A quiet revolution

It’s been said that we don’t know there’s a revolution going on ’till it’s over.

Up until that point, we see anomalies, departures from our familiar norms and are slow to come to terms that this is the new normal.

We can see this at a variety of levels, although where I am noticing it most is in the relatively mundane day to day working of organisations, particularly small and medium sized ones.

They don’t have to be very old – twenty years is plenty – for those who founded them to have lived through a quiet but profound change in the relationship they have with new talent.

Twenty year ago, organisations still had the power to choose. More people wanted jobs than there were jobs available. Clear job definitions and qualifications gave them a menu of people to choose from. Over the last twenty years, those jobs have become commodities. Lots of people can do them, from many locations, for ever decreasing prices. And where that isn’t cheap enough, machine learning, AI and automation steps up to the plate.

Lots of options for employers, but the results are increasingly asymptotic. Price may go down, but quality does not go up. Same output for lower input.

Which means that we now have a whole new tribe to deal with. Not just some easy label like “millennial”, but a whole new demographic. People not just with skills, but opinions and purpose. People who want to do something unique, something that matters, something to be remembered for. People with a voice.

Artists.

Artists comes in all shapes, sizes, and ages. They are a real challenge to employ on conventional terms, because it’s not about the conventional metrics of pay and conditions. They are looking for fellow travellers.

Artists are super empowered. Given the right vehicle, the right environment and the right company they can can help those they work with to achieve “escape velocity” from the mundane to the remarkable. to escape the “soggy middle” of price based competition to building loyal followers who get what they are about.

Look around you. How many artists do you see? Those who do not have to be with you, but are there from choice because it’s where they can do the work they want to. Those who will make a real difference to other than the cost base. Those who are in a race to the top, not the bottom, of their potential.

If you don’t see any, then the revolution may just be passing you by.

The people who can make the difference you need have a choice.

..….and in the way these things work, this from Seth Godin just dropped into my inbox.

Breaking Rocks with Spoons

I always enjoy Sundays. Despite being (more or less) master of my own time, there is still something about them. One of the things I like to do is go through articles and mails that I’ve sidelined during the week so I can go through and give them time they deserve on Sunday. In the way that these things do, a picture emerged from this week. People breaking rocks.

People approaching things head on, when standing back would indicate a more effective way.

People obeying patently daft rules, despite the fact they know it hurts them and their clients, because the rules somehow have a power of their own.

People “sticking to their knitting” in a valuable education market, even though a small team has created a digital equivalent that will likely pull the rug from under them. If our job can be described and specified, it can be automated. See here for the jobs under threat – right now – of automation.

Screenshot 2014-11-23 11.20.12

You can read the full article here

Our futures do not belong to organisations, they belong to us. Each of us has unique abilities (and the likelihood for most of us is that it has little to do with your job) that we can leverage, particularly if you find the right group to work with (clue: They are probably not those you work with)

Last week, I had the pleasure of listening to Richard Gerver; who talked about a conversation he had with Sébastian Foucan, who you may recognize from his part in Casino Royale. During a walk, Richard asked him what he was looking at. To paraphrase the answer, the reply he got was “the spaces”. Sébastian sees the buildings as rocks, the spaces as the fastest way through, and himself as water. This is what happens:

Maybe we should look at what we do in the same way. Our passions and abilities are like water. Many of the organisations we work in are rocks. Quite often , the resources we are given are like spoons.

Breaking rocks with spoons. Not the future.

Using your skills like Seb? Maybe…….

Beyond Certainty

Certainty is often quoted as the lifeblood of markets. The dictionary defines certain as “free from doubt or reservation; confident; sure”.

In todays conditions however, most of what we deal with has a very short time horizon. Certainty is difficult, if not just illusory.

When I went to University and started my career (not just pre internet, in the age of emerging fax) the time horizon was longer, or so we thought. A good degree and a good employer offered a relatively risk free route via good salary to a good pension. In my own case, it was an RAF scholarship, which was all of these, only more so. I had in effect a fixed 38 year contract. Attractive in concept, I lasted nine years. Curiosity and compliance do not make comfortable companions.

I have spent the rest of my business career in conditions of serial uncertainty – in corporates starting new ventures or recovering failed ones, then in private businesses in UK and Europe doing much the same, for the last ten years doing the same with my own businesses. Along the way, it has encompassed great success and painful failure, but on average has been very good. Which says everything about the descriptive power of averages.

What made it work for me were the things I was certain in. My spouse (who has been there from the beginning), my family, friends, and a determination only to work for things, and with people, I believed worthwhile. (for sake of clarity, not all of it. There was an interesting period of a couple years where I compromised this – making me determined never to do it again)

What I recognize in retrospect was the power of what Jonathan Fields calls in his book “Uncertainty”; “certainty anchors”. If we accept that most of what goes on around us is inherently uncertain, we need to create areas where we are certain. They can, if we are lucky, be the big things but can equally be something as simple as going for a walk at the same time each day, meditation for a few minutes each morning, following a football team (I do the first two, but not the last. I live in Derby and the pressure is too much). For a business, it might be monthly non agenda-driven get togethers or an adopted charity. These “certainty anchors’ give us a place to stand, and deal with most uncertainty for what it is – “noise” rather than signal.

Market conditions of uncertainty are a great platform for growth. Big, established companies are much more vulnerable to uncertainty, and have a lot of mouths to feed from staff to shareholders, making them less resilient than smaller nimbler companies. The “Status quo” has a far shorter life, and technology is ensuring the resources gap between large and small businesses is reducing quickly.

The most powerful unit of change today is small, dedicated teams (research suggests less than twenty) who share a common purpose, a sense of humour and who can create their own “certainty platforms” to deal with the conditions they face. They can exist anywhere, from start ups to corporates. They are “talent magnets”, flexible, and have, as we shall see in future posts, all the critical ingredients for achieving success in uncertain conditions.

Structuring and leading to exploit uncertainty is a huge opportunity. We can all do it; if we choose.