforms and attention to the economic issues. But right up in the first ten initiatives stated was…

“My Government will remove barriers to flexible working…”