The stealth revolution in work

Posted: November 4, 2015 in Uncategorized

It’s true – there’ll be no starting pistol or sudden surge into a new way for working.

So if you get jaded by all the talk of “digital this and that” “future of work this and that” I understand.  Yet save your scorn for those who aren’t bothering; and not direct it towards those caught in enthusiasm for better or even a little hipster trending indulgence.

For I believe we ARE in a stealth revolution.  Everyday I find a new company, a new practitioner hero, a new soulful consultant, a new pioneering author.  Yes there’s charlatans and snake-oil salesmen out there but we can spot those.  Yet there’s a new picture assembling every day and I understand it’ll never be complete.

We live in a world where the future is on our minds a lot.  We make plans, we build new things, we create new lines of thought and we code our way into a better thing.  That’s what the future has to be about – a hope for better.

But that DOESN’T have to be the future of 5 year or 15 year time frames.  We live in the future of the past.  Now (as in where we are right now), was at sometime in our thoughts, the future.  Everyday we have the chance to create a better future even if that means tomorrow.

So if you have a “Digital Transformation” programme, don’t roll your eyes and think “here we go again another consultant fest”.  Think “What can I do to make this work for me, my team, my organisation and ultimately my customers”.  For the revolution will not be a convulsive “Harlem Shake” rather a few steps and moves mastered at a time.

You may have a go-live date for a new piece of software but THAT won’t be your digital revolution done it will be the start of one aspect of it.  There will be no big bang, just a series of new ways, new realisations, new opportunities, new insight, new things to learn.

If there IS a revolution, it’s that we all become 100% switched on to learning with (almost) every breath.  I live in hope on that one.

This particular revolution is that we learn our way into solutions – big and small – for the problems we face.  Learn, learn, unlearn, relearn, learn some more.  Learning is the lifeblood of better.

Yes at conferences like the CIPD’s Annual Conference starting today (4th November) there will be moments where it feels like a rallying call to act.  It will an a-ha moment after a particularly well delivered case study presentation.  There may even be a new app that an HR Director says “that will revolutionise what I know about the ideas my people will have to improve how we lead them”.

They’re moments.  They’re not a revolution.  They’re a conversation in a bar before you take placards out into the streets that forces a dictator to sense the upswell of opinion against him and the realisation that something needs doing.

Having just returned from South Africa it’s a realisation I had there.  Apartheid stopped – in a constitutional sense – with that symbolic moment when full elections were held in 1994 and Nelson Mandela came to power.  Yet people’s negative attitudes to integrated living didn’t stop then.  People’s oppression to each other and anger to each other based on the colour of their skin didn’t stop then.  This particular revolution is still ongoing.

Moments make revolutions and transformation but they aren’t revolutions or a transformation.

Short term projects can create aspects of a revolution and transform but they aren’t revolutions or a total transformation in themselves.

I believe we can only past-attribute a revolution.  Even if it was an overthrowing of a dictator or damaging political regime or a toxic workplace ethos.

So talk of revolutions is understandable but not as helpful as it might seem.  They are easily dismissed by people saying “I don’t see any difference” or “where’s the numbers that proves that?”  There’s hyperbole attached to the word “revolution”.  It puts people off sometimes.  Expectations are set and then not realised immediately so it’s all dismissed as another bandwagon fad.  But it’s just not that simple.

I believe that if we talk revolution, what we mean is acts that disrupt a previous orthodoxy or premise and create a different, better, swifter, leaner, smarter whatever future.  Hopeful of a positive change, we get behind it and lend our efforts, ideas and belief.  We might feel like we’re joining a revolution.  We may even shun it thinking it’s faddist, trendy and vacuous.  And we might sneer at those in full revolution pelt – with Che Guevara t-Shirts and the likes.  “People’s Front of Tooting or whatever.  What do they know?”  And then we go and do our own revolution-inducing stuff.  We may not call it that but it’s still part of some form of revolt.  Revolting against competitors audacity, revolting against others mediocrity, revolting about the lack of knowledge people have about you as a terrific employer.

Pablo Picasso said “all creation is first an act of destruction”.  So therefore, is all better an act of revolution?

If it is I believe it’s often a stealth revolution.  No big “and tomorrow, HR/work/leadership is totally fine” kind of revolution.  We may live in hope that it will be but it will take time, small acts aggregated up.

Dave Brailsford’s now famous work with Team GB cycling may be considered a revolution.   Matthew Syed’s great work on Bounce and talent being the result of applied, repetitious application to some form of skill or mastery seen as a revolution in talent management; but they are all made up of lots and lots of little revolution-creating moments.  

We then see them all wrapped up in their case study.  And then it’s “oh my what a revolution”.  Well yeah, kind of.

So it’s all about revolution by stealth for me.  I wondered why I didn’t get disappointed by the lack of results in an “instant revolution” and now I certainly know why.

I always have hope for better.  It’s what gets me through each day with a spring, bounce and a vitality for life that has become me.

My hope translates into a fascination with the future which is why I’ve researched it, helped people realise their organisational and personal futures and why I now talk and write about it so much.

I don’t mean the future of work in some 5 year “it’ll all be like Matrix/Minority/Report/Ex-Machina”.  Heck I even use those images in slides to provoke thoughts on what we already see from these futuristic visions.

I mean the future starting tomorrow.  Or next Monday.  A hope-filled, action-oriented better.

The stealth revolution of the future.  

  1. Anna Walton says:

    Thanks for this post. I needed a reminder of this. I find myself thinking that ideas/changes haven’t worked because there hasn’t been an instant result and it’s tempting to move on. I forget that even the smallest shift needs time to percolate and circulate through people, teams and organisations. They then get adapted, interpreted and moulded and this takes more time. By the time this has happened, new issues have cropped up leading to more ideas and it just goes on and on forever. Is it just part of the human condition to just want to neatly solve everything and then go eat cake? Possibly.

  2. Information overload is nothing new. The variety of sources from which it can be gleaned is; challenging existing preconceptions and requiring greater understanding of what grounds us as individuals and organizations. Thank you.

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