New bloggers on the future of work

[Cross posted at Future Tense]

One of my colleagues at work recently asked which bloggers I might recommend that also deal with the future of work and the changes technology continues to elicit in organizations. His question was well-timed as there are several fine thinkers who have taken to blogging in the last several months that have much to add to this ongoing conversation.

I’ve previously mentioned John Sviokla (Sviokla’s Context) and Espen Andersen (Applied Abstractions) who were both colleagues at Harvard. There are three other academics/ex-academics who I find particularly cogent on the topic of managing and leading knowledge-based organizations.

David Maister created and taught a course on managing service-based operations during my MBA days; an area that has since grown to become one of the major organizing themes of the curriculum there. Since then, David has gone on to become one of the pre-eminent consultants to professional services organizations. He is blogging at Passion, People and Principles. Although his ostensible focus in on services organizations, the challenges they face make them a laboratory for the kinds of knowledge work issues that all organizations will face. David is also the author of several of the best books on consulting and professional services, including The Trusted Advisor and True Professionalism : The Courage to Care About Your People, Your Clients, and Your Career.

Another Harvard blogger is Andrew McAfee who teaches in the technology and operations management group, which has become the home of the most robust thinking about these topics at Harvard. His blog title, The Impact of Information Technology (IT) on Business and Their Leaders, lacks a bit in the snappy department, but the content is first rate. Recently, he has been leading the charge to map out and define the notion of Enterprise 2.0 in places as diverse as the Sloan Management Review and wikipedia.

Over on the West Coast at Stanford, we have Bob Sutton the author of several excellent books, most recently  Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths And Total Nonsense: Profiting From Evidence-Based Management. His blog is Work Matters. Sutton has been collaborating with Jeff Pfeffer, also of Stanford, to promote the practice of evidence-based management, which, like evidence-based medicine,

means finding the best evidence that you can, facing those facts, and acting on those facts – rather than doing what everyone else does, what you have always done, or what you thought was true. It isn’t an excuse for inaction. Leaders of organizations must have the courage to act on the best facts they have right now, and the humility to change what they do as better information is found. [Evidence-Based Management]

Sutton and Pfeffer have also launched a website and a group blog to promote evidence-based management. You might also want to check out The Knowing-Doing Gap : How Smart Companies Turn Knowledge into Action by Pfeffer and Sutton and Weird Ideas That Work: 11 1/2 Practices for Promoting, Managing, and Sustaining Innovation, one of Sutton’s earlier books.

2 thoughts on “New bloggers on the future of work”

  1. Requirements elicitation causes crappy systems. JAD was supposed to be the cure, but really it just makes systems crappier. Sure the developers can say, hey we fulfilled the requirements, but the requirements changed all the time. Why?

    Start with the notion that numbers are numbers, so accountants turn everything into numbers and disregard meaning, culture actually. Then, you put IT under the CFO, so IT as a discipline focused on programmer efficency over operational efficency, which gives IT no incentive to be culturally aware. Here I mean functional cultures, not the monolithic corporate monoculture. So, IT systems are culturally insensitive. The numbers mean something, but only to the generalist that didn’t generate them, and that is that the numbers are something ignored.

    Economically, the only meaningful number is the generalist decisionmaker’s paycheck. Economists tell us that the person with the highest incentive makes the best decision. The experts, the functional units, can’t make the best decisions from that perspective, so their systems are silo busted to create generalist fit no one systems.

    Systems teach. If you use a spell checker, you spell the way it tells you to spell. If you use a voice command system, you talk the way it tells you to talk. If you know that some number is meaningless, you find some way to produce a better number. When the servers go down, the email goes down, and the internet is down, you go to lunch or home. When, the AC is off at work, you stay only long enough to get the absolute minimum done.

    When people exhibit bad behaviors at work, managers fix the system. They know they can’t fix the worker. Thus, the systems evolve to make us all conform to the fixes.

    I get a paycheck. I go to the bank. The bank checks that paycheck against a list. The list is nowhere to be found. I can’t get paid. Geez. The list is just an artifact used to make sure that I didn’t kite the check. Like, I’d want to go to prison. Well, someone did. They probably didn’t work for my company. But, the bank went through this and now sells the list as the ultimate preventative measure, a best practice. So again, the system evolved to the lowest, and we follow. I had no lunch that afternoon.

    And, yeah, its a bad thing if you stick out by being too good. Your predecessors trained the managers to accept less than good work, and to provide less than an adequate schedule to get that minimal work done. You know better. Buy, hey, keep your mouth shut, or you’ve painted a target on your back. Crap teaches crap teaches crap, and somewhere in all of that you have to learn it.

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