21st Century Working, ‘Work’ in Progress
Heading: North East-- London to Leeds, 18.35 arrival 21.00
Friday, 18 June, 2010
The future of work is fluid; it’s bespoke; it will require fewer working hours, produce less, and pay more.
This is the story of how I got there:
One morning in March, sitting cross-legged on my orange comforter, bemoaning the number of pitches I’d written that month that had gone unanswered (and thus income that wasn’t to be made) I answered a [hub-members] spam email from fellow Hubbit Richard Leyland, exec of WorkSnug. He wanted to pay someone to do interviews for a research report. Right up my alley. I was planning to move to Beijing shortly, needed the money but didn’t have the staying power to start anything. Perfect.
The task was simple as most surreptitiously appear: interview thought leaders for an easy-dissertation-length report on the topology of modern working, partly a PR exercise for Richard’s company, partly, well-- Richard was (is still?) a journalist prior to starting WorkSnug, and as good journalists can’t just do anything without a serious bit of research he seeks not only to establish a company but to ‘say something’ simple and profound at the same time whilst providing a context.
He set me on my task with very very little background either about the thought leaders themselves or the topic (again the journalist persona? wishing me to proceed with as little bias as possible). After the fifth interview I felt like the interviewees, several of whom know Richard were challenging him (via me, or possibly us) to push beyond the surface.
One in particular challenge (from Indy Johar, 00:/) was more explicit than others:
“I think it’s really interesting, what you’re writing about, Richard and yourself. I think one thing I would say is to look at the whole spectrum… not to be too focused on the kind of office work story.
I think it’s interesting but I don’t think that’s going to be the heart of the issue. I think we’re going to have to be more open about the story of work, the story of work for somebody who works at a Marks & Spencers, the story of work works in, I don’t know, a replica graphics office, printing books, let’s be more honest and straight forward about the whole ecology of work. Cause I think there’s something more important to be done, and probably something equally as important as when the trade unions were born. Equally as important as cropters [(?)]. So I think there’s a moment where we can be honest and look at the whole spectrum, there’s some real radical stuff that can happen.
That’s just advice, not a question.“
Those of you who know me will know that when I hear something like that it comes across as an existential challenge. I refuse to write fluff. So I put it to Richard-- we should write a book to follow his report, scratching at the topic and then leaving it is almost an exercise in inefficiency. He was slightly reluctant initially, he doesn’t want a book primarily penned by him to say something wishy-washy, nor be absolutely declarative especially as ‘modern working’ or ‘21st century work’ as an idea hasn’t yet reached puberty.
No problem. That’s my specialty-- think pieces, provoking a conversation that after having spent a few months scratching at ‘modern working’ , reading and beginning to reach beyond the modern dioces of Mssrs. Pink, Florida, et al, hasn’t really been had yet.
Richard directed me to a blog post he’d written a few months back saying, ‘At the end I kind of left a question, if you think we’ve got answer then there’s a book there.’
Here’s the question:
“I’m in no doubt; technological developments are in the process of improving how we live and work. I for one am glad to be working in these changing, exciting times. It’s a fantastic Brave New World out there, but it’s moving on quicker than our ability to write the rules. We need a Technicolour Taylor; a Principals of Scientific Management fit for the 21st Century. It’s a gaping void and a huge opportunity. If you’ve got anything already written down, do let me know.”
Taylor to Vaguard, lean to agile to guerilla-- manufacturing, design, management.
In the not-too-distant future,
‘Work’ requires more than 50% intellectual capital and thus ‘workers’ tend to:
Shorter, intense bursts of working; good work is only accomplished with plenty of time to regenerate the passion, the energy:
Work hard and play hard.
Do what you love and love what you do (yields intense energy and passion) and ‘Work’ ceases to exist?
‘Work’ will produce highly bespoke goods and services that cost more and thus, have higher prices.
We consume less ‘stuff.’
We can live adequate lives working fewer hours because the cost of working (due to the increased cost of capital inputs) yields higher wages.
‘Workers’ and thus ‘Company’ identity is (becoming) more fluid.
Management is more akin to the corporate values that attract workers to a ‘company’ to begin with, ‘companies’ come to resemble more ‘communities’ like loose affiliations that only continue to exist so long as their value system has something more profound to offer than others and the members continue to make an effort to keep ties with each other.
Benefits count for less or have been redefined.
The value of social capital and social networking-- thus niche social media sky rockets.
Communities, companies, affiliates, whatevs et al create their own work to a certain extent because it’s largely based on their value as people, collectives, unique synergies.
How did I get to this vision of the future? You’ll have to wait I’m afraid, for our book.