Let’s Make Work Awesome

SERIOUSLY, LET’S ACTUALLY DO IT

Let’s not talk about it. Let’s not dream about it. And let’s not dream about “not it” (e.g. retirement). Let’s not assume that plain old work (“POW”) is the future just because it’s been the past. Let’s make work awesome instead.

WHAT IF WORK WERE AWESOME?

If work were awesome, would you ever even consider retiring? What if your work was your joy, or one of them at least? Would this be such a bad thing? What if your work improved your health, added to your happiness, and made you incessantly relevant, needed, and respected in an accelerating world?

And what about value? What if over time you created more and more and more of it? Sustainable value. Not the zero-sum type of value where all you do is capture rents (aka “make money off of other people or things”) but ever increasing amounts of value you are able to generate because you are constantly learning and reshaping yourself into someone new — someone the old you from just a few years ago might not even recognize?

What if “You” was an emergent concept? What if awesome work were the catalyst You used to discover just Who it is possible for You to be? Would You ever get tired of discovering and rediscovering this possibility of You? What if your most important specialization was that of seeing the world the way You see it, doing things the way You do them, and being You the way You be You? And transforming You just a little bit everyday into a new new YOU? Can you think of anyone who “You’s” better than You “YOU”?

“THAT’S ALL VERY INSPIRING, BUT…”

“in practical terms what does ‘making work awesome’ even look like?”

Good question.

MAKING WORK AWESOME CREATES VALUE — LOTS OF VALUE

In fact, for work to be “awesome” per se, the strategies involved must unlock value that is an order of magnitude greater than competing “non-awesome” organizational strategies. Otherwise organizations won’t adopt them. By definition, awesome work is not awesome work if it creates less value than POW.

MAKING WORK AWESOME IS A FUNCTION OF COLLECTIVE AND INDIVIDUAL DYNAMISM

Highly awesome work has dynamism engineered into it from the beginning. As we consider the accelerating rate of disruption in industry, it is clear that firms that have the ability to adapt quickly to changing strategic landscapes will have a higher survival rate. You cannot have a dynamic firm without dynamic people. Human dynamism (expressed as variation of activities; continuous tacit learning as well as occasional formal training; increased informal, robust, cross-silo relationship building and collaboration; etc.), therefore, becomes part of the structure, operations, and ethos of organizations where awesome work happens. This results in more resilient and perhaps even “antifragile” organizations.

MAKING WORK AWESOME PROFITS FROM VIEWING PEOPLE AS PEOPLE INSTEAD OF PEOPLE AS THINGS

This may sound like a moral issue, but it is not. It is a purely rational, return-driven view of capital that recognizes people not as optimally-utilized, static “assets” or “resources”, but as people — people who, yes, today produce a certain something at a certain rate but who tomorrow could do or be someone entirely different as market conditions change. People are implicitly more valuable than mere things because of their embedded possibilities, agency, as well as idiosyncratic ways in which they create value which are non-standardized and unique to them personally.*

MAKING WORK AWESOME EMPOWERS THE INDIVIDUAL WITHIN THE FIRM, NOT THE FIRM OVER THE INDIVIDUAL

An increasingly volatile world creates advantages for firms with flatter, “wirearchical” organizational structures rather than hierarchical ones. Whereas management has thus far held the keys of capital allocation, increasingly the future will demand that these decisions be pushed closer and closer to where the action is at. Individuals will find themselves in control of more and more of the resources of the firm, the means of production, and, principally, their own activities. As such, it becomes important to assist them in optimally deploying their greatest asset — themselves.

To do this, individuals will need far more data about themselves — what they perform well at, what they find the most satisfaction doing, and where they will create the most firm value — than they ever have before. Some of this data (e.g. psychometric, biometric, etc.) could be highly personal in nature. It is the property of the individual and should be in their absolute control, even if the firm is paying for the software that produces this data. Despite the risks, these tools will be invaluable in helping dynamic people quantify themselves at work and make the most of their unique ways of seeing, doing, and being within the capital network ecology of their respective firms.

As we enable individuals to see where their activities will be of highest value to the firm, a level of spontaneous “entanglement” (as quantum physicists would call it) occurs and the firm benefits from faster and faster responses to external stimuli as it morphs into a “self-organizing” organism.

MAKING WORK AWESOME MAKES CULTURE AWESOME

Work that actualizes individuals energizes a collective. It becomes alive. When leadership finally learns what culture is and how it can be systematically shaped by individualized expression growing out of the soil of collective values, language, narrative, and action, then it can simultaneously co-opt awesome work as a carrier of awesome culture. And upon awesome culture, you can build really, really awesome strategy if you keep it congruent with culture. Culture becomes a multiplier that increases the power of any strategy that aligns with it. As if somehow everyone decided to finally row that big corporate juggernaut in the same direction.

MAKING WORK AWESOME IS A FUTURE WE ALL WANT TO LIVE IN

As we consider everything happening in the world of work — wealth and income disparity, decreasing job satisfaction and engagement, changing generational attitudes, process automation, robotics, artificial intelligence, acceleration of other technological advances, demographics, labor relations, economics, politics, international trade, and development — now more than ever we must ask ourselves the question “what kind of a world do we want to live in?” Do we want to live in a world torn asunder by political instability, war, economic stagnation, wealth redistribution, and tragic inequities with regard to health, hope, and happiness?

It is vastly better to structure organizations to enhance the firm value by enhancing the value of people rather than simply trying to achieve the maximum capacity utilization rate possible of an organization’s “organic machine parts.”

If instead we come up with ways to reconfigure work so as to unlock the idiosyncratic value— the long tail of differentiated value creation of individuals—then wages increases will be a no-brainer, workers will be happier and healthier, and businesses will be more successful and resilient to external shocks. And that sounds like a world we would all want to live in.

A MANIFESTO

Let’s make work awesome. There are a great many problems to be solved. And, fortunately, plenty of business models that can be built on these problems. Making work awesome for a billion people is something we can absolutely do. So let’s do it.

A CHALLENGE FOR YOU

What are you going to do to make work awesome today? What company are you going to start? What product will you build? Which problem will you tackle? What future do you want to live in?

We look forward to hearing how you are going to make work awesome and explore how we could do that together. You can find us here on Medium or on Twitter @insourceful.

LET’S MAKE WORK AWESOME

-BH

*In essence, PEOPLE have what management academics might refer to as “optionality” or “real option value.” What this means is that the more volatile things get for an organization, the more valuable its people become provided it has engrained individual dynamism in its culture and operations. In highly volatile, accelerating strategic landscapes, we must reject the so-called “Resource-Based View of the Firm” in favor of a “Dynamic Flow-Based View of the Firm” where capital in its various forms (human, financial, social, intellectual, etc.) are viewed as interdependent flows which occur within an organization. This view more accurately values humans as nodes in a firm’s capital ecology who dynamically route other forms of capital as needed. And it views value creation as a natural, emergent property of a healthy intra-firm capital ecology that is serving the needs of a broader market ecology. What current theory gets wrong in highly volatile environments is the value of people that comes from their implicit optionality as well as their position in the firm’s capital network ecology. Instead, it tends to view people as things with a “what have you done for me today” mentality that ignores these other forms of value and leads management to make rash downsizing decisions, underinvest in training and tacit learning, eschew variation of work activities in favor of efficiency and specialization (i.e. apply six sigma ideas to managing people — ugggh), etc. All of these are bad ideas, especially so when your ability to predict what is coming next in your industry is getting blurrier and blurrier.