The Dark Side of Work to Come

If one wants to be a pessimist about the future of work, there is no shortage of opportunities to nurture one’s paranoia. A compelling new work by Lynda Gratton—The Shift: The Future of Work is Already Here—could feed your dark fears. But she also shines considerable light on them, showing the way out, and the way towards a fulfilling future. If, that is, we can follow our better angels.

Lynda Gratton is Professor of Management Practice at London Business School, where she leads over 50 global companies in the Future of Work Consortium. She has been praised by the Economist, hailed by the Times, and lauded by the Financial Times.  She certainly tones up our joint neighbourhood of Primrose Hill.

Drivers of the Dark Future

Gratton outlines five forces that will shape the future pattern of work:

  • Technology (think 5 billion people, digitized knowledge, ubiquitous cloud).
  • Globalisation (think continued bubbles and crashes, a regional underclass, the world becoming urban, frugal innovation).
  • Longevity and demography (think Gen Y, increasing longevity, aging boomers growing old poor, global migration).
  • Society (think growing distrust of institutions, the decline of happiness, rearranged families)
  • Energy resources (think rising energy prices, environmental catastrophes displacing people, a culture of sustainability emerging).

There are good sides of all the above as well; but let’s stay on the dark side of  work for a bit. Think increasing fragmentation (a three minute world, dominated by overload and time compression), isolation (the genesis of loneliness) and exclusion (the new poor). (Remember A Clockwork Orange, anyone?)

Bring In the Light

But she also holds up the bright possibility of a crafted future – co-creation (where people across the world are ever more willing and able to link up and share ideas and energy), social engagement (the rise of empathy and balance) and micro-entrepreneurship (crafting creative lives).

If we are to reach the bright possibilities of this crafted future, we need to bring about three shifts:

1. From shallow generalist (knows a little about a lot) to serial master (has in-depth knowledge and competences in many domains).

To get here, three career paths will be of particular importance – grassroots advocacy, social entrepreneurship, and micro-entrepreneurship.

Future career trajectories will be defined by a series of bell-shaped curves in which energy and the accumulation of resources grow and then plateau, only to grow again. She urges us to ‘slide and morph’ transferring knowledge and skills from one specialism to another.

2. From isolated competitor to innovative connector.

‘One of the marvellous opportunities of the coming decades of work will be to build our social capital in a way that was never possible in the past. With 5 billion people connected to each other in an increasingly participative way, the possibilities are endless.’

Gratton sees three key future network-types:

  • The posse; the small group of people we use as a sounding board, people we call on quickly for a tough call to make, a really challenging problem to be solve or a complex task to get underway.
  • The big ideas crowd; the group of hundreds, often friends of friends, ready to make a connection, support our innovation.
  • The regenerative community; ‘the real people whom we meet frequently, with whom we laugh, share a meal, tell stories and relax’, crucial to our emotional well-being, and our protection against the possible isolation and loneliness of the dark side.

How can we best build these networks? Mainly by our capacity to build reciprocity and trust, deep mutual understanding and ways to attract other people to us.

3. From voracious consumer to impassioned producer.

The trend toward seeing work as a place of productive experiences rather than simply an activity that has pay as its key driver of motivation.

Work for Whom?

Cui bono? Gratton invites three groups in particular to consider the implications of these three shifts:

1. Children. ‘What will you do with your long, productive lives?…Your life will not simply have education at the beginning, with work in the middle and retirement at the end. Instead, you can expect to experience a mosaic that has education and development woven through it….Much of your work will be spent working with people virtually, and so one of the challenges  you face is how to create deep friendships with a small group of people in a sustainable way.’

2. Business leaders. ‘Globalisation will add new markets and intensify competition; work hierarchies will morph into more organic forms; talented  employees will want adult-adult mutual relationships; people will place greater emphasis on meaningful developmental work in a mosaic that has sabbaticals; and throughout it all, sources of competitive advantage will derive from the capacity to build co-operative relationships across various eco-systems.’

3. Government leaders. ‘ Governments’ willingness to support high-quality educational and cultural institutions will play a key role in attracting people with high value skills who will increasingly choose to cluster near each other….While ever more prevalent transparency and sharing of information will only serve to exacerbate the current decrease in citizens’ trust in institutions….. Gen Z’s will want to work into their 70’s and 80’s, and it will be a priority for government s to find ways to support these aspirations.’

If Professor Gratton is right, it’s clear that empathy, reciprocity and trust will figure significantly in both personal and organisational successes of the future.  But tellingly, these are currently under-developed capabilities.

It is those traits—empathy, reciprocity, trust—which probably hold the key to which side of Professor Gratton’s predictions for the future of work will take hold—the Dark Side, or our better angels.

The Best Movie You Haven’t Heard Of: Inside Job

Here are the ratings (% who liked) from Flixster for some of the movies playing this weekend:

90%            The Social Network

88%            Inside Job

81%            Unstoppable           

78%            MegaMind

78%            Jackass 3-D

77%            Red           

75%            Skyline

65%            Due Date

65%            Morning Glory

64%            The Next Three Days           

54%            Saw 3D

You know The Social Network. But how about the #2 movie, Inside Job? Ever hear of it?

96% of the critics liked it. Rotten Tomatoes rated it 96%.  It’s narrated by Matt Damon. Feeling out of the loop yet? Why haven’t you heard of this movie?

More on obscurity later, but here’s the official synopsis:

‘Inside Job’ is the first film to provide a comprehensive analysis of the global financial crisis of 2008, which at a cost over $20 trillion, caused… ‘Inside Job’ is the first film to provide a comprehensive analysis of the global financial crisis of 2008, which at a cost over $20 trillion, caused millions of people to lose their jobs and homes in the worst recession since the Great Depression, and nearly resulted in a global financial collapse.

Through exhaustive research and extensive interviews with key financial insiders, politicians, journalists, and academics, the film traces the rise of a rogue industry which has corrupted politics, regulation, and academia. It was made on location in the United States, Iceland, England, France, Singapore, and China.

There has been no shortage of books and articles about the meltdown. But most of those have had a reporter’s flavor to them—here’s what happened, then here’s what happened next.  I felt that no one had really pulled it together with a narrative theme and the data to back it up. Until this weekend, that is.  

The theme is now clear. Bad things happened. They were not an accident. They were the results of bad people behaving badly. They knew what they were doing. They did them anyway. And to this day, they refuse to acknowledge responsibility.  The issues of trust that became so manifest were not just about systems and markets; they were inescapably about people as well.  It’s one thing not to trust a system; it’s yet another to not trust those who inhabit it.

Think of this movie as what Michael Moore would produce if he had a PhD in economics and a career as a Federal Prosecutor. It’s the project of Charles Ferguson, who in fact does have a PhD in political science from MIT (he has also consulted to the White House and the Department of Defense, was a Senior Fellow at Brookings, and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations).

You may know Ferguson as the director of No End in Sight, a powerful documentary about the Iraq war. He’s confident enough to interrupt an economist and say, ‘You can’t be serious about that. If you would have looked, you would have found things.’ Or to tell a former Bush administration under-secretary of the Treasury, “Forgive me, but that’s clearly not true.”

Here is a review by A.O. Scott, in the New York Times. calls it “a masterpiece of investigative nonfiction moviemaking — a scathing, outrageous, depressing, comical, horrifying report on what and who brought on the crisis.

Here’s Kenneth Turan’s review in the LA Times.

Go see for yourself; see the trailer here.  

The Role of Ideology in the Meltdown

There’s much to say about this documentary; I’ll limit my thoughts to just one—the role of ideas in the meltdown. 

In this day and age of neuro-explanations and insistence that only measurable behavior is relevant for management, the role of ideas gets pooh-poohed. Big mistake. 

I’ve written before about the power of strategic doctrine taught in business schools to negatively influence our general business thinking. But after seeing this documentary, I’m newly persuaded. Ideas have huge power: especially when those ideas happen to greatly serve the economic interests of patrons.  

In the pharmaceutical industry, it’s become well accepted that a researcher or writer who takes money from a drug company is at the very least subject to rules of disclosure. Failure to do so constitutes an immediate presumption of conflict of interest.

Yet somehow, we have never held our nation’s leading economists and business school faculty to the same standards. One of the most eye-opening aspects of Inside Job for me was to put this issue front and center. 

Some of Fergusons’ hardest-hitting interviews are with the elite heads of academic institutions: Frederic Mishkin, a former Fed governor, now at Columbia Business School; his boss Glenn Hubbard, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under George W. Bush; John Campbell, Harvard’s economics department chairman; and fellow Harvard economist Martin Feldstein

They come off, respectively, as incompetent, blustering, inarticulate, and smug. None of them seem to have noticed a disconnect between their laissez-faire ideas and the disasters engineered by those who quoted them; much less any sense of impropriety at the comfortable financial relationships they shared with those very firms. 

Somewhere there is a researcher at Harvard Medical School screaming at the injustice of his not being published in NEJM because of some disclosure requirements, while his academic counterparts in business and economics were happily and openly opining on the health of the Icelandic banking system and the liquidity of the US subprime mortgage market, all the while getting very well paid. (Note: b-school profs provide functional consulting services to companies all the time; I don’t see that as an issue. This is vastly different; more another time). 

Results of the Meltdown

Ferguson touches clearly, albeit briefly, on one enduring outcome of this decades-long debacle–the increased gap in the US between the haves and the have-nots. 

In 1976, the richest 1% of Americans had 9% of the income. Now they have 24%. From 1980 to 2005, 80% of the gain in income went to the top 1%Guess what industry disproportionately accounts for that gain?

But the most significant casualty, I think, is a great old American belief: the belief that you can make it here in the good old USA, land of opportunity, where anyone can be what they want. You don’t have to be limited by the circumstances of your birth, like in all those Old World countries.

Sorry: no longer true. By one study, it is harder for someone to get ahead now in the US than it is in Denmark, Australia, Norway, Finland, Canada, Sweden, Germany, Spain, and even France. Only Italy and the UK are more class-bound, and I’ve seen other studies where even the Brits are less class-bound than we are. That decline in opportunity is another result of greater income disparity. Again, one of the legacies of the financial industry. One trust expert states very clearly that a key driver of low trust is high income inequality.  And here’s a good explanation of just why that is true.

You may disagree with a lot of what I’ve said here. You may think this movie won’t change your mind; and since it’s extremely hard to change people’s minds, you may be right. But if so, may I suggest you owe it to yourself to see it—if only to write back and point out the flaws in the movie.

Ten Steps to Positioning Your Firm for the Recovery

The stock market called the recovery 12 months ago.

The GDP is now rebounding. It certainly looks like a recovery. And if it looks like a recovery, quacks like a recovery, and walks like a recovery—well, you know the rest, and it might not be too soon to think about how your firm is positioning itself to take advantage.

Exactly when your business, or at least segments of it, will experience the recovery probably differs from other businesses. This looks to be a slow, differentiated recovery; your mileage may vary.

But whatever your timeframe, there are certain general rules that may help you take advantage of the turn when it does come around.

Ten Steps to Capitalizing on the Emerging (Economic) Recovery

These thoughts, courtesy of an occasional discussion group I’m part of (see author list) are aimed mainly at professional services firms, but in many ways will fit general business as well.

1.      What changes are now needed in your business acquisition strategy? Which relationships should you seek to strengthen, and where do you selectively want to plant new ones? 

2.      Business developers: Do a searching and fearless inventory of your past clients and high probability past prospects (particularly those who almost said yes but postponed).   Allocate responsibilities—get ready to triage.

3.      Service offerings: which of your offerings best helps which of your client types to build their performance in early recovery? Which of your clients’ businesses are poised for growth first?

4.      Help define your clients’ recovery-driven issues together with your clients. They may still be in siege mentality.  How is this recovery different, for them, from previous ones—what’s is new this time around? How take advantage of those differences? Again—discuss this with your clients.

5.      Pricing: move to mildly more aggressive; say no to discretionary discount requests.

6.      Raise your minimum size, scope, and duration thresholds for saying ‘yes.’

7.      Figure out to whom you’ll say ‘no.’ Use relationship-propensity as a screen–turn down the one-offs.

8.      The scarcest resource is always good people, so the best time hire is early in the recovery cycle. For many of you, that means now.

9.      What do you want to do more of? What have you been doing during recession that you’d like now to do less of? Is it time to re-balance and re-align selected resources from the likely conservative assumptions of a budget you built six months ago?

10. As others of your clients move into recovery mode—how can you become a prospective partner? What can you do in advance to set the stage?

In Search of the Bottom Line of the Wall Street Implosion

I have been reading a lot of opinion pages in search of the perfect insight about what’s happening on Wall Street, because it affects the world financial community and the economics of everyone globally.  This being written days after Lehman’s demise, and the morning of the AIG bailout, take-over, whatever.

John McCain and Joe Biden have both denounced Paulson’s decision re AIG. Knee-jerk reactions, and somewhat tone-deaf.

Jim Cramer says he had it right a year ago in his TV meltdown; that the worst is over, and that Paulson did the right thing because he had no choices.

Thomas Friedman calls it a bubble  and makes the case for systemic rewrite of regulations.

The Today Show led with Gordon Gekko clips—it’s all about greed.

Joe Nocera combines the bubble and greed themes and reminds us about denial—Wall Street is just Main Street, where home buyers keep hoping they can sell for more than the outrageous price they could have gotten (or, worse, bought at) two years ago. We are all Lehman.

These are all sensible–all blind men correctly sensing one part of the elephant.  But one person–I think–just flat nails it. No surprise, when you think about it—Tom Peters.

In 450 words, he cuts to all the chases. Peters is at that point in his career where his value to society is enormous. He’s seen this movie before—many times. He’s smart. He’s articulate. He’s still learning. He’s still got every one of his marbles.

And that’s what makes him wise.

His comment on greed? “Duh.”

On capitalism? “Good ideology run amok.”

On AIG? “Thank God for Paulson: it’d be worse without him.”

On hubris–he lists five deeply flawed beliefs that drove this debacle, each of them dead-on.

For a coherent view of things, just go read Tom Peters post of today.