perspectives on new work – synopsis

Perspectives on new work: Exploring emerging conceptualizations, edited by Esko Kilpi, was released by The Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra in August 2016. I received a copy last week and found it a comprehensive read on the future of work. The PDF can be downloaded for free at: Sitra.

It is a long read (132 pages), so I have taken the opportunity to capture some of it, for my own memory, and perhaps to save other readers some time. Here are a few of Esko’s observations [my emphasis added].

  • The organization is not a given hierarchy or a predictive process, but an ongoing process of organizing. The Internet-based firm sees work and cognitive capability as networked communication.
  • Creative learning is for us what productivity meant during the industrial age. Creative learning is the human edge that separates us from machines, also in the future.
  • Human life is non-deterministic, full of uncertainty, unknowns and surprises. Creative learning is the fundamental process of socialization and being human. For a human being, the number of choices or moves in the game of life, in any situation, is unlimited.
  • Perhaps, in the future, it will no longer be meaningful to conceptualize work as jobs or even as organizational (activity) structures in the manner practiced by the firms of today. Work will be described as complex patterns of communicative interaction between interdependent individuals.
  • If the (transaction) costs of exchanging value in society at large fall drastically as is happening today, the form and logic of economic entities necessarily need to change! [Ronald] Coase’s insight [that the firm exists to reduce transaction costs] turned around is the number one driver of change today! The traditional firm is the more expensive alternative, almost by default. This is something that he did not foresee.
  • A networked business increases its intellectual capital as the nodes of the network do the same. The network acts as an amplifier of knowledge, but the demands on the worker grow. Being skilled is not enough. The challenge for the knowledge worker is to take responsibility for the value and growth of her human capital and to plan her “investment portfolio” carefully. Work should always equal learning.
  • Post-industrial work is learning. Work is figuring out how to define and solve a particular problem and then scaling up the solution in a reflective and iterative way – with technology and alongside other people.
  • The future of work has to be based on willing participation by all parties, and the ability of all parties to protect their interests by contractual means.

  • In the age of abundance economics, public is much more valuable than private. Governments have always been platform creators. I sincerely hope that they understand the tremendous opportunity we all face. The old demarcation line between public and private no longer makes sense.
  • The death of the old can be the birth of the new. What is now disappearing is not work, but the notion of a job. It is a social artifact that emerged during the nineteenth century as a way to package tasks. It was a rigid solution to a dynamic problem.
  • In creative work, we are fellow-improvisers in corporate ensembles constantly constructing the future and our part in what is happening. The idea of improvisation is often associated with notions of unrehearsed, unintentional action. However, the more skilled the players are, the better they can improvise.
  • There can be no change without changes in patterns of communication. Organizations of any kind, no matter how large or how small they are, are continuously reproduced and transformed in ongoing communicative interaction. The patterns of interaction in an organization are highly correlated with its performance. Thus, we should pay much more attention to the strength and number of relationships and the breadth and depth of networked thinking.
  • A learning relationship potentially makes the whole network smarter, with every individual interaction creating network effects … The most valuable issue is to have access to “community knowledge”, a common movement of thought. This means being part of a network where learning occurs faster than somewhere else.
  • Creating learning connections is now more valuable than creating learning content. Information is becoming a process of continuous iteration and networked negotiation.
  • Even more than understanding networking, we should acknowledge the inherently creative commons nature of thinking, innovation and all development. It all takes place through interaction.

In conversation with Esko (Helsinki)

In addition, many other writers are included in this work. Here are some highlights [my emphasis added].

“the management functions of a traditional corporation are being augmented or replaced by distributed communication and information sharing” —Vint Cerf

Curiosity & Ideas

“Two major aspects governed our ancestors’ development at work: curiosity and specialization. Curiosity is one of the driving forces of innovation, even in today’s work life. In the hunter-gatherer society, curiosity had fertile ground: humans worked for food for only 2 to 3 days a week, leaving plenty of time and space for curiosity and creating amazing innovations. In our working life today, curiosity is suffocated by busy schedules, deadlines and efficiency requirements. Most humans now exercise their curiosity during their free time and when engaged in hobbies, but seldom at work. This is a dangerous situation, since curiosity is the key driving force of innovation and development.” —Minna Huotilainen

“In the industrial era, only a few people had to have novel ideas; everyone else executed them. But in the Social Era, ideas are the fuel. We don’t need the ability to do the same thing consistently, over and over again. We need the ability to adapt, create, and customize.” —Nilofer Merchant

“Catalytic sense making is based on curiosity, patience, broad-minded, candidness, and trust. It serves decision-making by generating alternative problem definitions and forging potential solutions to them. There are three vital methods of catalytic sense making; that of discussion, debate, and dialogue. These are the necessary phases in making ethically and rationally sound decisions … Catalytic sense making is needed in order to provide protection against the ethical errors and failings that are so dangerous to organizations.” —Risto Harisalo

Learning

“This combination of our inherent curiosity, laziness, and connectedness [three common traits of human behaviour] is what keeps changing our ways of working. Our laziness drives technological advancement. This, in turn, influences the development of cognition – the development of tools frees up time for different kinds of thought and requires new kinds of cognitive skills.” —Katri Saarikivi

“When you train for the circus, you are relaxed, which makes you very open and able to learn new things very quickly. Training groups have a very good, positive energy, which eliminates anxiety about failure. For most of people, the greatest obstacles to learning are in their own heads. You learn much about yourself and your own methods and obstacles to learning and come to accept yourself as you are. During circus training, you learn and accept that a natural way of learning or developing something new involves making a lot of mistakes.” —Martina Linde

“Learning, which enhances the expression of one’s own original ideas, and digitization, which provides resources online and in the cloud, herald the arrival of the creative age of entrepreneurship. Each of us has the opportunity to act as an artist of production – now able to manufacture at marginal cost which effectively goes all the way down to zero – goods of high aesthetic and functional value which multiple consumers can acquire and use the next day.” —Piero Formica

“Reason does not get people to act. Emotion is what causes people to act. People can think something is perfectly logical and still not do it because they don’t care enough about it, or they don’t have any emotional attachment to it. The reason that people do things, especially heroic or major things, things that take a lot of effort, is because they care.” —Dave Gray

You will become your network. If, until very recently, you were your family, your reading habits and your commute, you are now defined through your social networks and how you participate in them. It must be obvious to you that just about every notion you have ever held is an echo of something someone else has thought or shared first.” —Aditya dev Sood

The Workplace

“Our connective technology infrastructure has given us the seeds of something great, but it is our job – the job of platform designers, policymakers, and citizens – to cultivate these seeds to their full potential. We can create yet another extreme work environment, fragmenting the workforce with desperate adaptations to harsh realities in an unforgiving, global on-demand economy. Or we can work to create intentionally Positive Platforms for a coordination economy that combines the best affordances of our new technologies, while also providing sustainable livelihoods to large swaths of the population.” —Marina Gorbis

“New buildings can be organized to maximize meetings of minds. Spaces for encounters can be integrated alongside key flows of people. The heart of a building may include a restaurant, which also functions as a meeting facility. Lunch can be combined with a casual meeting every day. Traditional office buildings were built to isolate people, so forcing people to meet each other leads to a very different “operating system”.” —Teemu Kurkela

“Technological breakthroughs, such as the advent of mass production, led to changes in society that are so pervasive that it is often hard to imagine the alternative. People grow accustomed to the nuisances created by technology. Younger generations are like the people in Plato’s Cave, unaware that there is an alternative.” —Jukka Luoma

“It’s crucial to note that we are the first generation in history to experience this level of surveillance. We live our lives online. We are the first generation whose location and communications can be collected throughout our lifetime. This makes us all guinea pigs. It’s as if a global experiment were underway to test how we cope without privacy.” —Mikko Hyppönen

2 Responses to “perspectives on new work – synopsis”

  1. Will Richardson

    Thanks for this summary and the share. In the book itself, Esko writes that “The internet is nothing less than an extinction level event for the traditional firm.” As you can guess, I wonder if the same can be said of schools. So much of what you note here and is talked about in the book applies to the “institution” of school. While schools aren’t going away any time soon, I wonder if the extinction level event right now isn’t traditional thinking about education and learning. Mind bending ideas…

    Reply
    • Harold Jarche

      Thanks, Will. These were some of the topics we were discussing in Helsinki, with the Prime Minister’s Office policy staff. The Finns are seriously looking at these changes and the forces behind them.

      Reply

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