Responding to #ResponsiveConf

I was lucky enough to attend the first Responsive Org Conference to geek out with a few hundred smart, like-minded people about what the future of work looks like, and what we can all do to bring it about. More info on the movement is available at Responsive.Org.

I’ll be building on the thoughts of the esteemed Steve Nguyen, who’s posted his reflections on the conference. See his post for many more insights.

Bridge Building

Movement founder Adam Pisoni’s talk about bridge building was raw, personal, and challenging. A great reminder that without power or leverage, pushes for change mostly look like complaining. Our movement, myself included, need to do less complaining and make more strategic moves into positions of power or leverage to get to that coveted spot where we can build bridges back to the “mainland” of the mainstream.

There’s also a recognition that compromise will be necessary, and he referenced the compromises that MLK made with Pres. Johnson in order to get Civil Rights done. Let’s learn from the greatest of influencers that partnering with a bridge builder will mean losing an occasional battle to win the war.

The gig economy

A session with Alex Kass and Krista Schnell explored facets of the gig economy, which we were reminded is MUCH bigger than Uber. Upwork alone is 12 M people brokering $1 B of work per year. Whoa. I’d like to hear from others who’ve seen *internal* labor markets arise within a large organization (as apparently has happened in Accenture). I’d like to know how their reward systems are also changing to accommodate. The major themes raised were:

  • Loss of IP. A concern for both parties when the “external” labor used is even more fluid than we’ve previously seen. There are easy short term contractual solutions, but they introduce friction, and don’t address the longer term questions of determining what’s truly core to your business and what’s fluid.
  • Cost of recruitment. As the number of gig-ers increases exponentially, your hunt to hire the right resources becomes much more complex than hiring an agency and looks more like hiring employees, but at scale.
  • Culture. If culture is king / has strategy for lunch, etc. then what to make of an economy where corporate culture becomes as fluid as your workforce? Does it now have to take a backseat? Or is culture something that an employer no longer provides and is determined on a project-by-project basis?

Alex postulated that a hybrid model may be where we’re headed: a small core of employees provide continuity, a larger circle of employees in an internal labor market provide core work that builds and retains institutional expertise, and the external gig economy does the rest.

A rude awakening

Aaron Dignan from Undercurrent closed day one with a much needed splash of cold water in the face of the movement. He gave us a list of things we need to stop doing in order to better focus our energies on the things that we know will create progress.

  1. Trying to prove it. The fact is, as this current election cycle demonstrates, we don’t care about facts too much.
  2. Trying to simplify it. Collaboration is complex. Period.
  3. Claiming that “everyone” is talking about it. They’re not. Echo, echo, echo…
  4. Assuming it will happen organically. Revolutions that happen that way generally don’t end well (e.g. France).
  5. Thinking we’re above the law / better than the plebes that will get it one day.
  6. Believing they’ll get on board if we give them growth. The problem with this tactic is that $$ can’t be the sole motivation, or we’ll take our eye off the ball and start chasing $$ instead of responsiveness.
  7. Thinking it’s just agile written large. Um, agile is dead.

Here’s what we need to do:

  • Do, don’t talk. Get them to taste test, because we’ve seen that those that experience self-organization or transparency want more. We try to do this at Carpool, often taking a “stealth” approach to introducing new ways of working by always coming in from the business needs angle, not the tool angle.
  • Stop fretting about labels, as it only creates an us vs. them mentality. Use their language if it works for them. You only need to ask two questions to start the right conversation:
Does everyone in your organization care about how they get work done and organize?

If the answer to the first is no, you have a different problem. If it’s yes, ask:

Can they do anything about it?

A YES to the first and a NO to the second will lead to the right conversations about change. This is a brilliant pair of questions.

  • Reboot our myths and stories. If we craft stories about new org designs and habits that build things that last and have meaning to the builders, we will have the stories that change hearts and minds. We are focused on storytelling at Carpool, but this sharper focus on what those stories should look like is solid advice.

Un-conference on Co-working

I had a great discussion with several attendees during an un-conference session that I started about the future of co-working. I heard more points of view about the role and benefits of co-working, with some saying it’s just a place that people use in lieu of an office where little actual collaboration happens, and others saying that collaboration across companies is happening all the time in spaces that are designed for that purpose.

Lots of little practical lessons gleaned on running an un-conference, so I think we’ll do one at Carpool soon.

The Future of Work should look like the ancient past

I’ve saved the one that was most impactful for me for last. In fact, it was so simultaneously validating and paradigm-shifting for me that it needs its own post. I’d started a post in the area of how our ancient past should be influencing our future, and so I’ll be tying the two together and linking to it from here when I’m done.

As a little preview, read Jessica Prentice’s wonderful Medium article: The Most Dangerous Notion in “Reinventing Organizations”

Now, take a minute to answer this question:

If time was a shape, what would it look like?

Apparently, most men draw an arrow. Most women draw a circle. I drew a two-ended funnel. I might explain that some other time :)

One way to combine these two views is as a directional spiral:

What does an arrow and a circle look like when combined?

The lesson? We often re-learn our history, and Jessica makes a compelling point in her post and the conference session it was based on that the indigenous Americans have much to teach us about how we organize our work. Sting was wrong.


So many great conversations… Shout-outs to: Steve Nguyen of Microsoft, Steve Hopkins of CultureAmp, @caikjaer of Swoop, @kirstymcgrath13 of OnPoint, Greg LeFevere, Damon Clark, Peter Wolff, Travis Marsh of Courage Labs, Andrew Hull of Lean Operations Design, and Tarita of PMS Telethon. Yes, that last one is what you think it is. Great cause.

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