The future of work in a social world: part 2

This is the second in a two-part series of posts, exploring the talk I gave recently in Lisbon, entitled The Future Of Work In A Social World.

You might want to read the first part beforehand.


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We are transitioning from routinized work based on business processes where people fill roles and follow rules laid down by others. Note that business processes rely on push communication, moving information to people based on disembodied rules.

 

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The central feature of social networks is that people are connected to each through personal ties, and the communications shift to pull: People choose who to follow, who to treat as sources of information.

Most critically, people aren’t defined as roles in social networks, and they aren’t constrained to those interactions defined in processes. Their interactions are based on a larger number of less-constrained communication paths. As a result, things are looser.

 

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The future of work is loose.

 

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The collaborative model of work as the dominant model of work today is based on push communications, business processes as a concept and actual way to structure work, and is slow-and-tight as a result. The cultural ethos is the creation of a collective: a group of people sharing the same principles, goals, and expectations. But we’re seeing the transition to a fast-and-loose model of business, based on pull communication through social networks. These lead to a less restrictive cultural ethos: a connective, where people are cooperating mutualistically, but without the overhead of deep trust.

 

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As a result, the future of work is cooperative.

 

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Another way to consider this drift . . .

 

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Here we see the variance between process-oriented and network-oriented organizational cultures. I consider this part of the transition from postmodern to postnormal economic eras. These also differ in the nature of social affiliation, with a loosening of the bonds that tie people together in cooperative cultures contrasted with collaborative ones.

 

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Some corporate cultures are stuck even farther back in time, and are based on competition. I don’t mean competing with others in the marketplace, like Facebook competing with Twitter. I am talking about a corporate culture based on zero sum competition among workers, where one person’s advancement is someone else’s demotion. These are cultures strongly based on authority-based decision-making, and really are a holdover from the late modern era: the late industrial era.

 

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This the first application of the 3C model, a psychosocial model of organizational cultures.

The fast-and-loose business is most in sync with the digital realities of today’s world, although most companies are still operating principally in a slow-and-tight mode, and may even have a healthy dose of the frozen-and-immobile at the core. The fast-and-loose culture allows the whole person to walk in the front door, and grants the greatest possible autonomy to workers, operating on a laissez-faire decision-making approach.

 

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We can say that the future of work is connective.

 

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A second application of the 3C model is to reflect on what sort of individuals best fit in the various sorts of organizations. These we can consider archetypes. First, there are the three core archetypes: the Competitor who is perfectly matched with competitive culture, the Collaborator and Cooperator, each matched to their respective cultures.

But there are others:

 

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The Generalist — self-motivated enough to compete, collaborate, or cooperate as needed.

The Entrepreneur — strong competitive impulse, but wanting to succeed as a leader of a collective.

The Freelancer — again, stronger leaning toward competitive than the Cooperator, but organized around a looser ideal of social fabric.

The Follower — Very non-competitive, but can work in a context of consensus or laissez faire decision-making.

 

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Here’s a diagram showing who fits in a purely cooperative fast-and-loose business: Cooperators, Followers, Generalists, and Freelancers do fine. But Competitors, Entrepreneurs, and Collaborators will find it too, well, fast-and-loose, too laissez-faire.

 

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And here’s the contemporary large company in America, today. Entrepreneurs are tolerated, Followers have a home, and Generalists and Collaborators pair up.

 

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And what about Entrepreneurial businesses? Like Marissa Mayer’s goals for Yahoo? A certain degree of competition is acceptable: the high-tech etiquette of ‘may the best idea win’ conceals a great deal of intellectual bullying, I believe. But there is no place for the Freelancer, the Follower, or the Cooperator, unless they disguise themselves as someone else.

This is the organization that a lot of collaborative companies pretend they  are, but the competition built-in to entrepreneurial cultures is very difficult for people to sustain. The long hours, the lack of autonomy, the need to align your life around the strategic goals of the company’s entrepreneurial elite simply wears people down. Those with cooperative instincts want things looser and less about heroic leadership.

 

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The next generation of tools will have to operate in an emphatically different register to support cooperative organizations. Pull, not push based communication.

The primary modality today in enterprise social tools is collaborative: people principally gain access to information by membership in group-based or project-based contexts (‘workspaces’, ‘projects’, ‘teamspaces’, etc.). That will increasingly shift to following-based relationships: following specific people, topics, or other defined sources of information.

Supporting fast-and-loose organization will mean making a distinction between the proportionally smaller strong ties between those who are tightly connected and the increasingly higher number of loose ties that make up the constellations in cooperative work.

Laissez-faire means greater autonomy, and a bias toward experimentation  in how work get accomplished. So fast-and-loose tools have to support flexible but discernable work ‘neighborhoods’, something analogous to a handful or people deciding to meet in one corner of a coworking space for a few days on some shared activity.

These new tools will have less of a wall at the perimeter. The distinction of those that are existing users — invited by an admin, and so on — will decrease. For example, it might be possible for someone to ‘wander into’ some part of a company’s social tool platform and observe and participate in some limited fashion, without being invited.

 

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These connectives will be much more open in that regard.

 

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As I said at the outset of the talk, I would wind up here. This is the future of work, and here, by contrast, is the present.

My sense is that the rate of change that is impelling us forward, from today’s out-of-date postmodern business culture, is still on the increase. There are aspects of the slow-and-tight that are more than just outmoded: they are dangerous, both to the companies and the individuals that are living in them.

Each of us has to take on new behaviors, new skills, new eyes to see this different world. All cultural change comes from people changing themselves. And the very most important decision in a connected world…

 

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Is who to follow.

So, at the very least, follow me.

 

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Relevant Analyst
Stowe Boyd

Stowe Boyd

Lead analyst, future of work Gigaom Research and stoweboyd.com

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