A Manifesto on the Future of Work

A Manifesto on the Future of Work 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

Last fall, a small group of people who care mightily about human beings and their experiences with work, came together in a cabin in the middle of everywhere to dream, imagine and rethink work.  I write about and think about work most of the time, it’s my passion.  And it was fun to come together with a group of people who were equally as passionate to talk about this topic.

Work is important.  It’s how we as humans define ourselves.  It, in no small way, gives our lives purpose and momentum.  And, we aren’t getting it right.  Too many people are struggling each day to get out of bed and head into a workplace that strips them of their identity, stiffles their creativity, and otherwise makes them unhappy.  It’s a tragedy and it doesn’t have to be like this.

This group assembled with no purpose beyond discovery, learning and connecting. But the conversation was too compelling and the ideas too powerful. So, a Manifesto was written (shared below). The Manifesto shares the collective thoughts and ideas of this tribe that had gathered: Joe Gerstandt, Charlie Judy, Jamie Notter, Janyne Peek Emsick, Jen Benz, Eric Winegardner, James Papiano, Stuart Chittenden, Mike Wagner, David Ballard, and Maddie Grant, who penned this beauty as only she could. It is not meant to be the answers, but to serve as a starting point for further discussion. I hope that it will stimulate your thinking as it has ours.   

The future of work starts right here, right now.

This manifesto is about the future of work in a post-­Cluetrain world. This manifesto is also about an emerging ideology of business, where people are at the center of a human ecosystem instead of boxed into a mecha­nical system.
If markets are conve­rsations, then the people who are doing the talking and the listening and the sharing are the most important asset we have. The groun­dswell exists and is power­ful—we’re part of the groun­dswell and we can make the future of work happen right now, in lots of little ways.
Heard the phrase, “the future is already here – it’s just unevenly distr­ibuted”? We all have the social capital to help fix that.
Let’s talk about the things that human beings bring to the table in a work environment. Let’s leverage our human attri­butes and make people and all of their whole selves the fuel that makes organizations and busin­esses grow and flourish. Let’s unleash our power as networked indiv­iduals. Let’s make Dilbert cartoons and The Office something we can enjoy as the relics of a past indus­trial, mecha­nical age. Let’s stop work from sucking. Let’s empower ourselves and each other to make our lives better, and thereby make our societies better.
Some truths we hold to be self-­evident:
  • Work matters. We want work to suck less – for everyone, not just the few lucky ones.
  • The disti­nction between “work” and “life” is artif­icial and a barrier to lever­aging both the power of the indiv­idual and that of the organ­ization.
  • Work is the expending of effort for the creation of value. If there’s no effort, but it’s still consi­dered work, it should be autom­ated; if there’s no value, the work is pointless and wasteful.
  • Work is the process of creating something for the purpose of human flour­ishing. Let’s get rid of what doesn’t do that. Work has meaning for every indiv­idual. Work involves identity.
  • Work involves a sense of belon­ging. Work has meaning for the networks each indiv­idual is connected to.  Work has meaning for the local community and for the global commu­nity. Work involves social respo­nsibility.
I.  Human beings are the most important asset we have. 
  1. We need to bring our whole true selves to work. Human­-ness has value for the organ­ization.
  2. Our best work is at the inter­section of what we like doing, what we are good at doing, and what we get paid for. Our goal is for those three things to blend more. Flow has value for the organization.
  3. Work is about learning. Learning is never complete and we have a respo­nsibility as indiv­iduals to makes sure we’re always learning. We also have a respo­nsibility as organ­izations to provide resources and envir­onments for learning. This is not a choice, it’s an imper­ative. Learning has value for the organization.
  4. Work involves colla­boration with others. Work doesn’t happen in a vaccuum.  Collaboration – both internal and external – has value for the organization.
  5. We have a need to commu­nicate and share what we do and how we each do it diffe­rently. We work better in the open. Transparency has value for the organ­ization.
  6. We are able to do more than one thing. Our indiv­idual skills, whatever they are, have value and that value is marke­table.
  7. The formula for marke­tability is the same for everyone but the weight of each component is different and may change over time. Agility, defined as the capability to evolve with our networks, has value for the organ­ization.
  8. We are connected and we bring networks with us to work. Our conne­ctedness has value for the organ­ization.
  9. We will feel a sense of belonging and purpose if we’re involved in the direction and purpose of the system. Ownership has value for the organ­ization.
  10. We build relat­ionships. Relat­ionships – and the human emotions involved in nurturing them – have value for the organ­ization.
  11. We need to give as well as receive const­ructive feedback. Truth has value for the organ­ization.
  12. We will trust our employers if our employers trust us. Trust has value for the organ­ization.
  13. We have intuition as well as intel­lect. Intuition has value for the organ­ization.
  14. We all aspire to love what we do. To love where we work and who we work with. Love has value for the organ­ization.
II. Organ­izations that flourish are systems that maximize the value of their human assets.  The blurring of bound­aries between the “I” (indi­vidual human beings) and the “we” (orga­nizations and systems) creates value that is both shallow and deep.
  1. Markets are conve­rsations and organ­izations can harness conve­rsations in order to create value.
  2. The pace of change is accel­erating. The only way an organ­ization will keep up is through its people, who have a natural ability to pay atten­tion.
  3. Indiv­iduals represent nodes and networks. Organizations need to recognize the value of building relationships with networks.
  4. Proximity is no longer a prere­quisite for relat­ionships and networks. Let’s make the techn­ologies that enable virtual commu­nication invisible and ubiqu­itous, so we can just get on with it.
  5. Organ­izations need to better under­stand indiv­idual talent, and they need to better under­stand how to commu­nicate the requi­rements for needs­-based work.
  6. Indiv­idual talent means indiv­idual custo­mization; which means an expon­entially longer tail of marke­table and monet­izable skills.
  7. Indiv­idual talent means hyper­local talent; invisible techn­ology means that hyper­local talent has global reach.
  8. Indiv­iduals have a wealth of so-called “soft” attri­butes that provide organ­izational value and are therefore marke­table and monet­izable.  Let’s start paying for skills like the ability to:
    • build relat­ionships
    • act as a bridge
    • distill infor­mation
    • focus deeply
    • debate
    • influence
    • facil­itate
    • see the bigger picture
    • tell a story
    • manage compl­exity
    • draw meaning
    • write persuasively
    • manage group dynamics
    • solve open-ended problems
  9. Strategic trans­parency is the only way to achieve trust; trust is the only way to maximize the value of the people in a system.
  10. Trust provides structure and predi­ctability in a much more powerful way than hiera­rchies and organ­izational charts do.
  11. Strategic trans­parency enables clarity over control, also known as scalable simpl­icity – the capacity for all parts of the system to work towards the common goal of the system.
  12. Decen­tralized leade­rship requires less middle manag­ement, but more middle level thinking.
  • The role of manag­ement is to be the “keeper of the story”. To make sure there is trans­parency flowing from top echelon to front line.
  • The role of manag­ement is to facil­itate difficult conve­rsations and manage conflict.
  • The role of manag­ement is to facil­itate the finding of solut­ions; not to dictate them.
  • The role of manag­ement is to be the “conn­ector”, to match people with the right skills and abilities to projects where those skills are most needed.
  • The role of manag­ement is to be the “brid­ger”, to protect and ensure inclusion – to ensure that different voices and persp­ectives are heard and involved in the work of the organ­ization at all levels.
  • The role of manag­ement is to eradicate the fallacy of “best pract­ices” – to ensure there is constant learning and agility in business proce­sses.
  • The role of manag­ement is to be the “spac­e-maker”, to ensure learning can happen on a conti­nuous basis by providing conta­iners where exper­imentation is encou­raged.
  • The role of manag­ement is to remove hurdles to engag­ement.
  • The role of manag­ement is to release the flow of infor­mation and data and to get it to the right people at the right time. The new workplace is data-­driven; but infor­mation is not wisdom. It’s the human analysis of the data that drives value.
  • Data is the start of exper­imentation and learning, not the end.
  • The role of manag­ement is to hire talent that is agile enough to shift and flow based on market need.
  • The role of manag­ement is to get out of the way.
13.  Leade­rship is the systems’ capacity to shape its future. Leade­rship comes out of the group and parti­cipates at every level of the system.
14.  The new human workplace has a respo­nsibility for the susta­inability of all the resources it uses, including human beings.  The new human workplace therefore has a respo­nsibility for social good…

The story doesn’t end here. Over to you. What say you about humanizing and the future of work?
  • Elizabeth Marsh

    It sounds like you had a fascinating get together of the “tribe”, and a useful one! This is something I think about a lot along with my colleagues – about 50 of us who work around the world from home, cafes, gardens, trains etc. We’re connected and highly productive but also liberated from old ways of working tied to 9-5 in an office. I recently read an excellent book ‘The Hacker Ethic and the Spirit of the Information age’ by Pekka Himanen. I think he puts it excellently by using the “hacker ethic” as an example work with passion, and as distinct from the “protestant work ethic” (duty, drudge) on which most modern work in corporates is based. You may also find the thoughts of Paul Miller, who heads up the Digital Workplace Forum which I work for, interesting. He talks about the technology that underpins this new liberated world of work: http://digitalworkplacebook.com

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