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Tag: jobs in the 21st century

Work in the next 10 years and emergence


I am tidying up and I glanced through a notebook from 2 years ago. I was utterly fascinated by ‘emergence’, the phenomenon where a flock of birds, for example, emerges from simple behaviour of birds.   With three very simple rules – join the flock, keep up and keep a respectable “stopping distance” – birds individually, and probably without thought, create a flock that looks as if someone did think it up.

Emergence, business & management

We are fascinated with “emergence” in a business context because a naturally-forming flock undermines the idea of the all knowing and ominiscent leader.  The planning, leading, organizing & controlling management theory of Fayol goes ‘for a loop’.

At first, I was puzzled that university departments hadn’t taken up this idea more vigorouosly, and more practically.

Including emergence in the theory of management

Two years on, I’ve found my thinking has drifted.  Yes, it is certainly true that the role of managers is probably exaggerated (with their pay).  But the project of changing management is unnecessary.  Overmanaged firms will self-destruct, possibly at great cost to themselves and others, simply because managers have to be paid for and management that is not necessary simply makes a firm unweildy, inefficient and unprofitable.

The real issue is where our better understanding of organization is emerging in business.  The best example that is written up is the motorcycle industry of China. The best example where an industry is trying to use similar processes is the aerospace industry in UK and the production of the Boeing 787.

Moving along to understanding emergence in business

The challenge now is to understand the variations of self-organizing networks.

I think, perhaps, the basic principle is that emergence, by definition, is not willed.

  • We can prevent it happening.
  • We can illustrate the principle.

But in real life, the probably the best we can do is create conditions for it to happen.  What are those conditions?

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4 tips for finding work that will still be here in 10 years’ time

And after Toyota we have ?

The time has come when management is making one its momentus periodic shifts in thought.  The textbooks might take a little time to catch up.  Most university textbooks don’t do Toyota yet.  And after all, as we all know, Toyota is passed its zenith.  But as ever, the world moves on, and we learn from engine-makers and manufacturers.

This time it is Chinese motorcycles. How do they make them quite so cheap?

Chinese process networks & local modularization

I have been looking for good references to understand the phenonmenon of “local modularization”.   At last, I have found a good paper the motor cycle industry in Chongqing where this practice emerged. It is a pdf document presented at Davos 2006 by Hagel & Brown who are now part of Deloittes.

Working tips for finding work that will still be here in 10 years’ time

As ever, I’ve made a working checklist for my own good.  I imagine it might have been superceded by know, though. 3 years is a long time in today’s management practice.

Think supply chain not assembly line

The key to this thinking is ‘supply chain’ not the assembly line.  Now there are specialized master’s degrees in supply chain & logistics.  It is a serious business.  I have a very amateur take of what we can learn generally about where business is going but this is what I make of it.

#1  Pull vs push

Look for networks where people are asking you to do things.  Avoid networks and people are trying to ‘push’ services and products (spam you in other words).  You are looking for networks that are based on people putting up their hands and calling “I need  .  .”  You can go back to them saying “I can do X at this price.” Then neither you nor them have to say “Please buy . . .” and waste time and money on marketing. I haven’t seen any writing, other than a reference that I’ve listed below, on how networks make the change from push to pull.  Please tell me if you have!

#2  Change the game to give you and your partner permanent competitive advantage

Outsource strategically rather than tactically.  That is, form an alliance that changes the game.  Don’t just buy in finished goods.  A strategic alliance

  • Shares the goal setting with the outsourcing partner.
  • Expands the pie.
  • Deepens capability (and know how)
  • Is a long term relationship.

When you are calling for assistance, begin with the long term relationship.  Have a discussion about your long term goal.  The British aerospace industry have a cracking questionnaire on the questions to ask.  It’s worth a look.

#3  Talk long term but go with whomever delivers

At the same time, be loosely coupled.  Don’t try to specify the entire process or lock people in.  It’s a scary thought at first but every person and every supplier is redundant.  That is the natue of pull systems. Utterly redundant.

This feature may seem sem to contradict the second point and this is how the contradiction is resolved.  A long term relationship comes from discussing the long term goal.  In the past, one person specified the goal and others had to fall in in lockstep.  Now long term goals are jointly agreed but if a partner doesn’t deliver, the network simply closes over, just like the internet, and moves on.  The ‘self-healing’ of networks, ruthless as it is, is the biggest guarantee of quality (and also a worry for people who study exploitation).

#4  Go for good company rather than total dominance

Choose networks where you are one specialist link in a network rather than a dominant player.  You don’t need to dominate the network; you need a good network.  And good networks are full of people at the top of their game where the network, not just the members, gets better every day.

The British aerospace industy even have a programme to switch the whole industry over to strategically thought out relationships which though not quite pull, go in that direction.  I can imagine this point worrying people.  Certainly I would like to see work on how we protect ourselves from people who do try to dominate the network.

Moving from old styles of business to new

Hagel and Brown also gave me this checklist for managing our futures strategically.  It might be sufficient to answer my two unanswered questions.  How do we make the shift and how do we protect ourselves from ‘powerful pirates’?

  1. Where can we see the future?  Where shall we post lookouts?
  2. Where can we do things differently with other people?  Where can we work on innovative solutions?
  3. Where can we push the limits of organizational practice?
  4. Where is the “edge” or “boundary” that meets the outside world and informs the core?
  5. What sustains relationships?
  6. Where are we getting better and getting better faster?
  7. Which industries are unbundling and what is the patten?  In 2006, Hagel & Brown forsaw businesses unbundling into  infrastructure management, product innovation & commercialization, and customer relations.

I need to explore Hagel and Brown’s work more, on their own site and Deloitte’s. These lists are pretty rough but hopefully you’ll find these two lists useful in some way.  Comments?

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Thinking about modern careers in the words of Khalil Gibran

Fill each other’s cup but not drink from one cup

I am reading Khalil Gibran’s The Prophet.  His words on marriage might well be a manifesto for modern day careers and organization.

“Fill each other’s cup but not drink from one cup.”

Careers & work of the future

Switching to contemporary times, if you want to skate to where the puck will be rather than where it is now, find opportunities to work in exchange with others, “to replenish their cup”, rather than subsumine yourself to the goal of a larger institution or one boss or teacher.

Careers & sustainability

But also remember, Khalil Gibran’s words

“When you love you should not say, “God is in my heart,” but rather, “I am in the heart of God.”

In prosaic contemporary terms, think about a wider system that provides enough to drink for everyone.  We don’t need to share one cup except when there is only one.  When we make many cups and fill each other’s cups, then we we are in a healthy place and we want to strive to make that so.

  • Take your cup, allow others to fill it.
  • Take your cup, and fill those of others.
  • Ponder those who have no cup and no one to fill it.

Using the old wisdom of Khalil Gibran to extend management theory

All this is obvious though not so if you teach management theory.  Old management theory charges us with drinking from our line manager’s cup and ultimately from the company’s cup.  There are legal reasons (and mainly legal reasons) for this.

We could also train young people to understand the company as a mega-system that must benefit all stakeholders ~ all stakeholders ~ if it is to sustain itself.

We can train young people to understand power, its use and misuse, and how to work thinkingly yet safely with people who deny others their own cup.  But never to give up their own cup.

I want to see young people exploring the whole system in their online portfolios.  I would like to see youth support systems put youngsters in situations where they must sort out which cup is which, who is filling which cup, and how they can act in small & gentle ways to drink from their own cup, to fill the cups of others, and to influence the wider econ-system.  It’s an important skill to learn and many of us lose it along the way.

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Were your grand-parents Luddites? And do you take after them?

Are you like your grandparents?  Or are you very different?

I’m quite excited by all the new science that is going on: biological engineering, nanotechnology, the particle collider, and so on.  We seem to be on a cusp of new age of technology.

Many people are very disapproving, of course.  And they probably think the internet is dangerous as well!  I wondered today.  Do you think their parents were Luddites?  Do you think their grand parents were Luddites?

I am not saying the twins separated at birth are likely both to be Luddites or both not to be Luddites!   But I did wonder if families have a tradition of welcoming technology, or treating it with raucous disdain?

Is your approach to new science and development similar to your grand parents?

I’d love to know!  Luddite or not? And does Ludditism run in your family?


5 signs our education system has got better

Best Buy Store located in Shanghai, China


Image via Wikipedia

Do you believe that the education system is better or worse than when you were at school?

Micheal Porter recently published a strategic plan for the recovery of the US economy.  It applies equally to the UK economy.  A key requirement is that our education system must get very much more rigorous and competitive.

We all like to criticize the educational system and claim that it is not what it once was.  I think, in business subjects at least, our education system is BETTER than it was when we went through university.  This is what we can expect of graduates

  1. Strategy.  They will know who Micheal Porter is and rattle off his work on 5 competitive forces, define the supply-chain, and appreciate how international competitiveness rests on hyper-competitiveness at home.
  2. Management science. They will have done some management science and be able do some basic process modelling with diagrams and excel spreadsheets.
  3. Social media. They are likely to be able to set up, with relative ease, basic social media facilties like networks and blog and work effectively in companies like Best Buy who use internet-mediated collaboration extensively.
  4. Social constructionism.  They are used to giving their opinions and are well schooled to accept there are many points-of-view to a single issue.
  5. Positive organizational scholarship.  They are increasingly exposed to the idea that ideas emerge from the group or situation and are not dependent on an all-powerful, all-knowing “boss”.

Is this enough though?

While I believe that our education system has got better, is it enough?  There are three areas that worry me about what our students learn.

  1. General knowledge including knowledge of science.   Students, reasonably in my opinion, are most interested in material that seem relevant to what they want to do in life.  Adolescents and young adults, won’t settle until we recognise their unique identity.  Nonetheless, how can any student in an educational system in 2008 not know of the CERN accelerator, the Obama election and the credit crunch?   That is the modern day equivalent of switching off the radio as Armstrong landed on the moon, when Martin Luther King spoke and or Sam Miller sold Trademe for 200 million pounds (you didn’t know that one!)  We need to be able pick up events of the day and bring them into our courses and to do that, teachers need time to follow events and time to redesign their classes.
  2. Time spent on cutting edge ideas. In seeming contradiction of the first point, students have a limited number of hours in their day and our textbooks are often old.  It is bizzare to be teaching them procedures that are no longer used. Having said that, why don’t we have an interactive museum that teaches them the history of work and business?  Is it not reasonable that any examing authority, including every university, review its curriculum annually and account for what is taken out and put in?  I believe these curricula should be public and available for any one to inspect and comment on the internet.
  3. Quantitative skills.  When we were students we studied statistics but only a small percentage of students can actually use the skills they were taught.  Workers on the Toyota assembly line use means, standard deviations and t-tests as part of their daily work.  Herein lies the call for more rigour in our education system.   We must use the skills we teach and if we think it is beyond us, we need to convey deep respect for those who do.

So those are my three issues, none of which are so difficult to implement.  They require no capital and no retraining – just leadership.

My optimistic view of the future

As we move towards networked organizations such as we see at Boeing and Best Buy, our graduates will be mapping out complex supply networks, resolving performance problems at source using sophisticated analyses, and proposing solutions to diverse audiences all of whom are experts in their own right. Students do get this experience working on non-educational projects on the internet.  It is time for us to bring this activity into the classroom too.

I am generally optimistic.  My expectation is that within a year or so, graduates will be routinely presenting a portfolio of work on the internet.  Alex Deschamps-Sonsino, London based interaction designer is an example.  Daryl Tay, young Singaporean social media evangelist, is another.  Students might also show off wikis and multimedia project via links or pages.

I think the young people of today are up to it and it is they who might drive the development of more rigorous education!

So what is your view?  Do you believe that our education system is better than in your day, and what are the key issues that need to be addressed to “allow our workers to compete with workers anywhere in the world”?

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