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Work Futures Daily - Why We Don’t Embrace The Skills We Need

Schwartz and Pines on barriers to change, Dropbox intros Timelines in Paper, Google rolls out ’.new’

Work Futures

October 27 · Issue #1019 · View online
The ecology of work, and the anthropology of the future.

Schwartz and Pines on barriers to change, Dropbox intros Timelines in Paper, Google rolls out ’.new’ domain, Cognizant’s Job Index of the Future, Cubicles are back?, On-demand work in big business

Beacon NY - 2018-10-17 — I amended the title of the Schwartz and Pines lead article, below, for the title of the newsletter issue. They, as in usual in Harvard Business Review focus on the official leaders of organizations, while I’m inclined to talk about everybody. I should have gone further perhaps, and simply focused on the barriers to change in organizations, because that’s they really are writing about.
I’ve been reading science fiction, again, after a hiatus. Samuel Delaney, one of the greats wrote,
Science fiction isn’t just thinking about the world out there. It’s also thinking about how that world might be —- a particularly important exercise for those who are oppressed, because if they’re going to change the world we live in, they—and all of us—have to be able to think about a world that works differently.
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Long Takes
Why Leaders Don’t Embrace the Skills They’ll Need for the Future | Tony Schwartz and Emily Pines think they’ve pinpointed why C-suite execs find it hard to actually meet the vision of their companies become more innovative, agile, collaborative, and bold:
What’s equally striking is how difficult organizations are finding it to embed these qualities and behaviors in their people. That’s because the primary obstacle is invisible: the internal resistance that all human beings experience, often unconsciously, when they’re asked to make a significant change. Cognitively, it shows up as mindset — fixed beliefs and assumptions about what will make us successful and what won’t. Emotionally, it usually takes the form of fear.
They explore the dualities involved. But if people have been trained to follow the rules that are deeply embedded in the company’s DNA, how are they supposed to innovate, which by definition means challenging assumptions, breaking rules, and remaking things? If a company’s leaders want more agility, that suggests agility is scarce, perhaps because it has been ruled out by culture or consensus. Likewise collaboration and boldness.
They go on to suggest some useful ideas:
  • Embrace intermittent discomfort.
  • Focus first on building the muscle of self-observation, individually, and collectively across the organization.
  • Design small, time-limited tests of the assumptions you hold about the negative consequences you imagine if you build a specific new behavior.
But they fail to mention what has been found in many situations where deep resistance has blocked change efforts. Instead of trying to get people to adopt new behaviors, seek out those that are already showing the new behaviors you want – the positive deviants. I’ve written about this concept before, in Cultural change is really complex contagion:
I recently wrote about ‘positive deviants’ playing a key role in cultural change (see How ‘positive deviants’ help a culture change itself). Positive deviants are not perverts: they are members of a community that already display some set of desired characteristics when most of the other members do not. In that earlier post, I recounted the story of how MRSA — the drug resistant strain of staph infection that plagues many hospitals — was stamped out at a Pittsburgh hospital. The technique was to have the community identify those positive deviants that were already displaying behaviors likely to decrease the spread of MRSA, and then put those deviants into a role of disseminating their practices, so that others could try to adopt them personally. In the Pittsburgh hospital, the MRSA infection rate fell by more than half in less than six months.
The premise behind positive deviant-based innovation is that you can find insiders approximating the behaviors needed for a cultural change, and the community can work within itself to spread those behaviors, and find new deviants, and to make the change collectively. It doesn’t require outsiders, except to bring and spread the idea of positive deviancy.
As usual, I favor moving past anecdotal pep talks, and dig into some actual science to drive the advice I offer. No matter how sensible Schwartz and Pines’ suggestions are, I think the MRSA example has more to offer. (And for those who want more science, read further in that post and soak up some of the ‘cultural contagion’ discussion. It’s pertinent and equally general.)
Short Takes
Work Futures — Dropbox Adds Timelines To Paper | I took a quick look at the Dropbox Paper Timelineimplementation. A good start, has a way to go.
New AI-based video system helps seniors stay safe and independent | Researchers at the University of Alberta working with Spxtrm AI created a video-based system to ‘watch’ seniors in their home and to alert caregivers in the event of something like a fall. The innovation is they store the video in a 'digital lockbox’, protecting the privacy of the seniors, and alert caregivers to the category of care needed. Note that one of the 'jobs of the future’ we hear about is elder care, but advances like this will make it more affordable, and relying less on constant, in home care.
Google rolls out ‘.new’ links for instantly creating new Docs, Slides, Sheets and Forms | Google’s ’.new’ domain can be used to quickly create a new Google doc. Try '’ in your browser.
Jobs of the Future Index—Future of Work | Cognizant has unveiled a Jobs of the Future Index that tracks 50 jobs. I’ve read their description, but I feel I am missing something, like the scenarios around future work that led to their creation of proxy jobs like cyber calamity forecaster and *tidewater architect’. More to follow.
Big Business Gets Comfortable With On-Demand Work | Michelle Rafter looks into the increasing use of on-demand workers in large business:
In the long run, the cons of on-demand labor could be more severe for the labor side than for employers.
Quote of the Day
Science fiction makes people more willing to think boldly and broadly. It’s good for the human species.
| James Gunn
Crossposted from
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Stowe Boyd, 17 South Cedar Street, Beacon NY 12508