Popping the question:
Medium do you want to research with me?

Medium, your distinct, unadorned grace enchanted me from the very first character I typed with you. Do you remember our dance? I still feel moved by all the precious perspectives it brought into my life. No more writing alone.

My researcher’s mind had been already ignited by self- organization and the future of work, when I met you. But if it weren’t for you, I’d have missed a whole world of inspiring discussions, ideas, and experiments.

Now, I feel the time has come for me to take our relationship to a higher plane. I propose to you Medium, to you people living with Medium, a closer and sustainable affair. I’ll be honest: It involves bold action and adventures only a few people have dared before. Let me explain.

Until dawn

I believe we are living in extraordinary times. Modernity, the age of massification with its hierarchically ordered nation states, parties, citizens, classes, factories, workers, and consumers is gradually waning. It grew in consonance with its communication technologies. The letterpress lead to the reading revolution. The new techniques of the school system — a standardized mother tongue and decreed curricula — constructed the masses. Later the telegraph created industrial conglomerates and radio & TV the consumer society.

Today, the rise of digital information technology has transcended this trajectory. Think of the invention of writing, how it led humanity from tribes to high cultures. Cheesy but true: We are witnessing the birth of a new age; the current has flushed a nameless infant into our bare hands.

Two interrelated trends

First, as Esko Kilpi has eloquently highlighted, we are now encouraged to view firms as nodes in complex, creative patterns of relating and work as contextual interaction between interdependent people. Sounds abstract? Just think of the sprouting platforms disrupting traditional companies. Think of freelancing and entrepreneurship. Looks quite different than the business world of our parents. Maybe some of us will soon not go to work, but meet virtually to commune?

Second, the contentious discussions around Zappos, Holacracy or the movement following Reinventing Organizations show that management and hierarchical control is losing ground to self-organization and purposeful work. As growing automation and virtualization is driving more and more people into creative and social professions, the old industrial border between work and life is melting away. Consequently, people will increasingly want to determine on what, when, how, and with whom they want to work.

Managers without a cause

I’m overly curious to dig deep into the daily struggles and options of self-organized workers, mapping their choices, beliefs, euphoria and fears. Which factors are shaping decision-making, collaboration, and ultimately co-creation within fluid structures and hierarchies? I want to tackle the frontier of subcutaneous narratives and emotions.

To boldly go where no research has gone before. And with that I need your help.

Medium is uniquely intertwining my research interests — (1) managing without a caste of managers and (2) designing a networked printing press centered on participation that forecloses the future of virtual collaboration.

Let me live and work with you!

I want to ethnographically immerse myself into the daily processes inside the Medium offices. The next integral stage would then be to start a joint Medium-conversation on some of your most enthralling issues. A learning journey on the experimental invention of self-organized work: journaling, story-telling, interviewing, and discussing. The whole Medium-community is invited. What moves and puzzles us while transforming hierarchical organizing? How can we foster participative collaboration in the largely individualized space of online platforms?

The philosopher Michel Serres has a vision for the first generation of digital natives, “petite poucette” (Thumbelinas) as he calls them. He sees them beheaded, holding their heads in their hands in the form of gadgets. They have the entire knowledge of the world at their fingertips and don’t need hierarchical instruction. Knowledge only waits to be activated through communication. To put it in Esko Kilpi’s words:

“Work is communication. Conversations and narratives are the new documents. Conversations cannot be controlled. The only way to influence conversations is to take part in them.”

Let’s build the future of work together! Ev Williams, Steven Levy, Joe Polastre, Sarah, Greg Gueldner, nick hanauer, Kate Lee, Luke Esterkyn, Andy Doyle, Edward Lichty, Matt Higginson, Erich Nagler, Naureen, Jessica Wang, Mike Sall, Nick Fisher, Dan Pupius — I’d love to hear your comments, ideas, and critique. Because that’s where Medium is best: sharing issues through different lenses, changing minds, and inspiring action. There are stories waiting to be told. Lessons to be learned. Medium, send me an enchanted YES!

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