Replied to The Problem with Blaming Robots for Taking Our Jobs by Jane Hu (The New Yorker)

[p]roductivity will continue to shrink worldwide, producing fewer and fewer jobs, not just for those living in high-income countries but for everyone.

This poses a few problems for automation theorists. First, the very fact of overcapacity means that economic growth is unlikely, and this results in fewer companies being able, or willing, to invest in new automation technology. Second, rising levels of unemployment mean more workers are vying for jobs, and competition both keeps wages low and further reduces incentives to invest in automation. In this way, Benanav writes, automation optimists mistake “technical feasibility” for “economic viability.” Why would companies throw money at a machine that might work tomorrow, when there are plenty of humans willing to work for much less today?

So it would seem that human’s ‘automating’ and producing productivity gains is the future of automation? Less magic and more hard work.
Listened CM 211: Liz Wiseman on Standing Out at Work from gayleallen.net

If someone asked what they should do to succeed in their job, you’d probably have a quick response. You might say something like, just do what you’re asked, get your work done on time, or don’t step on anyone’s toes.

But what if the question wasn’t about how to succeed, but how to stand out as the best of the best?

These are the high performers Liz Wiseman calls “impact players.” They’re the ones who leave an indelible mark on their work and the people around them. Liz spoke with nearly 200 top professionals, and she uncovered 5 behaviors that set them apart. Her findings inform her latest book, Impact Players: How to Take the Lead, Play Bigger, and Multiply Your Impact.

In a conversation with Gayle Allen, Liz Wiseman talks about her new book Impact Players. According to Wiseman, impact players look to how they can make a difference, rather than just play a roll. Most people aspire to make a difference and have a contribution. She shares five characteristics of an impact player:

  • Useful – what’s important now
  • Step up and step back – leading without it being a land grab
  • Finish strong
  • Ask and adjust
  • Make work light – removing the phantom work

Allen and Wiseman discuss the questions to consider when trying to hire an impact player:

  • How do they handle messy problems?
  • Leadership problems?
  • Roadblocks?
  • Moving targets?

Wiseman explains that the book does not serve as a recipe, but rather the start of a conversation. WHat matters most is creating the right conditions.

The best leaders … create both safety and stretch.

Wiseman also discusses the current challenges of remote work. She touches on the breakdown of chains of impact, explaining that when we are apart we often fall into a habit of going from task to task.

We burnout not from too much work, but too little impact.

This all reminds me of something that David Truss recently wrote about improvising:

The world is your stage. The play is your playground. Improvise your roles as best as you can. And remember that others are improvising theirs roles too. Work with your fellow actors to create the best performance you can. But remember it’s all an act, and if you aren’t playing a role that works, change the role or change the way you act in it. All the world is an improv stage, and so you get to write the script as you go. Enjoy the performance, you only get one.

Liked The ‘ghost colleagues’ of the remote workplace (bbc.com)

For some people, of course, the loss of these interactions may be less significant. Introverts may not miss their ‘ghost colleagues’ as much, while those with caring responsibilities may find the benefits and convenience of remote work outweigh any negatives linked to fewer interactions with people in the office.

The onus is also on companies to find better ways to translate in-person culture into the online space so that colleagues can continue to connect in meaningful ways. Good remote company communications may mean things like creating a newsletter, podcast or virtual town halls to share information workers may have otherwise absorbed in the office. “It takes a deliberate practice, and usually it takes a person or a group of people who are leading the charge and really paying attention,” says Lisette Sutherland, author of Work Together Anywhere.

Bookmarked AI Won’t Steal Your Job, But It’ll Sure Make It Suck by Clive Thompson (onezero.medium.com)

We often worry that AI and automation will take our jobs — that software will do work so efficiently and cheaply that corporations will chuck their humans aside. That certainly can happen; bank…

Clive Thompson provides examples of the way in which AI has had some jobs suck. This includes food delivery drivers working for a phantom boss, with transcriptions AI takes the good work and leaves humans with the crap, while Amazon has automated things so much that workers are unable to stop for the toilet.
I was asked to call a school today who explained we had made a mistake. It was an honest mistake, a case of misinterpretation, but a mistake none the less. I negotiated with the person that I would put together a list of errors I found and fix them. I think they were a little taken aback, they were fearing that they would have to do the laborious task of clearing things up. It made me think that although you cannot always prevent issues and errors, you can appease anxiety by being humble and saying sorry.
I was listening to someone reflect upon the perils of outsourcing compared to just doing something yourself. I had a similar experience today. As a part of my work in improving processes, I had created a spreadsheet template, which provided feedback as you went. I had someone email to say how useful it was, except it seemed to be broken. On further investigation, I realised that I had not implemented a recent update throughout the whole spreadsheet. I managed to put together a fix quickly. However, the issue was that the template had been copied 150 times and to apply the fix, I had to open upon each spreadsheet and past in the updated set of formulas. I thought for a minute whether I needed to rope somebody else in to help me. But I decided that it was my problem and best to make sure it is fixed properly, so I put my head down and hammered it out.
Replied to Your priorities are not your priority (Daily-Ink by David Truss)

If I were to start my day planning and scheduling to accomplish my one priority, what would that look like? How successful would I be, compared to trying to divide my day between the many things on my ‘To Do’ list? Yes, those things still need to get done, but are all of them a, or my, priority? If I had a daily focus on my one priority for the day, would that change my sense of purpose on those days when things generally get in the way of what I intend to do?

Will the daily act of determining my one priority change my ability to plan and execute?

What’s my one priority for today?

As someone who works in support, it can be frustrating to lose any semblance of the ‘one thing’ that is the focus of each day as others dictate your ‘to do’ list. However, I think that it is a useful framework to centre each day.

Another approach I stumbled upon recently via Oliver Burkeman was keeping a ‘done list’ to celebrate the fact that you do actually get a lot done each and every day.

Bookmarked https://www.oliverburkeman.com/donelist (oliverburkeman.com)

What if you worked on the basis that you began each day at zero balance, so that everything you accomplished – every task you got done, every tiny thing you did to address the world’s troubles, or the needs of your household – put you ever further into the black? What if – and personally I find this thought almost unthinkable in is radicalism, but still, here goes – what if there’s nothing you ever have to do to earn your spot on the planet? What if everything you actually get around to doing, on any given day, is in some important sense surplus to minimum requirements?

Oliver Burkeman wonders about keeping a done list, rather than being stressed by a never ending to-do list. Interesting to read this alongside Clive Thompson’s piece of to-do applications.
Bookmarked Hundreds of Ways to Get S#!+ Done—and We Still Don’t by Clive Thompson (WIRED)

This is what makes to-do software unique. The majority of tools we use in our jobs are about communicating with someone else. All that messaging, all those Google docs, all that email—it’s about talking to other people, documenting things for them, trying to persuade them. But a to-do list is, ultimately, nothing more or less than an attempt to persuade yourself.

Clive Thompson takes a fascinating dive into the world of to-do applications. It is fascinating to consider the applications I have tried over time, including Evernote, Google Keep and Trello. All have worked to a point, but eventually get to a point where they no longer serve the purpose intended. With my work, I have come to rely on the incident management system to manage things.
Bookmarked Remote workers work longer, not more efficiently by The Economist (economist.com)

The return to the office is well under way, just as summer in the northern hemisphere begins. Pretty soon, people will be able to resume the habit of staring wistfully out of the window, hoping it will still be sunny at the weekend. As many workers embrace a hybrid pattern, perhaps commuting 2-3 days a week, the experiment in full-time home-working is ending. At the same time, assessments of its effectiveness are proliferating.

The Economist discusses the results associated with a new report “Work from home & productivity: evidence from personnel & analytics data on IT professionals”, by Michael Gibbs, Friederike Mengel and Christoph Siemroth. They found that although there were changes, some were detrimental, such as more meetings.

Despite working longer hours, the employees had less focus time than before the pandemic. Instead, all their extra time was taken up by meetings.

This continues the reflections on the changes to work based on coronavirus. In a separate piece, Derek Thompson discusses the winners and losers, such as the growth of suburban-town-centers and downturn in regards to city businesses.

Listened
Another great Tao of Wao Doug, Laura and Bryan.

The discussion touched upon devices and calling out usage. This reminded me of something that danah boyd once shared:

  1. Verbalize what you’re doing with your phone’
  2. Create a household contract

In regards to ‘work’, I was intrigued by Doug’s discussion of work and non-work (if that is what we want to call meetings etc). It made me wonder if there are some people out there who maybe never ‘work’?

In relation to clocking hours, I personally do not have to worry about that, and must admit, I prefer not stressing about every minute. However, I do quite a bit of development in the creation of various Crystal Reports with a third-party. One of the biggest lessons that I have learnt is that everything counts. This has definitely made me more mindful of the emails I send and the testing I do, especially when you think of every update and request as a fifteen minute block.

As a side note, I wonder how we might rethink email requests and interruptions within organisations if they were billed in fifteen minute blocks?

Lastly, Bryan’s involvement reminded me of the pre-TIDE conversation?

Listened What should become of the office? from ABC Radio National

Will the experience of working-from-home make employees reluctant to resume the daily struggle with traffic or public transportation, or to put up with irritating co-workers and unproductive work environments? Or will we discover that we’ve missed something precious in being deprived of interactions with others?

Waleed Aly and Scott Stephens speak with Gideon Haigh about his book The Momentous, Uneventful Day: A Requiem for the Office. With so many forced to work offsite during the pandemic, the three consider the current purpose of the office and its futute moving forward.

Although many have raised fears associated with absenteeism, there is also a danger of presenteeism, where because you are present you are productive. One of the things to come out of the pandemic is the danger of the cult of reproducibility. Technology is not a direct substitution for face-to-face interactions. That is, not everything done in the office can be done at home, and vice versa. Both spaces are unique, with their own features and affordances, forever changing over time. For example, working from home can be more conducive for the deeper appreciation of ideas, whereas being in the presence of others often forces you to into answers. In addition to the space, the conditions of work changes things. For example, when people are mandated to work from home, this takes away from the opportunities to break up the day.

In addition to the space itself, there is the transition between different performances that occurs. Office life is a performance, but maybe just a different performance. Working from home offers certain lifestyle possibilities. With the lose of the commute, the transition between life and work becomes blurred. Associated with this, the technology we have come to depend upon has created something of a templated self, where we are conditioned to work in a particular way. This has all created the conditions for a perpetual work environment which has colonised the home. Work is subsequently no longer a vocation and deep ownership.

For me, this adds to Jennifer Moss’ discussion of burnout, Cal Newport’s exploration of productivity hacks, and Sean Blanda’s fear about the way in which remote work often becomes about tasks, rather than people.

Bookmarked The Next Generation of Robots is Here (aventine.org)

For decades, robots were cordoned off in cages. Now they are moving among us, changing the scope of where robots can go and who can use them.

Clive Thompson dives into the world of robotics. This includes the development of the Unimate, the challenge of replicating the human hand, the innovative opportunity provided by the X-Box’s 3-D-sensing chip, and the financial incentive offered by pandemic.

All these advances in robotics — better grippers, cheaper arms and powerful, affordable vision systems — have allowed smaller businesses to introduce robots at much lower prices. Whereas a big industrial robot might once have cost in the hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy, program and install according to a 2007 estimate from the industrial supplier ABB, these newer innovations have helped produce robots with total costs as low as $50,000, making dexterous automation affordable to many more buyers.

Thompson explores the growing potential and possibility of robots that co-exist with humans. This includes moving beyond industrial uses into professional services, such as milking cows, facilitating medical procedures or sorting and ferrying e-commerce products.

Sobalvarro imagines a workplace where, eventually, a human can work alongside big, swinging, heavy arms without risk of injury. It would be, fancifully, a bit like Moses walking into the Red Sea: “The robots are aware of the people and they’re there to serve the people, and they do what is necessary to allow people to move through there safely.”

This piece reminds me of Martin Ford’s book Rise of the Robots. My only concern with the piece is the lack of any critical engagement with the subject. In some respects it reads a little like a ‘press release designed to predict the future‘. Either way it will be interesting to see what will become of robots in the future. Maybe rather than replace humans, robots will make some things ‘more doable‘? It will also be intriguing to see the place of robots in the Global South, where labour costs are often a lot cheaper?

Replied to Unsettling | Open Thinkering by Doug Belshaw (Open Thinkering | Doug Belshaw’s blog)

It’s worth noting to myself that being settled in my home life allows me to do unsettling things at work. This is a note to future Doug that when I’m unsettled with things outside of work, it’s time to do more ‘settled’ things in work.

I like your point Doug about balancing settling and unsettling aspects of life. This is what I tried to capture in my post, ‘It Takes a Family‘:

Browning talks about what leaders are able to manage. Similarly, Philip Riley highlights the stresses that principals are put under. What seems overlooked in both accounts are the structures often in place that allow leaders to prosper and the sacrifices made by those within the support networks involved, such as family and friends.

Bookmarked Beyond Burned Out (Harvard Business Review)

In our always-on world, burnout has long been a threat. But in 2020 burnout became rampant, seemingly overnight. Within weeks millions of people lost their jobs and faced financial and food insecurity. People working on the front lines worried for their physical safety, and those in health care put their lives at risk every day. A third of U.S. employees started “living at work” — with the kitchen table as their new pseudo-office. Over the year acute stress would become chronic stress. And it shows few signs of abating.

Today’s level of burnout is the result of an existing problem made exponentially worse. Yet despite how massive the problem is, it’s never too late to fix it. Combating burnout may feel like an overwhelming and herculean task, especially after months of emotional fatigue, but if you’re armed with the right tools, it can be easier than you might think. And ready or not, we can’t ignore the urgency — we are in the midst of a burnout epidemic.

Jennifer Moss reflects on the results of a global survey on the impact of burnout during COVID-19.

Teaming up together, Leiter, Maslach, and David Whiteside, the director of insights and research at YMCA WorkWell, and I created a survey that analyzes the state of burnout and well-being during Covid-19. We combined several evidence-based scales, including the Maslach Burnout Inventory General Survey (MBI-GS), a psychological assessment of occupational burnout, and the Areas of Worklife Survey (AWS), which assesses employees’ perceptions of work-setting qualities that affect whether they experience engagement or burnout.

Moss discusses how organisational issues are often put on individuals to resolve. In response, she provides a number of ‘upstream interventions’ for moving forward. These include more flexible working conditions associated with working from home, reviewing the need to meetings, being empathetic and checking in on people’s well-being.

  1. Ask, Is this meeting necessary?
  2. If yes, then ask:
    • Does it have to be a video call?
    • Does it have to be longer than 30 minutes?
    • Which attendees are absolutely essential?
    • Can we turn off our cameras and use our photos or avatars instead?
    • Can we do an audio-only conference call for a much-needed screen break?
  3. Start meetings with a check-in: How are people feeling? Does anyone have a back-to-back call? If you’re leading the meeting, set a timer so you can let anyone who does have one jump off five to 10 minutes early.

I wonder if the pandemic, rather than changing everything, has merely amplified what is already in place? As the organisation I work for considers bringing everyone back, it feels like some of the elephants in the office have simply gotten bigger.

“Tom Barrett” in The Dialogic Learning Weekly #203 | Revue ()

Bookmarked What’s Wrong with the Way We Work by Jill Lepore (The New Yorker)

Americans are told to give their all—time, labor, and passion—to their jobs, Jill Lepore writes. But do their jobs give enough back?

Reflecting on the death of Maria Fernandes while sleeping in her car between shifts, Jill Lepore reflects on the world of work in America. This includes looking at the history, as well as the place it serves in our life.

It is interesting to think about this at the moment in Australia where there is a lot of discussion about people working in quarantine hotel also having a second gig.

Replied to The Industry Standard Myth by Chris (chrisbetcher.com)

Turns out that, for the most part, a word processor is just a word processor, a spreadsheet is just a spreadsheet, a video editor is just a video editor, and so on. It’s their points of difference that make them interesting, but if you’ve never tried anything else then you won’t know what those difference are.

I enjoyed this Chris. It reminds me of an experience from a few years ago where we moved to Dropbox as a collaborative solution to fit with the ‘industry standards’, rather than grow and morph our expectations.

we can spend forever looking for the perfect fix. However, the fix is only part of the solution. In addition to going through the process involved in coming to a decision, what we actually do once we have made that decision to change is just as important. What everyone really needs to learn is how to overcome various hurdles and hiccups. So often people think that the answer to problem solving is to holla for the nearest technician. Although there are some issues which we can’t solve, there are many which we can with a little nous. No matter how simple the solution, there will always be a problem that needs to be overcome. We need then a change of mindset, not to simply change the program every time we have a problem.

It also has me thinking about my current work. I came into the role without any knowledge of the system we use. I begged, borrowed and listened my way through, tinkering and testing various pieces and processes. I actually think that it has been helpful in not having any knowledge, but instead having the right approach.

Replied to Weak Ties & Strong Intros (tomcritchlow.com)

When you first start out as an independent you won’t have a clear vision of the work you do and you’ll inevitably lean hard on your strong ties to generate clients. That’s fine! It’s how it’s supposed to work. But to succeed in building a sustainable practice you’ll need to learn how to cultivate a large surface area of weak ties and create a clear, memorable image of the work you do so that your weak ties can make strong intros.

Although I do not work as a ‘consultant’, this piece left me thinking about how other weak ties would introduce me in my current position, let alone the narrative I tell. I guess this is the difference between being the master of your own narrative, compared to being in a position where your narrative is often dictated by others.
Bookmarked The Rise and Fall of Getting Things Done by Cal Newport (The New Yorker)

Cal Newport on the 43 Folders blogger Merlin Mann; the late productivity expert Peter Drucker; the author David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” method; and why G.T.D. doesn’t address the anxiety and inefficiency associated with e-mail overload, a phenomenon that knowledge workers experience in the office.

Cal Newport reflects upon the history of productivity hacks, from Druker’s management by objectives to Merlin Mann’s Inbox Zero, and suggests that individual actions are not enough. As most of us lack the power and control of our processes, we instead require management intervention.

In software development, for example, it’s widely accepted that programmers are most effective when they work on one feature at a time, focussing in a distraction-free sprint until done. It’s conceivable that other knowledge fields might enjoy similar productivity boosts from more intentional assignments of effort. What if you began each morning with a status meeting in which your team confronts its task board? A plan could then be made about which handful of things each person would tackle that day. Instead of individuals feeling besieged and resentful—about the additional tasks that similarly overwhelmed colleagues are flinging their way—they could execute a collaborative plan designed to benefit everyone.

I think the biggest challenge with this is as much about mindset as it is about process. It is interesting to consider this alongside discussions around distributed leadership.