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Work Futures - Issues from the Backlog

I'm moving old newsletters to, so you have to suffer.

Work Futures

October 11 · Issue #1009 · View online
The ecology of work, and the anthropology of the future.

I’m moving old newsletters to, so you have to suffer.

I love the gigantic Echo in this graphic.
Beacon NY - 2018-10-11 — I’ve been misdating recent newsletters, out of a copy-and-past laziness. So don’t set your watches by me.
Rather than a new newsletter filled with new news, I am recycling old material recently unearthed and moved from odd places to its final (?) resting place here on

At Slack’s Several People Are Typing blog, Matt Haughey summarizes a recent talk by Ken Norton on How to have meetings that don’t suck. All of it is good, but two points jump out for me:
Your calendar doesn’t make you important and shouldn’t postpone decisions. Ken knows firsthand that an overloaded calendar can delay progress. He was once in charge of 20 designers and engineers on a long-term project, but he spent most days in senior leadership meetings. When he’d return to his desk at 5pm, he’d be swarmed by his team asking him to approve designs and make decisions that were holding the project up. When he realized they’d been waiting hours for him to arrive, he knew missed deadlines were likely due to his own overbooked schedule.
Declare calendar bankruptcy. Want to reboot your old meeting culture? Rip the Band-Aid off by picking a date in the future when absolutely every meeting on every calendar is canceled in a company, and only ones deemed most necessary and important can return. It’s not easy, but it’s a good way to reset expectations and introduce a new, more healthy meeting culture.
McKinsey released a comprehensive report on the future of work, Jobs Lost, Jobs Gained: Workforce Transitions in a Time of Automation. My detailed review will have to wait, but I scanned McKinsey’s own summary and got the gist [emphasis mine]:
Our new research estimates that between almost zero and 30 percent of the hours worked globally could be automated by 2030, depending on the speed of adoption. We mainly use the midpoint of our scenario range, which is automation of 15 percent of current activities. Results differ significantly by country, reflecting the mix of activities currently performed by workers and prevailing wage rates.
The potential impact of automation on employment varies by occupation and sector (see interactive above). Activities most susceptible to automation include physical ones in predictable environments, such as operating machinery and preparing fast food. Collecting and processing data are two other categories of activities that increasingly can be done better and faster with machines. This could displace large amounts of labor—for instance, in mortgage origination, paralegal work, accounting, and back-office transaction processing.
It is important to note, however, that even when some tasks are automated, employment in those occupations may not decline but rather workers may perform new tasks.
Automation will have a lesser effect on jobs that involve managing people, applying expertise, and social interactions, where machines are unable to match human performance for now.
And the most headline grabbing guesstimates:
Upcoming workforce transitions could be very large
The changes in net occupational growth or decline imply that a very large number of people may need to shift occupational categories and learn new skills in the years ahead. The shift could be on a scale not seen since the transition of the labor force out of agriculture in the early 1900s in the United States and Europe, and more recently in in China.
We estimate that between 400 million and 800 million individuals could be displaced by automation and need to find new jobs by 2030 around the world, based on our midpoint and earliest (that is, the most rapid) automation adoption scenarios. New jobs will be available, based on our scenarios of future labor demand and the net impact of automation, as described in the next section.
However, people will need to find their way into these jobs. Of the total displaced, 75 million to 375 million may need to switch occupational categories and learn new skills, under our midpoint and earliest automation adoption scenarios.
I will be writing something more in depth on their analysis as soon as possible. But the takeaway is stark: more than 500 million (and perhaps a billion?) workers could be automated out of their jobs or occupations.
I have to say that McKinsey is taking a strong otherist position here; this is not waving away the potential for major impact by saying it’s just another technology wave. This is acknowledging that AI is unlike other technologies because it emulates and outruns human cognition. Contrast that with Cognizant claims I wrote about earlier this week.
Christopher Mims reaches back into the mists of time — er, well, back to 1986 anyway — to remind us of technology historian Melvin Kranzberg and his six laws.
  1. Technology is neither good nor bad; nor is it neutral.
  2. Invention is the mother of necessity.
  3. Although technology might be a prime element in many public issues, nontechnical factors take precedence in technology-policy decisions.
  4. All history is relevant, but the history of technology is the most relevant.
  5. Technology is a very human activity.
Mims’ exploration of these laws is worth the read, threading commentary from Kranzberg, Tim Cook, and others.
“Evidence from science suggests that business people must be insane to use brainstorming groups.” That’s a shocking statement. Adrian Furnham, a professor of organizational and applied psychology at University College London, said it. It turns out it’s completely true.> “Participants in interactive brainstorming groups rated their performance quite favorably…[and] felt that interactive group brainstorming was more productive than individual brainstorming…However, actual performance data [showed] …interactive groups generated fewer distinct ideas.”
**Sallie Krawcheck **writes about the deep bias against women assuming positions of power on Wall Street and in tech.
What we are only beginning to recognize is that demeaning and devaluing women is an insidious, expensive problem. It’s not just the eye-popping settlements in some cases, like the $32 million paid by Bill O’Reilly to settle a harassment claim. Nor is it just the high salaries network stars have been making while allegedly assaulting subordinates, like the $20 million, or more, for Matt Lauer. It only starts there.> The bigger cost derives from how women’s ideas are discounted and their talent ignored. I have seen it up close in the two worlds I know best: Wall Street, where I was chief executive of Smith Barney and of Merrill Lynch Wealth Management, and in Silicon Valley, where I’ve raised money to run my start-up, Ellevest. These places are perhaps the purest microcosms of capitalism, and their lessons are instructive for all of us.
And the lessons? VCs and Wall Street are making bets, and they consistently don’t bet on women, despite the higher returns on firms with more women in positions of authority, on the board and in the executive suite.
One great stat from Cambridge Associates:
Investors in the high-risk, high-reward world of start-ups essentially did no better than they could have opening an account at their neighborhood brokerage.
And her recounting of a meeting with a VC where she was pitching her company, and was the only woman in a room of 18 VCs, where she mentioned the company was going to need to hire a few financial advisers to a VC that was challenging her on a number of issues:
He proceeded to give me chapter and verse on how financial advisers are hard to manage and instructed me on the economics of the financial advisory business.> I was astonished, because I have managed more financial advisers in my career than probably anyone in the country. And though it’s been years since I have been sexually harassed the way I was at Salomon, I realized in that moment how deep our gender views run, how men are still seen as leaders and women as more junior.> This man naturally assumed that he knew more about it than I did. It was his ingrained view of women — a view that’s costing all of us.

Quote of the Day [with a nod to the markets]
Markets move when other investors believe they know what other investors are thinking.
| Robert Schiller

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Stowe Boyd, 17 South Cedar Street, Beacon NY 12508