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Work Futures Daily - The Future Is Already A Disappointment

Paul Starr on a Disappointing Future | Decider Chatbot | Corporate Rebels on Smartlets | Tim Herrera

Work Futures

December 12 · Issue #1046 · View online
The ecology of work, and the anthropology of the future.

Paul Starr on a Disappointing Future | Decider Chatbot | Corporate Rebels on Smartlets | Tim Herrera on Starting What We Never Finish | NPR Temps | McKinsey on African-Americans and Automation

Beacon NY - 2018-12-12 — I’m inverting things by starting with the quote of the day and comments originally from 2014:
The future has already been a disappointment.
Starr juxtaposes techno optimism and pessimism, spiraling about the core question: why doesn’t rapid innovation in technology and science lead to a/ higher productivity and b/ better economic outcomes for all?
Brynjolfsson and McAfee, the authors of The Second Machine Age, blame the former on organizational inertia, and the fact that value may not be falling, even when prices are (think about the music industry). Basically, they say our economics hasn’t caught up with the foundational changes in our economy.
Robert Gordon is a Northwestern economist who has long contended that technology’s benefits are largely overstated. His work suggests that growth might be less than 1% in the decades to come because of various ‘headwinds’ – like demographic change, declining educational quality, inequality, and economic adjustment (think music business).
Starr summarizes Gordon’s position on b/:
Unless we change our policies in such areas as education, health care, and taxation, the bottom 99 percent will not see much improvement in living standards. For the great majority of Americans, the problem is that productivity growth, whatever its real level, is not translating into higher incomes. The gains from growth are going to the top—and on this point Brynjolfsson and McAfee have no disagreement with Gordon.
Starr wants to end on a hopeful note, so he suggests that ‘we will find a way forward only when we can put growth and equality back together’.
But that is more of dream than a roadmap. Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty First Century suggests that we might be moving into an era – the postnormal – when income inequality and the oligarchic conservation of wealth will become the new steady state. And technological innovation may be an engine for that, rather than a force for equality and a better future for all.
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Work Futures reader and fellow writer on the future of work, Paul Millerd, has recently completed a course that pulls together all of the lessons, secrets and tools he learned while a strategy consultant at firms like McKinseyand Boston Consulting Group for almost ten years. He is offering the course on a gift basis where you can pay-what-feels-right. Check out a preview of some of the lectures here.
Decide Better Together | The nice folks at Nobl have developed a chatbot for Slack called Decider, designed to help groups decide how to make decisions.
As your team grows, making decisions together becomes harder. As you add more people, reaching consensus often becomes too slow, and/or the compromises you have to make become too painful. In response, some teams simply put all the decision-making responsibilities on the leader, which overloads them and demotivates everyone else. But there are so many ways to make a decision together, far more than either giving everyone a say or only giving one person the authority. Decider helps you explore more ways to make a decision together and helps you understand when one model might be better suited than another.
(Btw – the consent model of decision making is underused. I wrote about it here: Work Futures Daily - Teams, Rounds, and Consent.)
This Company Bets All On Employee Engagement | The Corporate Rebels report on the flexible management approach of Smarkets, a London-based betting exchange company.
Each team decides how it wants to work. Some teams select their team lead in a democratic way, others rotate the role, and others don’t even appoint a specific team lead and are therefore ‘leaderless’.
This might raise concerns about chaos, or lack of alignment with other teams. But this doesn’t have to be the case. At Smarkets, they organize weekly coordination meetings. Each team sends a representative to coordinate with the other teams. Once again, the teams decide who to send.
The Smarkets approach to self-management is continually evolving. Everyone is invited to challenge the model and suggest improvements. But that it already works is not in doubt amongst the employees.
An earlier quote by Software Engineer Annie Zhang is revealing: “It means being able to decide for yourself what to work on, and having the flexibility, as engineers, to decide the direction of the product. It also allows us to spend more time working independently and communicating with other team members however we see fit — instead of sitting through meetings that might not be relevant to what we’re actually working on.”
The firm also implemented salary transparency and self-set salaries. A hotbed of innovation. A must read, and on my list of companies to visit on my planned European trip in late Spring 2019 (Contact me if you want to connect when I am there: I will be planning get-togethers in various cities, like London).
Smarkets sounds like the sort of organization I meant when I coined the expression ‘fast and loose’ business.
Why You Start Things You’ll Never Finish | Tim Herrera says the answer is to start fewer things.
At NPR, an army of temps faces a workplace of anxiety and insecurity | Paul Farhi looks into the large proportion of temps keeping NPR going:
For decades, the public broadcaster has relied on a cadre of temporary journalists to produce its hourly newscasts and popular news programs. Without temporary workers — who are subject to termination without cause — NPR would probably be unable to be NPR. Temps do almost every important job in NPR’s newsroom: They pitch ideas, assign stories, edit them, report and produce them. Temps not only book the guests heard in interviews, they often write the questions the hosts ask the guests.
And there are a lot of them. According to union representatives, between 20 and 22 percent of NPR’s 483 union-covered newsroom workforce — or 1 in 5 people — are temp workers. The number varies week to week as temps come and go.
NPR’s management cites a somewhat lower figure, 16 percent, although its count reflects managers and interns and other employees in departments that aren’t represented by the union. NPR says the overall ratio of temporary workers to permanent employees has remained more or less stable for several years.
The size of the temp workforce is unusual in media circles. While the workers are making at least $21,63/hour and receive health insurance and other benefits if they work more than 30 hours in a given two-week pay period. But it’s all very precarious.
It just doesn’t gibe with what I would have been the ethics of NPR, but who knows what they are, really. NPR has been converting many temp jobs into permanent work, so this may be transitory.
Automation and the future of the African American workforce | McKinsey report suggests 'without concerted effort, automation could heighten disparities that already harm minority workers’. This is due to the fact that African Americans are disproportionally employed in support roles, rather than 'directive’ – management – roles. This means they are generally paid less, and support work has a slower growth rate than directive work.
A must read.
Recent Issues
Work Futures Daily - A Kick In The Head | 2018-12-11 | Priya Parker: Wow! | Rededicated | Diversity at Slack | Janelle Monáe loves Slack | AI as Talent Scout | Compliment Yourself | Tom Loosemore on New Ways of Work | Lee Bryant: Change the system, change the culture
Work Futures Daily - Don’t Quit | 2018-12-09 | Four Steps To Creativity | Mental Models | Gender Equality, at Work and Home | Minimum Wage For Ride-Hailing | It’s Harder to Get A Promotion | Wellness Trends | Kevin Aston
Work Futures Daily - Robots, AI, Everywhere | 2018-12-07 | Electricity Grid Drones | Robot Janitors | Feeding AI Data | Agri-Bots | Avoid Women At All Costs | Perennials, Not Millennials | Juno Sells To Get | Helen Hester and Social Reproduction
From the Archives
Citizenship, Communityship, Ownership & Leadership | Henry Mintzberg May 2016 | A brilliant exploration of how we downplay the layer of human society he calls communityship while obsessing about the collective and individual layers, and especially, the individuals called up into leadership.
I moved a month of Dailies – December 2017 – onto work from Substack. I thought these issues were still of value:
Work Futures Daily — High Sierra Upgrade | Kranzberg’s six laws; Group brainstorming is nuts; Sallie Krawcheck on the deep bias against women in business; The Brotherhood of the Future; Exoskeletons
Work Futures Daily - We Are All In The Gutter | But some of us are looking at the stars | Corporate Rebels on Meetings | Unanimous AI’s Swarm Intelligence | AI in Law | AR Goggles | TV Futures | Instapay
Is Amazon The New Uber? | Bryan Menegus looks into Amazon’s growing use of freelance drivers who ‘compete for shifts on the company’s own Uber-like platform’, called Amazon Flex. After screening and minimal training, Flex drivers use their own cars, bikes, or public transportation to deliver packages to Amazon customers. What could be wrong with that? Plenty.
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