TW Reads: Future of Work (August 2014)

Featuring articles about what to learn from independent workers, opinions on the “second machine age,” and thoughts on the work skills of the future.

The TW Reads are collections of links to articles from the web, curated by Third Wave. Each collection is focussed on one topic.

Learning from independent workers

Bryan Boyer has written a fantastic series of essays about the future or work. He looks at trends and motivations among independent workers today to provide a framework for designing services and policies for the work of tomorrow:

  1. Bye bye, Busytown
    Understanding independent work
  2. The Leading Edge
    Independents are an early warning system for the economy
  3. Market realities and networked dreams
    Independent work between the cracks of the old economy
  4. Fringe benefits
    Independent work beyond the individual

On the “second machine age”

Work skills of the future

  • Constructive Uncertainty
    Now that we are more aware of our cognitive biases, how can we create work-arounds in group settings? Stowe Boyd recommends a concept introduced by Howard Ross: constructive uncertainty.
  • Constructive Procrastination
    A well-balanced reflection of technology-induced procrastination by Frank Hangler, mentioning among many examples the concept of digital dualism by Jurgenson and Morozov’s famous safe.

Week 177

Changing the new business rhythm. Igor highlights a new approach and our focus on the future of work.

A long time ago, I used to work for what today is Lufthansa Systems AG. You can think of it as a oversized IT department that grew large enough to be considered a company in itself. Those constructs aren’t rare for airlines. It’s a complex IT business and a few players in the field invested a significant amount into infrastructure in the 80s. At that time my employer maintained its own backbone as well as the size-wise largest data center. In addition, the company employed many people for an enormously long time. Some of them well over 15 years. Which made their jobs as secure as they can get in a free market society.

While being a separate unit – a company, not a department – the airline maintained full control over the company. More importantly most of the revenue came from Lufthansa itself.

At the time when I was there, the order came down that the revenue stream – well over a billion Euros at that point – would need some diversification. A goal was set out to reach 50% revenue from non-Lufthansa companies in three years. An ambitions goal for an organization that has grown slowly, humanely and failed to motivate to remain interested and competitive.

The goal meant that the company would have to compete with the likes of T-Systems, IBM, SITA, etc. I only witnessed the first 12 month of the new strategy. From what I could tell, it wasn’t going well.

It is easy for management – especially with high fluctuation – to set out goals. On paper, they don’t seem to be unreasonable. The hard part is to align strategy with the capabilities of the people who will be charged with executing it.

This is all a long pre-text for saying that we are trying something similar.

Changing a rhythm

For three and half years now, almost all of our business comes from people approaching us. They usually find us through one of the following categories:

  • Preceding relationship (either a former co-worker or client from previous employments)
  • Recommendation from our network
  • Search Engines

That works out fine for us, but it also means that at times we have to accept jobs that we are accepting mostly because they help us pay the bills. I know that this is not something that people talk about, but I also know that even those big names out there do that. No reason to hide behind facts, not everything out there is awesome.

We decided that while it has worked great so far, we want to explore, if we can change that a bit. And in our case the people in charge of strategy are also the people executing it. A significant vantage.

One of the things that we never succeeded in doing is to make ourselves more approachable to others. We are good in telling the overall story, but not the details. Those matter. It’s the small bits that people hire consultants for at first. Few people are ready to handover the keys to their company to a bunch of guys they don’t know. Easing into bigger, more elaborate jobs through smaller engagement is a natural process.

How are we doing this?

We decided to start with one topic: the future of work. According to a study by the Oxford University, 47% of all jobs in the US are at risk to be replaced through automatisation. We will help companies answer questions like:

  • How will this affect my company?
  • What does it mean for my employees?
  • Who is going to by my products, if algorithms replaced such a big chunk of the work force?

Johannes gave a well received talk on the subject last year, we’ve been writing and giving interviews on the matter for a long time. Mr. Kleske even managed to end up on the cover of the Brand Eins Magazine that focused on said topic a few years back. We know a lot about, it we have the skills and the methods, we just didn’t make it easy for people to talk to us about it. We decided that there are three overall goals for our new business strategy:

  • Enable our network to recommend us
  • Extend our network
  • Approach industry relevant conferences and events to target executives

The deck we made is aiming for German speaking companies. Specifically their management and / or their HR departments. The time is ripe to talk about it. It’s a well publicized topic, there is awareness for it, but very few answers. We are not aiming high. The goal is get hired for some speaking gigs behind closed doors, maybe some extended workshops. If the chemistry is there, we would want to proceed from there and see where we can help the clients. This is a subject that will be around for years and years to come. We are ready for it.

If you yourself would be interested in speaking with us on that topic, let us know. If you know somebody who can benefit from our expertise, please consider forwarding them this article.

What we read this week (May 3)

How robots are eating our jobs, Mailbox’s Gentry Underwood on his app and design thinking, why it’s weird when technology turns your body into an interface, how Facebook designs the “perfect empty vessel” into which you pour your content, and how the internet is both destroying and creating middlemen.

Quote of the week

Broad dissemination and individual choice turn most technologies into a plus. If only the elites have access, it’s a dystopia.

Ramez Naam

Articles of the week