Future of work and the growth of populist politics

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The future of work has been an emerging issue for a long time, and now as automation disrupts traditional employment, it is safe to say that it has emerged. It is becoming increasingly urgent to find a solution for those displaced. We need new ideas and approaches to this problem. Otherwise we will see a large number of people out of the workforce for long periods, with a concomitant growth in populist politics and the destruction of the social compact.

A good example of the issue is a recent article on NPR that shows the most common job in every US state in 2014. With the prevalence of the job of ‘truck driver’ across the country there is going to be some real pain felt when autonomous trucks hit the road in the near future. Already the so-called rust belt in the US is suffering from underemployment, and it’s about to get much worse. It’s pretty clear that all these truck drivers are unlikely to become coders, so what shall we do?

Most common job in each US State

We are seeing the fight by employers to reduce wages bills means that they are adopting automation wherever it is feasible, for example: Thanks To ‘Fight For $15’ Minimum Wage, McDonald’s Unveils Job-Replacing Self-Service Kiosks Nationwide.

More entrepreneurial, approaches are appearing, but they are on a small scale. Ideas like Phil Morle’s #nextmonday initiative, where he hosted a two day workshop where former Ford employees learned how to go about turning an idea into a new business. And initiatives like code clubs for kids seek to add new digital skills to student’s portfolios.

The gig economy is growing as old-fashioned jobs with benefits are killed off by cost saving initiatives. Even in New South Wales we  see local government jobs are being taken by cheaper foreign workers.

This growth in job uncertainty will see changes in society that we remain unprepared for. It changes the nature of the social compact with which we are all familiar. In the recent past one obtained a permanent job, borrowed money to buy a house, educated your kids and life was good. Now in the more precarious gig economy, loans for housing or cars will be difficult to come by, and home prices in east coast Australia remain stubbornly high. At the same time, conservative governments are focused on austerity and are seeking to cut costs on welfare payments and to make welfare more difficult to obtain. In Australia, under the conservative government, this seems to be following the trajectory of the UK Conservative policy, and it will likely have the similar consequences as the rules get increasingly tight.

This lack of permanency in the job market will likely drive a growth in populist politics, empowering people to vote against the major parties in Australia. This phenomenon will be similar to what happened in the UK with Brexit and US with Trump, and it means that we face continued growth in minor parties in the Senate and possibly even in the House.

It is fast approaching the time for nations to consider new policy options, such as the idea of a universal basic income. But I do not think that conservative governments will support such a notion. And therefore we are in for interesting times as the old social compact disintegrates and the world of work changes forever.

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Sir Nicholas Winton: saviour, people smuggler, hero?

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The sad news of the death of a great and humble man came out overnight:

“Sir Nicholas Winton, who organised the rescue of 669 children destined for Nazi concentration camps, has died aged 106.

Sir Nicholas, then a stockbroker, arranged for trains to carry Jewish children out of occupied Prague.

Via BBC

He, like others during the 1930s and World War Two period, took action at great personal risk to aid refugees in fleeing persecution by the Nazis.  And he did this at a time when countries all around the world were rejecting Jewish refugees and returning them to persecution.

People of all stations in life assisted Jewish refugees. Even HRH Prince Philip’s mother, Princess Alice, gave refuge to a Jewish family in her own home in Athens during the war at great personal risk.

I honour Sir Nicholas and people like him who faced up to a great moral challenge and who took action. They are heroes and deserve our admiration.

The experiences of those persecuted by the Nazis in World War Two led to the establishment of the United Nations’ 1951 Refugee Convention.

This Convention established the principle that people might seek refuge when facing “a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular group, or political opinion. ”

Yet today people, like Sir Nicholas, who seek to assist refugees in fleeing persecution would be called people smugglers.

Australia seeks to reject asylum seekers who arrive by sea and has even established a punitive internment camp regime as part of a series of deterrent measures.

It is interesting to consider Australia’s response to asylum seekers and refugees in the light of the following definition of ‘concentration camp’:

“The term concentration camp refers to a camp in which people are detained or confined, usually under harsh conditions and without regard to legal norms of arrest and imprisonment that are acceptable in a constitutional democracy. ”

Via Holocaust Encyclopedia

With refugees and asylum seekers today we seem to be repeating the sins of our forebears. This is a tragedy for the human beings who are suffering, and for our national conscience in the face of this moral challenge.

It is clear that local solutions will not suffice and that coordinated measures are the necessary and humane requirement.

 

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LinkedIn and the power of networks

it's not the students that keep us young, it's all the stairs
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it's not the students that keep us young, it's all the stairs

I used to think of LinkedIn as a boring but worthy social network for business contacts. But I was wrong.

Over the years it has become a critical B2B social network, with multi-million dollar deals often being done via the platform.

LinkedIn has also disrupted the recruitment business and reshaped the way people find jobs. It changed the power dynamic in recruitment by enabling the jobs to find people. Clever recruiters embraced LinkedIn early. The rest clung to their clunky old proprietary resume databases.

With the recent acquisition of Lynda.com, the reach of LinkedIn looks like growing into training and education. This is a more interesting play than MOOCs from an education perspective.

Remembering my LinkedIn story

Last night I caught up with a longstanding buddy, Des Walsh, as he visited Sydney. Des is a doyen of social media in Australia, as well as being a passionate networker and executive coach.

As we chatted I finally remembered to tell him the story of how one of his ideas helped me to get a great job.

LinkedIn ’30 day blitz’

Back in late 2012 Des contacted a diverse bunch of folks who were active on social media, noting that LinkedIn was our ‘orphan’ social network. He was right, most of us were enamoured with other sexier social media platforms. We were all members of LinkedIn, but at that time none of us were particularly active there, nor were our profiles up to date.

Des setup a social network challenge for November 2012, rounding up a diverse group to take part in a month of LinkedIn activity.

The concept was simple – “A collaborative project, in which each participant commits to take action on his/her LinkedIn presence and activity, over a 30 day period.” – 30 Day Linking Blitz.

I signed up for the blitz, and started with updating my LinkedIn profile with previous work and a decent profile picture.

The results were immediate

Almost immediately after that I was contacted by a recruiter. The recruiter had been trying for almost a year to find a candidate for a role that called for a diverse mix of skills. She explained that my name had popped up in her LinkedIn search that morning.

The rest is history. I interviewed for the role at UNSW Australia, where I’ve been working happily since then. All thanks to Des and his 30 Day LinkedIn Blitz.

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Leaders, problems, and action

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“We measure a leader, not by the absence of problems, but how he or she confronts those problems and takes action.”

Rosabeth Moss Kanter

There has been a long and largely unprofitable debate in management circles about the difference between management and leadership. Over the years I have come to a realisation that management and leadership are inextricably linked and that they are defined by actions.

In the long run it does not matter what is said. The finest words pale into insignificance beside our actions. What we do defines us.

The true test of leadership is when problems arise. And the actions taken by the leader in response to problems are the measure of their leadership.

The leader needs to embody the values espoused by the organisation. The actions taken by the leader enable their teams to see how they too can respond to problems facing the organisation.

Good management goes hand in hand with good leadership, and it is how efficient and effective processes are put in place to support the business, its customers, and its staff.

Too often we see a combination of poor leadership with an absence of good management. This makes for an organisation with unhappy customers that is a horrible place to work.

And it is easily changed. Good leadership and good management will fix it. It can be surprising how quickly appointing an effective manager can turn a dysfunctional team into a functioning team. And to effect this change it is often how the leader confronts the challenges facing the team that causes a cascade of behavioural change among the team.

A good leader is a catalyst for new ways of being and of thinking for the team. As mentioned previously, the good leader embodies new ways for the team to be and gives them permission to act differently.

As managers we must give sincere thought to our role as leaders. We are the ones who set the tone for the team. For good or ill, leaders set the scene and signal the boundaries of acceptable and desirable behaviour.

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Predicting success #startups

Un bonobo mâle du parc Lola ya bonobo
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“The only major personality trait that consistently leads to success is conscientiousness.” via Business Insider

In large companies personality tests and similar instruments are often deployed to provide people with better insight into their own and team performance.

Over the years I have participated in many of these – for example, Myers Briggs, DISC, Belbin Team Roles, Hermann Brain Dominance, 16PF, Big Five Inventory, etc.

Many people debate the efficacy of any or all of these instruments. However, the primary importance of these kind of instruments is the opportunity they provide for people to reflect upon their personal and work preferences. They also provide an opportunity for people to consider how best to participate in teams and to collaborate with others in a work context. These personal reflections and insights are the true value of these personality profile tools in the workplace.

Startups rarely have the luxury of investing time or money into administering these kind of instruments for their teams. This means that personal traits and interpersonal skills are not explicitly considered as part of the setup of a startup.

For co-founders and investors due diligence on the business is typically about the ‘hard’ data – budgets, sales targets, capital – rather than on ‘soft’ skills of the startup team.

Success, focus, and startups

In recent times I have been pondering how to assess the soft skills of startup teams. The one trait that keeps coming up is conscientiousness.

In the long run, brilliance and inventiveness are less important than the ability to focus and persist in the everyday tasks that accrete to make a successful business.

As Thomas Edison said:

“Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety nine percent perspiration.

Related research on the Big Five

How Universal Is the Big Five? Testing the Five-Factor
Model of Personality Variation Among Forager–Farmers
in the Bolivian Amazon

 

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What does Leadership look like? Leadership, sexism, and misogyny

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In recent times I have been feeling very depressed about the state of things including sexism, misogyny, and leadership. But a few days ago came a beacon of hope.

This beacon came from an unlikely source, the Australian Army. And the topic that this person addressed was the sombre one of sexism and demeaning treatment of women by serving military personnel.

Yet I was moved and inspired by an eloquent demonstration of leadership.

This is what a leader does.

A leader speaks out for the right things.
A leader connects values to behaviour.
A leader takes ownership of problems within their organisation.
A leader sets the standards of acceptable behaviour for members of their organisation.
A leader gets their leadership team to stand along with them to support those standards.
A leader makes it clear that people who will not do the right thing are not welcome.
A leader embraces diversity and recognises its contribution to the organisation.

As Lt Gen Morrison said: “The standard you walk past is the standard you accept.”

It appears that Lt Gen Morrison has form with this kind of thinking. In his talk on International Womens’ Day 2013 where he made his position clear:

“Any nexus between an Army such as the one I aspire to lead and sexual assault is absolutely unacceptable. I will take all necessary steps to stamp out any hint of it among my soldiers.”

He went on to say:

“Yes, we do need to bond our soldiers to one another and instil toughness and resilience into them. But when this goal is invoked to degrade and demonise women and minorities it is undermining rather than enhancing capability. We need to define the true meaning of teamwork to embrace a band of brothers and sisters.”

Organisations everywhere still allow sexist behaviour to prevail. And until their leaders take the same kind of uncompromising attitude that David Morrison has, then sexist behaviour will not disappear.

While organisational leaders are mostly men, it is time for all of our leaders to step up and show similar leadership to that demonstrated so admirably by Lt Gen Morrison.

Even Warren Buffett recently spoke out on this topic, saying:

“Fellow males, get onboard. The closer that America comes to fully employing the talents of all its citizens, the greater its output of goods and services will be. We’ve seen what can be accomplished when we use 50% of our human capacity. If you visualize what 100% can do, you’ll join me as an unbridled optimist about America’s future.”

I encourage all to view the message from the Chief of Army, Lieutenant General David Morrison, AO, to the Australian Army following the announcement on Thursday, 13 June 2013 of civilian police and Defence investigations into allegations of unacceptable behaviour by Army members.

I also recommend the PDF transcript of Lt Gen Morrison’s speech at the United Nations International Women’s Day Conference, New York, March 2013

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ANZAC Remembrance and Peace

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I usually write something to mark the passing of another ANZAC Day but was despondent this year and did not manage it on the day.

The fights on social media about the true meaning of ANZAC Day saddened me.

Then, earlier today, I was heartened to read the words spoken by the Governor of Tasmania, the Honourable Peter Underwood. His speech at the Hobart Cenotaph Dawn Service this year summarised my feelings precisely.

“I have always thought that communities gather together on ANZAC Day – usually around a war memorial or cenotaph – to do four things:

The first is to remember those who died or were wounded when their country called them to serve in wars, in other violent conflicts and in peacekeeping missions in which Australia has been, and still is involved.

The second is to reflect upon their service to our country, and for each of us, in our own way, to solemnly honour and pay respect to their bravery and courage.

The third is to think about their mental and physical suffering caused by their service and the pain, loss and suffering it caused their families and loved ones.

Menin Gate ANZAC The fourth, and perhaps the most important is, as I said last ANZAC Day, to resolve that, in the future, each of us will ask those hard questions about the meaning of wars, their causes and outcomes, in order to become resolute about peace, as well as resolute about fighting when fighting is a genuinely necessary and unavoidable act of self-protection.

All our remembrances and honours are meaningless, unless we also vow to become resolute about peace because that is what those whom we remember and honour on this special day thought they were dying for.”

Source: http://www.govhouse.tas.gov.au/sites/default/files/anzac_day_2013.pdf

I commend Mr Underwood’s words and sentiments regarding ANZAC Day and its observance. It is worth reading the PDF of his entire speech.

In reading his speech I was also reminded of Thomas Gray’s meditation on life and death. It is easy to forget how brief our time here really is. And that no matter our state or circumstance we all await the “inevitable hour”.

“The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power,
And all that beauty, all that wealth e’er gave,
Awaits alike the inevitable hour.
The paths of glory lead but to the grave.”
– Elegy Written in a Country Church Yard

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Change or die – business, competition, and the new world

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changing business competition landscapeWith the changing business world it is a good idea to think about habitual business practices to ensure that we are not doing things that made sense for the past and which do not make sense now.

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
— attributed to Albert Einstein

We all want to improve business results, driving KPIs higher and higher. Is this really a sustainable approach? How can we increase productivity and innovation by re-using the same practices we’ve always used?

Changing social and technology landscape

The changing social and technology landscape means that some traditional ways of approaching business might no longer be fit for purpose. Many of business practices are inherited from a world where communication was not instantaneous and where information asymmetries abounded. Now there is vast computing power in the hands of ordinary people and they are rapidly overcoming the information asymmetries that gave businesses an advantage over customers.

Social and cultural expectations are also shifting what is seen as good corporate behaviour. For example the use of so-called ‘booth babes‘ at a conference to promote a product is now seen by many as a reason to avoid a brand.

Changing Competition Pressures

If we look at the competitive pressures on business today things have changed from the way they were at the end of the twentieth century. In the 20th century industrial age the competitive landscape could be modelled using Porter’s five forces as a framework:

  1. Threat of new competition – this threat still remains, yet it can come from unexpected and non-traditional sources. Environmental scanning to see what are the emerging trends becomes a critical response.
  2. Threat of substitute products or services – this threat is even more important, with technology trends moving so quickly it is easy for a good or service to become obsolete.Again, environmental scanning is a critical response to this threat.
  3. Bargaining power of customers (buyers) – this is major emerging threat to traditional business models, consumers are increasingly well-armed with information about products and competitors. It is important to realise this new reality. Consumers will punish businesses that they see as lying to them. Truth is a crazy idea that might just work. Also being clear about your place in the value chain, be clear on your competitive grounds. If you are not competing on price then be clear on your competitive advantage to the consumer. Apple is the poster child for this, they do not compete on price, rather they compete on design and experience.
  4. Bargaining power of suppliers – this threat depends upon one’s situation, if a market-making behemoth then this trend is working in your favour (for example Coles and Woolworths supermarkets in Australia. It might be even more of a threat if you are one of the suppliers in question. A sensible response is to be clear as to the grounds you compete upon.
  5. Intensity of competitive rivalry – this threat continues to remain strong, traditional rivals are still in markets competing hard and there are new entrants and new products or services competing for the same consumers.

Shift in scarcity – what about abundance?

Until now scarcity has driven markets, but we are moving into an age of abundance and the old rules no longer hold. Greg Satell summed it up well in his post on the new economy:The New, New Economy of Accelerating Returns:

“…in a world of abundance, what will we pay for?”

The response to this question is being played out in the retail sector right now and they provide an ideal example of the issues. Traditional stores are seeing their market share being eroded by online competitors. Business leaders, like Gerry Harvey, are calling upon the government to reintroduce protectionism to save the retail industry from competition. Yet shoppers continue to vote with their spending power and shop online.

Information Asymmetry

Previously individual shoppers had limited access to information about the comparative pricing and range available elsewhere. Now shoppers have the world at their fingertips and can easily find out the best deal available to them – be it based on range or price or other considerations. These trends are impacting upon traditional retailers worldwide, even retail icons, like JC Penney and Sears, are being questioned as to their chances of survival.

At the same time, Australian retailers have not invested in new technologies over the past decade and they are currently reducing their workforces. It has become almost impossible to find a sales assistant in many stores. The response of many retailers has been to compete on price, to reduce prices by means of sales to attract customers back into their stores. But all this is doing is training the shoppers to expect discounted prices, and customers hold of on purchases unless they receive a discount. Further, in the supermarket sector, this downward price pressure is destroying the businesses of suppliers such as farmers.

Against this backdrop of retail turmoil we see a retailer like Apple – with few products in the market and yet they are able to command premium prices for them. It is worthwhile researching organisations like Apple and Amazon to see how they are thriving in this age when so many businesses are in turmoil.

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Social media for social good #socent

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I discussed Social Media for Social Good at a City of Sydney Talk on 27th June 2012.

It is an important issue.  There are many decrying social media for increasing isolation and disconnection between people.

Social media can be used as a force for social good and social inclusion. Social media is not just about ephemeral amusement, it is also an important way to harness forces for social change and social innovation. In short, it is an excellent platform for activism.

Many people are using social media to create platforms for change around the world and here in Australia.

Probably the example of this that is closest to me is Social Innovation Sydney. Started by three women about two years ago, we’ve hosted events that have connected hundreds of change makers with each other. Our goal was to use social media to find people who are interested in social innovation, and then to hold events that got the change makers together in real life.

We’re not the only ones doing it.  Some other good local examples of social media for social are listed in my slide deck below.


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What’s the big idea with social media? #media140

Media 140 Perth 2012
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I was lucky enough to be invited to Media 140 in Perth recently to discuss what the ‘big idea’ is with social media.

The idea was for a context setting discussion about social media and how it is changing business and society.

DIGITAL REVOLUTION
We are living through a digital revolution that is changing the world we inhabit as absolutely and as irrevocably as the industrial revolution of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

That previous industrial revolution changed our relationship with time, with money, and with people. It created the wage labourer that we know, and the unions whom we’ve to come know encapsulated by the term ‘organised labour’. It created a society governed by the mechanical clock and the notion of work versus non-work time.

The digital revolution is on a similar scale, and this scale is based on a remarkable shift in the means of production. The digital revolution has at its roots a democratization of access to the means of communication.

EXPECTATIONS AND ACCESS TO COMMUNICATIONS TECHNOLOGY
As a result we are seeing a shift in the expectations of ordinary people about communications technology and their access to that technology. Further, we are seeing a rapid evolution of behaviour in relation to communications technology – mainly in the use of smartphones and tablets.

All of this is leading us to significant shifts in society, and it is all fuelled by innovations in communications devices. The smartphone and almost ubiquitous access to the internet have created a new baseline expectation in people that they will always be connected. I have often argued that with Twitter we are seeing the genesis of the hive mind of humanity.

The digital divide is no longer about access to technology – as my friend Mark Pesce notes, even poor fishermen in Kerala have access – it’s about your willingness or desire to be connected.

However, people are finding enormous utility in being always connected. For example, the number of ereaders in the hands of people is growing enormously, doubling since July 2011. And an example of a behavioural shift afforded by the technology is the growth in women’s erotic fiction sales. Romance novels have always been a big business globally, but a recent sales data indicates a substantial growth in sales of erotica (the so-called ‘guilty pleasures’ factor) that has been fuelled by the anonymity offered by ereaders.

As long ago as 2008 Australia mobile phone subscribers outnumber people according to ACMA data. This means that individuals have more than one device connected to the mobile phone network.

SOCIAL MEDIA, SOCIAL BUSINESS
Along with this embrace of ubiquitous mobile connectivity we have seen the growth of social media and social networking. This growth of social media is part of the landscape that makes up the digital revolution. Social media is revolutionary because it empowers the populace with access to the means of communication that were once the province of rich media barons.

This growth in social media fuelled by mobile connectivity has also changed the business landscape in important ways. There is a shift from command-control and pipeline driven businesses to social business that is focused on continuous engagement and conversations.

The kind of new business opportunities enabled by this digital revolution include:

  • the ability to compete in a new geography without even opening a local store (like Amazon);
  • the opportunity to reduce complexity for customers and remove friction from business operations (like Telstra);
  • subverting traditional models like recruitment where businesses build online talent banks of people who are interested in working with them (like Deloitte).

However, the shifts in society are not limited to business and consumers. They are also changing some things that we have always accepted. For example, we have always assumed that there is a just and valid separation between the domains of public versus private, or between business versus personal. But now those verities are being shaken by social media and social networking.

Social media is blurring the boundaries between the public, private, business, and personal. We are still working out how to negotiate this new territory. But already we see reports of people turned down for jobs because their online reputation score was too low.

We are now seeing a world where reputation is created, maintained, and mediated by online channels. There are increasing tools for measuring reputation online, such as: Kred, Klout, and Peer Index. Bouncers are even reportedly using Facebook as an identification check for entry into nightspots according to the BBC.

SOCIAL WORKPLACES
Workplaces are changing too, partly in response to the digital revolution. Open plan offices with collaboration spaces and hot desks are enabled because of wifi and portable connected devices like laptops and tablets.

SOCIAL EDUCATION
Our schools and places of education are being swept along by this digital revolution as well. With schools handing out laptops to all students and wifi in schools, libraries, and on public transport our children inhabit an always connected landscape. A teen boy said to me recently of my complaints about the poor wifi in Sydney: “but it’s just in the air, it’s everywhere”. It is a good example of the world that our young people inhabit. They live in a world where the connectivity is just ‘in the air’ around them.

The physical changes in workplaces are being reflected in schools too. They are becoming focused on collaboration rather than rote learning of facts. Students are learning how to discover, assess, and synthesize information rather than memorize facts.

WTF?
When we put together the shifting physical nature of the workplace and schools together with the blurring boundaries between public- private-business-personal, and the always connected devices in the hands of individuals many opportunities and challenges arise.

It is an exciting time to live. We are living through a revolution. The real question is will we drive the revolution or let it just happen to us?

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