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Work Futures Daily - Negative Capacity

Innovation needs negative capacity; the fourth industrial revolution; WeWork: too large to fail?; #Me

Work Futures

November 15 · Issue #1031 · View online
The ecology of work, and the anthropology of the future.

Innovation needs negative capacity; the fourth industrial revolution; WeWork: too large to fail?; #MeToo reverberations in Silicon Valley; MIT AI and the future of work conference; AI self-driven lab; Waymo coming to market.

Beacon NY - 2018-11-14 — Even though I am head down (mostly) writing various things, I am still reading and bookmarking, so I am pushing this out.
After four years, the radiator in my office is finally working, so I can close the door and not freeze.
It’s the small things.
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Long Takes
If Your Innovation Effort Isn’t Working, Look at Who’s on the Team | Nathan Furr, Kyle Nel and Thomas Zoëga Ramsøy summarize their book, Leading Transformation in this Harvard Business Review piece. They argue that product/function organizational structure inhibits transformation.
That reminds me of the work of Rebecca Henderson (with Kim Clark and others) on architectural innovation, where product knowledge becomes embedded in the organization structure and information processing procedures of established organizations. That barrier to innovation is hard to see, and hard to undo.
Furr, Nel, and Ramsøy’s answer is to seek out people with certain capabilities who can operate outside of conventional organizational thinking, such as chaos pilots, and those who practice divergent thinking, convergent action, influential communication, and negative capability:
Negative capability: being comfortable with uncertainty
The term “negative capability” was coined by the poet John Keats while describing writers like Shakespeare who were able to work within uncertainty and doubt. Keats was describing the ability to accept not having an immediate answer and to remain willing to explore how something may evolve before there is a clear outcome.
In the modern context, negative capability can be thought of as the ability to be comfortable with uncertainty, even to entertain it, rather than to become so anxious by its presence that you have to prematurely race to a more certain, yet suboptimal, conclusion. Whereas many people cannot stand the fuzziness of uncertainty, those who demonstrate negative capabilities can facilitate the exploration of new terrain and the discovery of an adjacent possible opportunity.
Individuals with negative capability remain curious and focused even when your project is far from the end goal. Chances are, they will even find this point of the project enthralling, rather than overwhelming, which is exactly what you want. They will also be able to suspend judgement about an end result and stay open to many possible outcomes, rather than become fixed early on to one version of success.
A must read. Also reminds me of Work Skills for the Future: Constructive Uncertainty that I wrote in 2015.
Inside the New Industrial Revolution | Christopher Mims deep dives into the fourth industrial revolution, using Klaus Schwab’s term, a revolution based on AI, mobile internet, and automation.
While much of the manufacturing in the developed world has been outsourced rather than automated, even the countries where those jobs went, like Bangladesh, are now seeing the automation of previously un-automatable industries like sewing. Globally, 381,000 industrial robots were shipped in 2017.
And despite all the protestations about AI and robots not leading to reductions in jobs, take a look at manufacturing, which is an area that has been most directly hit by automation: down around 5 million jobs since 2000.
Automation is now coming to knowledge work, and driving vehicles. Brace yourself.
A must read.
Short Takes
WeWork’s Rise: How a Sublet Start-Up Is Taking Over | Andrew Ross Sorkin thinks WeWork has become too large to fail.
Airbnb And eBay Just Said They Would End Forced Arbitration For Sexual Harassment Claims | eBay and Airbnb join the parade of companies dropping forced arbitration for sexual harassment claims. In recent weeks, Google and Facebook have altered their policies, while Microsoft changed its policy on forced arbitration a year ago, and Facebook followed six months ago.
Awaiting the AI-Enabled Revolution, Experts Put in a Good Word for Humans | Sara Castellanos provides an overview of the competing visions of the AI future at MIT’s AI and the Future of Work Congress last week. It’s all over the place, just like the usual discussion about AI’s impact on the future of work.
A robot scientist will dream up new materials to advance computing and fight pollution | Will Knight reviews what’s happening at Kebotix, which has created a self-driven lab that’s devising to materials and chemicals through AI and robotics.
Waymo CEO Says Alphabet Unit Plans to Launch Driverless Car Service in Coming Months | Waymo is planning to roll out its driverless car service in Phoenix after years of effort, and will work with companies like Walmart, Avis, and AutoNation who are willing to pay for customers’ rides. Waymo’s commercial trucking group has begun delivering freight in Atlanta.
From the Archives
Work Futures Daily - After The Rain | April 2018 | More like ‘After The Blackout’ since Beacon NY was hit by a derecho that day.
Quote of the Day
As a futurist, I try to think beyond the designers notes when it comes to the impacts of emerging technologies. I find that it’s often useful to imagine the unintended, seedy, improper, or illicit uses of new tools and systems. How might Invention X be hacked? How could it facilitate a user having disproportionate power over another person? How will it be used to help the user have sex? How would it enable someone to commit a crime? Thinking along those lines can help to uncover the more subtle connections between a new technology and incumbent systems, spot hidden security flaws, or even reveal markets for a product that the developer had ignored.

Crossposted from
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Stowe Boyd, 17 South Cedar Street, Beacon NY 12508