In a Knowledge Worker Economy – Risk OVER the Status Quo?

Nearly thirty years ago, Peter Drucker saw the need for and wrote of the imperative of change management within an information based, highly educated, “knowledge worker” economy and workforce:

To be sure, the fundamental task of management remains the same: to make people capable of joint performance through common goals, common values, the right structure, and the training and development they need to perform and to respond to change. But the very meaning of this task has changed, if only because the performance of management has converted the workforce from one composed largely of unskilled laborers to one of highly educated knowledge workers.

We live in a world obsessed with safety, and mitigation of risk. Inherently, there is nothing wrong with either of these elements, except for the fact that no matter how hard we try, we cannot guarantee either absolute safety or the absence of risk.

In an excellent post in the Harvard Business Review, as summarized in this morning’s Management Tip of the Day, the whole concept of risk versus safety is put to a challenge:

Most of us consider ourselves to be risk averse, but what we consider “safe” behavior often contains much more uncertainty than we suspect…The challenge is that there are very few environments that remain static. “Safe” investments like gold can lose value. You could be fired from your “safe” job. And yet we behave as if the current state will persist in perpetuity. While no one can predict the future, there are a few tactics you can use to get better at evaluating risk. Before you make a decision, do your research on all of the potential avenues of action. Ask credible experts to weigh in. And don’t forget to evaluate the inherent risk of doing nothing. Sometimes the status quo is actually riskier than taking a leap into the unknown.

Excellent advice, see the full post here. Of course, as noted above, risk must be carefully researched and thought out. To use an old word, to exercise prudence, which the Oxford English Dictionary defines as the, “ability to recognize and follow the most suitable or sensible course of action; good sense in practical or financial affairs; discretion, circumspection, caution.” In short, to exercise judgement when making a decision about the future. But too much caution, or worse, being restrained by fear amounts to the idea that we are actually in more control than we are, and that is little more than self-deception.

Hulu Expanding Skinny Options for Cord Cutters – First Step Toward True Broadcast Streaming?

A Wall Street Journal article confirms that, “Hulu is developing a subscription service that would stream feeds of popular broadcast and cable TV channels.” Although the specifics are still a way off, a couple notable highlights from the article:

    • Targeting around a $40 price point for monthly subscriptions, “Many [competing services] are seeking to deliver a subscription pay-TV package that includes a dozen or so popular channels for a price between $24.99 and $39.99″
    • Major networks are involved, “Walt Disney Co. and 21st Century Fox, which are co-owners of Hulu, are near agreements to license many of their channels for the platform…Disney’s ABC, ESPN and Disney Channel are expected to be available on the service along with the Fox broadcast network, Fox News, FX and Fox’s national and regional sports channels”

Competition is fierce, which is good for consumers as the rivals seek to hit a price point and array of options that make sense. The article notes Apple’s frustration with, “its efforts to license programming from big media companies at rates that would allow it to keep retail prices attractive to cord-cutters.”

Planning for the Coming Year: Confidence Through Perspective

It’s easy to look back at a previous year and focus on what could have gone better, how different decisions may have affected outcomes to the good, or even how we may feel stuck in one way or another. As with many, I share the view that a new year is an excellent time to make or update goals, modify plans or start a strategic course of action for the upcoming year. This could be as simple as a reading list, a habit change, or a significant life changing decision. Either way, I think outlook and perspective can be a key driver in making this a positive exercise, whether reflecting or planning.

One of the benefits of experience is long-term perspective. I used to have promotional poster from a brokerage firm that read, “confidence through perspective.” Within the poster there was a montage of pictures, dates, graphic measurements and major event annotations. The idea being, when you look at current events with too much granularity, you may lose focus on an overall perspective on how things may turn out, given a certain trajectory, determination, diligence, planning, hard work, and a little more time. But at the same time, if we fail to look carefully, and with the proper focus, we may miss some of the obvious details right in front of us. For reflection purposes, consider the words from Henry David Thoreau’s Journal, June 10, 1853, titled, Looking through a Spy-Glass:

Source: http://www.concordmuseum.org/spyglass.php

I amused myself yesterday afternoon with looking from my window, through a spy-glass, at the tops of the woods in the horizon. It was pleasant to bring them so near and individualize the trees, to examine in detail the tree-tops which before you had beheld only in the mass as the woods in the horizon. It was an exceedingly rich border, seen thus against, and the imperfections in a particular tree-top more than two miles off were quite apparent. I could easily have seen a hawk sailing over the top of the wood, and possibly his nest in some higher tree. Thus to contemplate, from my attic in the village, the hawks circling about their nests above some dense forest or swamp miles away, almost as if they were flies on my own premises! I actually distinguished a taller white pine with which I am well acquainted, with a double top rising high above the surrounding woods, between two and three miles distant, which, with the naked eye, I had confounded with the nearer woods.

All of that from the view from an attic window, because the author took the time to look, focus and reflect. When you consider the outlook for this year and take time to think and plan, hear the words of my great hero, C. S. Lewis, “Mere change is not growth. Growth is the synthesis of change and continuity, and where there is no continuity there is no growth.”

Image Source: http://www.concordmuseum.org/spyglass.php

The Future of Problem Solving

In our time, there is a new requisite skill set: being a futurist. A futurist was once only an avocation among the best of thinkers, and somewhat of a novelty and a subset of sociological and economic studies. It is very interesting to read authors like Alvin Toffler or Peter Drucker (along with a number of others) and observe how they saw things sometimes dimly, but often very clearly that were seemingly hidden to others. But it has been decades now since the advent of the information age and the decline of the industrial era. What this has created is an environment where it is no longer an option but to take charge of one’s future, in terms of actively, deliberately and even aggressively engaging in activity that is inherently future in its benefits. To a certain degree, success means understanding the future is simply not an option.

Problem solving has always been a core skill of leadership, but increasingly, this skill as a requirement has migrated to the average employee. To make this even more complex, the motif we hear regarding the next generation of leaders is the ability to solve problems that do not yet exist. Just to name a few, an article from futuristspeaker.com from several years ago cites:

Alternative Currency Bankers – According to Javelin Strategies, 20% of all online trades are already being done with alternative currencies. The stage is being set for next-gen alt-currency banks.

Waste Data Managers – To insure data integrity in today’s fast evolving information storage industry, multiple redundancies have been built into the system. Achieving more streamline data storage in the future will require de-duplication specialists who can rid our data centers of needless copies and frivolous clutter.

Privacy Managers – If you think you have lost most of your privacy already, we’ve only scratched the surface. We are all terminally human, and as such, we do not always make good decisions. Striking the perfect privacy-transparency balance will require far more than amateur insights. It will require a privacy professional.

Government Agency Dismantlers

See the full post from 2011 here. Some of these ideas might have seemed absurd a few years ago, but have already come began to be put into practice. Years ago Alvin Toffler warned,

Perhaps the greatest cost of wave conflict in America will be paid by the millions of children currently compulsorily enrolled in schools that are attempting to prepare them – and not very successfully at that – for jobs that won’t exist. Call that stealing the future.

The takeaway? Try something new as an antidote to paralysis or as Toffler also warned,“if you don’t develop a strategy of your own, you become a part of someone else’s.”

Purpose and Vision Will Keep Us On Target

I was reading through (and writing about) the BIS 84th Annual Report recently and was struck by the tone of the introductory remarks,

The global economy continues to face serious challenges. Despite a pickup in growth, it has not shaken off its dependence on monetary stimulus. Monetary policy is still struggling to normalise after so many years of extraordinary accommodation. Despite the euphoria in financial markets, investment remains weak. Instead of adding to productive capacity, large firms prefer to buy back shares or engage in mergers and acquisitions. And despite lacklustre long-term growth prospects, debt continues to rise. There is even talk of secular stagnation.

What also struck me was that this section was titled, “In search of a new compass.” The repeated occurrence of “despite,” followed by some good news, that is ultimately eclipsed by bad news underscores the point that in spite of five years of economic recovery, this time is indeed different. Most importantly, the above statements speak of policymakers in search of direction.

The context of such headwinds puts extraordinary pressure on those who are trying to navigate their own career through such challenges. This is particularly felt among those who are either searching for employment, or simply searching for direction. In an age where we are bombarded with more information than can ever be processed or analyzed, this highlights the importance of principles and guidelines that are timeless in nature. I thought about that as I recently came across this excellent quote from Daniel Webster:

If we work upon marble, it will perish. If we work upon brass, time will efface it. But if we work upon immortal minds, and instill into them just principles, we are then engraving upon tablets which no time will efface but will brighten and brighten to all eternity.

Purpose and vision will keep us moving the right direction, whatever the challenge. And when we get off track, that same statement of values and mission, will point us back in the right direction.

Positive Employment Report and Your Own Future

Today’s employment report was encouraging and yet, discussion after discussion continues to reveal the problem of matching up skill sets and the right fit with currently open positions. This problem is amplified by technology, the economics of downsizing (particularly human resources and the use of professional external recruiters), and an overall shift of the burden being on the job seeker, not the organization looking to fill a position.

It is well documented that technology has fomented the flood of applicant mismatches and in some cases, the ease of applying simply to fulfill the “searching for a job” expectation of unemployment benefits. This of course creates an insufferable morass of material for those responsible of recruiting to sift through on a first pass. There is also the ridiculous advice where applicants wind up “keyword dumping” in their resumes to make sure they show up in a search. Obviously, some keywords are relevant. But a system that filters applicants using a machine and algorithms is inherently flawed. The next problem is one we are all are aware of: the reduction of human resources and particularly, professional recruiters were actually skilled in matching applicants with an organization’s needs. This leaves today’s job seeker in the throes of what Peter Drucker warned of decades ago, namely, that there is virtually no organizational support that can be counted on in terms of a career path. More than ever before, it is up to the individual to take charge of their own future.

As I have discussed this dilemma with many people for all different backgrounds, some of the most profound observations regarding what is required of today’s job seekers have come from those who have enjoyed the benefits of the golden age of the industrial era. In other words, many retirees now in their sixties and seventies, not burdened with the daily grind have time to read, discuss and reflect on the contrast of todays job market with what they experienced in the past. They see the contrast (and struggle among many) between the present and the past and see very clearly that the dynamics of today’s employee are radically and essentially different from everything they experienced in the last forty years. Here are three suggestions to ponder on this topic. I have found them to be recurring themes (but certainly not limited to) what is required of today’s job seeker and those who will advance in their careers: accept uncertainty, continuously improve your own flexibility, and, be prepared to take an aggressive, assertive role in your own future.

Fearing the Wrong Things

A few weeks ago, I found myself in a situation that in the past might have been very disturbing to me. For one reason or another, my schedule did not allow a long run I was planning that weekend and the only time I had to begin was nearing dark, due to the time change and the time of year. As I made my way up a fairly deserted highway in the dark, from time to time I came face to face with what near silence in the wine country means. There was extra darkness due to overcast, and stillness with almost no breeze at all. Then it occurred to me that inactivity is sometimes the most unnerving to us.
 
I got to thinking about this out there in the darkness and a few examples sprung to mind. I thought about how if a person in a live broadcast simply froze in front of a camera, it would make everyone watching veryuncomfortable, in spite of the fact that there was no real problem, other than a few awkward moments of dead air. Likewise, things like an empty house (assuming a house like ours where there is rarely silence), the rare occasion of an empty store, or empty streets on a holiday have the ability to make us feel weird, even though these temporary occasions are really nothing out of the ordinary.
 
Then I thought of a takeaway. While we are busy fearing things that are likely to pose no threat at all, sometimes we don’t fear things that we ought, specifically, inactivity of sorts. What I mean is that the very nature of this life, the life cycle of business and organizations of all types is the inevitibility of change. I wonder if decades of relative stability thanks to the golden age of the American middle class as well as the industrial era actually made us less adaptive to change, generally speaking as a culture. Whether this is true or not might be an interesting question, but it really doesn’t matter. What does matter is that if we, our skill sets, perspectives, adaptability and anything else about us that relates to change is suspended in inactivity while the world around us races forward, we ought to be alarmed.

The Shelf Life of Innovation

For a visionary, a perfectionist, an idealist or someone who is driven by simply tying to get things right organizationally, there is a great deal of satisfaction in driving innovation whether it be product, process or service. But just about everything we work with was once an innovation. Everything was new once. It is not enough to fix something, and then create a monument to it in the form of a process that soon becomes dated and ineffective. Or worse, protect that monument rather than allow the present order to be disrupted with ideas that we may not quite understand. What needs to happen is outlined in The Case for Institutional Innovation,

In today’s environment of exponential technology change and market uncertainty, institutions that can drive accelerated learning will be more likely to create significant economic value on a sustainable basis… As institutions are rearchitected to take advantage of rapidly evolving technology infrastructures to scale learning, they can become more adept at generating richer innovations at other levels, including products, services, business models, and management systems.

This goes for every type of organization, including governments. This is perhaps especially true for smaller governmental entities even though such organizations are being challenged due to overall economic trends and possibly, long-term shifts in revenue. However, due to their manageable size, the above stated innovational trends are entirely possible if such an organization adopts and aggressively implements a philosophy of learning from top to bottom. This can be largely implemented through scaled learning, rather than simply turning to economy of scale. It does not necessarily have to be a choice between the two, scaled learning can take place in any context, and it does not require of formal system in place. This is the nature of a learning organization and the characteristic that emerges within an organizational culture that leverages learning opportunities. And it begins with leadership and willpower.

Reference:

Hagel, J. III & Brown, J. Institutional innovation: Creating smarter organizations to scale learning. http://dupress.com/articles/institutional-innovation/

Strategy: The Outworking of an Extraordinary Vision

Successful business strategy is the outworking of vision, extraordinary vision. Ken Blanchard has summed up the issue well in his classic anthological work, Leading at a Higher Level: The biggest impediment blocking most managers from being great leaders is the … Continue reading