#WorkingOutLoud on ’Radical Explorations of the Future of Work’

I’ve used this year of writing to explore quite a broad range of ideas, and given myself permission not to find structure and coherence as i go – so instead of ending up with a neatly categorised set of articles and research, i have quite a divergent one! The idea here was to avoid finding easy answers too early – to be able to retain a light footprint in certainty.

That’s made the experience difficult in places: whilst the pandemic and concurrent lack of travel has freed up significant amounts of time for research and writing, the uncertainty has felt crippling at times – the desire to produce ‘proper’, ‘complete’, or ‘correct’ work, work that sits easily, is strong. And now, to end the year well, i am trying to pull these disparate threads into something closer to a coherent whole.

I have major buckets that are reasonably clear: amongst them a body of core work around ‘Learning Fragments’ which revisits and revises my core legacy ideas, the new work on ‘The Experimental Organisation’ which considers how we experiment and the folklore of failure (this will be a major focus for 2022), some work on ‘Imperfect Leadership’ as a follow up to Quiet Leadership, exploring how we make decisions in ambiguity and against a backdrop of fairness, and the ‘Work of Place’, which explores the contemporary challenge of the future of work.

It’s that latter piece i want to touch upon today: within this ‘bucket’ i have two broad threads, and i’m unsure whether to weave them together, or keep them apart.

‘The Work of Place’ is an exploration of ‘the future of work’ – including an exploration of ‘why’ we work (individually) and ‘how’ we work (organisationally) – it is set up to explore how organisations adapt to more hybrid and individual models of engagement and productivity, and intends to take the debate beyond a simple narrative of ‘where’ we work.

So in many ways, this is contemporary, and practical. It includes the most recent work on enquiry frameworks – questions to ask of ourselves as strategists and leaders – that may help progress the conversation.

Alongside this work, currently within the same ‘bucket’ is work that is more future focussed and less practical, which i am now calling ‘Radical Interpretations of the Future of Work’.

This is not a conversation about ‘return to the office’, but rather an intellectual exploration of how we evolve every aspect of the Organisation. If we were starting from scratch, what would we dream up?

Ideas so far include the following:

Management into Marketplace – we come from a place where managers, within hierarchies, organise and allocate resources (human, intellectual, and material) to achieve known mechanisms of production. The evolution will be into the Organisation as a marketplace, where leaders may bid for teams, where self organising teams or Guilds will own their own development and where productivity may be more creative, but also more consensual, with rewards negotiated according to success or urgency.

Qualifications into Capability – exploring an Organisation that values evidenced capability (defined at the application of diverse skills to effect productive means) above formal qualification or specific job role.

Office into Ecosystem – work as defined by a formal place, evolves into many social places where work is realised as an outcome. This will see the transformation of our built environment, a general distribution of labour, a wealth of richly networked third spaces, and the emergence of self organising specialist units of labour that contract into multiple organisations, including education and healthcare.

Separation into Curation – this piece will take a more holistic view about how ‘work’ evolves from something we do, into a central part of who we are, but but that the nature of engagement shifts into a structure that is curated on an individual basis. ‘Work’ in this context will become a series of connected communities and capabilities that we move between over time. Boundaries will be less formal, and the nature of engagement more fluid. ‘Work’ defined by a formal view of separate domains evolves into ‘capability’ as curated by leaders or individuals.

Codification into Co-Creation – the idea that the Organisation itself is formally defined as something you join, evolves into the idea of the Organisation as a belief system where everyone has a voice and chooses to believe. Purpose becomes more fluid, accountable, and co-created.

Contract into Fairness – the idea that your primary alignment to an Organisation is legal, evolves into the idea that the primary engagement is based upon fairness (both to you, and to broader society). Notions of social accountability and social justice become core recruitment enablers, and accountability of the organisation leads to a focus on nett contribution to local culture, rather than global unification or homogeneity.

Centralisation into Virtualisation – the idea that we bring people, materials, ideas etc together centrally devolves into connected networks of capability and arms length production. This piece considers specific skills and capabilities, and the mechanisms by which they are learnt.

Money into Mobility – a far future view of an Organisation beyond money, where opportunity and a blockchain based reputation economy takes prominence.

The point of this work is not to be particularly practical – but rather to help us envisage the space where we may find practical ideas!

I’m currently leaning towards two separate publications: one for ‘The Work of Place’, and the other of ‘Radical Interpretations’: my next step is to pull the existing work together, see what the structure may look like, and where the gaps lie – then ask what makes a most coherent/useful read.

About julianstodd

Author, Artist, Researcher, and Founder of Sea Salt Learning. My work explores the context of the Social Age and the intersection of formal and social systems.
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