How to create meaningful work and business

Raphael’s School of Athens

The great paradox of our era is that productivity is at record levels, innovation has never been faster, and yet at the same time, we have a falling median income and we have fewer jobs, according Brynjolfsson and McAfee in the “great decoupling.”

In the USA alone, the share of adult men of prime working age that are working or actively looking for work has fallen steadily, in some cases dramatically, over the last generation from 76% in 1990 to 69% in 2015, according the Council of Economic Advisers for The White House. Many more millions of jobs are estimated to be lost this coming decade according to various academic research reports.

Without a doubt technology has created incredible benefits for us all: the ability to make friends everywhere and stay connected, being able to work more flexibly, increasing health benefits, etc.

Technology disruption is really just getting started and is going to keep on accelerating exponentially in the future through further automation and new innovations in the areas of the Internet of Things, Cognitive Agents, Virtual Reality, 3D printing, Nanotechnology and Artificial Intelligence to name a few. Imagine what the world will look like when quantum computing kicks in.

While technology advances, our governments and political systems at large are completely unprepared for these drastic changes already on the horizon.

“Society is busy playing tug of war with the world of the past, yet the future is going to change our reality as we know it”, writes Vitaly M. Golomb.

American Data Imperialism

Earlier this year, Apple, Alphabet, Amazon, Facebook and Microsoft passed the older corporate giants like Exxon Mobile and General Electric in market cap as the most valuable public companies. These ‘platform‘ companies are creating more wealth with less people at a speed never seen before. As of now most of the innovations used by these top 5 have been purely technologic through the use of hardware and/or software or platforms. However, they are now entering the space of physical goods.

Consider the Amazon Fresh example of how these companies keep disrupting entire new sectors:

According to a note published in September 2016 by financial firm PiperJaffray, Amazon now has a warehouse or delivery station within 20 miles of 44% of the US population. That’s up from 38% in 2015 and 26% in 2014.

“Having closer proximity to US consumers means it costs Amazon less to deliver products. It also makes it easier to run Amazon’s growing same-day and same-hour delivery services. And combine that with Amazon’s massively loyal Prime user base, which is estimated to be 69 million, going to the store to buy stuff could soon become a relic of the past.”

Imagine self-driving delivery cars or trucks bringing those costs even further down or think of adding IoT to the mix:

Rob van Kranenburg from the IoT Council believes the killer app of IoT in retail will be this: dynamic pricing on every item. No more fixed prices anywhere. In the supermarket you will put your phone to any item and get the price. Any service, any product will calculate its cost for you in real-time. Knowing that in the EU, consumer expenditure accounts for about 56% of GDP, consumer actions will gradually be carried out in the context of the #IoT, through the power of (informed) choice and active market participation.

This is all great news but what if the pricing will be set only by Amazon?

Lower prices, drivers paid per delivery, working as freelancers, without social safety net, this evolution may undermine Western economies social security systems and further hollow-out the middle class In Europe or elsewhere. If you thought Uber was just taking jobs from taxi drivers, you’re terribly mistaken.

The divide between the haves and have-nots is getting worse really, really fast. In 1980, the top 1 per cent controlled about 8 per cent of U.S. national income. The bottom 50 per cent shared about 18 per cent. Today the top 1 per cent share about 20 per cent; the bottom 50 per cent, just 12 per cent.

A new economic vision

Arun Sundararajan suggests, “Inventing a new funding model is at the heart of the solution. Nobody disputes that we need to protect workers. But the old funding model — the employer funds benefits in exchange for a commitment of full-time work — doesn’t transition well to the sharing economy. We need a new individual-platform-government partnership model.”

We need a new economic vision for the world indeed… And there’s no time to waste!

How are we’re going to change the mind-set of people hit by technological unemployment and prepare them for a future of lifelong learning to become independent and create self-sufficient meaningful jobs in the future?

As corporations are influencing politics on a large scale, business leaders of tomorrow will have to take more responsibility for society. They will have to reflect strong human values for customers and citizens to identify with. Strong leaders will have to come up with a vision and a plan for how to address the needs of people affected by technological unemployment.

“Great then is the good fortune of a state in which the citizens have a moderate and sufficient property; for where some possess much, and the others nothing… tyranny may grow out of either extreme. Where the middle class is large, there are least likely to be fractions and dissensions.” — Aristotle in Politics (+2,300 years ago).

The real game changer?

An unexpected game changer for the next decade might be the generational shift towards connected values in personal AND professional life affecting all industries.

Deloitte’s 2015 millennial survey found that

“75% of millennials believe businesses are too focused on their own agendas, rather than improving society. Only 28% believe their current organisation is making full use of their skills. A full 50% would take a pay cut to find work that matches their values, and 90% of respondents said they wanted to use their skills for good.”

How are we contributing to a healthy society is the real question every responsible leader has to ask himself.

Leaders who understand this are the winners of tomorrow.

Socratic Design for business

The gap between the exponential enthusiasm of the CMO´s and the mistrust of customers is significant. Customers demand a value-oriented approach from companies on almost all urgent matters (ecology, equality, welfare, food and water and even human rights). Edelman warns that we can loose the effectiveness of this instrument if companies do not understand the key value of trust and transparency. Ethical values (or the general good) are almost put at equal weight with business values by consumers and above all millennials.

It is as if there exist two parallel worlds. On one side, we continue the industrial paradigmatic fundamentals, embracing uncritically any technological innovation. On the other side, we can see a world, still in an embryonic phase, embracing sharing and purpose, visible in p2p networks and in the foundations of Blockchain connections. In this world technology like Internet applications have strengthened social goals and innovative new startups. The old paradigmatic approach puts the ethical values as soft values on the side-line, they want to “retrofit” some mistakes of the system and continue the job. People want and expect honest and transparent approaches. In the old paradigm being honest, open and transparent was not a very successful inward strategy.

We see the parallel tectonic movements in politics taken place, where brand loyalty is no longer self-evident; it is conditioned by values and trust. All trends point towards the need of a complete new paradigm, to get rid of old reflexes, old assumptions, old biases to change the vocabularies and to boost meaning in a new direction. Values becoming the hard side of business!

Socratic Design, developed by Humberto Schwab, offers the opportunity to develop groundswell communicative strategies that will free you from reprinting old ideas and old bias (which are currently being reproduced in algorithms).

We need to acknowledge that we do not know the new outcome for the coming decennia. We have to be able to exercise the capacity to act in any scenario, in any circumstance with all the resources and forces we have. To be able to act in uncertain circumstances is the key for the future of business. It changes the way to do business, you are no longer a game that has fixed rules: you enter in an interaction with other players to create good practices, you become an influencer of the economic playing fields.

In today’s volatile business world, it’s more important to think and play as a jazzman instead of a structured classical composer or musician. A company needs a poetic capacity, to be pro-active and creative in any situation.

This poetic capacity is a product of a transformation process in which a company designs a narrative that incorporates its knowledge, its skills, its values, its ambition and its vision on the future of our society. In a Socratic switch a company dares to speak out from its inner heart, which is not a soft part of the process but the essence of its business. These are trends of a complete new system.

But why is this so difficult?

We are all educated with the assumption “homo homing lupus est” (man is a wolf to his fellowmen). A philosophy based on this motto designed by Thomas Hobbes, forms a basic ingredient for the way we framed our societies, framed our educational system and still continue to do. Almost all high school kids will initially confirm that all men are egoists. These assumptions are so deep that even you, the reader, will probably agree. We see nowadays a significant falsification of this approach in the living practices of many people sharing and contributing for the benefit of others even with a disadvantage to themselves.

Exponential technological supremacy could well be a drawn back into 18th century assumptions of hierarchy, abstractism, de-individualisation, centralized control, top down command etc.

The philosopher Jeremy Rifkin proposes a complete new “teoria” (literally: “way of seeing”) by the assumption of the empathic civilization. If you build your company on this assumption, you have to throw most of your old “furniture” out of the window. The point is how to design your own new dream, your own new semco narrative”.

The problem is very clear:

- First we do not know what is reigning in our minds, we have continuously addictive thoughts that produces endorphins when repeated. These repetitive thoughts give us the impression that we think, but we only repeat the same assumptions again. In Socratic dialogue we can realise real thinking processes. Which is a result, not of intellectual debate, but of a “sharing emerging intelligence”.

- We are not used to “listening”, most companies loose a lot of money with meetings where everybody states their addictive thoughts, and incorporate other thoughts only in so far as it fits in their own circular repetition. The “art of listening” will generate a huge intelligence gain in the company, it will bring to light “tacit knowledge” and will generate new meaningful services based upon human needs. Above all a moral practice is born in which actors behave and feel differently.

- Third we do not know in which philosophical landscape we dwell, we believe in facts, but we have invented everything ourselves and we should know on what bases we designed it. With Socratic design we can defuse contra productive assumptions. We can stop hidden bias in our sentiments (which is prolonged in algorithm, because these are products of normal people, normalized in the old paradigm).

So we continually are reproducing a context that we find incoherent and that we often reject, due to the fact that we are not aware of what is at work. We are caught in a vicious circle, being defined by that which we define!

With Socratic design you can deliver and satisfy the needs of your clients. They want to know how your product and your company contribute towards a new perspective for local communities, for global challenges and for individual needs. You can find out your real mission based on the skills of the company, and we design a narrative that incorporates a meaningful halo around the product and services you deliver.

You cannot know what will be going on tomorrow but you can be prepared with an agile, value based company in which the workers have participated in defining the purpose of the company and in which all procedures and persons are clear aligned with the value horizon of the company. This is the strongest way to connect with customers. A new customer that will be a trust worthy client will generate a value that is the core of any business in the future.

Socratic design can deliver this because we harvest “out of the box” intelligence by the “art of listening” and by the secret of Socratic investigation.

The “Why” is the secret pointed several times by Simon Sinek. In this method we know how to come to this “why”. A deep dive in human needs, human goals and human meaning will generate strong products that form part of a process towards a healthy, meaningful and sustainable life.

Rudy de Waele and Humberto Schwab.

More on Socratic Design:

Join our next Socratic Design Workshop @ Mobile World Congress #MWC17 on March 3 2017 at Makers of Barcelona.

More on Socratic Design and the future of learning — Learning to live (on the future of learning) by Rudy de Waele and Humberto Schwab.

Check the following recent videos from a Socratic Design workshop in London on The Future of Europe, a workshop in Istanbul on The Future of Business, and a Socratic Dialogue Training with reviews of participants.

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