Future of Work, Sense Making

Meaning and models as future work motivators

We don’t all have the luxury to question why we are working and to what end.

Many are in dead end, soul sapping or even worse, life endangering jobs.

But the reality is they have no choice. No choice but to toil in whatever adversity they find themselves because there is no alternative

On the other hand, many in the first world are spoilt (and I count myself amongst them). We are lucky to have jobs and vast choices with global employment rates at all time highs.

We have incredible jobs, are highly paid and in fantastic industries.

And yet engagement levels at work are at all time lows.

I ascribe this near universal condition of motivation in first world employment to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Once our basic needs are met, we will naturally incline towards the higher levels and that is what my enquiry in this post pertains to.

I believe it is in the higher levels that we are falling short and this is leading to so much dissatisfaction and lack of engagement at work.

Dynamics of meaning

I have explored (and still am) many aspects of motivation and meaning because it is so fundamental to outcomes and success in the work I do with customers.

I have taken Maslow’s theory and applied it to organisations and this seems to have resonated: The Modern Organisation’s Hierarchy of Needs.

I am exploring that further in a very detailed manner in terms of the things that are measured and how this drives behaviour: Leading the right behaviours through metrics and new work models.

I believe at a practical level, with robots and AI taking some of the lower level jobs that we are going to be forced (or have the luxury – depending on how you see it) to the higher levels: The post robotic AI age and the role of creativity and innovation.

I am not alone. The purpose or meaning driven organisation and defining the elements of its success have practically become an industry. Culture as an important contributing factor too.

Whether out of necessity or luxury I believe this to be meaningful work, to get a little meta.

However, as Maslow suggested and I too believe, we will constantly be forced by circumstance (e.g. losing a job) or simply because its healthy, to re-evaluate the lower levels.

As individuals, it might mean our excessive food intake has become a problem that needs addressing. So too organisations might be forced to re-evaluate their business models when the basis for the industry they are in is disrupted.

Dynamics of the business model

I have suggested in my hierarchy of organisational needs that the business model sits at the lowest level. I posit that it is as basic and necessary for business survival to have a good model as it is for individuals to have food, water and shelter.

And the basic business model of many organisations is under pressure to be re-evaluated and transformed like never before.

One such pressure I am currently exploring in a new eBook / trend report is coming from the subscription economy. Software as a Service has influenced enterprise technology and this has led to a broader As a Service trend (that’s a link to all posts with the tag where you can find material I am using in my work).

Business model transformation and innovation has become an industry in its own right too.

I would argue that this sits within a context and hierarchy of its own. The context is probably organisational transformation and what is currently very much in vogue, digital transformation.

It terms of hierarchy, it probably sits at the apex.

I’m doing some work at the moment around these very elements and have two charts that I use to demonstrate these aspects.

By “elements” you can probably see that I don’t mean those of the business model itself (which something like the business model canvas does very well).

In terms of effort and impact, you can see business model innovation is the hardest to do yet has the greatest impact over time and in value terms. Too often I see the focus on lower level transformations because they are easy.

The thing the diagram at right also points to is the limited impact over time that innovations or transformations have, hence the need to constantly be innovating and transforming.

This brings me full circle to the two pinnacles of my modern organisational hierarchy framework: innovation and creativity. The need to constantly innovate and create (or re-create, in a circle of positive creative-destruction) is key in the future of work.

In conclusion

This also brings me to the motivation element in the subject of this post.

One point I make is about the critical role of meaning in our future work roles, as individuals and organisations. About how we must spend time defining what creates meaning and will make a difference and this means going beyond the basics.

The other point is about how we cannot ignore the basics but in the case of organisational business models, how crucial it is to work on reinventing these for greatest impact. But here too, we shouldn’t waste effort on lower level efforts.

I am highly motivated by all this at the moment. In turn I strive to make it key motivator for the efforts of individuals and organisations I work with because I think it will make all the difference.

Customer Success, Startup Innovation

Agile in nature not just by name

Satya Nadella (CEO of Microsoft where I work) recently shared his thoughts on how organisations need to embrace “tech intensity” to innovate and grow in today’s high-intensity digital economy.

He didn’t specifically call out speed but its implicit in everything he said.

I’m surrounded in the work I do at Microsoft, by IT teams that have embraced Agile. I’m sure Satya would agree that this would form a key part of tech intensity efforts.

Yet of all the things that Agile is, the one I find most often missing as the name would suggest, is the need for “rapid and flexible response to change”.

I’m on a mission to emphasise the need for speed in the work I do in Customer Success around technology adoption.

Here is the line I push:

I am not one to be be speeding things up just for the sake of it. As a DharmHacker I actually think stopping, slowing down and reflecting frequently is crucial for effective decision making. Mindful over Mind Full is the title of an eBook / trend report I wrote that pretty much sums up the imperative.

Speed and Innovation together make the difference

Mindful decision making does not contradict speedy actions once you have realised the need for change and decided on a course of action. And speedy action carried out with intensity is what distinguishes leaders in today’s digital landscape.

digital innovationIf you are changing at speed as a result of external pressure, you will be better off than those that are slower or not changing at all. But as Satya pointed out, innovation is a key part of tech intensity and if purposeful innovation efforts are executed at speed, then you will become a leader in your industry. If innovation needs to be the “why” and change the “how” then your “when” has to be yesterday.

In the video above and in the last post I just linked to, you should see how I’ve positioned speed and innovation efforts side by side as key differentiators of digital transformation success.

Why agile is not just a software development methodology for IT

As you may also have seen in the video above where I included a snippet by Paul Willmott (Senior Partner and Digital McKinsey Leader), they have a clear view on the importance of speed in digital transformation efforts.

As a leader in digital transformation strategy setting and execution, McKinsey also have views on the many other factors that need to be considered. Here are just a choice few of my favourite articles that they and others have recently published which elaborate:

Customer Success

Role of Self Service in Customer Success

Customer success teams were put in place in technology SaaS and subscription companies to ensure that customers are successful in their use of the technology they invested in. They have become a core part of ensuring the customer derives long-term value and ultimately stays with the vendor (in other words renews the subscription).

But has the vendor and customer become too reliant on them?

I am a customer success manager. Far be it for me to be talking myself out of a job. But actually that is the point. If I could get to it (that point) I would have done my job I think.

Especially with technology products you would think that the technology itself would play a major role in helping users use it and get value out of it. And with the advent of AI, machine learning and automation, even more so.

Enterprise technology is quite a different beast though. The complexity of organisations means that technology use and adoption is not straightforward. It’s dependent on many environmental factors. Like culture, organisational complexity and maturity, etc.

Factors that technology is not good at dealing with but humans are. These have to be factored in, so to speak, in terms of how you ensure use and value creation of a technology in an organisational context. So I don’t see human effort going away anytime soon.

Still, lets look at how technology can and should help to alleviate burdensome tasks best left to machines.

In my mind, a lot of the help technology provides is ultimately geared towards the user being able to self help or serve. And its not just about the end user but also those responsible for end user adoption – the people customer success managers typically work with. I’ll call them adoption managers for sake of clarity. They are typically the ones served by Customer Success Managers most directly but as you will see in the next section, I certainly am driven to make them as self sufficient as possible too.

Technology’s role

By this I mean two things:

  1. What role the technology itself provides with things like built in help and support from onboarding guides to a help manual that can be contextualised with key features as well as be generally available to users.
  2. What role any other technology provides to support the end users and adoption managers. For example, as part of recent hackathon efforts at Microsoft where I currently work, the team and I all won first at a local UK level and then at a global level, for a solution intended to support customer success managers and adoption managers. We called the solution Journey because that is what adoption typically is. Here are a couple of slides from our pitch deck which hopefully explain:

The origins of the idea and also current manual efforts are documented in this post I shared on LinkedIn: Co-owning success with Office 365 customers

Validation has come from winning the hackathon awards (at the global level we won in a field of over 24 000 competitors and 5 000 entries). We also received solid validation from customers we are working with on the current manual efforts mentioned and all new customers we introduce it to.

So it seems there is appetite for this gap in the market. You can watch a very short demo of what we pitched and won with and answer 3 short questions in a follow up survey here if you like – it would help with further validation.

AI and Automation

According to a study on Customer Service trends:

The future of customer service is about giving customers more control and better access to operations, so they can build their own experiences in real time. To do this, in addition to investing and moving customer service to cloud-based operations, they focus in on how to work better with automation.

I am totally in agreement with this as I wrote in this post: The Future of Customer Success is Not Human. Even though the context of the study above covers customer service trends which is very different to customer success, it is still broadly applicable. The domain is the same.

I think these activities are going to continue to expand in use and value, especially to alleviate customer success manager efforts where they are overloaded and too much is expected of them and where bureaucracy has crept in.

Technology can help reduce bureaucracy

In the post where I wrote that the future of customer success is not human, I quoted a study on bureaucracy. It has customer service, in which again I would suggest customer success falls, at the top of the rankings of roles and fields where bureaucracy has crept in (list of rankings pasted again here). Being a practitioner I would concur with that and the point I made then and again now is that technology can help avoid this.

Of course a large portion of the problem stems from overzealous management ptractices which is not something technology can help with. But by and learge I see it as a valuable counterbalance.

What needs for human intervention will never go away?

Assuming that technology can take up a lot of slack and reduce bureaucracy, what does this leave the customer success manager and those responsible for adoption to do?

Well it will be to focus on those intractable problems that I mentioned earlier technology will not be able to help us with and will become increasingly needed. Thorny problems and challenges that can be overcome to improve the customer experience. Those that require and will take imagination, creativity and innovation and will focus on the challenging art of managing people.

I have two separate posts on these topics that elaborate on that if interested.

Sense Making

Success Hacking

Success Hacking takes a very experimental and evidence based approach to achieving outcomes. Target. Do. Observe. Learn.

Many of the activities I have pursued in my life were conducted in this spirit. I’ve tried to capture them as portfolio projects. Some were not successful per se but the learning in every case was. Which I then took on to my next project.

Success Hacking can be applied to any pursuit. It can be organisationally or business focused. Or you can apply it at an individual level too as I do – my Dharma Hacker post post explains this. As Herbert Otto said,

“Change and growth take place when a person has risked himself and dares to become involved with experimenting with his own life.”

From an organisational and business point of view, the world around us has become very complex and is constantly in flux. The only constant is change and the only certainty is uncertainty.

Data is in abundance. In itself, it is only a contributor to complexity. Deriving meaning from it though purposeful experiments is where opportunity lies. These days, as software eats the world, the opportunity to build applications, services and experiences lie everywhere. So too the possibility to collect and understand the data behind them.

The success hacker learns by doing and observing outcomes (and reading the data “tea leaves”), progressing quickly with what works, discarding what doesn’t. They don’t believe in elaborate plans, seeing experimentation as the new planning.

The success hacker is the chief experimenter, sensemaker and intrapreneur in your organisation. Nurture them.

Organisations can and should attend to some basic needs but to succeed going forward they need to become engines of possibility. Creativity and innovation are excellent aspirations for the modern organisation to actualise around. Also for the Success Hacker. In other words, the outcomes we strive for should aim to create new possibilities, new innovations. More on that here: The Modern Organisation’s Hierarchy of Needs.

An obvious outlet for this type of approach is in my professional role as a customer success manager. Indeed they are deeply intertwined. I’m writing about Customer Success in a new eBook / trend report you can find out more about in this post: Customer experience, the subscription economy and 10 ways success teams will make you win

You will probably see this approach in everything I do but as linked to earlier, particularly in my portfolio projects.

Sense Making

Innovation is the why, change is the how

There is a lot of talk about being more agile, responsive, lean, etc. These are all very worthwhile approaches. They all very often take a view on different ways of dealing with change starting with the need for change.

The central theme to all of the above is very often that the pace of change is accelerating. We live in exponential times and it becomes an imperative to bake into the organisation the capability to master change. The ability to turn on a dime when the need arises. Very often it is in response to competitive activity and that is increasingly coming from nimble startups disrupting an industry.

Then we need to take into consideration the very substantial industry that exists around managing change in its own right. The purpose of many organisations is purely to facilitate the management of change for other organisations. A substantial part of many organisations is also geared towards offering professional services around managing change.

Amongst the latter organisations, often ones that sell groundbreaking technologies, the focus is frequently geared towards helping organisations deal with the implementation and adoption of the technologies themselves. More fundamentally is the need to change the way you work or think about the way you have been working – a mindset shift in other words. This requires thinking about behaviours and processes, not just the technology. All hard nuts to crack.

What many often miss though, is the real reason for the change itself, the why if you will. All are busy running around changing or trying to change others. Little is understood about the purpose.

The reason the pace of change is accelerating is very often because new innovations are driving users to change their behaviours. This very often forces organisations to change the way they have to deal with these users – customers and/or employees alike.

Some times, in the best cases, the change is brought about by an innovation the organisation itself has come up with. At worst it has been disrupted by another. This is the worst change to manage because it is based on a crises but often it is essential, survival is at stake.

At the intended heart of all innovation, whether disruptive or incremental, is progress. Something that is better than what came before. If you get it right, it is a positive force for good. With progress often comes the need to change.

Why many often put the cart before the horse

Innovation is hard. Anything worthwhile takes time unless you are very lucky and few are. It’s far easier to change something. Many times we do for the sake of it. Just by taking a different tack this provides the appearance of action and we often fool ourselves into believing it is groundbreaking.

As human beings we are also a rather fickle lot. We get bored very easily. Especially with an abundance of digital distractions, it is easy to let ourselves get carried away by the shiny new thing. A new trend here, a new gadget there. Thats all we sometimes need to start following a new piper, but as with the rats, it often ends in a damp squibb.

Organisations are no less susceptible to the vagaries of our time. Many organisations role out one change initiative after another. Many of those initiatives fail – the statistics say that on average over 80% of change initiatives fail. The initiatives are often purported to be in the name of innovation but mostly they are fruitless attempts to fend of another organisations innovation.

How to change the game

Here are some ways to make sure that the change you are making is in pursuit of something truly groundbreaking:

  • Spend a lot of time thinking about the objective of the change effort, this will easily tell you if the reason you are carrying out the change is in pursuit of innovation or just for changes sake
  • Build change capability into your organisation, the ability to very quickly respond to new opportunities in the marketplace – that way you are not at the mercy of change programs
  • Put innovation at the heart of your organisations modus operandi, that means very individual in it is thinking about coming up with new innovations and they are empowered to act on it
Sense Making

The post robotic AI age and the role of creativity and innovation

You’ve all heard the news. Jobs will come under fire if not already so. Machines, robots and Artificial Intelligence (AI), are going to take over. The Matrix, Terminator, could all those movie scenarios have had it right?

What happens if it’s all true but the ending is not a tragic one. Can we find a happy coexistence with machines? In an alternative scenario, machines would be our servants and tackle the hard tasks they are brilliant at. Retaining, processing and repeating rule-based information. Complex calculations in milliseconds. Massive infrastructure and mechanical jobs that require strength, are dangerous and may even need to happen on other planets and atmospheres.

And whither humans? With land, capital, and labour safely being managed on our behalf, might humans be able to realise their full potential? Creative powerhouses constantly renewing and improving, stimulated by human interaction and fired by endless imagination. With time to put that strength to work.

All questions I have pondered leading to this post.

It’s important to start somewhere. A diagram is one of my favourite ways to synthesise thinking. So I drew some lines.


An explanation of the diagram

I hope it’s straightforward enough. I struggled with this for a while and am still not sure I have the right angles. I’m not referring to the arrows :)

I grappled with how to characterise the trajectories of the three arrows. I mean what did they constitute. I concluded that they were learning priorities. Whether by humans or machines, they were directions of learning intent.

By machines I mean AI for the most part. In the case of super AI even more so. By definition it is self learning and its intent is to become super intelligent.

Robots are something that are going to take over physical work. They have mechanical capability more than intelligence. Their intelligence will come from computers that drive AI.

Together you could see them as a whole – machines.

If all projections on AI are correct, then its trajectory is due for a massive jump soon. Capacity to learn as well as intelligence will rise exponentially.

Human learning is different. Learning directions and priorities are often imposed. By schools that teach who are often lead by organisations that hire based on skills taught.

I have distinguished between STEM based learning directions and creativity based.

STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (as an educational category). This has dominated learning priorities for at least the last fifty years. As mentioned, institutions of all kinds impose it.

Creativity, if seen beyond the narrow confines of education in the arts, has lagged. That in my view, should change and I’m not the only one. I’m suggesting we will need to see a massive increase in learning emphasis, both at school and at work.

Creativity is as important as literacy. Sir Ken Robinson

I assume there is going to be a need for humans to take care of the machines. Even if humans will not remain on a par, they will have to maintain their STEM focus. They will need it to maintain the machines – at least in the near term. So the STEM based learning trajectory continues roughly on par with past trends.

As for my vertical axis, here too I grappled. I was thinking what is the point of all this activity. For the moment I have couched it in the familiar. Innovation and productivity are after all the holy grail that many organisations aspire to achieve.

So that will do for now on my current standpoint. My hypothesis in essence is as follows:

Machines are self learning and will become super intelligent. There will soon be an exponential rise in their capability. They will outstrip our current STEM based capabilities. We will no longer need the capabilities as much since we can rely on machines. Mastering our creative capabilities is the next frontier. We will use them to put ourselves and machines to work and solve the biggest challenges humanity face. We need to start preparing now.

Below I describe some of the main influences on my thinking so far.

Main influences on my thinking so far

Tim Urban: The Road to Superintelligence

I attended a Tim Urban talk at Transition, an event my company hosted last year. We didn’t record and share the full presentation. Luckily this Google talk he gave was and he spoke about the same topic.

He makes compelling arguments simple, as he is know for doing. A couple of things stood out for me. That we are at the cusp of exponential growth in AI’s capability for self learning. And the distinctions between standard and super intelligence blew me away.

The latter especially lead me to believe we are not thinking big enough about AI. In essence he showed me the limits of my imagination.

He didn’t project futuristic outcomes, he only shed a light on the possibilities. Extrapolate from only recent progress and a super intelligent future is hard to deny.

Don’t want a robot to steal your job? Be creative

The title is not mine – here is the article: Don’t want a robot to steal your job? Be creative. The title alone is what nailed it for me. Then on reading it several points jumped out. The first was this one:

Cheap computing power and rapidly advancing AI mean that machines already outperform us on tasks that involve retaining, processing, and repeating rule-based information.

Then their point about STEM learning which I incorporated into my diagram and thesis.

creativity-vs-robots-nestaThere was also the link to the NESTA report (pdf). This provided rich, research based evidence. The results confirm that “creative occupations are more future proof to computerisation”.

They also define a far broader concept of creativity than common perception holds. That it’s more than the arts. It encompasses “the use of imagination or original ideas to create something”.

The part in italics is what stood out for me .

That lead me to Richard Florida’s paper: The Creative Class and Economic Development (pdf).

Modern Organisations Hierarchy of Needs

Independent of all this, I wrote a post some time ago that seemed to resonate with many from all the likes and shares it received (in the thousands).

Based on Maslow’s model I positioned the Modern Organisation’s Hierarchy of Needs. Creativity and innovation were at the pinnacle of organisational actualisation.

What I left out was the AI and robots element. I’m convinced I should include it. I propose to remodel the hierarchy and include these considerations. I’ll make this a core part of my trend report. I’ll use it to advocate how organisations should change to refocus their efforts.

modern organisation hierarchy of needs

Any feedback at all on my initial thinking would be great. Please add a comment.