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Posts Tagged ‘work in the 21st century

My Manifesto

My BHAG

“I am young, I am British, and I love my career.”

That, is my BHAG – my big hairy audacious goal.

What is your BHAG?

If you are here, you are probably interested in that possibility of a startlingly lovable and enjoyable career. So welcome!

  • If you are young, we would like to hear your stories.
  • If you are British, we would like to hear about exciting opportunities that don’t get attention from the mainstream media.
  • If you have thoughts on careers to die for, we want to know!

Who am I?

I am a work psychologist. I am not young, and I am not 100% British.

I have had an interesting career doing work I love – helping people coordinate their careers with the careers of other people.

I did career guidance & coaching. I’ve computerized HR departments. I’ve facilitated strategic planning for turnarounds. I’ve provided redundancy counselling. I’ve mediated pay negotiations. I’ve selected pilots and army officers. I’ve selected apprentices and executive directors for the C-suite.

All this is the glue of large hierarchical organizations. These are the systems behind the traffic lights that allow us to flow through a large organization without bashing into each other.  These are the systems you only notice when they go wrong.  Like Victorian children, good psychologists are seen and not heard.

Where am I going?

Work has changed though. The financial crisis is shining a spotlight on changes that have been coming for a long time. The changes were partly the cause of the crisis as well, but only because they were ignored by business leaders who didn’t understand them or willfully ignored them

Young people of today will have very different careers from my generation. Opportunities will be different.

Knowledge work & Science

#1 We know, for example, that most work in the west is knowledge-based or service oriented. More importantly, we are on the brink of massive discoveries in the all of the sciences. TED talks give us a leisurely and enjoyable way to keep up to date. Because science is where the future lies, if you have the opportunity for a scientific education, take it!

International & Languages

#2 The world has got smaller. Young people travel readily. You will also work across borders more. You will take assignments across borders and work with people all over the world using the internet. China, India, Russian and Brazil are the the countries of the future. Learn a second language! This is no time to live in mono-lingual world!

Networked Economy & Social Media

#3 The internet changes more than our scope. Facebook and Twitter may seem like play-things but they represent an important social innovation – the power to talk directly to each other. As internet thinker, Clay Shirky, says: Group action just got easier. Suddenly, large organizations are not as powerful as they once were. This is a shock to people whose career was tied up in conquering and commanding a large organization. The collapse of the newspapers and broadcast media is all over the news as I write. Importantly, younger people who grew up with Facebook, Spotify and other platforms expect direct, egalitarian interaction. They are ready for new types of organizations and they will move smoothly into the organizations that displace the old powerful hierarchies. Play on social media. Get used to it!

Positive Psychology & Personal Portfolios

#4 The world has also become more respectful of the individual. As “bosses” become less relevant, so too does the Victorian notion that one person knows best. We no longer have shape ourselves in someone else’s mould. We are free to ask: what do we love to do and who wants to do it with us? Whether it is to sail around the world alone or make a new scientific discovery, we have to ask ourselves what it will take to do what we want to do. We have to take ownership of our dreams and have the courage to invest in what we believe is worthwhile. This brings responsibility as well as opportunity and the freedom, and requires skills that few of us developed in the past. We have to learn to manage ourselves and bring supporters and collaborators around us. This is true for the magnificently talented and the ordinary, the scientist and the artist, the crafts person and the sales person. Writing an engaging story is your job now! Don’t wait for someone to write it for you!

Networked Business &  New Business Models

#5 And we have new ‘technologies’ blossoming in this atmosphere. Boeing is trying to build aeroplanes by making the fuselage in one place and the wings in other and bolting together the big pieces like so many pieces of Lego. Mining companies are throwing open their geological records and asking the public to find the veins of gold that they missed. We come to care about design and the experience of the user. We like to make activities playful and sociable and fun. Where obedience might have been the currency of work in days gone by, today the currency is fun. He or she who creates fun wins!

How do work & organizational psychologists contribute to these changes?

For individuals, we have a clear role in helping each one of us take charge of our dreams and to take the first rather scary steps of gathering people around us. For this, we use positive psychology and interventions like gratitude diaries. We also freely put poetry and stories to work and and encourage people to organize their stories as an epic tale using the Hero’s Journey.

When we talk about groups and organizations we are less articulate. We will bring forward many of the techniques of the past. We’ll also study the work of internet watchers like Clay Shirky. We’ll study the work of contemporary anthropologists like David Logan on Tribes.

But then we are on our own trying to figure out what new organizations will look like. What traffic lights will be needed to aid the smooth flow of people through the organization? How will we design the systems that deliver traffic lights that go on and of at the right times?

This blog

This blog is a chronicle of my thinking in that direction. It is a patchwork. In the spirit of the age, I don’t try to produce a finished product. I just write every day making notes about what I hear on the radio and read on the web. I note. I connect. And I sort. Eventually, I understand.

What a work & organizational psychologist does for you

When I understand, then I can explain.  And when I can explain, then I can deliver the services needed by individual performers and the managers who help them coordinate.

When they have an issue, I help them resolve it quickly with

a) A clear model to organize the questions

b) Vicarious self-efficacy through the stories of other people at a similar junction

c) Continued social support by sticking with them till they are done.

So, to work!

What are the issues of working in the 21st century? Who is taking a playful approach to their work? Where are they? And how can pursue the work we love?

Do leave comments.  Only 10% of readers comment.  Wouldn’t it be great if the British internet were different and 20% or 30% of people felt free to add their voice to the debate?

Jo Jordan

Olney, England

2 May 2010

Our changing times: interaction has got so easy the cats get it!

This is how much we have changed.

Baby Boomers:  Looked for the cheese.

Gen X:  Ask: who moved my cheese?

Gen Y: Looks for there mouse

Gen i:  Is polite to their elders and asks “What is a mouse?”

But you will have to be old to follow these references.  At least 2 years old anyway.

  • A year ago, we noticed kids automatically touch screens expecting them to be interactive.
  • Last week, YouTube trended a two year old ‘got’ the iPad within 30 seconds.

There is something profound in this sequence.  Cat’s play with iPad’s.  Mice? Cheese?

I suppose I am a little relieved.  I live in England and English cheeses are really good.  Cheeses are made to be enjoyed at the end of a long day in the company of friends. So maybe changes in the world order improve my lifestyle.  More cheese for me.

But change the world order has done.  The game of mice in mazes hunting cheese is over.  Not even the cats are interested now in mice, mazes and cheese.  They haz an iPad!

We are right.  Oh, hold on.  We were wrong.  Completely and utterly wrong.

Have you been in a situation, say, of supporting the invasion of Iraq to destroy WMD and then finding out you were duped.  Well, let’s face it ~ finding out you were wrong.  Wrong about the evidence.  And more importantly, wrong about your certainty.

I’ll argue you that we are not grown up, not quite grown up, until we’ve experienced being utterly wrong, about the facts, their interpretion, our certainty and our right to dismiss the other side.

Yes, we were wrong to dismiss the other side.

We need to seek an apology and forgiveness but I am not going there today.

Converging ideas about new work, organization and management

Today I am getting my thoughts together about the amazing convergence of ideas in business and the current tensions between the old guard and newcomers in management.

Management theory was laid out before World War I and has been a matter of frills and extensions for 100 years.

By the turn of this, the 21st century, we had begun talking about positive organizational scholarship, distributed networked models, and yes, mytho-poetical approaches.

Believe me, these ideas are an 180 degree about turn.  Our first impulse is to say they are wrong.  And they will be wrong in parts. There is no doubt about that.  Nothing is every completely right.

Equally, just because ideas converge, does not mean they are right. Not at all.

But we have to challenge our impulse to dismiss ideas because they are unfamiliar.  If we have a scrap of intellectual honesty, we must recognize that they are inconvenient to those of us who have invested heavily in understanding old ways.

It is our job to go forward with them and turn them into working ideas, to find out their limits, and to find out their worth.

Self-esteem and Nathaniel Branden

As one more piece of the jigsaw puzzle, I looked up the work of Nathaniel Branden.

Branden has worked on self-esteem for 50 years.   Here is one of the touchy-feely ideas that gets rejected out-of-hand.

What struck me is that Branden has asked a question that I haven’t seen asked before and I hadn’t thought to ask.

Can modern businesses survive without people who have high self-esteem?

In times of rapid change and technological development, how can we work, except with people who believe they can cope and who believe they have a right to happiness?  Anyone who expects less is unlikely to rise to the challenge of modern day living, simply because they will accept 2nd best.

And the corollary, of course, is what happens to a company when it is staffed by people who have low self-esteem?

The empirical test for an HR Director, I think, is what happens to people when they join the organization.  Does a person with low self-esteem gradually change to become a calm, composed, assured person who is neither whiny nor dictatorial. Or does the opposite happen?

Self-esteem may be the critical competitive competence of our 21st century world

In the meantime, the world moves on.  We can be sure youngsters with high self-esteem are self-selecting environments that are healthy.

Indeed, I’ll predict that the western country that concentrates on developing wide spread self-esteem will come out best placed as we work through the financial crisis and shift of power to the East.

Enjoy.  We need to relearn our trade.  There is plenty for us to do.

Emergence

I am tidying up and I glanced through a notebook from 2 years ago. I was utterly fascinated by ‘emergence’, the phenomenon where a flock of birds, for example, emerges from simple behaviour of birds.   With three very simple rules – join the flock, keep up and keep a respectable “stopping distance” – birds individually, and probably without thought, create a flock that looks as if someone did think it up.

Emergence, business & management

We are fascinated with “emergence” in a business context because a naturally-forming flock undermines the idea of the all knowing and ominiscent leader.  The planning, leading, organizing & controlling management theory of Fayol goes ‘for a loop’.

At first, I was puzzled that university departments hadn’t taken up this idea more vigorouosly, and more practically.

Including emergence in the theory of management

Two years on, I’ve found my thinking has drifted.  Yes, it is certainly true that the role of managers is probably exaggerated (with their pay).  But the project of changing management is unnecessary.  Overmanaged firms will self-destruct, possibly at great cost to themselves and others, simply because managers have to be paid for and management that is not necessary simply makes a firm unweildy, inefficient and unprofitable.

The real issue is where our better understanding of organization is emerging in business.  The best example that is written up is the motorcycle industry of China. The best example where an industry is trying to use similar processes is the aerospace industry in UK and the production of the Boeing 787.

Moving along to understanding emergence in business

The challenge now is to understand the variations of self-organizing networks.

I think, perhaps, the basic principle is that emergence, by definition, is not willed.

  • We can prevent it happening.
  • We can illustrate the principle.

But in real life, the probably the best we can do is create conditions for it to happen.  What are those conditions?

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And after Toyota we have ?

The time has come when management is making one its momentus periodic shifts in thought.  The textbooks might take a little time to catch up.  Most university textbooks don’t do Toyota yet.  And after all, as we all know, Toyota is passed its zenith.  But as ever, the world moves on, and we learn from engine-makers and manufacturers.

This time it is Chinese motorcycles. How do they make them quite so cheap?

Chinese process networks & local modularization

I have been looking for good references to understand the phenonmenon of “local modularization”.   At last, I have found a good paper the motor cycle industry in Chongqing where this practice emerged. It is a pdf document presented at Davos 2006 by Hagel & Brown who are now part of Deloittes.

Working tips for finding work that will still be here in 10 years’ time

As ever, I’ve made a working checklist for my own good.  I imagine it might have been superceded by know, though. 3 years is a long time in today’s management practice.

Think supply chain not assembly line

The key to this thinking is ‘supply chain’ not the assembly line.  Now there are specialized master’s degrees in supply chain & logistics.  It is a serious business.  I have a very amateur take of what we can learn generally about where business is going but this is what I make of it.

#1  Pull vs push

Look for networks where people are asking you to do things.  Avoid networks and people are trying to ‘push’ services and products (spam you in other words).  You are looking for networks that are based on people putting up their hands and calling “I need  .  .”  You can go back to them saying “I can do X at this price.” Then neither you nor them have to say “Please buy . . .” and waste time and money on marketing. I haven’t seen any writing, other than a reference that I’ve listed below, on how networks make the change from push to pull.  Please tell me if you have!

#2  Change the game to give you and your partner permanent competitive advantage

Outsource strategically rather than tactically.  That is, form an alliance that changes the game.  Don’t just buy in finished goods.  A strategic alliance

  • Shares the goal setting with the outsourcing partner.
  • Expands the pie.
  • Deepens capability (and know how)
  • Is a long term relationship.

When you are calling for assistance, begin with the long term relationship.  Have a discussion about your long term goal.  The British aerospace industry have a cracking questionnaire on the questions to ask.  It’s worth a look.

#3  Talk long term but go with whomever delivers

At the same time, be loosely coupled.  Don’t try to specify the entire process or lock people in.  It’s a scary thought at first but every person and every supplier is redundant.  That is the natue of pull systems. Utterly redundant.

This feature may seem sem to contradict the second point and this is how the contradiction is resolved.  A long term relationship comes from discussing the long term goal.  In the past, one person specified the goal and others had to fall in in lockstep.  Now long term goals are jointly agreed but if a partner doesn’t deliver, the network simply closes over, just like the internet, and moves on.  The ‘self-healing’ of networks, ruthless as it is, is the biggest guarantee of quality (and also a worry for people who study exploitation).

#4  Go for good company rather than total dominance

Choose networks where you are one specialist link in a network rather than a dominant player.  You don’t need to dominate the network; you need a good network.  And good networks are full of people at the top of their game where the network, not just the members, gets better every day.

The British aerospace industy even have a programme to switch the whole industry over to strategically thought out relationships which though not quite pull, go in that direction.  I can imagine this point worrying people.  Certainly I would like to see work on how we protect ourselves from people who do try to dominate the network.

Moving from old styles of business to new

Hagel and Brown also gave me this checklist for managing our futures strategically.  It might be sufficient to answer my two unanswered questions.  How do we make the shift and how do we protect ourselves from ‘powerful pirates’?

  1. Where can we see the future?  Where shall we post lookouts?
  2. Where can we do things differently with other people?  Where can we work on innovative solutions?
  3. Where can we push the limits of organizational practice?
  4. Where is the “edge” or “boundary” that meets the outside world and informs the core?
  5. What sustains relationships?
  6. Where are we getting better and getting better faster?
  7. Which industries are unbundling and what is the patten?  In 2006, Hagel & Brown forsaw businesses unbundling into  infrastructure management, product innovation & commercialization, and customer relations.

I need to explore Hagel and Brown’s work more, on their own site and Deloitte’s. These lists are pretty rough but hopefully you’ll find these two lists useful in some way.  Comments?

Fill each other’s cup but not drink from one cup

I am reading Khalil Gibran’s The Prophet.  His words on marriage might well be a manifesto for modern day careers and organization.

“Fill each other’s cup but not drink from one cup.”

Careers & work of the future

Switching to contemporary times, if you want to skate to where the puck will be rather than where it is now, find opportunities to work in exchange with others, “to replenish their cup”, rather than subsumine yourself to the goal of a larger institution or one boss or teacher.

Careers & sustainability

But also remember, Khalil Gibran’s words

“When you love you should not say, “God is in my heart,” but rather, “I am in the heart of God.”

In prosaic contemporary terms, think about a wider system that provides enough to drink for everyone.  We don’t need to share one cup except when there is only one.  When we make many cups and fill each other’s cups, then we we are in a healthy place and we want to strive to make that so.

  • Take your cup, allow others to fill it.
  • Take your cup, and fill those of others.
  • Ponder those who have no cup and no one to fill it.

Using the old wisdom of Khalil Gibran to extend management theory

All this is obvious though not so if you teach management theory.  Old management theory charges us with drinking from our line manager’s cup and ultimately from the company’s cup.  There are legal reasons (and mainly legal reasons) for this.

We could also train young people to understand the company as a mega-system that must benefit all stakeholders ~ all stakeholders ~ if it is to sustain itself.

We can train young people to understand power, its use and misuse, and how to work thinkingly yet safely with people who deny others their own cup.  But never to give up their own cup.

I want to see young people exploring the whole system in their online portfolios.  I would like to see youth support systems put youngsters in situations where they must sort out which cup is which, who is filling which cup, and how they can act in small & gentle ways to drink from their own cup, to fill the cups of others, and to influence the wider econ-system.  It’s an important skill to learn and many of us lose it along the way.

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We can turn a plane on a dime

The 787 flew ~ at last ~ 2.5 years late.

The 787 was put together with a 20 page specification and takes 3 days to assemble parts from around the world rather than 40 days to assemble the plan manufactured on site.

We can turn a plane on a dime.  And if we can manufacture a plane in a global network of local modules, then we can make anything.

Is modularizing work a good thing ~ for us?

Harvard Business Review blog are awed and skeptical in equal measure.

  • They are sure the world will copy the “lego” model.
  • They are sure that Chinese firms will give Boeing a run for their money.

I too, am sure that Chinese firms will Boeing a run for their money.  They will give all of us a run for our money.  What interests me is who will win the race, and how this new race will change the future of work.

Key skills in the future of workn

Clearly there are key skills in this new form of work

  • Clicking the “lego” parts together
  • Negotiating the specification of the parts and adjusting for inevitable “drift” as parts are made
  • The credibility to organize the network of suppliers, customers and capital.

It strikes me that clicking the parts together is not key.  Managing networks is the key.  A firm can be judged by the size of the global network that it can organize and manage profitably.

Welcome to 2010 and the race to networking skills and managing global networks of local manufacturing modules!


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