Getting out from under the information deluge

Today’s workplace is filled with all manner of stress, from chemical or biological agents, environmental conditions, external stimuli, or events that cause stress to an organism. Another one of these is the explosion of information that is drowning workers because of mobile connectivity, email, and documents.

A recent Deloitte study shows that despite checking their mobile devices up to 150 times per day and being always on, 72 percent of employees can’t find the information they need in corporate information systems. More than half of HR executives surveyed believe their companies are not doing a good job helping the workforce with the information suffocation and the stresses of today’s workplace.

Screenshot 2014-12-07 15.43.08

Note that 57 percent rate their companies as weak in helping leaders manage demanding schedules and expectations.

The Deloitte team cited Julian Birkinshaw and Jordan Cohen, who researched how knowledge workers can deal with demanding schedules and they found, unsurprisingly, that the best course is to eliminate or delegate unimportant tasks and spend more time on important ones. Forty-one percent of an individual’s time is wasted on discretionary activities that could be handed over to others to make room for important, fulfilling activities or more down time.

The pair led “interventions” with 15 executives at different companies with this strategy, and it led to six hours less of desk work and two hours less of meetings. At one company, a sales exec chopped administrative tasks and meetings to focus on helping her staff. Sales increased 5 percent over a three-week trial period.

These are the costs of feeling entangled in a web of commitments that many company cultures engender. Instead of trying to decrease overcommitment and making the company fast-and-loose, there is a steady pressure to focus on nonessential, time-wasting activities: sitting in on weekly status meetings, reading reports from other groups, filling out expense reports. All those should be eliminated.

Leaders should move to strip out the red tape and administrative headaches currently tying up the workforce, and cut back on the amount of unnecessary information exchange — in email, documents, or meetings. A study uncovered that when an executive sends out just one email it cascades, creating an “email contagion.” So if executives cut 100 emails from 200 per day an 80 person company, then the group collectively drops from 1,920 emails to 783. This translates to 231 work weeks per year recovered.

This is why Jeff Bezos famously shouted, “No! Communication is terrible!” when someone suggested that various groups at Amazon needed to communicate more. He had a vision of a decentralized, fast-and-loose company, where small groups and individuals can decide what to do and how to do it without getting bogged down in a morass of communication. And this is a central tenet of “leanership:” just enough communication, administration, and management as necessary, and no more.

The tie between supervisor and supervised is loosening

The recently released 2013 TINYpulse Employee Engagement Survey makes for fascinating reading. It’s a unique study in many ways. Over 40,000 people were polled, and the data crunched by data scientists mean that its a great source of solid information. I am likely to return to it many times in the next few weeks.

As one example of the sensitivity of the findings, consider that this is the first study to show a transition away from the relationship between employee happiness and direct supervisors and the growing importance of the link with coworkers and happiness. As the report says,

The employee’s rating of their relationship with co-workers is very strongly correlated with how happy they are at work with a correlation coefficient of .92. At the same time, the correlation between employee happiness and their rating of their direct supervisor is less significant at .74. We often think of employee happiness and satisfaction as being manager-driven, but now as the workplace becomes more cross-matrixed, collaborative, and “bottom-up,” the importance of co-worker relationships continues to grow. Employee happiness is 23.3% more correlated to connections with co-workers than direct supervisors.


The implications of this trend are profound and suggest that every person in a company plays an important role in the health and happiness of a vibrant employee culture. It’s not just the CEO and one’s manager anymore. Just like every member of a football team plays an integral role to the success of the overall team, each team member means even more to the other team members than the manager does now.

Screenshot 2013-12-13 06.29.03

When I talk about the fast-and-loose company I am not talking about risky, immoral behavior. The loose side of things means specifically that there is a relaxing of the strong ties in the company, most obviously between supervisor and the supervisor, with a diffusion of the various roles that managers were intended to play in the 20th century business out to a widening network of coworkers, mentors, and non-direct management. I have been calling the result circumvision (see Why are disengaged employees disengaged?, and Prosocial bonuses lead to higher performance: a case of circumvision beating supervision), where feedback, bonuses, and ‘promotion’ can be taken from the hands of a single person and distributed across a set of coworkers.

The trend that the TINYpulse survey touches on goes very deep into the foundational changes in the transition to a cooperative, fast-and-loose business and the adoption of the third way of work.

What do Amazon and Netflix have in common?

Amazon and Netflix are competitors, in that Amazon’s streaming video service is directly competing with the Netflix offering, and both companies are now in the business of producing their own original series. And they have both posted good growth, and achieved record stock valuations: Amazon almost hit $1000/share this last week, and Netflix spiked to $390, an all-time high.

Of course Amazon is busy in a dozen or more markets — retailing, cloud computing, Android, Chrome, search, etc. — so it’s perhaps unfair to line the two companies up side by side.

However, in several crucial ways, the companies share some basic operational principles, directly the result of the management thinking of Jeff Bezos and Reed Hastings, Amazon and Netflix’s founders, respectively.

There are several interlocking pieces of the work compact at these companies. I wrote about Reed Hastings ‘talent density’ theory recently (see Countering the traps of complexity and growth by creativity and context: the Netflix model). His notion is that you can stay ahead of the complexity inherent in a business getting larger by increasing the percentage of high performing employees, and working hard to counter complexity without, however, resorting to processes to do so. Hastings believes that encoding operations into processes drives out high performing employees, and should in general be avoided.

In both companies, we see these principles at work:

  1. Only the very very best people are hired (high talent density).
  2. Don’t work to prevent problems (process approach), instead work to fix problems quickly (favor creativity and experimentation over predictability and efficiency).
  3. Leadership’s role is to set context (see How to balance autonomy and heteronomy: Doctrine) not to control decision-making through committees, management sign off, and long-range centralized planning (autonomy over heteronomy).
  4. Loosely coupled operations: minimal cross-functional meetings (see Amazon’s “two pizza” teams keep it fast and loose), organizational trust that others will apply the best tactics to achieve strategic goals, and constant refinement of tactics.

So that sets the context for the way that business gets done, but what about the compact with these high performing workers? And how does ‘advancing your career’ play out in organizations like this, where the goal is to continuously increase the talent density? The answer: It’s slow.

Brad Stone explored the Amazon side of this in Why It’s So Difficult to Climb Amazon’s Corporate Ladder, writing about his book The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon,

[…] in my interviews with rank and file employees, one common complaint I heard is that positive feedback from superiors is rare and promotions even rarer. This, it turns out, is probably by design. Amazon Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos seems to believe his managers must raise the performance bar with every hire and promotion and that only exceptional talent should progress within the organization. As he has done in so many other ways, Bezos has codified his beliefs within his company in the form of a custom called the OLR, for organization and leadership review.

OLRs are a set of biannual meetings at Amazon at which senior leaders in each department gather to debate the strengths and weaknesses of their subordinates, to approve promotions and, in some cases, target the worst performers for dismissal. An internal company presentation posted on the Web describes the custom.

“OLRs give us the opportunity to identify our future leaders and prepare them for their next challenging role,” it reads. “Our Least Effective 10% of employees will be targeted for appropriate action to keep Amazon’s performance bar high.”

This system acts as a dramatic check on advancement, since other senior managers can block the advancement of employees, and they each have only so much pull to get candidates recognized as among the very very best. In principle, these companies are focuses on key metrics that represent results against objective goals. In practice, detractors suggest that there is a lot of politicking involved at Amazon, and not just objective assessment of how super the superstars are. The key point is that the pressure to resist advancement is strong.

Netflix positions its thinking in different terms, focusing on doing whatever is needed to hold onto the very very best employees. They pay top salaries, and instead of allocating raises across the board — 4% for all people in a team, for example — managers are more likely to concentrate on doing what it takes to keep the best performers. In effect, this leads to the same outcome as Amazon’s, which is that people either a/ are advanced because they are part of the exceedingly small percentage of the very very very best who look like a superstar in a company of stars, or b/ accept their relatively slow penetration into the company’s inner circles, or c/ leave to pursue opportunities elsewhere.

Netflix also makes it a matter of policy that they “want people to manage their own career growth, and not rely on a corporation for “planning” their careers.” Note that the ‘corporation’ in that sentence means Netflix. This benign neglect is a sign of laissez-faire management, which works only in the context of a culture dominated by the best and brightest, a culture of high talent density. This new covenant — which I wrote about in Dig Your Own Hole, Sharpen Your Own Shovel — leaves it to the individual to plan and execute professional development, but in a company like Netflix, where the vacation policy allows generous vacation time, people actually have the slack that is needed to ‘sharpen their shovel’.

This culture bears similarities to management and strategy consulting and law firms, which historically practiced an up-or-out model of professional career, and a path toward partnership or senior roles. In less hierarchical, modern companies the ‘up’ might refer to a leadership role on a new initiative rather than making partner, but the result is similar.

I believe that this will become recognized as the defining organizational cultural model of our time, the way that the man in the gray flannel suit defined post-WWII American business. The laissez-faire work compact works well in our time and circumstances, so long as the company is populated by stars, and complexity held down systemically.

The economy and society are changing too fast for process-based efficiencies to succeed, as a general rule. Success is increasingly tied to innovation, creativity, and agility. That puts pressure on leaders to select those people with the greatest levels of those characteristics, and to minimize impediments to them applying those skills. So the role of leadership is attracting stars, advancing only the superest superstars, and meanwhile characterizing the company’s goals clearly and embedding that into cultural context, or doctrine. This is the fast-and-loose form factor of work, which puts a high premium on individual and group autonomy over explicit consensus.

Netflix and Amazon are two companies that embody these principles, and will be leading indicators not only in the stock market, but in the marketplace of ideas surrounding the dramatic changes we are going through in the postnormal workplace.

Switching from flat jobs to flow-to-the-work gigs

Roger Martin, the dean of the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, has a piece in the Harvard Business review that makes a case for transitioning away from the 20th century model of treating today’s creative workers (although he still says knowledge workers) like manual laborers: focusing them on a single role, incenting them to look busy at all times, and laying them off when there is a downturn. This binge-and-purge model leads to a great deal of waste and delay, and needs to be fixed by a new form factor for work, one that loosens the pigeon-holing of people to roles, and is based on a new compact between the creative and the company where work becomes a series of project gigs, not a permanent role doing the same “flat work” indefinitely.

Roger Martin, Rethinking the Decision Factory

The key to breaking the binge-and-purge cycle in knowledge work is to use the project rather than the job as the organizing principle. In this model, full-time employees are seen not as tethered to certain specified functions but as flowing to projects where their capabilities are needed. Companies can cut the numbers of knowledge workers they have on the payroll because they can move the ones they have around. The result is a lot less downtime and make-work.

Think of a freshly hired assistant brand manager for Olay at P&G. She may initially view her role as pretty standard: helping her boss guide the brand. However, she will quickly learn that the job is ever-changing. This month she may be working on the pricing and positioning of a brand extension. Two months later she may be totally absorbed in managing production glitches that are causing shipment delays on the biggest-selling item in the Olay lineup. Then all is quiet until the boss approaches her desk with yet another project. Within months she will figure out that her job is a series of projects that come and go, sometimes in convenient ways and sometimes not.

This characterization of knowledge work is gaining traction among management thinkers. In “The Rise of the Supertemp” (HBR May 2012), Jody Greenstone Miller and Matt Miller describe an emerging class of managers who are focused on short-term, high-value-added, knowledge-based projects. Similarly, the Silicon Valley legend Reid Hoffman, with Ben Casnocha and Chris Yeh, suggests in “Tours of Duty: The New Employer-Employee Compact” (HBR June 2013) that organizing knowledge workers’ employment into time-bound “tours of duty” can help companies retain these workers and keep them happy. And although actually organizing knowledge work around projects may seem a radical idea in mainstream business, it is very familiar to professional services firms, some of which have become as large as manufacturing corporations. In 25 years Accenture has grown from its inception as the “systems integration practice” of Arthur Andersen into an independent firm with revenue equivalent to 3M’s. The iconic consultancy McKinsey & Company has about as much revenue as a typical Fortune 500 company.

These companies are made up almost exclusively of knowledge workers. When a project comes in, a team is assembled to carry it out. When the project is finished, the team is disassembled and its members are put on other projects. They don’t have permanent assignments; they have established skill levels that qualify them to work in certain capacities on certain projects.

I wrote as some length recently on the “Tours of Duty” thoughts of Hoffman et al (see Hire for “Tours of Duty” instead of pretending jobs are forever), saying

I believe that the new form factor for work is fast-and-loose, where companies strive for high flexibility and agility. The downside of that can be the direct impact on people who can’t flex as fast or as far as large, amorphous organizations can. So setting a hard date for making the determination about stay-or-go allows the parties to operate in a trust relationship, but also for each to retain their flexibility. This reminds me of the arguments for term marriage, for obvious reasons.

My sense is that Hoffman and his co-authors have codified one aspect of the new business ethos of work for the postnormal economy, replacing the illusion of open-ended employment with the certainties of a closed-ended tour of duty.

This same thinking is reflected in the “flow-to-the-work” model developed by Filippo Passerini at P&G’s Global Business Services, which was formed in 1998 to share IT and employee services, and in 2003

Roger Martin, Rethinking the Decision Factory

P&G in 2003 engaged in what was then the biggest outsourcing deal in corporate history: It sent approximately 3,300 jobs to IBM, HP, and Jones Lang LaSalle. Passerini transferred to those organizations the GBS employees who were performing the most-routine, least-project-oriented work. This allowed him to think more innovatively about the jobs that remained within GBS. The classic move would have been to structure them as flat jobs, assuming a consistent stream of similar work for each one.

Instead Passerini decided to embrace the project nature inherent in the work still at GBS. He made the part of his enterprise that remained within P&G what he called a “flow-to-the-work organization.” Of course, some of his employees were still working in flat, permanent jobs, but a large proportion were assigned to whatever projects had high urgency and high payoff. These knowledge workers didn’t expect to stay in one business unit in one region; they understood that they would be working in teams organized specifically to tackle pressing assignments in succession.

This rethinking of the nature of work — moving away from tight-and-slow, stuck-in-a-pigeonhole role, with supposed endless employment but actually being treated like a disposable liability — is a quiet revolution happening within companies like P&G. This transition from flat jobs to flow-to-the work gigs is going to happen everywhere possible, as fast as business culture can handle it.

Power inhibits empathy

A recent research study by Jeremy Hogeveen, Michael Inzlicht, and Sukhvinder S. Obhi, Power Changes How the Brain Responds To Others, seems to clearly confirm that power blocks empathy.

The setup involved subjects writing one of three sorts of essays: the first group wrote a ‘high power’ essay, where they were asked to “recall a particular incident in which you had power over another individual or individuals”, the second group wrote a nuetral essay about what they had done the previous day, and the third group wrote a “low power” essay, where they were asked to “recall a particular incident in which someone else had power over you”.

The second stage of the research had the subjects shown a movie intended to exploit the ‘mirror system’, the neurons in the brain that light up when watching other people doing something physical, like squeezing a rubber ball (as in this study), or hitting a baseball with a bat, or shuffling a deck of cards. The researchers used transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to measure the degree of mirroring going on in the subjects’ brains.

The science is very clear: when we watch others doing something, our brain follows along, and the centers that would be involved in performing the activity light up. This is instrumental in how we learn to do new things. But there is a side effect: you start to empathize with the people you are watching. But the study demonstrated that those that had been primed by thinking about being powerless were more empathetic: their mirror system showed greater empathy than the high power participants.

As the researchers conclude, that despite some limitations in the study,

The main results we report are robust, and strongly suggest that power is negatively related to motor resonance [empathy]. Indeed, anecdotes abound about the worker on the shop floor whose boss seems oblivious to his existence, or the junior sales associate whose regional manager never remembers her name and seems to look straight through her in meetings. Perhaps the pattern of activity within the motor resonance system that we observed in the present study can begin to explain how these occurrences take place and, more generally, can shed light on the tendency for the powerful to neglect the powerless, and the tendency for the powerless to expend effort in understanding the powerful.

Greater implications follow from the study, and stand as a warning. All organizations have control structures in their wiring, to coordinate action. Some are command-and-control oriented, in which there is a highly defined hierarchy, while others are based on consensus building rather than authoritarian controls, and a third model is the laissez-faire fast-and-loose work culture that I’ve been writing about a great deal (see The Future Of Work In A Social World, Part 1  and Part 2).

My bet is that leaders in a traditional command-and-control system are unlikely to have empathy with those subordinate to them: the experience of being powerful acts as a barrier to getting into the minds of the less powerful. And the leaders in a fast-and-loose organization — one in which leading is positioned on pull, not push, and based on high levels of autonomy — are much more likely to see themselves in others, because power is expressed differently and is more diffused.

In the new form factor of work, leadership is derived from the ability to inspire others to follow you, to pull them into your vision, and to create a context in which all people can find meaning and purpose. To accomplish that, leaders must remain connected to others through empathy. And power would corrupt that. They will have to rely on regard and trust, instead.

Where are the boundaries in a rapidly changing world of business?

I had a number of interesting conversations with readers, colleagues, and vendors last week, some inspired by posts published here, particularly Shadow IT is growing because everything is IT, BYOD, and various discussions around the idea of placeforms (markeplace + platforms = placeforms). I think these are all working together to indicate a shifting of boundaries and certainties in the business, and I think it is critical to get a sense of where this is heading, both on the IT side, and for business strategy in general.

Everything in today’s business hinges on IT. There is no sector of any market where digital literacy and mastery is not critical, and in many areas, those skills and techniques are the most critical for competitive advantage. Every waitron, retail clerk, police officer, and GigaOM analyst of the near future will find their personal digital tools central to the majority of work the perform each day. Most importantly: these tools — both apps and devices — will become so embedded in our work patterns that we will no longer be able to accomplish our work without them, just like telephones were essential in 1970s business, and email was in the 1990s.

The difference is that today’s work tools are increasingly personal. They are ‘proximal’ devices: always close to hand, and they travel with us at all times: in the bus, in the rest room, watching TV, and in meetings.

As I stated in Shadow IT is growing because everything is IT,

Bring Your Own Device is really Bring Your Own Mind

These devices are a central aspect of personal productivity and identity. People want to choose these tools based on how they do their work. So BYOD should really be considered a shift of the boundary where the company’s control over the way we work — which equates to the way we think — is receding.

The takeaway from the BYOD trend is not just the company saving a great deal of money, or the furor about what can and cannot be used (The War On Dropbox). It is the strategic withdrawal of the business from one of the traditional border zones between the company and the employee: the sanctioned computing foreground.

As we have moved to an always-on world it is the average staffer who is always on, always connected. It is their hand on the tablet at 11pm on Saturday, dealing with a client emergency, or preparing for Monday’s briefing. So perhaps this is a tradeoff, a shifting of the social contract. But my bet is that in the final analysis, the decision on BYOD will be part of a larger withdrawal by the company, a part of a greater loosening and relaxing.

In a world where decision-making has to be decentralized in the company is to react in a timely way to market shifts and customer needs, what do you continue to centralize? Or, where do you decide to remain slow and resistant to change? Today, CIOs are drawing their Maginot line somewhere near  BYOD, but in a few years this will be a forgotten battle, and CIOs may be fighting for a table at the chair.

In a world where everything is IT, the CIO might start to seem like the Chief Breathing Officer. But the IT staff can’t do the breathing for everyone in the company. There is no boundary there, anymore, between the worker and their tools. And increasingly, full-time employees will want to be more like freelancers, in this regard. Every freelancers owns their own shovel, and digs their own hole. The days when a division VP would email the CIO about having a hole dug, and get back an estimate of six weeks and twenty staff days of work, well, those days are over.

There will be a very fast retreat of IT’s domain in the business, like the fall in sea level just before a tsunami.

One Certainty: The Retreat Of Business

The tsunami is the withdrawal of a great many conventional business functions in the business from direct interaction with their corresponding marketplaces. This first diagram is a (poor) attempt to characterize the traditional arrangement with functions in the business and their interaction with markets. Note that I have two-headed arrows since these functions may have already adopted social communications with the various people involved, like HR using Linkedin and Twitter communications with potential job candidates. But the shift I am talking about is post-social.


We are witnessing the emergence of placeforms that act as brokers, as intermediaries, between job candidates and possible employers (see HireArt is another placeform interceding in the broken labor market), between freelancers and client companies (oDesk, Work Markets, Elance, etc.), or even between interns and businesses seeking them. And that is just focussing on HR. The same sort of intermediates can appear in marker research, sales lead generation, and customer support (e.g., call centers).

How will that look? Where will the new boundaries be?



The business will retract from direct interaction with these markets, and individual marker participants — customers, freelancers, prospective employees, etc. — will welcome intermediation as well, and for simple reasons:

  1. These intermediaries will specialize at  narrow and deep knowledge, relationships, and technology, and all but the very largest companies will not be able to match the placeform’s ability to amass and mine big data regarding their niche. For example, a company that routinely has 20 or 30 freelancers working for it simply will not know as much about them and their relative value as a freelancer placeform company that works with hundreds of companies and tens of thousands of freelancers.
  2. The intermediaries will be able to scale their operations — based on working with large numbers of clients and large numbers of individuals in the market — in a way that is not possible for other market participants. So, they will be able to make serious profits while market participants benefit financially. For example, a company using a placeform to manage call centers will spend less and get better results, because a specialized placeform with scale advantages will be better able to match workers with the type of support needed, and can invest more in training, for example.
  3. The scaling of the intermediaries acts as a check on the information imbalance in many company-individual interactions. For example, a freelancer dealing directly with a company is unlikely to be able to determine if that company has a good track record of on-time payments to freelancers, or whether other freelancers believe the company is a fair partner. However, a placeform company can amass that information, and actually influence companies’ behavior by threatening sanctions, like closing their access to  its freelancers.

Businesses will still use conventional branding and marketing to get their story across, but the transition to marketing through social platforms — Facebook, Pinterest, Tumblr, Twitter — will accelerate, and increasingly those ‘social networks’ will be evolving into placeforms themselves, providing tools and programs to better position the company in a social mediated world. As these companies do more, the corresponding functions in the business are pulling back, and relying more on the data analysis and trend spotting of outsiders to help guide their direction.

So, on two major fronts, business is pulling back, redrawing the boundaries at the edge, and reconsidering where the edge should be. This is happening in parallel with the general loosening of ties within the business, and the overall increase of connection: the fast-and-loose business that I have been discussing here the past several months. The connections between the core of the business and the intermediaries that help implement the companies objectives will continue to grow, so along with the retreat from the direct market, the company is also advancing into the market through its intermediaries. A business working with oDesk, for example, is privy to more information about the freelance market than it could ever amass independently: it is made smarter by the sum of its connections.

The Final Word

So, the final word is that the enterprise is retreating form many areas it once considered central, and its is handing over a great deal to employees and to placeforms. This will make businesses leaner, faster, smarter, and looser.

Kakul Srivastava asks “Is the nature of identity and belonging changing in the emergent business?”

I got an email from Kakul Srivastava, of Tomfoolery. She posted this on Twitter the other day:

giving self a day to catch up on @stoweboyd posts. brain happy. G. Bateson: ‘a business is best considered as a network of conversations’

Her day led to a few questions that Kakul emailed to me. Here’s the first one:

Is the fundamental nature of individuals changing in this new world (less of a need for alliance, belonging, affiliation, more transient definitions of self, increased satisfaction/dissatisfaction)?

Here’s a start of an answer to that.

There is a diffusion and shift of affiliation, belonging and identity in the emergent business context, relative to what has come before.

The transition to a context where people in general have more connections, but a smaller proportion of strong ties, means that affiliation is diffused.  While a person might cowork with a larger constellation of people, fewer of those coworkers are likely to be connected to each other. This is the nature of loosening the network, even while increasing the degree of connectedness for each individual. So the individual’s world is larger — more connections, more innovative ideas flowing past — but it may be perceived as more discontinuous, since longer periods of time pass between communications with loosely connected colleagues.

One aspect of the shift of affiliation is where individuals are choosing who to follow rather than being situated in a role with predefined close connections, which is the case in the conventional postmodern business. So, for example, you [Kakul] and I have a close connection only because of the level of the respect we have for each other, based on a mutual appreciation. It is not based on the length of our relationship, or the frequency of our interactions. However, I know you share the sense that there is a deep resonance in our thinking. This is outside of the normal business relationship, and is based on affiliation around values and the orientation of our self-identities to our work, and our shared awareness of purpose and meaning that arises from pursuing that work. This is the sort of affiliation that will define emergent business: A smaller proportion of strong ties (although maybe more in absolute numbers), and those ties based on choosing who to follow, which is the most important decision in a connected world. And, as in the case of our interactions, more of those choices are likely to be with people that we aren’t officially “working” with. You and I are not working at the same company, we aren’t working on a project together in any conventional sense. I am pursuing my investigations, which has led to us colliding, while you are working on Tomfoolery, pursuing your own ends. But we both are both doing our own “work” as the foundation of this relationship.

Imagine that I learn a creative technique while working with someone, like scenario-based future thinking. In that exercise I become aware of approaches to fleshing out scenarios that are less intuitive for me, like using narrative to explore the views of product users. As a result, months later in a different setting when I am in a different group that is blocking on a creative task, I can dredge up the technique, and come at the problem narratively instead of through systems thinking or metaphorically, which are more natural for me. And that shift to a different model of the problem changes my perspective, and even the weighting of values in my thinking. In a real tangible way, I am a different self when I adopt new patterns of thought.

One way to characterize this shift is this: in the collaborative business, people affiliate with coworkers around shared business culture and an approved strategic plan to which they subordinate their personal aims. But in a cooperative business, people affiliate with coworkers around a shared business ethos, and each is pursuing their own personal aims to which they subordinate business strategy. So, cooperatives are first and foremost organized around cooperation as a set of principles that circumscribe the nature of loose connection, while collaboratives are organized around belonging to a collective, based on tight connection. Loose, laissez-faire rules like ‘First, do no harm’, ‘Do unto others’, and ‘Hear everyone’s opinion before making binding commitments’ are the sort of rules (unsurprisingly) that define the ethos of cooperative work, and which come before the needs and ends of any specific project.

The sense of self in those working in cooperative settings may be — but doesn’t need to be — more transient, although people in the emergent business setting are shifting contexts more frequently, working in different settings, and that may make it easier to express different aspects of self at the ‘same time’. Like working with one scene of people as a futurist, and as a chef in another. This is considered ‘moonlighting’ in a collaborative world, but merely two shades of working in the cooperative, emergent world. And the offset of the closeness that came from being part of a collaborative team is the breadth of experience that comes from participating in many cooperative teams (although team is the wrong word: maybe cooperative constellations).

Put another way, self may become more discontinuous in the emergent business, allowing us to express more of the whole person, instead of being expected to be the same at all times, to hold only one set of perspectives, ever. To the extent we are open to diversity in the workplace, we need to allow individuals to be diverse, in their selves, as well.

Here’s one practical example of this diversity. Imagine that I learn a creative technique while working with someone, like scenario-based future thinking. In that exercise I become aware of approaches to fleshing out scenarios that are less intuitive for me, like using narrative to explore the views of product users. As a result, months later in a different setting when I am in a different group that is blocking on a creative task, I can dredge up the technique, and come at the problem narratively instead of through systems thinking or metaphorically, which are more natural for me. And that shift to a different model of the problem changes my perspective, and even the weighting of values in my thinking. In a real tangible way, I am a different self when I adopt new patterns of thought.

But in other contexts — for example, a slow-and-tight collaborative business where values are more constrained, and more tightly linked to long-term strategic goals and to a more static corporate culture — people may find fewer possibilities for flexibility. Not that people wouldn’t use narratives in a scenario process, but they might not go so far as to reconsider their values, because the company’s underlying cultural matrix might not allow questioning of its basic principles. But in the emergent business, company culture comes second to the ethos of fast-and-loose cooperation, including a more relaxed notion about the centrality and continuity of self. This is related to the concept of multiphrenia, a concept explored by Kenneth Gergen, and about which I have written before:

Stowe Boyd, Multiphrenic Identity

We invest ourselves into relationships that are shaped by the affordances of the tools and the particular social contracts of the contexts. Through these relationships new and perhaps unexpected insights into others and ourselves arise. And we participate in dozens of these social environments, possibly with non-overlapping constituencies, each focused on different aspects of the greater world: entertainment, food, news, social causes, health, religion, sex, you name it. We become adept at shifting registers, just like polyglots shift from Italian to Corsican to Catalan without even thinking about it. We are multiphrenic.

And the benefits of this multiphrenia, this ability to network different selves, are exactly the benefits that polyglots realize: the ability to rapidly shift lenses through which to view the world differently.

Is your job Heaven, Hell, or somewhere in between?

Frederick Herzberg was a US psychologist, extremely influential in the 20th century. His greatest contribution might have been the Motivator-Hygiene Theory, or the Two Factor Theory of job satisfaction, which he first proposed in 1959.

Herzberg’s key insight was to realize that job satisfaction and job dissatisfaction were not two ends of a single spectrum, but were actually two independent factors, each influenced by different aspects of the job. He found — through extensive research with accountants and engineers in Pittsburgh — that job dissatisfaction was driven by the absence of “hygiene factors” in the workplace, while job satisfaction was linked to the presence of “motivators” in the job.

Hygiene factors read like a characterization of the company at an abstract level: salary, benefits, work conditions, company culture. So job dissatisfaction is increased by unsafe work conditions, contention between management and workers, low salaries, poor benefits, and so on. One way to think of this is job dissatisfaction is likely to be experienced by employees as a whole, since unsafe working conditions or a management mandate to cut back on break times are effects that all are likely to experience. These could also be though of as environmental factors.

Motivators, on the other hand, and much more personal, like having challenging (but not impossible) work goals, responsibility and autonomy, and the recognition of peers and management. This is really a personal dimension, since in the same company and the same culture, different people may have very different work motivators. Even two people working for the same boss might have completely different levels of job satisfaction. For example, two people working as product managers, where one has little experience and the other has a great deal, the first might feel challenged and the second might feel underutilized. These motivators are truly about personal happiness.

I thought it might be useful to chart out the combinations of satisfaction and dissatisfaction, and this is what came from that exercise:

heaven hell

Two Factor Matrix

The various combinations as spiritual realms makes some sense, since it is natural to characterize the worst jobs as Hell.

Hell — The situation where both the work environment is bad, and the opportunities for growth, mastery, and autonomy are blocked. Leave if you can.

Purgatory — Purgatory is a halfway house , a temporary holding zone in Catholic dogma, and those that are working a good environment but one that doesn’t challenge or inspire are destined to move on.

Limbo — The strange situation of finding a high degree of personal satisfaction in a job embedded in a hellish environment. People may stay forever — which was the case in Catholic limbo — because people will trade off a great deal for personal motivation, and our capacity for wishful thinking is boundless.

Heaven — The perfect combination: a great environment and personal satisfaction as well.

With regard to the world of today, work is becoming more fast-and-loose. For example, a growing number of people are actively deciding to work as freelancers. (A growing number are also forced into contingent work, but leave that to the side for the moment.) One main reason is that freelancers can control the environment they work in. Yes, they may have to operate within the environment of their clients, but many of the stresses of their clients’ businesses do not impact them to the same degree.

Another aspect of this new modality of work is that people have more connections, but a lower proportion of strong ties. I believe that the stress levels of many businesses are enabled or amplified by high proportion of strong ties, kind of like higher levels of pressure caused by enclosing heat in a closed vessel. Lowering the proportion of strong ties can lead to a reduction of pressures, and therefore lead to greater environmental hygiene and lower job dissatisfaction.

Herzberg’s insight lead to the understanding that dissatisfaction and satisfaction in the workplace had to be measured and managed independently, as two factors. Thinking about the number and degree of connections that people have in the workplace is a social network based metric that should be taken into account in any present-day analysis of job dissatisfaction, and increasing the number of weak ties in an organization can work like a bleed valve, siphoning of pressures before they reach a bursting point.


In an open business, people will just show up and start working

For example, the Pop Up Agency is made up of six creative students who take up residency at companies or agencies for 48 hours and rapidly develop a new concept or strategy, then get back on the train or plane and head for the next pop-up gig.