Tag: work (page 2 of 3)

Deciding what to do next

This post by Daniel Gross, partner in a well-known startup accelerator is written for an audience of people in tech looking to build their next company. However, I think there’s more widely-applicable takeaways from it.

Gross mentions the following:

  1. If you want to make something grand, don’t start with grand ambitions
  2. Focus on the repeat offenders
  3. Tell your friends what you’re doing
  4. Make sure you enjoy thinking about it
  5. Get in the habit of simplifying
  6. Validate your market
  7. Launch uncomfortably quickly

To explain and unpack, point two is getting at those things that you think about every so often, those things you’re curious about. Points six and seven are, of course, focused on putting products in a marketplace, but I think there’s a way to think about this from a different perspective.

Take someone who’s looking for the next thing to do. Perhaps they’re dissatisfied with their current line of work, and so want to pursue opportunities in a different sector. It’s useful for them to look at what’s ‘normal’ (for example, teachers and lawyers work long hours). Once you’ve done your due diligence, it’s worth just getting started. Go and do something to set yourself on the road.

If there’s anything you remember from the post, let it be these two words: perpetual motion. Just Do It. Make little steps every day. One day that’ll add up to the next Google, Apple or Facebook.

…or, indeed, a role that you much prefer to the one you’re performing now!

Source: Daniel Gross

The ‘1, 2, 3’ approach to organising your working day

I subscribe to the free version of Stowe Boyd’s Work Futures newsletter. He’s jumped around platforms a bit when I think he’d be better off charging a smaller amount for a larger audience on Patreon.

Boyd’s latest post talks about how he approaches his work, a subject I find endlessly fascinating.

I basically employ three styles of work journaling:

  1. On a daily basis, I plan and track my work with the ‘1, 2, 3′ technique.
  2. On a weekly basis, I plan and track using the ‘must, should, might’ technique.
  3. On ‘agenda’ projects, I plan and track using the ‘do, do, do’ technique. I use the term ‘agenda’ to distinguish with the short-range calendar orientation of daily and weekly projects. This will make more sense, later on.

Breaking down that ‘1, 2, 3’ technique, he notes that (like me) he’s realised there’s only a certain amount you can sustainably get done in one day:

Specifically, I have learned that I can do the following:

  1. One major activity, such as working for a few hours on client research, or writing for a few hours. This is the ‘1′ in the ‘1, 2, 3′.
  2. Two medium sized activities, like a 45 minute phone call, or doing an hour-long webinar. This is the ‘2′ in the ‘1, 2, 3′.
  3. Three short activities, taking less than 45 minutes. This is the ‘3′ in the ‘1, 2, 3′.

I’m not sure how many hours per day Boyd works, but I bet it varies. What I like about this approach is that having a ‘major activity’ that you check off each day makes you feel like you’ve achieved something. A day full of short and medium-sized activities feels somewhat wasted.

Source: Work Futures

The spectrum of work autonomy

Some companies have (and advertise as a huge perk) their ‘unlimited vacation’ policy. That, of course, sounds amazing. Except, of course, that there’s a reason why companies are so benevolent.

I can think of at least two:

  1. Your peers will exert downward pressure on the number of holidays you actually take.
  2. If there’s no set holiday entitlement, when you leave the company doesn’t have to pay for unused holiday days.

This article by Gaby Hinsliff in The Guardian uses the unlimited vacation policy as an example of the difference between two ends of the spectrum when it comes to jobs.

And that, increasingly, is the dividing line in modern workplaces: trust versus the lack of it; autonomy versus micro-management; being treated like a human being or programmed like a machine. Human jobs give the people who do them chances to exercise their own judgment, even if it’s only deciding what radio station to have on in the background, or set their own pace. Machine jobs offer at best a petty, box-ticking mentality with no scope for individual discretion, and at worst the ever-present threat of being tracked, timed and stalked by technology – a practice reaching its nadir among gig economy platforms controlling a resentful army of supposedly self-employed workers.

Never mind robots coming to steal our jobs, that’s just a symptom in a wider trend of neoliberal, late-stage capitalism:

There have always been crummy jobs, and badly paid ones. Not everyone gets to follow their dream or discover a vocation – and for some people, work will only ever be a means of paying the rent. But the saving grace of crummy jobs was often that there was at least some leeway for goofing around; for taking a fag break, gossiping with your equally bored workmates, or chatting a bit longer than necessary to lonely customers.

The ‘contract’ with employers these days goes way beyond the piece of paper you sign that states such mundanities as how much you will be paid or how much holiday you get. It’s about trust, as Hinsliff comments:

The mark of human jobs is an increasing understanding that you don’t have to know where your employees are and what they’re doing every second of the day to ensure they do it; that people can be just as productive, say, working from home, or switching their hours around so that they are working in the evening. Machine jobs offer all the insecurity of working for yourself without any of the freedom.

Embedded in this are huge diversity issues. I purposely chose a photo of a young white guy to go with the post, as they’re disproportionately likely to do well from this ‘trust-based’ workplace approach. People of colour, women, and those with disabilities are more likely to suffer from implicit bias and other forms of discrimination.

The debate about whether robots will soon be coming for everyone’s jobs is real. But it shouldn’t blind us to the risk right under our noses: not so much of people being automated out of jobs, as automated while still in them.

I consume a lot of what I post to Thought Shrapnel online, but I originally red this one in the dead-tree version of The Guardian. Interestingly, in the same issue there was a letter from a doctor by the name of Jonathan Shapiro, who wrote that he divides his colleagues into three different types:

  1. Passionate
  2. Dispassionate
  3. Compassionate

The first group suffer burnout, he said. The second group survive but are “lousy”. It’s the third group that cope, as they “care for patients without sacrificing themselves on the altar of professional vocation”.

What we need to be focusing on in education is preparing young people to be compassionate human beings, not cogs in the capitalist machine.

Source: The Guardian

How to get hired

A great short post from Seth Godin, who explains how things work in the real world when you’re looking for a job or your next gig:

You meet someone. You do a small project. You write an article. It leads to another meeting. You do a slightly bigger project for someone else. You make a short film. That leads to a speaking gig. Which leads to an consulting contract. And then you get the gig.

These ‘hops’ as he calls them are important as they affect the mindset we should adopt:

If you’re walking around with a quid pro quo mindset, giving only enough to get what you need right now, and walking away from anyone or anything that isn’t the destination—not only are you eliminating all the possible multi-hop options, you’re probably not having as much as fun or contributing as much as you could either.

Amen to that.

Source: Seth Godin

Going deep

I don’t think the right term for this is ‘mobile blindness’ but Seth Godin’s analogy is nevertheless instructive.

He talks about the shift over the last 20 years or so in getting our news and information on primarily via books and newspapers, to getting it via desktop computers, and now predominantly through our mobile devices. Things become bite-sized, and our attention field is wide by shallow.

Photokeratitis (snow blindness) happens when there’s too much ultraviolet–when the fuel for our eyes comes in too strong and we can’t absorb it all. Something similar is happening to each of us, to our entire culture, as a result of the tsunami of noise vying for our attention.

It’s possible you can find an edge by going even faster and focusing even more on breadth at the surface. But it’s far more satisfying and highly leveraged to go the other way instead. Even if it’s just for a few hours a day.

If you care about something, consider taking a moment to slow down and understand it. And if you don’t care, no need to even bother with the surface.

This isn’t a technology issue, it’s an attention issue. Yes, it’s possible to argue that these devices are designed to capture your attention. But we all still have a choice.

You can safely ignore what doesn’t align with your goals in life. First, of course, you have to have some goals…

Source: Seth Godin

Is the gig economy the mass exploitation of millennials?

The answer is, “yes, probably”.

If the living wage is a pay scale calculated to be that of an appropriate amount of money to pay a worker so they can live, how is it possible, in a legal or moral sense to pay someone less? We are witnessing a concerted effort to devalue labour, where the primary concern of business is profit, not the economic wellbeing of its employees.

The ‘sharing economy’ and ‘gig economy’ are nothing of the sort. They’re a problematic and highly disingenuous way for employers to not care about the people who create value in their business.

The employer washes their hands of the worker. Their immediate utility is the sole concern. From a profit point of view, absolutely we can appreciate the logic. However, we forget that the worker also exists as a member of society, and when business is allowed to use and exploit people in this manner, we endanger societal cohesiveness.

The problem, of course, is late-stage capitalism:

The neoliberal project has encouraged us to adopt a hyper-individualistic approach to life and work. For all the speak of teamwork, in this economy the individual reigns supreme and it is destroying young workers. The present system has become unfeasible. The neoliberal project needs to be reeled back in. The free market needs a firm hand because the invisible one has lost its grip.

And the alternative? Co-operation.

Source: The Irish Times

Technology to connect and communicate

People going to work in factories and offices is a relatively recent invention. For most of human history, people have worked from, or very near to, their home.

But working from home these days is qualitatively different, because we have the internet, as Sarah Jaffe points out in a recent newsletter:

Freelancing is a strange way to work, not because self-supervised labor in the home doesn’t have a long history that well predates leaving your house to go to a workplace, but because it relies so much on communication with the outside. I’m waiting on emails from editors and so I am writing to you, my virtual water-cooler companions.


The internet, then, serves to make work less isolated. I have chats going a lot of the day, unless I’m in super drill-down writing mode, which is less of my job than many people probably expect. My friends have helped me figure out thorny issues in a piece I’m writing and helped me figure out what to write in an email to an editor who’s dropped off the face of the earth and advised me on how much money to ask for. It’s funny, there are so many stories about the way the internet is making us lonely and isolated, and it is sometimes my only human contact. My voice creaked when I answered the phone this morning because I hadn’t yet used it today.

The problem is that capitalism forces us into a situation where we’re competing with others rather than collaborating with them:

How do we use technology to connect and communicate rather than compete? How do we have conversations that further our understandings of things?

I don’t actually think it’s solely a technology problem, although every technology has inbuilt biases. It’s also a problem to be solved at the societal ‘operating system’ level through, for example, co-owning the organisation for which you work.

Source: Sarah Jaffe

Different sorts of time

Growing up, I always thought I’d write for a living. Initially, I wanted to be a journalist, but as it turns out, thinking and writing is about 75% of what I do on a weekly basis.

I’m always interested in how people who write full-time structure the process. This, from Jon McGregor, struck a chord with me:

There are other sorts of time, besides the writing time. There is thinking time, reading time, research time and sketching out ideas time. There is working on the first page over and over again until you find the tone you’re looking for time. There is spending just five minutes catching up on email time. There is spending five minutes more on Twitter because, in a way, that is part of the research process time. There is writing time, somewhere in there. There is making the coffee and clearing away the coffee and thinking about lunch and making the lunch and clearing away the lunch time. There is stretching the legs time. There is going for a long walk because all the great writers always talk about walking time being the best thinking time, and then there is getting back from that walk and realising what the hell the time is now time. There’s looking back over what you’ve written so far and deciding it is all a load of awkwardly phrased bobbins time; there is wondering what kind of a way this is to make a living at all time. There is finding the tail-end of an idea that might just work and trying to get that down on the page before you run out of time time. There is answering emails that just can’t be put off any longer time. There is moving to another table and setting a timer and refusing to look up from the page until you’ve written for 40 minutes solid time. There is reading that back and crossing it out time. And then there is running out of the door and trying to get to the school gates at anything like a decent time time.

I’ve written before, elsewhere, about how difficult it is for knowledge workers such as writers to quantify what counts as ‘work’. Does a walk in the park while thinking about what you’re going to write count? What about when you’re in the shower planning something out?

It’s complicated.

Source: The Guardian

Amazon Go, talent and labour

I’ll try and explain what Amazon Go is without sounding a note of incredulity and rolling my eyes. It’s a shop where shoppers submit to constant surveillance for the slim reward of not having to line up to pay. Instead, they enter the shop by identifying themselves via the Amazon app on their smartphone, and their shopping is then charged to their account.

Ben Thompson zooms out from this to think about the ‘game’ Amazon is playing here:

The economics of Amazon Go define the tech industry; the strategy, though, is uniquely Amazon’s. Most of all, the implications of Amazon Go explain both the challenges and opportunities faced by society broadly by the rise of tech.

He goes on to explain that Amazon really really likes fixed costs, which is what their new store provides. Yes, R&D is expensive, but then afterwards you can predict your costs, and concentrate on throughput:

Fixed costs, on the other hand, have no relation to revenue. In the case of convenience stores, rent is a fixed cost; 7-11 has to pay its lease whether it serves 100 customers or serves 1,000 in any given month. Certainly the more it serves the better: that means the store is achieving more “leverage” on its fixed costs.

In the case of Amazon Go specifically, all of those cameras and sensors and smartphone-reading gates are fixed costs as well — two types, in fact. The first is the actual cost of buying and installing the equipment; those costs, like rent, are incurred regardless of how much revenue the store ultimately produces.

Just as Amazon built amazingly scalable server technology and then opened it out as a platform for others to build websites and apps upon, so Thompson sees Amazon Go as the first move in the long game of providing technology to other shops/brands.

In market after market the company is leveraging software to build horizontal businesses that benefit from network effects: in e-commerce, more buyers lead to more suppliers lead to more buyers. In cloud services, more tenants lead to great economies of scale, not just in terms of servers and data centers but in the leverage gained by adding ever more esoteric features that both meet market needs and create lock-in… [T]he point of buying Whole Foods was to jump start a similar dynamic in groceries.

Thompson is no socialist, so I had a little chuckle at his reference to Marx towards the end of the article:

The political dilemma embedded in this analysis is hardly new: Karl Marx was born 200 years ago. Technology like Amazon Go is the ultimate expression of capital: invest massive amounts of money up front in order to reap effectively free returns at scale. What has fundamentally changed, though, is the role of labour: Marx saw a world where capital subjugated labour for its own return; technologies like Amazon Go have increasingly no need for labor at all.

He does have a point, though, and reading Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work convinced me that even ardent socialists should be advocating for full automation.

This is all related to points made about the changing nature of work by Harold Jarche in a new article he’s written:

As routine and procedural work gets automated, human work will be increasingly complex, requiring permanent skills for continuous learning and adaptation. Creativity and empathy will be more important than compliance and intelligence. This requires a rethinking of jobs, employment, and organizational management.

Some people worry that there won’t be enough jobs to go around. However, the problem isn’t employment, the problem is neoliberalism, late-stage capitalism, and the fact that 1% of people own more than 55% of the rest of the planet.

Sources: Stratechery and Harold Jarche

A world without work

I’m not sure that just because you look at a screen all day means you’ve got a ‘bullshit job’, but this article nevertheless makes some good points:

Whether you look at a screen all day, or sell other underpaid people goods they can’t afford, more and more work feels pointless or even socially damaging – what the American anthropologist David Graeber called “bullshit jobs” in a famous 2013 article. Among others, Graeber condemned “private equity CEOs, lobbyists, PR researchers … telemarketers, bailiffs”, and the “ancillary industries (dog-washers, all-night pizza delivery) that only exist because everyone is spending so much of their time working”.

The best non-fiction book I read last year was Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work by Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams. This is cited in the article, along with the left’s preoccupation with the politics of organised work.

A large part of the left has always organised itself around work. Union activists have fought to preserve it, by opposing redundancies, and sometimes to extend it, by securing overtime agreements. “With the Labour party, the clue is in the name,” says Chuka Umunna, the centre-left Labour MP and former shadow business secretary, who has become a prominent critic of post-work thinking as it has spread beyond academia. The New Labour governments were also responding, Umunna says, to the failure of their Conservative predecessors to actually live up to their pro-work rhetoric: “There had been such high levels of unemployment under the Tories, our focus was always going to be pro-job.”

Instead, say those who advocate a ‘post-work’ future, we should be thinking beyond the way our physical and psychological environment is structured.

Town and city centres today are arranged for work and consumption – work’s co-conspirator – and very little else; this is one of the reasons a post-work world is so hard to imagine. Adapting office blocks and other workplaces for other purposes would be a huge task, which the post-workists have only just begun to think about. One common proposal is for a new type of public building, usually envisaged as a well-equipped combination of library, leisure centre and artists’ studios. “It could have social and care spaces, equipment for programming, for making videos and music, record decks,” says Stronge. “It would be way beyond a community centre, which can be quite … depressing.”

We get the future we deserve. So if we keep on doing the same old, same old when it comes to the way we organise work, we’ll end up with the same kind of structures around it.

Source: The Guardian