The week@work: innovative companies, Mark Zuckerberg’s global community, famous writers attend a security conference, and a design idea for a friendlier office

This week@work Fast Company announced the ‘World’s 50 Most Innovative Companies’ and Mark Zuckerberg shared a template for the future of Facebook – ‘Building Global Community’. In a first, the Munich Security Conference included literary panels on their agenda. And, we found a simple ‘office design hack’ to encourage communication.

Amazon was named #1 on the 2017 Fast Company ranking of the world’s most innovative companies “for offering even more, even faster and smarter”. Noah Robischon reported on Jeff Bezos’ ever-accelerating world of ‘continuous evolution’.

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“Unlike Apple, Google, and Microsoft, Amazon is not fixated on a tightly designed ecosystem of interlocking apps and services. Bezos instead emphasizes platforms that each serves its own customers in the best and fastest possible way. “Our customers are loyal to us right up until the second somebody offers them a better service,” he says. “And I love that. It’s super-motivating for us.” That impulse has spawned an awesome stream of creative firsts…

Bezos’s strategy of continuous evolution has allowed the company to experiment in adjacent areas—and then build them into franchises. The website that once sold only books now lets anyone set up a storefront and sell just about anything. The warehouse and logistics capabilities that Amazon built to sort, pack, and ship those books are available, for a price, to any seller. Amazon Web Services, which grew out of the company’s own e-commerce infrastructure needs, has become a $13 billion business that not only powers the likes of Airbnb and Netflix, but stores your Kindle e-book library and makes it possible for Alexa to tell you whether or not you’ll need an umbrella today.”

On Thursday Facebook CEO and Co-founder Mark Zuckerberg set out his vision for his company in a 5,000 word post on Facebook.

“On our journey to connect the world, we often discuss products we’re building and updates on our business. Today I want to focus on the most important question of all: are we building the world we all want?”

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Josh Constine reported on the ‘evolution’ of Facebook’s strategy.

“Mark Zuckerberg never saw Facebook as just a business, and so never accepted his role as just a businessman. 

Five years ago, in Zuckerberg’s pre-IPO letter to Facebook investors, he wrote, “There is a huge need and a huge opportunity to get everyone in the world connected, to give everyone a voice and to help transform society for the future.”

Now with Facebook reaching 1.86 billion users and building technology to expand internet access everywhere, his constituency exceeds that of any nation. He’s made monumental strides toward steps 1 and 2.

Today, Zuckerberg offers a vision and rallying call for working toward step 3 — to “develop the social infrastructure to give people the power to build a global community that works for all of us.”

Not everyone is sipping the magic elixir. From ‘across the pond’, Carole Cadwalladr shared her opinion for The Guardian.

“But here’s another response: where does that power end? Who holds it to account? What are the limits on it? Because the answer is there are none. Facebook’s power and dominance, its knowledge of every aspect of its users’ intimate lives, its ability to manipulate their – our – world view, its limitless ability to generate cash, is already beyond the reach of any government.

Because what Zuckerberg’s letter to the world shows is that he’s making a considered, personal attempt to answer… the wrong question. He is wrestling with the question of how Facebook can change the world. Whereas the question is: do we actually want Facebook to change the world? Do we want any corporation to have so much unchecked power?”

The annual Munich Security Conference included a literature panel, ‘The Cassandra Syndrome’. Madhvi Ramani considered the significance, asking the question, “Why are famous writers attending the world’s most important security conference?”

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“With the rise of illiberalism, post-truth politics, and transatlantic uncertainty, the very pillars of the West are being shaken. In times of turmoil, people often look to literature for illumination.

Like Cassandra, who warned of disaster during the Trojan War, writers often take a longer view of issues. They are uniquely placed to examine and critique society from a removed perspective—as Don DeLillo once said, “The writer is the person who stands outside society, independent of affiliation and independent of influence.” All three writers involved in the MSC talks are known for their incisive, often critical, engagement with the politics, history, and cultures of their milieus.

Literature can help untangle the complexities of people’s lives and emotions and, as studies have shown, foster empathy: books are a key ingredient in an open, pluralistic, democratic society.”

Cari Romm shared the results of recent research from designer Daniel Krivens ‘The Design Hack That Makes for Friendlier Offices’ – eliminate “elevation segregation” by resetting the seating to ‘bar level’.

“…so many workplaces are designed to be a divided plane between those sitting, standing, and walking. When someone is sitting down, they are roughly 12 inches below the eye height of someone walking by—and this elevation segregation means everything to workplace productivity and conviviality.

What it means, essentially, is the difference between intentionally seeking someone out for a chat and just happening to fall into conversation.”

Finally this week@work, @YosemiteNPS, the annual phenomenon of ‘firefall’ as sunset reflects on the national park’s Horsetail Falls.

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Photo Credits: Amazon drone photo/Amazon, MSC photo of author David Grossman  MSC/Koch, Yosemite firefall/ NPS Yosemite

The week@work – writer’s rooms and publishing lack diversity, alternatives to academia, what scares us most and the number one mistake job seekers make

As the world turned this week@work, journalists continued to highlight the lack of diversity in the workplace: in the writers rooms of TV, the publishing industry and tech. The National Endowment for the Humanities announced a grant initiative to align graduate education with employment prospects.  A survey from Chapman University identified our top fear as corruption of government officials (unemployment and public speaking being way down on the list). And a CEO offered advice on the one mistake job seekers make.

Things are not looking good on the diversity front. Aisha Harris reporting on Slate.com, investigated the lack of progress on diversity behind the camera, in the rooms where plot and dialogue are created for your favorite TV shows.

“A Writers’ Guild of America report released earlier this year noted that staff employment for people of color actually decreased between the 2011–12 season and 2013–14 season, from a peak of 15.6 percent to 13.7 percent. The number of executive producers of color also decreased in those seasons, from 7.8 percent to 5.5 percent. While the 2014–15 season may have seen those numbers increase thanks to the addition of a few shows with diverse casts, such sharp declines demonstrate how tenuous progress in Hollywood can be.

…the television industry, like most creative industries (including journalism), pays lip service to “diversity” while very little actually changes. Even as the hottest show on TV boasts a majority-nonwhite writing staff, the work of vigorously recruiting non-white writing talent is still confined to a narrow pipeline: Diversity departments and fellowships help to fill one or two designated diversity slots on each staff. And that’s just the start of the problem: As writer after writer revealed, even when writers of color make it into that pipeline, the industry hasn’t gotten much better at making them feel as though their voices matter.”

Jim Milliot, the editorial director for Publishers Weekly, reported on their annual publishing industry salary survey. While the results indicated younger employees may be replacing the old guard, the workforce is still predominantly white.

“If publishers are indeed recruiting a new generation of employees, they do not appear to be hiring minorities. The share of survey respondents who identified themselves as white/Caucasian was 89% in 2014, the same as in the previous year. Asians remained the second-largest ethnic group within publishing, accounting for 5% of respondents in 2014, up from 3% the previous year. With the survey finding no real change in the racial composition of the workforce, it is no surprise that only 21% of respondents felt that strides had been made in diversifying the industry’s workforce in 2014. A much higher percentage, however, said they believe the industry has made progress in publishing titles by nonwhite authors and titles aimed at more diverse readers.”

One other article of interest on the diversity topic was written by Vauhini Vara for Fast Company and details Pinterest’s efforts to “fix its diversity problem”. She chronicles the various efforts to identify recruitment channels over the past two years and the lack of progress in diversifying the workplace. “There is lots of hope but little certainty about what works.”

The common thread in all of these ‘lack of diversity’ conversations is the ‘wishful thinking’ for a quick fix. The majority of the careers covered in these articles are filled by ‘contract’ employees. The hiring is tied to a project. When the next project begins, folks hire their trusted colleagues from previous gigs and there are few openings for a newbie. Diversity requires a long term investment in education, internships and mentoring – creating a new career pipeline.

One solution I personally observed in my corporate life was when a senior exec tied business unit management compensation to diversity targets. If you are rewarded for diversity – hiring and retention – there is a better chance for success. It’s not brain surgery; it’s a matter of priorities.

Academia is another workplace that has continued to struggle with diversity issues, driven in part by an outdated tenure process and lack of career transition in senior faculty ranks. As students continue to enroll in PhD programs, their predecessors compete for the few faculty openings and get by cobbling together a mosaic of ‘contract’ adjunct positions. Until now, it was taboo for a grad student to speak out loud about pursuing a career outside the ivory tower.

Colleen Flaherty reports for Inside Higher Education on the National Endowment for the Humanities recognition of diminishing tenure-track options and a proposal to explore alternatives.

“Critics have long complained about doctoral education in the humanities, saying that it takes too long and no longer reflects the realities of graduates’ employment prospects. In other words, graduate humanities programs are still largely training students to become professors at major research universities, when the vast majority won’t, given the weak tenure-track job market.

“We know that the traditional career track in the humanities, in term of numbers of available positions, is diminished — that scenario has changed quite dramatically over time,” William D. Adams, NEH chairman, said in an interview. “So we’re reacting to that in trying to assist institutions in providing a wider aperture for their students to think about careers beyond [academe].”

Based on the workplace issues we experience and read about, it may come as a surprise that workplace concerns are not at the top of this year’s Chapman University survey ‘America’s Top Fears 2015’.

Cari Romm summarized the survey methodology and results in an article for The Atlantic.

“For the survey, a random sample of around 1,500 adults ranked their fears of 88 different items on a scale of one (not afraid) to four (very afraid). The fears were divided into 10 different categories: crime, personal anxieties (like clowns or public speaking), judgment of others, environment, daily life (like romantic rejection or talking to strangers), technology, natural disasters, personal future, man-made disasters, and government—and when the study authors averaged out the fear scores across all the different categories, technology came in second place, right behind natural disasters.

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In the last article of the week, Business Insider writer Jacquelyn Smith, interviewed Liz Wessel, CEO and Co-founder of WayUp and discovered the biggest mistake job seekers make.

“People are generally far too modest,” she says. “If there’s ever a time to brag, it’s during your job search and interviews. You need to state your accomplishments and show how your work led to awesome outcomes for your companies. Remember, you need to convince your interviewer that, out of all the applicants the company is considering, you’re their best bet.”

If you don’t take credit for your work and accomplishments, no one is going to give you the benefit of the doubt for being modest, Wessel adds. “And if you don’t show proof of your accomplishments, you won’t stand out.”

The reason this “mistake” is so common, she says, is that a lot of people are good at being “team players,” and therefore try to share the credit. “In a lot of cases, this is a great instinct, and while it’s obviously important to work well in a team setting, it’s also important to convince an employer to hire you, not your entire team.

The message in the week@work themes: those who are confident in their talent and able to articulate their value to an organization have the potential to contend for work in writing, publishing, tech and academia. But the playing field is not level and winning the coveted spots will ‘take a village’: committed employers, dedicated mentors, paid internships, educational outreach and community visibility.