A new definition of success for the ‘gig economy’

How do we find meaning@work, when work is a 24/7 hustle? An article in the March/April issue of the Harvard Business Review offers some answers. ‘Thriving in a Gig Economy’ builds on research published by McKinsey in October, adding results of interviews with 65 gig workers.

As more folks opt for independence@work, new models emerge beyond the stereotype of ride-hailing service employee. The McKinsey survey of 8,000 respondents across Europe and the US found “up to 162 million people in Europe and the United States—or 20 to 30 percent of the working-age population—engage in some form of independent work.” This is no longer a trend, but a significant employment sector, attracting new members daily out of choice or necessity.

Authors of the HBR article: Gianpiero Petriglieri, Susan J. Ashford and Amy Wrzesniewski discovered commonalities among those who chose the ‘gig life’.

“We found remarkably similar sentiments across generations and occupations: All those we studied acknowledged that they felt a host of personal, social, and economic anxieties without the cover and support of a traditional employer—but they also claimed that their independence was a choice and that they would not give up the benefits that came with it. Although they worried about unpredictable schedules and finances, they also felt they had mustered more courage and were leading richer lives than their corporate counterparts.”

Ownership is the shared value of gig workers, productivity the measurement, uncertainty the trade-off, and work identity – it’s continually evolving.

“…the price of such freedom is a precariousness that seems not to subside over time. Even the most successful, well-established people we interviewed still worry about money and reputation and sometimes feel that their identity is at stake.”

What does success look like in this new workplace?

“Our conclusion is that people in the gig economy must pursue a different kind of success—one that comes from finding a balance between predictability and possibility, between viability (the promise of continued work) and vitality (feeling present, authentic, and alive in one’s work). Those we interviewed do so by building holding environments around place, routines, purpose, and people, which help them sustain productivity, endure their anxieties, and even turn those feelings into sources of creativity and growth. “There’s a sense of confidence that comes from a career as a self-employed person,” one consultant told us. “You can feel that no matter how bad it gets, I can overcome this. I can change it. I can operate more from a place of choice as opposed to a place of need.”

 

 

 

 

 

The week@work – ‘Walden, a game’, Uber’s culture, pollution & the stock market, and the ‘folly’ of abolishing the N.E.A.

This week@work the designers of a new video game would like us to take a walk in the woods, a former Uber engineer authored a blog post that opened a window on corporate culture, an economics professor demonstrated the link between air pollution and stock market fluctuations, and the director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art warned against cutting funds to the National Endowment for the Arts.

When we talk about work/life balance we typically think about disconnecting from technology, not using it as a portal for relaxation. Robin Pogrebin‘s article ‘In Walden Video Game, the Object is Stillness’ offers an example of a seemingly contrarian application.

“…the new video game, based on Thoreau’s 19th-century retreat in Massachusetts, will urge players to collect arrowheads, cast their fishing poles into a tranquil pond, buy penny candies and perhaps even jot notes in a journal — all while listening to music, nature sounds and excerpts from the author’s meditations.

While the game is all about simplicity, it has actually been in development for nearly a decade. The lead designer, Tracy J. Fullerton, the director of the Game Innovation Lab at the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts, came up with the idea as a way to reinforce our connection to the natural world and to challenge our hurried culture.

“Games are kinds of rehearsals,” Ms. Fullerton said in an interview. “It might give you pause in your real life: Maybe instead of sitting on my cellphone, rapidly switching between screens, I should just go for a walk.”

“Maybe we don’t all have the chance to go to the woods,” Ms. Fullerton added. “But perhaps we can go to this virtual woods and think about the pace of life when we come back to our own world. Maybe it will have an influence — to have considered the pace of Walden.”

Uber has a new logo and a new ranking as #3 on Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies. “Uber’s most valuable asset is its data, which has been an important part of Uber’s business since it first launched.” Which is why we should not be surprised if the company is having a bit of a dysfunctional workplace moment.

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Christina Cauterucci investigated ‘The Sexism Described In Uber Employee’s Report Is Why Women Leave Tech – Or Don’t Enter At All’.

“Uber is staging a major PR defense for the second time in recent weeks after a former employee published a detailed account of persistent sexual harassment and discrimination she allegedly faced while working as an engineer at the company. Susan Fowler, who left the company in December after about a year of employment, claims in her Feb. 19 blog post that her manager sent her sexual chat messages soon after she was hired. When she reported him to human resources, she writes, she was told that it was his “first offense” and that she should switch teams if she didn’t want a negative performance review from him. Fowler later found out that other women had reported witnessing inappropriate behavior from this same man, and each were told that it was his “first offense” and not a big enough deal to require action.

In her blog post, Fowler accuses a manager of changing her performance scores after a stellar review to keep her from getting a transfer to another team, because it reflected well on the manager to prove he could retain female engineers on his team. This is a particularly outrageous deed in an account full of outrageous deeds. Instead of enforcing a zero-tolerance sexual-harassment policy or asking female employees how management could better support them, Uber has allegedly moved to improve its substandard track record on gender by narrowing opportunities for women on staff and sweeping harassment allegations under the floor mat. Fowler writes that she made repeated, documented human resources complaints about the unfair treatment she endured, but she was gaslighted by an HR representative who told her the emails she sent never happened and that men are better suited for certain jobs than women. It took a statement on a public blog to get any action from company leadership.”

The folks who work in climate science have been under fire in recent weeks. The photo below is a reminder of what the New York City skyline looked like 44 years ago, before environmental protections were enacted.

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For those not yet convinced of global warming, maybe a direct financial consequence would be more persuasive. Scott Berinato found ‘Air Pollution Brings Down the Stock Market’.

“When University of Ottawa economics professor Anthony Heyes and his colleagues compared daily data from the S&P 500 index with daily air-quality data from an EPA sensor close to Wall Street, they found a connection between higher pollution and lower stock performance. Their conclusion: Air pollution brings down the stock market.

The effect was strong. Every time air quality decreased by one standard deviation, we saw a 12% reduction in stock returns. Or to put it in other terms, if you ordered 100 trading days in New York from the cleanest-air day to the dirtiest-air day, the S&P 500 performance would be 15% worse on the 75th cleanest day than it was on the 25th cleanest day. We also replicated this analysis using data from the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq, and saw the same effect.”

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Finally, this story is not only for those who work in the arts, but for all of us whose curiosity and creativity were sparked by a play, music or a visit to a museum. The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s director, Thomas P. Campbell warns against ‘The Folly of Abolishing the N.E.A.’

“All too often, art is seen as a “soft” subject, the first thing to be cut, whether by local school boards or the federal government, when money is tight. But looked at purely in dollars, it is a false saving. The N.E.A.’s budget is comparatively minuscule — $148 million last year, or 0.004 percent of the total federal budget — while the arts sector it supports employs millions of Americans and generates billions each year in revenue and tax dollars.

The United States has no ministry of culture. In this vacuum, the N.E.A., founded in 1965, serves three critical functions: It promotes the arts; it distributes and stimulates funding; and it administers a program that minimizes the costs of insuring arts exhibitions through indemnity agreements backed by the government. This last, perhaps least-known responsibility, is crucial. This fall, the Met will host a major exhibition on Michelangelo that will bring together masterpieces from across the world. The insurance valuation is a whopping $2.4 billion — not even our museum, the largest art museum in the nation, could come close to paying the premium for such coverage without the federal indemnity the N.E.A. makes possible.

I fear that this current call to abolish the N.E.A. is the beginning of a new assault on artistic activity. Arts and cultural programming challenges, provokes and entertains; it enhances our lives. Eliminating the N.E.A. would in essence eliminate investment by the American government in the curiosity and intelligence of its citizens. As the planet becomes at once smaller and more complex, the public needs a vital arts scene, one that will inspire us to understand who we are and how we got here — and one that will help us to see other countries, like China, not as enemies in a mercenary trade war but as partners in a complicated world.”

This week@work take a break and visit your local museum. Then go home and send an email to your member of congress. Remind them of the importance of “investing in the curiosity and intelligence of its citizens”.

 

Photo credit: Manhattan Skyline, May 1973 – Chester Higgins NARA

We need a ‘sense of urgency’

Has a ‘moment of silence’ replaced a ‘sense of urgency’? In a time when we’ve run out of words, maybe we can find a path to action in the advice of a leadership guru.

I was in Lancaster, Pennsylvania this past weekend, at a retreat with a group of ‘millennials’ whose common bond is a college scholarship financed by an amazing philanthropic couple.

Early Sunday morning, there was news of a shooting in Orlando. With few details, numb to the continuing violence in our country, we joined our small group discussions, formulating solutions to the most challenging problems for the next president. We did not discuss gun safety.

As I drove home Sunday afternoon, through the farmland and burgeoning developments that dot the Pennsylvania landscape, I listened to the story emerging from Florida, in the unsteady voices of seasoned journalists who were reporting one more time from a scene of unimaginable violence.

Early Sunday morning another group of millennials, whose common bond was their identity as LBGT, celebrated life in a club, ‘Pulse’, in Orlando. Many did not return home through the central Florida landscape of Universal and Disney.

I have watched too many news reports over the past 48 hours. I finally turned away after watching Anderson Cooper of CNN deliver a heartbreaking narrative of those who lost their lives.

Enough.

We should be safe @school, @work, @home and @play.

I want our leaders to pause for a moment of silent remembrance, but I also want them to be leaders. I want them to represent their special interests, their constituents.

And I want millennials to assume ownership, set the agenda, and take action; before more members of the most promising generation are lost.

We need a sense of urgency. Professor of Leadership Emeritus at the Harvard Business School, John Kotter‘s 2008 advice to business leaders has equal resonance with our challenge today, “create a sense of urgency by getting people to actually see and feel the need for change. Why focus on urgency? Without it, any change effort is doomed by insidious nature of complacency in all its forms and guises.” Step One – “overcome the fear and anger that can suppress urgency.”

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Beyond competence; resilience is the new competitive advantage

When we talk about failure, we have to talk about resilience. It’s the companion piece that measures our ability to become successful again after something bad happens. It’s not the mistake we value, it’s the recovery.

it’s what J.K. Rowling was talking about when she addressed the Harvard Class of 2008.

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“The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means that you are, ever after, secure in your ability to survive. You will never truly know yourself, or the strength of your relationships, until both have been tested by adversity. Such knowledge is a true gift, for all that it is painfully won, and it has been worth more than any qualification I ever earned.”

In a recent interview , U.S. transportation secretary, Anthony Foxx, prioritized resilience over all other qualities he seeks in a potential candidate.

“What I’m trying to understand is whether the person, if things get really tough, is going to stay in there or fall apart. I’d rather hire somebody who’s maybe not a genius, but they will dig in on any assignment. I’d rather have resilience than almost any other quality. Competence is obviously critical, but a lot of people who are really smart actually end up walking away from some pretty tough assignments because they’re worried about whether they can do them or not.”

How do you demonstrate this new competence to a potential employer? How do you offer examples of your own ‘phoenix rising out of the ashes’ moment?

Andrea Ovans provides some hints in her article ‘What Resilience Means and Why It Matters’. Her survey of recent research on the topic broadens the definition of resilience to include adapting well to change, and pushing through in adversity.

“Resilient people possess three characteristics — a staunch acceptance of reality; a deep belief, often buttressed by strongly held values, that life is meaningful; and an uncanny ability to improvise. You can bounce back from hardship with just one or two of these qualities, but you will only be truly resilient with all three. These three characteristics hold true for resilient organizations as well.…Resilient people and companies face reality with staunchness, make meaning of hardship instead of crying out in despair, and improvise solutions from thin air. Others do not.”

It’s about confidence, ownership, continuous learning and an ability to adapt to a continually changing reality.

Resilience is not new. Robert Waterman, Judith Waterman and Betsy Collard were offering advice to workers and organizations over twenty years ago.

“By a career-resilient workforce, we mean a group of employees who not only are dedicated to the idea of continuous learning but also stand ready to reinvent themselves to keep pace with change; who take responsibility for their own career management; and, last but not least, who are committed to the company’s success. For each individual, this means staying knowledgeable about market trends and understanding the skills and behaviors the company will need down the road. It means being aware of one’s own skills—of one’s strengths and weaknesses—and having a plan for enhancing one’s performance and long-term employability. It means having the willingness and ability to respond quickly and flexibly to changing business needs. And it means moving on when a win-win relationship is no longer possible.”

What is new? Resilience is now a core competence, not an option. When an interviewer asks about a time you failed, respond with a narrative of strength and grit, and seize your competitive advantage.

 

 

“Know something about something…”

What is this thing; lifelong learning? David Brooks called it the ‘question-driven life’, and the late diplomat Richard Holbrooke delivered one of the best defining quotes: “Know something about something. Don’t just present your wonderful self to the world. Constantly amass knowledge and offer it around.” 

Lifelong learning = Curiosity

Recently, in a response to a consultant survey, Michael Dell, the chief executive of Dell, Inc. identified curiosity as the one attribute a leader will need to succeed in the future.

Journalist and questionologist, Warren Berger reports ‘Why Curious People Are Headed To the C-Suite’ for the Harvard Business Review.

“Dell was responding to a 2015 PwC survey of more than a thousand CEOs, a number of whom cited “curiosity” and “open-mindedness” as leadership traits that are becoming increasingly critical in challenging times. Another of the respondents, McCormick & Company CEO Alan D. Wilson, noted that business leaders who “are always expanding their perspective and what they know—and have that natural curiosity—are the people that are going to be successful.

“These days, a leader’s primary occupation must be to discover the future,” Panera Bread CEO Ron Shaich told me. It’s “a continual search,” Shaich says, requiring that today’s leader keep exploring new ideas—including ideas from other industries or even from outside the business world.”

OK, you’re not the head of a multi-national corporation, but you have questions, and not just about the technical aspects of work. It’s the human stuff that’s a bit more difficult to unbundle.

There have been continuing education and extension programs catering to adult learning for a hundred years. Most are connected to an academic institution and offer ‘lite’ versions of curricula taught to college students.

In the summer of 2008, ‘philosopher of life’ Alain deBotton founded ‘The School of Life’ in London a few blocks walk from the Russell Square Underground Station. Since then it has evolved into the new model for lifelong learning, employing non-traditional faculty to deliver programing focused on “developing emotional intelligence through the help of culture. We address such issues as how to find fulfilling work, how to master the art of relationships, how to understand one’s past, how to achieve calm and how better to understand, and where necessary change, the world.”

In the Marchmont Street location, and recently opened global sites, professionals come together to learn, share and evolve in a safe space of respectful interaction. This past weekend, SOL offered a ‘pop-up’ sampling of programs in Los Angeles. I attended three of the five sessions led by philosopher and trust consultant, Brennan Jacoby.

On a beautiful California Saturday morning, a diverse group of students arrived at the Design Matters Gallery to begin a day of three, 90 minute sessions. The content informed, inspired and provoked lively discussion.

The School of Life model works because talented faculty deliver contemporary topics, using an instructional technique that allows for the right balance of introspection, sharing and networking. Sessions seemed to end too soon, with attendees lingering to continue conversations.

For the Los Angeles weekend the topics included: How to Find A Job You Love, How to Be Creative, How to Think Like an Entrepreneur, How to be Confident and How to Have Better Conversations.

The School of Life is a catalyst for the question-driven life. If you’ve decided your ‘wonderful self’ is not quite perfect yet, and you’re “ready to amass knowledge and offer it around”, set you lifelong learning GPS on London, or visit the website to begin your quest.

 

 

 

The Saturday Read – Ed Catmull with Amy Wallace ‘Creativity, Inc.’

If you can’t find a business book that meets your needs, write one. Last year Pixar’s Ed Catmull decided to do just that with ‘Creativity, Inc.’ In the introduction, he tells the reader the book “is about the ongoing work of paying attention – of leading by being self-aware, as managers and as companies. It is an expression of the ideas that I believe make the best in us possible.”

The Saturday Read this week is ‘Creativity, Inc: Overcoming The Unseen Forces That Stand In The Way Of True Inspiration’.

What differentiates this ‘management bible’ from the others is how well it integrates Catmull’s personal story into the evolution of his management values. We learn how our first interactions with the workplace can influence how we expect all our work places to be structured.

The author changed his undergraduate major from art to physics. In graduate school at the University of Utah he was encouraged by a professor, Ivan Sutherland to study computer graphics “in essence, the making of digital pictures out of numbers, or data that can be manipulated by a machine”. 

It was in this collegial environment that he first experienced “This tension between the individual’s personal creative contribution and the leverage of the group is a dynamic that exists in all creative environments…we had the genius who seemed to do amazing work on his or her own; on the other end, we had the group that excelled precisely because of its multiplicity of views.”

His experiential memory of the environment needed to create the impossible informed his management approach as his career unfolded.

“I would devote myself to learning how to build not just a successful company but a sustainable creative culture.”

His guiding principles remain consistent. In a 2008 Harvard Business Review article, ‘How Pixar Fosters Collective Creativity’ he outlined his management philosophy.

“Empower your creatives. Create a peer culture. Free up communication. Craft a learning environment. Get more out of post-mortems.”

‘Creativity, Inc.’ expands on these principles with experiential lessons in failure and success. It’s about values.

“My belief is that good leadership can help creative people stay on the path to excellence no matter what business they’re in.”

“We start from the presumption that our people are talented and want to contribute. We accept that, without meaning to, our company is stifling that talent in myriad unseen ways. Finally, we try to identify those impediments and fix them.”

“What makes Pixar special is that we acknowledge we will always have problems, many of them hidden from our view; that we work hard to uncover these problems, even if doing so means making ourselves uncomfortable; and that, when we come across a problem, we marshal all of our energies to solve it.”

Throughout the book we are learning about his leadership approach. It’s one that is not exclusive to the head of a major entertainment enterprise, but relevant to all managers from start ups to the Fortune 100.

“The way I see it, my job as manager is to create a fertile environment, keep it healthy, and watch for the things that undermine it. I believe, to my core, that everybody has the potential to be creative – whatever form that creativity takes – and that to encourage such development is a noble thing.”