FutureNow

#NOW: A book review

There is a small sliver of time in which everything happens. It’s that narrow bridge between the past and the future called “now”. Now is the only space of time any of us has. Not what was, not what will be, simply now. Every action happens in the now. We can have hope or anxiety about what will be, fondness or depression about what was, but we experience life right now.

What we did yesterday determined where we are today and what we do today creates the path to the tomorrow. Imagine a Venn diagram with two overlapping rings (or just look at the image of the book cover). The one on the left is the past, the right is the future, and the overlapping middle represents Now. Hold on to that image – it’s about to become important.

Behavioral strategist Max McKeown, Ph.D. has written several notable books on innovation, strategy, adaptability, and operating at our potential. It’s no secret I am a big fan of his writing style and ability to apply academic rigor to complex subjects while making them easy to understand and actionable.  Simply put, I was very excited to receive a review copy of his latest book: #NOW: The Surprising Truth About the Power of Now.

#NOW is a fairly quick read yet thorough and well documented. It pulled me in and carried me along, yet is substantial enough to warrant considerable time thinking about each page and sentence. When I first received the book, I initially meant to read the intro and flip through a few pages, but the next thing I knew, a couple of hours had passed and the pages were filled with sticky flags, highlighter marks, and handwritten notes.

“This book argues that for most people, most of the time, it is better to lean towards action rather than inaction… This is a book about the joy of moving. It is a book about motivation, because motivation means to be moved.” ~ from the introduction

#NOW explores the world from the perspectives of two types of people: Nowists and Thenists. The book is not a critique of the Thenist approach, nor is it a self-indulgent dissertation on the author’s approach to life and how everyone should be like him (gag). Instead, it’s an exploration of the two perspectives, the benefits of the Nowist approach, and how any of us can bring more of being a Nowist into our own lives. More than just a book of fluffy, happy platitudes, the concepts are demonstrated through real life examples, case studies, and research.

“The past is what you can’t change. The future is what you can change. #NOW is where everything changes.” ~ from the introduction

So what is a Nowist? They are change hungry doers who thrive on moving forward. They know what they are moving towards, embrace uncertainty, expect good things to happen, use internal measures of happiness, revel in potential, test themselves, and seek to master new skills. Think back to the Venn diagram I mentioned. Nowists build off the past while moving to the future.

Nowists precrastinate (think about that for a bit) and love to keep things rolling forward. They are active within their own lives and “believe that done is better than perfect.” Dave Grohl of Nirvana and the Foo Fighters summed this approach up well when he once said, “I don’t want to be perfect, I just want to be bad ass.” He was talking about making authentic music where the unique human imperfections are a strength, but the philosophy applies to living life.

There is an old motocross racing adage that sums up an important part of the Nowist approach: When in doubt, gas it! A healthy dose of throttle does not help in every situation, but it’s amazing how often it will be the saving grace that settles things down and propels you through when the track gets ugly or you lose control. Similarly, the Nowist approach values impulsiveness. Not the reckless, thoughtless, kneejerk impulsiveness of an immature teenager, but the functional impulsivity that comes from analyzing and deciding quickly and then moving forward with full commitment, correcting as you go.

Nowists strive to make decisions that are both accurate and fast. They realize that more time spent on a decision doesn’t necessarily improve accuracy, that moving forward with a good enough decision is better than getting trapped in inaction trying to make a perfect decision. So often, we treat speed and accuracy as mutually exclusive even though they clearly aren’t. It’s just as possible to make a quick, accurate decision as it is to spend a lot of time coming to the wrong decision. Why spend more time than necessary identifying and moving forward with the right solution? Further, action enables us to evaluate and refine our decisions as we go. Movement gives us information that can never be gained from inaction.

“Get moving. Accomplish something small. Do something you enjoy. Embrace what moves you. And start again.” – p. 48

Except… well, often easier said than done. Slow can feel prudent (even when it isn’t) and fast can feel reckless (even when it isn’t). Adding complexity can feel smart (even when it isn’t) and simplifying can feel lazy (even when it isn’t). Overanalyzing and overcomplicating seems like high effort and hard, valuable work (but only when we value the perception of struggle over actual results).

If you’re not a natural born Nowist, how do you make the switch? Newton’s First Law of Motion tells us a body at rest stays at rest unless acted upon. Habits and mindet hold us in place. How do you let go of the inertia of inaction?

Although the Nowist approach is contrasted with Thenist, it’s not either or. No matter where we are currently on the spectrum, we can all shift and adopt a more Nowist approach. We can start using the behaviors and mindset and create the joy of possibility and action and creating new in our lives.

Across and throughout 230 pages, #NOW provides the ideas, actions, and tools to make the shift. I fear my summary of the Nowist approach sounds a bit idealist and esoteric. The book is very focused on the practical application of the research behind the ideas.

For me, #NOW provided a fresh perspective on important ideas and served as a much needed reminder and inspiration to keep moving forward, to emphasize action as much as analysis, and seek joy in the process.

Advertisements

“that’s the way we’ve always done it” isn’t a strategy

dragging timeBusiness is at a cross-roads. Business gets done for, through, and by people. Unfortunately, the human side of business has not evolved at the pace of technology, has not kept up with changing expectations, and is anchoring business in the past.

Leadership is at a cross-roads. The dictatorial command and control philosophy so repugnant in government yet so warmly embraced by business is losing effectiveness by the day. The world is changing too fast to leave all the decision making, planning, and creativity to only a few. A pyramid shaped hierarchy simply can’t keep up, can’t respond fast enough, and is too exposed to mistakes caused by the biases of its top leaders.

Organizational and work design is at a cross-roads. Trying to do 21st Century work with models and designs developed for the 20th, 19th, and 18th centuries has its limitations.

Human Resources is at a cross-roads. Changes in technology, business philosophy, and HR’s role in the organization mean it can play an increasingly important role or be so redefined that it essentially fades away, replaced by technology and outsourcing.

People know things are changing and need to change more. If you go to conferences that have “Reinvent,” “Future,” “Evolve,” “Change,” etc. in the name you quickly find that most of the attendees are already on the same page. Even at less future-oriented presentations, I’m finding large numbers of people embracing the idea of what their field could be, of how it could create more value or better results, of the need to leave the past behind and the opportunity to redefine the future.

There are people and companies leading the way, some for decades now, showing us how the future of work could be. Showing us how today could be. But they get dismissed as a novelty (not REAL business), of having unique circumstances that couldn’t possibly work in other businesses, of being faddish. Even though real life examples abound, it’s easier to dismiss new ideas than to invest in the effort to adapt them to our own circumstances. Easier to assume that what seemed to work well enough in the past is what will work best in the future.

Would anyone ever consider “but that’s the way we’ve always done it” a legitimate reason for continuing an outdated policy? No. So why is it so easily accepted as justification for clinging to antiquated business strategies, org design, or leadership? Why is it an easy excuse for sinking into the past as competition (and the world) passes by?

We know better, don’t we?

[Photo Credit: h.koppdelaney via Compfight cc]

creating a more human business (book review of “the happy manifesto”)

20140903_140729

I marked a few important pages…

Like it or not, the future of work is here

The future of work excites me, fascinates me, and frustrates me. Work as we know it isn’t really working anymore. Work is designed as though people are interchangeable machines instead of being designed to help people be at their absolute best. It’s designed around outdated ideas on when and where and how work MUST be done. It’s based on the (profoundly, incredibly stupid) idea that the boss is the supreme expert in all things work getting things done through apathetic, incompetent minions. We’re doing 21st century work based on ideas developed in the industrial revolution.

People aren’t cogs, people are the point. Business gets done for, through, and by people. I can’t say it enough. It’s common sense obvious. Employees are people, customers are people, vendors are people, managers are people, CEOs are people. Yet, the simple idea that designing business for people (humanizing business) leads to better results is somehow radical. Those too-crazy-for-business-school ideas exist and thrive in organizations that let them.

The thing is, we know better and it’s changing. The future of work is here, examples exist now. Companies like Zappos get attention and flak for challenging the status quo, doing things their own way, and building the company around customers and employees. So many pundits and analysts dismiss the challenges to business school models as trendy fads or unworkable if you aren’t Google, ignoring the under-the-radar examples that have been too busy succeeding for decades to be bothered to care what critics think.

One of those businesses is Happy Ltd., an IT training and e-learning company repeatedly recognized as one of the 20 best places to work in the UK, with accolades and awards from Management Today, Financial Times, and the Great Place to Work Institute. How? Henry Stewart (@happyhenry), the company’s founder, shares his not-so-secret secrets in: the happy manifesto: Make your organization a great workplace (available in free and discounted versions through Henry’s website or at amazon.com).

 

Answers right in front of me

In so many ways it’s the type of book I’ve been looking for and it has been sitting on my bookshelf for at least a year and a half. The publisher had originally asked if I’d like them to send me their catalog to see if there were any titles I’d like to read and review Of course, there’s only one answer to that question and I quickly read and enjoyed Marianne Cantwell’s Be a Free Range Human but the happy manifesto sat unread. I enjoyed and got so much out of this book that it hurts I ignored it for so long. Sigh.

“That is what this book is about. Its aim is to help you, throughout your organization, to put in place the structure to make that freedom and trust possible.” ~ Henry Stewart

The book based on the author’s 20+ years of experience running his own company based on the principles described. He writes in a clear, straightforward way and provides real-life examples. The author shows what worked, what didn’t, asks some painfully thought provoking questions, and replaces conventional business methods with approaches so radically common sense they seem counterintuitive. I’ll highlight a few here.

 

Get out of the way

Many people have observed that the best thing leaders can do to enable people to work at their best is to set clear expectations and then get out of the way. Easier said than done for most leaders. How far out of the way? How about “pre-approving” ideas by giving the team full permission to implement their proposals without the leader reviewing it? How about the leader completely removing themselves from the approval process and ensuring they don’t see (and interfere) with new ideas until they are well established? How about removing blame and creating structures that encourage innovation? How about encouraging disobedience?

“Generally I try to avoid telling people what to do but, if I do, I know there is a fair chance the member of staff will do something completely different anyway, if it seems a better way to help the customer or achieve the result that is needed.” ~ Henry Stewart

 

Create ways for employees to say “yes”

People need to know what is expected and where the boundaries are yet rules often turn into all the reasons an employee can’t help a customer or get things done. Using systems based on principles versus unyielding rules and policies can give people the freedom to solve problems and move things forward. How often do we see rules are put into place to prevent problems caused by a small percentage of people instead of helping the vast majority be at their best? On the flip side, how often do we trust expect the people doing the work to find the best ways to get the job done?

“A rule has to be obeyed. In response to a rule you are expected to suspend your judgement. A system is the best way we have found so far to do something. If any member of staff can think of a better way in the situation they are in, they are encouraged and expected to adapt the system.” ~ Henry Stewart

 

Get rid of the things getting in the way of great work

Research shows (again and again) that organizations which are great workplaces are more financially successful. Interesting then that creating a great workplace isn’t a priority and expectation for maximizing shareholder value. I’m a firm believer that the customer experience will never exceed the employee experience (I wish I knew who first said that). It makes sense yet organizations rarely focus on the employee experience.

The author shares an interesting twist on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs he refers to as “a management hierarchy of needs”. Among all the needs Workplace Safety and Comfort is at the bottom with Freedom at the top. What stands out to me is how little effort we make in organizations to meet all the levels of this hierarchy. It’s as though we meet the most basic of needs and declare it a job well done (and wonder why engagement levels are so painfully low).  AND just as Self-Actualization is unsustainable and meaningless if our basic physical needs aren’t met, trying to create Freedom at work without meeting all the other needs first is unrealistic and primed to fail.

First, are your people’s basic needs being met? Have you asked them what gets in the way of doing their job well? Second, what are you doing to engage people’s higher motivations?” ~ Henry Stewart

 

Seeing clearly

Transparency is becoming a bit of a buzzword, but how many take it to heart? How many organizations make everything available to everyone? Company financials? What would happen if everyone suddenly had the information they need to make decisions, understood why and how financial decisions are made, and those decisions were transparently exposed to all?

What about [gasp, shudder] salaries? Are your salary decisions fair, unbiased, unprejudiced, and reflective of the value a person creates for the organization? If the answer is “no” you have bigger problems than people simply knowing each other’s salaries.

 

How important is hiring at your company?

Your company has probably stated that “people are our most important asset” or some such. Sounds good, but… How big of a stand is your company willing to take on that principle? The software company Valve famously made this statement in their employee handbook: Hiring well is the most important thing in the universe. Nothing else comes close. It’s more important than breathing. So when you’re working on hiring – participating in an interview loop or innovating in the general area of recruiting – everything else you could be doing is stupid and should be ignored!

How important are people to your company’s success? How important is hiring on future results? What’s the cost of a bad hire? How much effort is put into training hiring managers and selection teams? It seems like so many companies are happy to have warm bodies OR hold out for perfection based on a wish list of “requirements” that is largely irrelevant to a person’s ability to do the job (e.g., requiring a degree, any degree). From my observation, few give hiring the emphasis it deserves.

Are you able to prove they have the skills and ability to do the job or does your selection process only highlight their ability to interview well? There’s a big difference between being able to talk a good game about doing the job and actually delivering. Are you able to determine how well they will enhance and support those around them?

Do you have an easy way to reach out to the most interested people whenever you have an opening (hint: a post and pray approach doesn’t count)? Do you have a ready list of people interested in working for you as soon as a position comes open or do you make everyone apply even when there isn’t a job so “they’ll be in the system”? Are you surprised when they don’t?

 

“Profits are important and necessary but not sufficient.”

He’s preaching to the choir here (What’s the Purpose of a Business?) How differently would business be organized and conducted if it were based on the idea that profits are a means, not an end? How much better would organizations be at creating profits if they had all their employees fully behind the meaning and purpose of the work they were doing?

“I’m in business to make a profit. Of course I am. But I’m also in business to make a difference. Otherwise what is the point?” ~ Henry Stewart

 

Leaders should be good at leading (for a change)

Promoting the most technically skilled people into management roles and expecting them to be immediately and naturally good at leading would be a completely unbelievable and ludicrous idea, except it’s pretty much a given. Everywhere. It’s patently ridiculous yet is The Way Things Are Done.

Running counter to this, the author’s company divides management into two functions: 1) strategy and decision making which is handled by elected department heads; and 2) supporting, challenging, and coaching which is done by coordinators. These may be the same people or may be different and employees have a say in who their leader is. It sounds weird and it completely flies in the face of the more traditional “promote the most skilled and who cares if they can manage others” approach, yet it seems to work for them.

 

And that’s really it, isn’t it?

We can argue Happy Ltd.’s approaches, ridicule them for being unfamiliar or seeming unrealistically idealistic, yet… it works for them. That doesn’t mean it will work for everyone in every situation, but I get excited because it if works in one place, it just might work in others.

So the question isn’t, Does this approach work? The question is How can I put his approach to work in my team / department / organization?

humane, resourced

Humane ResourcedFeeling pretty awesome this morning. I can now officially lay claim to contributing to an internationally best-selling HR and Business book.

The Kindle book Humane, Resourced was released just the other day and is already climbing the charts. As of this morning, I’m told it’s at #21 for HR books in the US Kindle store and #2 in the UK. It’s also sitting at #8 for Business books in the UK. I’m sure these numbers will be out of date by the time I post this. Buy your copy now – all proceeds go to charity.

“Humane, Resourced” is a collection of contributions from over 50 business, HR, and L&D bloggers, each bringing their own unique perspectives and voices to the loose topic of people and work. Given the contributors, thought-provoking kicks to the head are inevitable:

1.    Simon Heath (@SimonHeath1)
2.    Doug Shaw (@dougshaw1)
3.    Sukh Pabial (@sukhpabial)
4.    Ian Davidson (@ianandmj)
5.    Bruce Lewin (@fourgroups)
6.    Ben Morton (@Benmorton2)
7.    Richard Westney (@HRManNZ)
8.    Lembit Öpik (@Lembitopik)
9.    Emma Lloyd (@engagingemma)
10.  Gemma Reucroft (@HR_gem)
11.  Stephen Tovey (@StephenTovey13)
12.  David Richter (@octopusHR)
13.  Amanda Sterling (@sterling_amanda)
14.  Wendy Aspland (@wendyaspland)
15.  Peter Cook (@AcademyOfRock)
16.  Julie Waddell (@jawaddell)
17.  Leticia S. de Garzón (@letsdeg)
18.  Vera Woodhead (@verawoodhead)
19.  Nicola Barber (@HRswitchon)
20.  Tim Scott (@TimScottHR)
21.  Amanda Arrowsmith (@Pontecarloblue)
22.  Inji Duducu (@injiduducu)
23.  Anne Tynan (@AnneTynan)
24.  Neil Usher (@workessence)
25.  Louisa de Lange (@paperclipgirl)
26.  Megan Peppin (@OD_optimist)
27.  Ian Pettigrew (@KingfisherCoach)
28.  Steve Browne (@stevebrowneHR)
29.  Kate Griffiths-Lambeth (@kateGL)
30.  Tracey Davison (@mindstrongltd)
31.  Jason Ennor (@MYHR_NZ)
32.  Bob Philps (@BPhilp)
33.  Kat Hounsell (@kathounsell)
34.  Simon Jones (@ariadneassoc)
35.  Mervyn Dinnen (@MervynDinnen)
36.  Alex Moyle (@Alex_Moyle)
37.  Julie Drybrough (@fuchsia_blue)
38.  Susan Popoola (@susanpopoola)
39.  Ruchika Abrol (@ruchikaabrol)
40.  Simon Stephen (@simonstephen)
41.  Damiana Casile (@damiana_HR)
42.  Honeydew_Health
43.  Malcolm Louth (@malcolmlouth)
44.  Perry Timms (@perrytimms)
45.  Sinead Carville (@SineadCarville)
46.  Jon Bartlett (@projectlibero)
47.  Jane Watson (@JSarahWatsHR)
48.  Broc Edwards (@brocedwards)
49.  Sarah Miller (@whippasnappaHR
50.  Meghan M. Biro (@MeghanMBiro)
51.  Anna Lloyd (@buggilights)
52.  Luke Thomas(@springccr)

“Humane, Resourced” was conceived, organized, and promoted by David D’Souza (@dds180) over in the UK. He gets massive kudos for making this book happen. Can’t wait to see his next project.

FutureNow of work?

You keep using the word ‘FutureNow’ – what does that mean?” A fair question. It’s a term I made up to describe where work is heading. I’m very intrigued by social businesses and democratic workplaces and started describing them as the future of work that’s already happening right now.

As an example, in 2009, smart phones were the FutureNow of mobiles phones. To many of us they seemed like overpriced toys, yet became ubiquitous in only a couple of years. From today’s perspective, it’s easy to see how and why the smart phones were the future.

The same could be said of any technological advancement. MP3 players in, say 2002. Email in 1996. Television in 1947. Automobiles in 1913. Etc., etc. All these were the FutureNow when they first came out. But we can look back at societal progress as well and there were some hard fought advances that are now seen as normal and natural to the majority of folks.

Two hundred years ago, we were trying to figure out how to make a democratic government work well (and the cynics will make a strong case that we’re still trying to figure it out). Today it just seems obvious and natural (to those in a democracy) that democracy is the way to go. Battles and wars are fought to replace dictators with voters.

I find it interesting that there is such a strong, common belief that democracy is the best way to organize a country, yet we balk at the idea of a democratic workplace. So much of business is still stuck in the authoritarian, patriarchal (ugh!), top down, command and control ways of the past. It feels weird to question and ask about other organizational structures. It might even seem a bit anarchistic or just counterculture hippie to suggest that maybe, just maybe, businesses could benefit from and improve on the democratic practices that run entire nations.

More on this later. In the meantime, just be aware that the future is already here and doing some really cool, innovative things. What’s strange today will be obvious tomorrow.

defining and shaping What Comes Next

In a couple of weeks, on November 11 and 12 Jason Lauritsen and Joe Gerstandt of Talent Anarchy are hosting/leading/facilitating an event called The Frontier Project on “Designing The Future of Work.” More think tank than conference or training, this is a chance for you to get together with 50 or so other sharp, passionate, innovative, and curious folks to discuss, debate, and (re)imagine where work is headed, where it needs to go, and perhaps what you can do about it in your world. Joe recently wrote about about it here.

I attended their first Frontier Project back in May and am excited for the chance to attend this next one. Although Jason and Joe are both masters at giving the box called “status quo” a good and vigorous shaking, I’m most looking forward to meeting and learning from the other participants. I don’t know who will be there but I’m expecting and hoping to see a mixed group of thought leaders, forward thinkers, and everyday professionals looking to define and shape What Comes Next. Interested? Sign up here (and notice you have one more day for the early bird discount).

Yes, I wrote about this a few weeks back and I’m writing about it again. I love to think about the FutureNow of work and I’m very excited to see Joe and Jason hosting another Frontier Project. It, along with the Meaning conference over in the UK, are two standout events dealing with what work could be. I’m encouraged and hope to see more and more events like these in the coming years.

I don’t know what this Frontier Project is going to look like, but I know what I got out of the last one. Rather than giving you a link, I decided to make it even easier and have included the summary I wrote and posted on May 29 after the first Frontier Project.

 

 

don’t predict the future, declare it

Human Resources, like many fields, is at a cross roads where its future is at a disconnect with its past. Many of its reasons for being have become irrelevant, easily outsourced, or reduced to a minor function. Some predict the end of HR; others cling to it. Ultimately, the future of business and work will decide the future of HR.

The Frontier Project, held May 20 and 21 in Omaha, Nebraska had the stated purpose of “Reimagining the Role of Human Resources.” That’s a bold tagline creating huge expectations and it was an interesting mix of 40 or so HR pros, consultants, vendors, and thought leaders who attended.

Jason Lauritsen and Joe Gerstandt led the group using an accelerated decision making process. Normally, it’s a technique used to create a decision and action steps for a specific problem. Applying it to the future of a field while still creating individual actions is a bit trickier, but worth the effort.

So, what’s the future of HR? I’m not telling. Not because I took a blood oath of secrecy; because I don’t know. No one does. But here’s a few thoughts I took away from the two days:

Predicting the future is really, really difficult. Particularly for experts because they know exactly how things are in the field, but most innovation and change is ignited from outside the field. If one isn’t careful, focused expertise leads to being blindsided. To prevent getting stuck in what our expertise demonstrated was right, we were told to use our “imagination, not expertise.” Regardless, it’s still difficult. Could you have imagined 2013 in 1993? Could you have imagined 2013 in 2008 before smart phones and social media took off? Another bit of advice for imagining the future: “If it makes sense today, you’re probably not pushing far enough out.”

Even people who think like me don’t think like me. Oddly enough, the future I’m convinced will happen looks different than the futures 39 other people are convinced will happen. We all have biases and, although there’s some overlap, it’s really easy to get stuck in our own reality tunnels.

When people discuss the most important things the field of HR should be focused on it sounds very buzzwordy business-speak. Lots of jargon. Lots of mention of technology, big data, etc. But when people describe what makes their job great it there is a strong emotional and personal connection. I don’t know what that schism means, but it makes me wonder.

The field of HR is so divided between administrative and strategic functions it makes me wonder if we shouldn’t identify them as separate fields. I suspect much of HR’s identity crisis would go away if we acknowledged we’ve been trying to find unifying answers for (at least) two distinct fields. Much as finance and accounting or marketing and sales are split, imagine the issues that would quickly dissolve away if we could allow HR to move in two different directions.

“Us vs them” is a powerful, powerful quirk of human thinking. It carries a lot of judgment and self-righteousness. Be very careful how you define “us” and “them”. Consider the possibility that it might really be “us and them”, or even just “us”.

Some other quick thoughts (mostly shared by others):

HR needs to stop waiting for someone to ask us to do and simply find what needs to be done and get on with it. If it requires permission, make a case for it and sell it. Stop waiting.

Technology/tools can be an enhancement or a distraction from the people/business connection. Like all tools, none are inherently good or bad, but how we use them determines how much they will help or hinder.

Statistics can’t predict the individual. Ever.

Integrate HR into the business processes instead of trying to integrate the business processes into HR.

Use imagination first to play and explore and then apply expertise to make it possible.

The future is scary when you don’t feel you have any control. The future is exciting when you feel you are creating it; it’s threatening when you want things to stay the same (or go back to being how they were); it’s liberating when you see how it could be even better than today.

I need to spend more time kicking ideas around with smart, passionate people. Really can’t do that enough.

 There’s lots more from those two great days that I’m still processing and thinking about. Joe and Jason are threatening to offer it again in the future and I’m excited to see how The Frontier Project evolves. Good, good stuff.

what if people mattered?

Imagine with me for a moment…

What if people mattered to the success of a business?

What if people were a crucial part of delighting customers and ensuring return business?

What if people were necessary to create and invent and innovate?

What if people used their experience and judgment to make decisions that affect outcomes?

What if people each had their own strengths, weaknesses, goodness, and extremes?

What if people each had their own interests, dreams, desires, and constraints?

What if people weren’t all the same and couldn’t be removed and replaced like gears on a machine?

What if people were sometimes employees, sometimes shareholders, or sometimes customers? What if they were sometimes all three at once?

What if people were complex and unpredictable and that sometimes leads to brilliance?

What if people were complex and unpredictable and that sometimes leads to disaster?

What if people had their own lives going on and didn’t live or die for the organization?

What if people weren’t all like you?

What if people were different and that difference might create strife, conflict, chaos, energy, synergy, and great leaps forward?

What if people had uniqueness that was both their biggest strength and worst weakness?

What if people were necessary to get work done?

What if people need businesses less than businesses need people?

What if people were required to interpret data and make decisions and take actions based on sound judgment, intuition, and wild guesses?

What if people invented and built all the technology that changes business?

What if people wanted to feel safe, respected, liked, and valued?

What if people made decisions and took actions based on their feelings and emotions and only used logic and reasoning to justify their decisions and actions?

What if people didn’t always act in their own best interests?

What if people sometimes do stupid things?

What if people were more loyal to people than to the initials inc., llc., gmbh., or ltd.?

What if people and the relationships they have with other people generated more business than spreadsheets?

What if people were necessary to dream up, make, deliver, and improve the products and services your business sells?

What if people were a crucial part of creating compelling messages, attracting and assisting customers, and growing the business?

We’re still just imagining here… But what if some – any – of this were actually true? What if people, in all their complex, irrational, unpredictable, humanness, were actually crucial to business results?

Would that change the emphasis on how much effort you put into finding and hiring the right people?

Would you put a different level of priority on your efforts to develop and improve the people you invested in by hiring?

Would the employee experience become important?

Or, if you knew people were actually a prime competitive advantage, would you pretend they weren’t and spend your time, energy, and money on other things?

(re)thinking the future of work

“Look, if you had one shot, or one opportunity to seize everything you ever wanted; one moment. Would you capture it or just let it slip?” ~ Eminem from “Lose Yourself”

“The future is scary when you don’t feel you have any control. The future is exciting when you feel you are creating it; it’s threatening when you want things to stay the same (or go back to being how they were); it’s liberating when you see how it could be even better than today.” ~ Participant’s comment from The Frontier Project: The Future of Human Resources

 

You have an opportunity. A chance worth taking. A moment to come together with others who are ferociously passionate, smart, curious, insistent, pioneering, wondering.

I’m fascinated by the FutureNow of work. The seeds and sprouts of the inevitable(?) changes disrupting how we’ve always thought about jobs and organizations are there taking root and starting to grow. Technology shrinks, twists, and alters “how we’ve always done it.” Socioeconomic schisms have been opened up by tectonic shifts in the economy. Organizational structures, once certain, are being shoved aside in the quest for something better. The curtain has been pulled back revealing the illusion of control. And us humans keep being humans in all our rule bound sloppy illogically rational educated ignorance. History repeats with a fresh coat of paint and a different pattern of wall paper. Change keeps on changing. Round and round she goes, where she stops…

It’s overwhelming. But what if you could get ahead of the curve? What if you could be a part of creating the future instead of wondering, worrying, and letting it wash over you?

Talent Anarchy is at it again, shouldering their way to the forefront of disruptive thought with The Frontier Project: The Future of Work. Jason Lauritsen and Joe Gerstandt have set aside some space and time near Houston in November for a diverse group of folks to come together and think, consider, wonder, and debate the Future of Work. Jason and Joe will be setting up the framework, then poking, prodding, and asking questions, but the real work and the answers will come from the group.

So here’s your opportunity. The Frontier Project is a “think tank on steroids” (in Jason’s and Joe’s words) designed to push buttons, challenge assumptions, get past the here and now, and play with what could/should/will be. It’s a chance for you to look to the future and (hopefully) come away with some very real ideas for what to do right now.

This isn’t a training, conference, or seminar. If you crave certainty and finely crafted bullet point lessons this event is not for you. There are no foregone conclusions, inevitable solutions, guarantees where the discussion will go, or certainty where the answers will come from.

As a reader of this blog you know I’m a friend and fan of Talent Anarchy. They’ve asked me to help get the word out about the event – something I’m more than happy to do because I’m excited to attend and looking forward to what comes next. I’m inspired by Jason and Joe’s intensely thought provoking irreverence, rejection of business as usual, and the challenge they’ve laid to the world to embrace our authentic humanness. They are continually thinking bigger and have extended an invitation to join them.

I hope to see you there. The future’s coming fast and we all have work to do.

don’t predict the future, declare it

Human Resources, like many fields, is at a cross roads where its future is at a disconnect with its past. Many of its reasons for being have become irrelevant, easily outsourced, or reduced to a minor function. Some predict the end of HR; others cling to it. Ultimately, the future of business and work will decide the future of HR.

The Frontier Project, held May 20 and 21 in Omaha, Nebraska had the stated purpose of “Reimagining the Role of Human Resources.” That’s a bold tagline creating huge expectations and it was an interesting mix of 40 or so HR pros, consultants, vendors, and thought leaders who attended.

Jason Lauritsen and Joe Gerstandt led the group using an accelerated decision making process. Normally, it’s a technique used to create a decision and action steps for a specific problem. Applying it to the future of a field while still creating individual actions is a bit trickier, but worth the effort.

So, what’s the future of HR? I’m not telling. Not because I took a blood oath of secrecy; because I don’t know. No one does. But here’s a few thoughts I took away from the two days:

Predicting the future is really, really difficult. Particularly for experts because they know exactly how things are in the field, but most innovation and change is ignited from outside the field. If one isn’t careful, focused expertise leads to being blindsided. To prevent getting stuck in what our expertise demonstrated was right, we were told to use our “imagination, not expertise.” Regardless, it’s still difficult. Could you have imagined 2013 in 1993? Could you have imagined 2013 in 2008 before smart phones and social media took off? Another bit of advice for imagining the future: “If it makes sense today, you’re probably not pushing far enough out.”

Even people who think like me don’t think like me. Oddly enough, the future I’m convinced will happen looks different than the futures 39 other people are convinced will happen. We all have biases and, although there’s some overlap, it’s really easy to get stuck in our own reality tunnels.

When people discuss the most important things the field of HR should be focused on it sounds very buzzwordy business-speak. Lots of jargon. Lots of mention of technology, big data, etc. But when people describe what makes their job great it there is a strong emotional and personal connection. I don’t know what that schism means, but it makes me wonder.

The field of HR is so divided between administrative and strategic functions it makes me wonder if we shouldn’t identify them as separate fields. I suspect much of HR’s identity crisis would go away if we acknowledged we’ve been trying to find unifying answers for (at least) two distinct fields. Much as finance and accounting or marketing and sales are split, imagine the issues that would quickly dissolve away if we could allow HR to move in two different directions.

“Us vs them” is a powerful, powerful quirk of human thinking. It carries a lot of judgment and self-righteousness. Be very careful how you define “us” and “them”. Consider the possibility that it might really be “us and them”, or even just “us”.

Some other quick thoughts (mostly shared by others):

HR needs to stop waiting for someone to ask us to do and simply find what needs to be done and get on with it. If it requires permission, make a case for it and sell it. Stop waiting.

Technology/tools can be an enhancement or a distraction from the people/business connection. Like all tools, none are inherently good or bad, but how we use them determines how much they will help or hinder.

Statistics can’t predict the individual. Ever.

Integrate HR into the business processes instead of trying to integrate the business processes into HR.

Use imagination first to play and explore and then apply expertise to make it possible.

The future is scary when you don’t feel you have any control. The future is exciting when you feel you are creating it; it’s threatening when you want things to stay the same (or go back to being how they were); it’s liberating when you see how it could be even better than today.

I need to spend more time kicking ideas around with smart, passionate people. Really can’t do that enough.

 There’s lots more from those two great days that I’m still processing and thinking about. Joe and Jason are threatening to offer it again in the future and I’m excited to see how The Frontier Project evolves. Good, good stuff.