September 15, 2019

Working At The Intersection Of Now & Next

By: Larry Bridgesmith

My forty year career in employment and labor law has taught me a great deal about workplaces, large and small as well as “good to great”. Most of my early assumptions about productive work environments have been destroyed along the way.

I’m currently reading Parker Palmer’s “On the Verge of Everything“. He writes a retrospective of his own journey as a writer, speaker, professor, consultant and activist. At the age of 80, with deep experience to draw from, he entreats the reader to live a “life of beginnings”, embracing the Buddhist principle of a “beginner’s mind”. In his view, always being open to learning and altering perspectives to conform to new facts and new truths, provides the foundation for a life of purpose, meaning and “success”.

However, that is not the path most choose. Instead, it seems safer, more secure and less risky to remain with the known, the trusted and the “normal”.

Palmer illustrates:

“I once heard an old Celtic Christian story about a monk who died and was interred in the monastery wall. Three days later, the community heard noises inside the crypt, so they removed the stone and found their brother resurrected. Awash in wonder, they asked what heaven was like. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘it’s nothing at all like the way our theology says it is . . . ‘ Without further ado, they put him back in the wall and sealed the crypt again”

Too much of the workplace experience has been constrained by the “the way we do things here”. The risk of experimentation and innovation is simply too much risk for most business models to tolerate.

However, work in the exponential age is anything but static. (See McKinsey Interview with Andrew McAfee in this space, September 30, 2019)

Many have depicted how work in the exponential age is becoming radically different than it has been in the last industrial age.

In medicine, the physician authors of Quantum Leadership: Creating Sustainable Value in Health Care make a compelling case that the rise of emerging technologies have fundamentally altered the health care workplace.  First published in 2017, the book is in its fifth edition and now is being incorporated into medical school curricula. No longer relying on traditional models of work as time measured input which is managed and controlled, a sustainable health care workplace is data driven, technology supported and increasingly performed by interdependent and autonomous work teams. Those employed in such workplaces are less dependent on hierarchy and more augmented in their decision making by immediate access to pertinent data and predictive analysis.

A generalized industry analysis of the emerging workplace is portrayed in the Frederick LaLoux work of Reinventing Organizations. As organizations have evolved through human history, the styles required reflected the needs and norms of the human condition. As those needs and norms are changed, organizational styles will necessarily adapt or become unsustainable. The highly interconnected and information rich age in which we now work will naturally evolve into a more multi-disciplinary interdependent version of the traditional workplace. Command and control is being replaced by diverse work teams having complementary skills and greater self-management with less dependence on hierarchy.

A graphic depiction of the LaLoux organizational reinvention paradigm can be viewed in this nine minute video:

Markets are shifting! The data driven and integrated information sharing companies are separating themselves from their competitors who are still stuck in the “old world” of workplace management. Even in “bricks and mortar” industries like banking, retail and transportation, the companies who augment real time decision making with data accessible to increasingly “lower levels” of workers are flattening their organizations, reducing costs and improving profitability.

As already referenced above, professions like medicine, law, education and financial services are becoming “flatter” and more disciplinarily diverse all the time.

Just past the intersection of now and next is the superhighway of here and now.

Culture Change + Emerging Technology = Sustainable Business Entities

That’s a roadmap we can follow.

Mr. Bridgesmith has over 40 years experience in legal professional services and numerous business ventures involving digital technologies. He has represented, trained, and consulted with organizations large and small in most industries. He is currently a Managing Partner of Accelerate InSite with a focus on AI Strategies.