Work Futures Daily - Saying It Doesn’t Make It So





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Work Futures

December 3 · Issue #1040 · View online

The ecology of work, and the anthropology of the future.

Robot Reality Check | Corporate Immune System | What Will Stay The Same | Corporate Sci Fi | Workers Hate Open Offices | Wallace Stevens

Beacon NY - 2018-12-03 — I grow weary of commentators making the assertion – with little evidence or backup, aside from the comments of like-minded others – that automation of work will not lead to a decrease in jobs. The latest is Christopher Mims who seems to think robots will increase wealth in the countries adopting them. We’ll see.
I found this fragment of poetry very apposite:
It is December, and nobody asked if I was ready.
Sarah KayNo Matter the Wreckage
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Robot Reality Check: They Create Wealth—and Jobs | Is Christopher Mims confusing correlation and causation? Obviously the most advanced economies – with the greatest degree of wealth – are the ones buying the most robots. But it does not mean that having the robots creates all that wealth: it could be that having wealth enables companies to invest in robots.
While ITIF [Information Technology and Innovation Foundation] correlates GDP growth with robot adoption, the way that wealth increase is distributed depends on how the country adopts those technologies, says Irmgard Nübler, a senior economist at the International Labour Organization in Geneva.
Typically, she says, adoption of automation goes through two initial phases: worker displacement then job growth. Prof. Nübler believes that the record inequality in the U.S. seen in 2018 suggests we’re at the turning point between these two phases. Without policies in place to deal with these impacts, the inequality that arises in the first phase might persist.
In an accompanying post, Are Robots The Goose Laying The Golden Eggs? We’ll See., I argue against Mims’ ‘Anotherist’ stance – ‘robots and AI are just another technological advance, like steam and electricity’ – and note than many of the economists he’s quoting have doubts about the long-term impact of automation on the economy.
[Also see Rajeev B’s comments at Techpost]
Never Under-Estimate the Immune System | John Hagel warns us of the almost reflex rejection of new ideas by the innately conservative culture of organizations, and which may be the central weakness of organizations in today’s world:
Every large and successful institution has an immune system– a collection of individuals who are prepared to mobilize at the slightest sign of any “outside” ideas or people in order to ensure that these foreign bodies are neutralized and that the existing institution survives intact and can continue on course. Just like the immune system all organisms have, this institutional immune system is adept at recognizing foreign bodies as soon as they appear and very effective at protecting the institution from infection. It is in fact what has helped large institutions to survive – they are in fact “built to last.”
But here’s the paradox: the immune system that has given large institutions extraordinary resilience in the past may be the very thing that makes these institutions so vulnerable today.
A must read.
I especially recommend John’s explicit arguments against the 'existential threat’ fear mongering to drive transformation:
In driving transformation, there’s often a tendency to focus on the impending threat – for example, we’re all going to die if we don’t transform now. In my experience, that threat-based approach to transformation actually increases the resistance of the immune system. If we’re under imminent threat, the immune system reasons that it’s even more urgent to protect the institution and it becomes even more determined to resist anything that might distract it from the tried and true approaches that have led to the success of the institution so far.
Instead, position the initiative as addressing an opportunity, something that will help the institution to have even greater impact in its relevant market or constituency.
This dovetails with the following piece, which also avoids upsetting the immune response.
Research: To Get People to Embrace Change, Emphasize What Will Stay the Same | Merlijn VenusDaan Stam, and Daan van Knippenberg present findings from their research that turns the conventional wisdom about change management on its head:
Common wisdom in management science and practice has it that to build support for a change project, visionary leadership is needed to outline what is wrong with the current situation. By explaining how the envisioned change will result in a better and more appealing future, leaders can overcome resistance to change. But our research, recently published in the Academy of Management Journal, leads us to add a very important caveat to this.
A root cause of resistance to change is that employees identify with and care for their organizations. People fear that after the change, the organization will no longer be the organization they value and identify with — and the higher the uncertainty surrounding the change, the more they anticipate such threats to the organizational identity they hold dear. Change leadership that emphasizes what is good about the envisioned change and bad about the current state of affairs typically fuels these fears because it signals that changes will be fundamental and far-reaching.
Counterintuitively, then, effective change leadership has to emphasize continuity — how what is central to “who we are” as an organization will be preserved, despite the uncertainty and changes on the horizon.
The implications of this research are straightforward. In overcoming resistance to change and building support for change, leaders need to communicate an appealing vision of change in combination with a vision of continuity. Unless they are able to ensure people that what defines the organization’s identity — “what makes us who we are” — will be preserved despite the changes, leaders may have to brace themselves for a wave of resistance.
Nike and Boeing Are Paying Sci-Fi Writers to Predict Their Futures | Brian Merchant takes a deep dive into the marketplace for sci-fi futurecasting and world building, and how major corporations, governments, and non-profits are using techniques developed for fiction can be applied to creating new products, strategies, and positioning.
In 2017, PricewaterhouseCoopers, the professional services firm that advises 440 of the Fortune 500 companies, published a blueprint for using science fiction to explore business innovation. The same year, the Harvard Business Review argued that “business leaders need to read more science fiction” in order to stay ahead of the curve. “We’re already seeing science fiction become reality today,” said Google’s then-CEO Eric Schmidt in 2012. “Think back to Star Trek, or my favorite, the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy — much of what those writers imagined is now possible,” he said, ticking off auto-translation, voice recognition, and electronic books. Jeff Bezos’ product design team built the Kindle to spec from Neal Stephenson’s book The Diamond Age. (Stephenson himself is the chief future at the multibillion-dollar-valued Magic Leap.) Josh Wolfe, a managing partner at Lux Capital, is pouring millions of dollars into companies building what he explicitly describes as “the sci-fi future.” “I’m looking for things that feel like they were once written about in science fiction,” he told Fortune. “The gap between 'sci-fi,' — that which was once imagined — and 'sci-fact,’ that which becomes manifest and real, is shrinking.”
I have used these approaches in my work with large tech companies, and also in published writing, such as What Will a Corporation Look Like in 2050? for Wired. I am also planning a graphic novel about the future of work (tentatively, A Working Future), which I have written about a bit (see A Working Future: Telling Lies To Get At The Truth About Work and A Working Future - Carla Paredes in the Cab, 2027).
A must read.
Statistics show how much U.S. workers hate their open plan offices | Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan reports on the degree of hatred that has grown up around open offices. In a recent study, respondents were asked what they would trade for private workspaces:
  • 13% said they’d give up their end-of-year bonuses.
  • 13% said they’d give up five vacation days, and 16% said they’d do away with summer Fridays.
  • 17% said they’d give up access to a window or natural light.
  • 27% said they’d give up their office’s coffee machine.
Wow. Giving up natural light!
From the Archives
Two Men and the Fate of American Labor Policy | Stowe Boyd from February 2018 | What links William Emmanuel at the National Labor Relations Board and Neil Gorsuch at the US Supreme Court?
Quote of the Day
The imperfect is our paradise.
| Wallace Stevens
I’m an imperfectionist.
crossposted from
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Stowe Boyd, 17 South Cedar Street, Beacon NY 12508