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 – Davos, transition, transferable skills and a ‘profundo’ life

 

The headline of the week@work did not originate in Washington D.C., but in Davos, Switzerland: ‘Davos Elite Fret About Inequality Over Vintage Wine and Canapés’. “…globalization has reduced the bargaining power of workers, and corporations have taken advantage of it.”

In other news – January is often a month of transition, not just in government, but across all fields. Articles this week@work explored the value of being fired and finding the right ‘fit’ next time. Physicists are the new software engineers in Silicon Valley and PhDs just may be the newest entrepreneurs.

Finally, this week@work we remember Kevin Starr, who went to work every day as a historian chronicling the past of his home state, California. “I’ve always tried to write California history as American history.”

4096.jpgPeter S. Goodman covered the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum for The New York Times.

“What is striking is what generally is not discussed: bolstering the power of workers to bargain for better wages and redistributing wealth from the top to the bottom.

“That agenda is anathema to a lot of Davos men and women,” said Joseph E. Stiglitz, a Nobel laureate economist and author of numerous books on globalization and economic inequality. “More rights to bargain for workers, that’s the part where Davos man is going to get stuck. The stark reality is that globalization has reduced the bargaining power of workers, and corporations have taken advantage of it. ”

That perhaps private equity overseers should not be paid 1,000 times as much as teachers while availing themselves of tax breaks is thinking that gets little airing here.”

1e97282770fb153b749b691b25832c03.jpgFor those of us not networking with the super elite in the Swiss Alps, Julie Ma compiled a sampling of quotes from ’25 Famous Women on How Getting Fired Makes You Stronger’.

“If you don’t get fired at least once, you’re not trying hard enough. This isn’t quite true yet, but it is becoming truer. As the pace of change in business increases, the chances of having a placid career are receding. And if in this period of rapid change, you’re not making some notable mistakes along the way, you’re certainly not taking enough business and career chances.” Sallie Krawcheck, chair Ellevate

“Is it hard to say I was fired? No. I’ve said it about 20 times, and it’s not. I was in fact insistent that that be publicly clear because I was not ashamed of that. And I don’t think young women — it’s hard, I know — they should not feel stigmatized if they are fired. Especially in this economy people are fired right and left for arbitrary reasons, and there are sometimes forces beyond your control.”
Jill Abramson, author and faculty @Harvard

IMG_8148.jpgMost folks leave their life @work because of the ‘human factor’: colleagues, leadership and values. Sharon Daniels offered advice to those starting the job search.

“If you have passion and enthusiasm, you’re on your way. People want to be around people who have passion and enthusiasm, because we all gravitate toward something greater than ourselves. If you do something wholeheartedly versus halfheartedly, it’s going to have a completely different effect.”

Cade Metz reported on how transferable skills are changing the profile of some tech workers, ‘Move Over, Coders—Physicists Will Soon Rule Silicon Valley’.

“If physics and software engineering were subatomic particles, Silicon Valley has turned into the place where the fields collide…It’s not on purpose, exactly. “We didn’t go into the physics kindergarten and steal a basket of children,” says Stripe president and co-founder John Collison. “It just happened.” And it’s happening across Silicon Valley. Because structurally and technologically, the things that just about every internet company needs to do are more and more suited to the skill set of a physicist.”

Ainsley O’Connell described another experiment in skill transference, ‘Can Entrepreneurship Revive The Troubled PhD?’

“PhD students once dreamed of lifelong tenure, generous sabbaticals, and a closet full of jackets with elbow patches. Academic life, with its dusty-booked charm, ruled the day. No longer. Even in STEM fields, roughly 40% of PhDs are graduating without employment commitments. Could the solution be teaching postdocs to create their own jobs, as entrepreneurs?

In the heart of Manhattan, in a set of conference rooms on loan from Google, one radical experiment in postdoc entrepreneurship is now entering its fourth year. Called “Runway” and managed by Cornell Tech’s Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute, the program bills itself as “part business school, part research institution, part startup incubator.” Since its founding, Runway postdocs have founded 13 companies, from an intelligent baby monitor to an urban planning analytics platform, and collectively raised $15 million in funding.”

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Finally, this week@work, we remember Kevin Starr, former California State Librarian, professor and author of an eight-volume history of his home state ‘Americans and the California Dream’.

Colleague William Deverell remembered the historian and author as ‘A Golden State Champion’.

“I knew Kevin Starr only as profundo. He was big, his voice was big, his persona was big, his books are big, his ideas are big, his influence is big. Some, and only some, of this has now been silenced by his death Saturday. Kevin’s outsize impact and his sheer significance to both our regional and our national culture, will continue long hence. Death has robbed us of the most important guide we have ever had to our state’s history and culture, our ingenious interpreter of the elusive and many meanings of the California Dream over several centuries.”

 

 

 

 

The week@work – The future of work: exploring the influence of finance on inequality, work quality and experiments to allude all those ‘ceilings’@work

We are living in interesting times @work. Some of our traditional work models no longer fit with our values. As society and culture push back on antiquated work structures, new models emerge. The articles published this week@work consider the future of work by examining the external influences on the workplace and experiments at new models. And, one author suggests the Bureau of Labor Statistics include quality of life metrics in their employment reports.

The first two articles appear as part of the excellent Pacific Standard series on ‘The Future of Work and Workers’.

In the first, ‘The Future of Work: The (Excessive) Power of Finance’, Roosevelt Institute Fellow, Mike Konczal, writes about the broader implications of financial power on inequality @work.

“Academics often discuss the “financialization” of the economy, a mind-numbing term that simply means the increased size and power of finance, especially over corporations, the rules of the economy, and the way we view society. It’s this broader problem that should cause us to worry about the future of work and labor. Only by overcoming this challenge will the economy achieve the innovation and broad-based prosperity it is capable of creating.

When people discuss inequality, they tend to focus on technology, or globalization, or demographics. But recent research has emphasized that the rules of the economy, the laws, regulations, taxes, and practices that structure and influence the markets themselves, are a major generator of inequality. Those rules have consistently been re-written to benefit wealth and finance over everyone else, creating another major challenge for workers.”

In the second article,‘The Future of Work: Exploring the Quality of Work’ University of Minnesota’s Ann Markusen asks us to reconnect with the experience and meaning of work and develop policies and practices aligned with work life quality.

“We have lost track of the whole job, the meaning and experience of work in people’s lives, and how policy and employer practices have demeaned them. And we fail to probe deeply enough into why this is happening, especially shifts in societal norms and the behavior of employers. We should broaden the conversation about work beyond important metrics like labor force participation, unemployment rates, weekly wages, hours worked, and median income to investigate more deeply the quality of work life and its significance for us collectively.”

We could broaden recurrent Bureau of Labor Statistics and state/local employment surveys to cover workplace comfort, safety, flexible leave, quality of manager/peer/customer interactions, pride in one’s work. We could then track changes over time in the quality of work, and by industry, occupation, age, race, and location..More attention to work quality, from researchers, schools, the press, and politicians, will contribute significantly to the future of work in this country.”

One company exploring a new model, ‘Holacracy’ is Zappos. National editor of The Intercept, Roger D. Hodge spent some time with employees and shared his experience in ‘First Let’s Get Rid of All the Bosses’ for The New Republic.

“The contemporary movement of corporate reform, the drive to make the workplace more humane and meaningful, to imbue companies with joy and a higher purpose, will not stand or fall with Zappos. But if it does fail, if Amazon clamps down and assimilates the happy-wacky Zapponian culture and absorbs all those smiles and hugs and high-fives into its vale of tears, the rest of the reform movement will suffer. The stakes are pretty high, at least for people who would prefer not to spend their days in a live-action Dilbert comic strip. Unfortunately, right now it seems that most of the self-organizing and self-actualization at Zappos is being carried out by Hsieh. Everybody else is just following along.”

For half the population, the existing models haven’t worked and folks (women) who aspire to senior positions are trivialized with media labels. Are we surprised when women ‘drop out’? Or amazed at the success of incubator projects developed outside the bounds of the traditional?

Jessica Roy created a list of 28 (if I counted correctly) ceilings in ‘All the Ceilings Women Keep Hitting Their Heads On’.

“If a woman faces sexism in a male-dominated industry but the media doesn’t coin a cutesy nickname for her very real struggle, does it even make a sound? Here, a comprehensive list of all the ceilings women can’t stop hittin’ their heads on…

The glass ceiling: Women in the corporate world.

The stained-glass ceiling: Female Catholic priests.

The grass ceiling: Women in soccer.

Wait, now there’s a broken window we can injure ourselves on? UGH.”

Maggie Lord, the founder and editor of ‘Rustic Wedding Chic’, offered suggestions for those building a business between full time work commitments in an article for Entrepreneur, ‘The Naptime Entrepreneur: Pursuing Your Business in ‘Off Hours”.

“I come from a long line of entrepreneurs, so I knew that with hard work and determination, it was possible to build my own business. That being said, building a business and a family at the same time wasn’t always easy. It’s taken me time to realize that both my son and my business need my attention — but not at the same time. By resolving to be present in either of these priorities when I’m focusing on them, building a brand and a family has been possible.”

Our laws, practices and policies significantly impact our lives @work. But they don’t contain our commitment to change, nor limit the many creative detours we find to navigate around the brick walls.

Marissa Mayer – Tag Team Parent?

On Tuesday, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer announced via Tumblr that she is expecting twin girls. On the same day New York Magazine writer, Oz Spies described her life, as a mother of three, as a ‘tag-team parent’. These two distinct narratives provide a vivid illustration of how folks cope with balancing work and life in a world of income inequality.

Ms. Mayer became one of the highest profile working mothers three years ago, not long after her appointment as head of the global internet service. A 2013 profile in Vogue described her strategy to balance work and child care.

“She set up a nursery next to her office, and for several months after Macallister was born, he and his nanny came to work with her.”

In her announcement this week, she implied she would utilize a similar approach with the birth of the twins.

“Since my pregnancy has been healthy and uncomplicated and since this is a unique time in Yahoo’s transformation, I plan to approach the pregnancy and delivery as I did with my son three years ago, taking limited time away and working throughout. I’ve shared the news and my plans with Yahoo’s Board of Directors and my executive team, and they are incredibly supportive and happy for me. I want to thank them for all of their encouragement as well as their offers of help and continued support.”

What is the message to the employees at Yahoo who might be planning family leave when the CEO opts out?

Writers Claire Cain Miller and David Streitfeld explored the issue in their NYT article, ‘Big Leaps for Parental Leave, if Workers Actually Take It’.

“Such contradictory signaling from Yahoo, which lengthened its parental leave in 2013, is typical and ambiguous, said Joan Williams, director of the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California, Hastings. “The underlying work culture sends the message that if you’re really committed, you’re here all the time,” she said.”

On the other side of the spectrum, meet a Colorado couple, parents of three. One is a firefighter and the other a writer and consultant in the non-profit sector.

“We’re tag-team parents. It’s a term coined by the Center for Economic and Policy Research for parents who work alternating schedules, taking turns at both paid employment and child care, and it’s a work-parenting setup that’s on the rise. More than one-fourth of two-income couples include an adult working a nonstandard schedule (other than nine to five with evening or weekend hours).

Shift work is nothing new, but traditionally, many men who worked overnight, including firefighters, had wives who were stay-at-home moms. Now, more of these couples trade off work and kid duties. On my husband’s crew (all married fathers), the wives are all in the workforce, most of us fitting that work in around our husbands’ 48-hour shift blocks and our children’s school schedules. As a nonprofit consultant and writer, my job often gets done from a computer in our basement late at night, and I fit in the rest on the days when my husband is home with the kids. It’s yet another way that families today don’t look like the breadwinner father and stay-at-home mother ones of the past.”

While the media focuses on the birth announcements of business rockstars, it ignores the larger issue facing middle class families today. The average parent cannot bring their child and nanny to work. The cost of child care for two or more children exceeds the additional revenue of most second incomes. In the majority of families there is only one solution, alternating schedules with frequent handoffs of toddlers in parking lots when the best plans fail and shifts overlap.

This is our new American dream.

“Single parents, deployed parents, grandparents who are raising the children of their children — there are all kinds of complexities with which to wrestle. We figure it out as we go and we keep going.”

For the majority, including Oz Spies and her family this is the new normal.

“For us, tag-team parenting is the best way to see the kids we adore, do work we love, and still pay the bills. We’ll never have a standing Friday date night or every weekend together, but all this tag-team parenting has made us appreciate that we’re a team.”

Maybe Marissa Mayer’s strategy for blending family and work is a version of ‘tag team parenting’. It’s just hard to visualize a pre-dawn Silicon Valley McDonalds parking lot where a CEO and venture capitalist husband exchange toddlers, diaper bags and car seats.

The week@work – The time we spend @work, unpaid interns@the UN, no union for college football and the value of one good friend

Sarah Boseley reported on Wednesday on the health risks of working long hours for The Guardian newspaper in the UK.

“The largest study conducted on the issue, carried out in three continents and led by scientists at University College London, found that those who work more than 55 hours a week have a 33% increased risk of stroke compared with those who work a 35- to 40-hour week. They also have a 13% increased risk of coronary heart disease.

The findings will confirm the assumptions of many that a long-hours culture, in which people work from early in the morning until well into the evening, with work also intruding into weekends, is potentially harmful to health.”

During a discussion of these findings on CBS This Morning, co-anchor Charlie Rose turned the conversation to a discussion of how we define work.

“For some people reading a lot is play and pleasure. For others it’s work. It’s part of what they do and how they spend their time. It’s one thing to be on an assembly line, I think, and another thing to be reading a novel in preparation to interview someone. 

Where do we draw the line? Is there a line? That is the topic of the next article this week@work.

The New Yorker writer, Tim Wu thinks ‘You Really Don’t Need To Work So Much’. He questions why we have allowed ourselves to become players in “a football game where the whistle is never blown”. His solution, work should fulfill society’s needs with minimal effort. Let the workaholics have their fun, but not at the expense of the rest of us.

“The past fifty years have seen massive gains in productivity, the invention of countless labor-saving devices, and the mass entry of women into the formal workforce. If we assume that there is, to a certain degree, a fixed amount of work necessary for society to function, how can we at once be more productive, have more workers, and yet still be working more hours? Something else must be going on.”

“…in white-collar jobs, the amount of work can expand infinitely through the generation of false necessities—that is, reasons for driving people as hard as possible that have nothing to do with real social or economic needs.”

“The antidote is simple to prescribe but hard to achieve: it is a return to the goal of efficiency in work—fulfilling whatever needs we have, as a society, with the minimal effort required, while leaving the option of more work as a hobby for those who happen to love it.”

Does society need more unpaid interns? Apparently the United Nations thinks so and has grown their ‘volunteer workforce’ from 131 in 1996 to over 4,000 worldwide this year. ‘The Economist Explains why the UN doesn’t pay it’s interns’.

“The story of an unpaid intern living in a tent in Geneva did not make the United Nations look good. David Hyde, a fresh-faced 22-year-old from New Zealand, said he set up camp on the banks of Lake Geneva because he could not afford the Swiss city’s exorbitant rents while working for free. The news stirred up public outrage as well as sympathy from Mr Hyde’s colleagues: scores of UN interns in Geneva walked off the job on August 14th to protest against his plight. That same day a cluster of “interns’ rights” groups penned an open letter to the UN’s secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, pointing out that the practice of not paying interns sits awkwardly with Article 23 of the organisation’s own Universal Declaration of Human Rights (“Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity”). So why doesn’t the UN pay its interns?”

“They fear that paid internships may become a back door for recruitment and increase competition for coveted low-level “professional” positions.”

Excuse me, isn’t that why you do an internship? Isn’t this the apprenticeship that may one day lead to a full time job?

And while we are on the subject, let’s turn our attention to another group of unpaid collegians in the news this week, college football players. On Monday the U.S. National Labor Relations Board dismissed a petition from Northwestern University football players to form a union.

Ben Strauss reported on the board’s rationale in The New York Times:

“The board did not rule directly on the central question in the case — whether the players, who spend long hours on football and help generate millions of dollars for Northwestern, are university employees. Instead, it found that the novelty of the petition and its potentially wide-ranging impacts on college sports would not have promoted “stability in labor relations.”

Citing competitive balance and the potential impact on N.C.A.A. rules, the board made it clear that it harbored many reservations about the ramifications of granting college athletes, much less a single team, collective bargaining rights.”

For some college football players, their teammates are their best friends. And it may explain why many are so resilient.

Melissa Dahl described recent research in the UK for New York Magazine, ‘Having Just One Good Friend Strengthens Kids’ Resilience’.

“Let’s take a moment to praise the wonders of the true-blue best friendship, an especially powerful thing during the teenage years. A new study, published earlier this summer in the British Journal of Psychology, looked at this idea specifically among kids from low-income neighborhoods, and found that kids with just one solid, supportive friendship also tended to show signs of greater resilience when facing adversity than the kids with lower-quality friendships.

In their analysis, the researchers found an association between higher-quality friendships and greater resilience, likely, they theorize, because of the emotional support and the sounding board a real best friend provides.”

Here are a few more articles from the week@work that you may have missed.

The Future of Work and Workers – The Pacific Standard began a series this week exploring “What worries you most—and/or excites you most—about the future of work and workers? Put another way: What will be the most consequential changes in the world of work and workers, and what anxieties and possibilities will they produce?”

What the First Female Rangers ProveElizabeth Samet for Bloomberg View “Access to Ranger School, and combat units, is really about access to leadership opportunities. Of the 12 four-star Army generals currently on active duty, all are men. Eleven began their careers in the infantry or armor branch. Ten wear the Ranger tab. In other words, if you want a chance of running the Army, you would do well to go to Ranger School.”

To Quit Or Not To Quit? This Flowchart Tells If It’s Time George Mortimer for Lifehack “Changing jobs or careers is something many people think about, but never seriously consider until it’s too late to change. The use of this flowchart makes it easier for you to determine if your current job satisfies your lifestyle. In basic terms, if your job isn’t making your life better you’re probably better off finding a new one.”

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