What is working smarter?

I’m in the business of helping organizations work smarter. What does that mean?

Our industrial and information age is nearing an end as we transition into an era where creativity becomes the most important element in our economy. We are also living in a more complex time as traditional disciplines blur and as information explodes. For the developed world, that means the future does not lie in doing manual or simple work because much of it will be automated. Merely complicated work, which is most of the work done in traditional industrial or office jobs, is being outsourced to the cheapest source of labour. That leaves complex work, requiring initiative, creativity and passion.

How does this affect our daily lives?

First of all, look at the restructuring that is happening in our economy. Jobs are being shed that will never be replaced. Can your work be done remotely by someone who doesn’t cost as much? Then at some point in the near future, it will. Companies are finally realizing that they need to work smarter. That means automating and outsourcing where necessary (if they don’t, their competition will) and then figuring out how to get things done in complexity.

The core of working smarter in complexity is the integration of learning and working. It sounds easy, but it’s not. There are two major parts to this. At the individual level it requires people to think critically and embed sense-making processes into their work and their lives. This takes skill and practice. It also takes a work environment that supports and encourages individual learning, sharing, and collaboration.

Hierarchy is the enemy of creativity but we still need some structure to get things done. As Vera John-Steiner writes in Creative Collaboration; “…the achievement of productive collaboration requires sustained time and effort. It requires the shaping of a shared language, the pleasures and risks of honest dialogue, and the search for a common ground.” The risks of honest dialogue will be a major barrier for many organizations to transition to more creative work.

Successful organizations will need to:

1. support creative collaboration (not merely team work)

2. support each person in developing critical thinking skills

3. put this together in order to get things done

There is no specific recipe to do this. Every organization and business will have to find its own path. However, that path will not include:

– standard job competencies; job descriptions & JOBS;

– one-size-fits-all instruction;

– equating time to value;

– and many other vestiges of the industrial era.

8 Responses to “What is working smarter?”

  1. John Carlton

    Why do you bother to write this stuff? Like most blogs linked from the e-learning blog this is a waste of time. It is filled with unnecessary words in an attempt to make something out of nothing. Consider writing something of consequence next time. Write concisely instead of trying to sound smart.

    Are jobs really “shed”? I mean who did the “shedding”. The jobs were eliminated or lost or outsourced, but “shed”? Really?

    You say:
    “Merely complicated work, which is most of the work done in traditional industrial or office jobs, is being outsourced to the cheapest source of labour. That leaves complex work”

    What the heck? What is the difference between complex and complicated? The former is usually defined using the latter. So complicated work is the complex work that cannot be outsourced? Come on.

    • Harold Jarche

      John, you may wish to begin with these links on complexity. Complex is quite different from complicated, as used here, and defined by the professional knowledge management community:


      As Rob Paterson noted:

      It’s a simple message, really. But if you don’t get it, you’re headed for chaos.
      Simple = easily knowable.
      Complicated = not simple, but still knowable.
      Complex = not fully knowable, but reasonably predictable.
      Chaotic = neither knowable nor predictable.

      I used shed, as in shedding off the older forms of work. I’m not saying this is all for the good, but it is similar to the transition that occurred a hundred years ago as farm workers moved to the cities and factories. May I suggest http://nineshift.com/ for further reading.

      By the way, I bother to write this stuff as my way of sense-making:

      Why did you bother to write this comment? I hope it was for clarification and learning.

  2. John


    Stop being such a scrooge, if Harold posts something dull then skip over it. Better yet write something yourself.


  3. Vaughan Merlyn

    Harold, I loved this post and will share it widely!

    When I turned to the comments, I was astounded to read the mean-spirited piece by John. I’m not sure if he really doesn’t get it, or is trying to be funny, or something else is going on – like he’s having a really, really bad day!

    Keep reinforcing your points, Harold – and keep the posts coming! A lot of people are very pleased that you “bother to write this stuff”!

  4. Mark Britz

    Keep up the great thoughts Harold. You and a handful of others continue to present fresh thinking in a complex time. Your writings recharge me, engage me, challenge me. But more than simply read, I apply and bring much needed change to the workplace and people I serve. And of course through it all I continue to learn.

  5. Vanessa

    I’m with Vaughn and Mark – even if this was posted 2 yrs ago! I’m hugely grateful to Harold for the generosity and courage he shows in putting his thinking out there; Not only ‘spitting in my soup’ but also giving it a good stir!

  6. Helen Rawlinson

    Totally agree that hierarchy kills creativity unless you’re lucky enough to have one of those rare managers that can let their staff spread their creative wings. The more hiearchical a system, the more the thinking and action seems to be dictated by the prevailing ‘inside-the-box’ thinking and its very difficult to get much airplay unless or until you behave as in line with that thinking. Its a bit of a career killer to Suggest something different or point out how things could be done better.


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