David D’Souza’s 50 Questions on the Future of Work

Posted: October 13, 2016 in Uncategorized

It’s become a thing …!  David D’Souza – that character with a sharp wit, a Simpsons avatar on Twitter (@dds180) and a cheeky way of being, has created these 50 questions and now that’s become a thing.

Have you thought about the D’Souza 50 on the future?

Anyway, this isn’t a DDS love-in, it’s a serious attempt at answering 50 pretty tough, topical and tantalising questions about my obsession: the future of work.

Before I start, I do find myself in an interesting situation about the future of work.  On top of the very excellent sounding CIPD / Jericho Chambers event I couldn’t attend the other day under the hashtag #workischanging, we heard some interesting and challenging insight about the future of work.  A big tent apparently.  And some good tweet-able hors d’oeuvres of insight from Lynda Gratton, Peter Cheese and others.

Because you see, this future of work stuff is catching on.  In fact, I find myself sometimes in this bizarre situation of trying to out-future others.  I don’t do it because I want to be known as the number 1 futurologist.  I do it because I guess we all catch up with each other.  And I want to find new stuff to share.  So I am relevant, stretching and worth listening to.  So I out-future because I want to be more helpful to people.  It’s not like I roll my eyes at those who have just started quoting “machine learning” in their presentations. And I don’t VUCA-ise anything, I promise.  I DO though use the disruptive word and that makes me unpopular with some.  I use it sparingly and actually, I still find disruptive innovation a fascinating concept even though it’s now more hip to knock it’s teeth out and add it to Room 101 with employee engagement and the aforesaid VUCA.  Overuse and ignore disruptive innovation at your peril I say.

Anyway, I might try and out-future folks here but if I do it’s nothing more than stretching the frame and giving us a good old mind-tease.  Here goes for my attempts at D’Souza’s 50.

1.       What roles can’t be automated?

Like others I fail to see any role that won’t have some factor of automation in it.  We’re already seeing art created by randomised or programmed algorithms, so who are we to judge that a piece of art created by a connected series of devices isn’t valid?  “Just because we can etc” (Jeff Goldblum Jurassic Park quote) springs to mind.  Anyway,  I bang a drum on the return of craft. I think we can create making capacity so that we can counter the automation of lots of stuff with the time to be the crafter of one-offs.  Everything CAN be automated but not everything will need to be or desired by us to.

2.       What roles shouldn’t be automated?

See above.  Human touches are important.  I am not sure I’d want a robot teacher.  The danger of downtime or unexpected “update patched now needs to reboot” cannot be ignored when we’re reliant on automated tech, but equally it could be just nature’s way of teaching us lessons.  We should start from the “what’s best for the planet / humanity / individual choice” and work back from there.

3.       Financial markets, left to their own devices, aren’t good at accommodating a greater social purpose – do we need to take more of an interventionist stance to ensure greater societal benefit?

Yes I believe in a form of conscious capitalism (see Raj Sissodia’s work; Umair Haque’s New Capitalist Manifesto and more) and a system that doesn’t create hoarding-based inequality of wealth distribution.

The financial market – or invisible hand – is not a real thing.  It’s a system created by, and manipulated by, people.   I suspect, that as data collection and analysis increases and we can more deeply mine that data, and it would help us understand what we can truly create/mean by value.  This is where the blockchain could free us. So in this area, it’s worth knowing about the blockchain and crypto currencies.  Free from human interpretation and manipulation and regulated by unhackable algorithm, we may see a true and proper value assessment made on companies and linked to bonds which means we can properly evaluate “worth” in a fiscal sense.

4.       At what point do we stop running out of corporate scandals? How can we get more proactive at asking difficult questions of organisations as employees and consumers?

Ignoring the fact that this is 2 questions (so therefore it’s more like 51 questions), we may never run out of corporate scandals.  Some people just end up getting into situations where they use less than legal, ethical or moral ways to keep their business in an advantageous position.  People.  Organisations don’t do bad things, people do. Someone, somehow, puts pressure on others to do less then ethical things.  One way to counter this is with more transparency and inclusivity.  Trade secrets are competitive advantage.  Unethical practices hide behind corporate “in confidence” mentality.  So more openness about decision making and including people who act as internal ethical barometers will help guide people away from unjust actions (even if they have unjust thoughts).

5.       Does an organisation with a social purpose have an advantage or a limitation?

I think ALL organisations should exist for some social purpose.  If you make toys, you’re helping children make the most of childhood and learn and discover and use their imagination.  You’re not there just to make a ton of money from products.  Increasingly I hope we value social purpose way over profiteering.  Until we incentivise social purpose then we’re going to struggle.  As consumers, we should buy with a conscience wherever we can.  We need more information about ethical supply; environmental impact; charitable giving; tax compliance; pay differentiation and more.  Social purpose SHOULD be an advantage and we may see the openness of information create a competitive advantage.  See Justin Dillon’s work on Made In A Free World for more on how we can use information to inform our choices.

6.       What work might be most impacted by changes in international border policy or digitisation making borders redundant?

BIG question.  Digitisation does negate some border policies and previously held constructs based on sovereignty-based trade agreements and location-based natural asset utilisation.  Increasingly (and if you read Chris Anderson’s Makers this will chime) we can source products and materials and assemble whatever we want using our own digital infrastructure.  We can build/commission one-offs and not just mass produced everything.  Intermediaries (suppliers and component manufacturers) can help us and be unnecessary in equal measure.  With more making capacity (3D and 4D printers being one area) we could have a range of different choices as consumers which will reshape some of what we have long believed will be things people do.  We stopped sending so many letters (and instead sent emails) whilst then buying more through parcels so the postal delivery service shifted.  We’ll see even more of this in the coming 5-10 years.

7.       Who is accountable for my wellbeing?

We all are but especially you.  Digital support will be provided to help you manage your well being.

8.       If my employer is responsible for making sure I’m not under undue stress – then am I responsible for managing my diet to ensure I’m delivering peak performance?

Both of these things are interrelated and your physical and mental fitness are intertwined.  So yes.  People may adjust their diet +/- depending on stress but also boredom.  Convenience and habit.  Information and mythology.  It’s a dialogue between people in the responsible position of looking after your welfare in return for your labour; and you giving your best and expecting fair support in order to do so.

9.       Can you automate creativity – and if so will we still only feel something is creative if it is produced by a human?

No.  You can mechanise and automate the product of creativity.  You can reframe creativity to be machine-based random or interpretively created something but the essence of the word is spontaneous, elegant, mind-bending creativity that comes from being a sentient being.  You can automate discovery (research etc) that might lead to creativity but creativity itself – the untold genius of vision or artistic prose that comes from humans should – and I believe will – have MORE value in a more digitally enveloped future.

10.   How do we balance the concepts of diversity with the drive for cultural fit?

Cultural fit is the wrong phrase for me.  Cultural enrichment feels better to me.  “Let’s employ people who enrich our culture.”  There, it’s that easy. (!)

In my view, diversity and culture are part of the same DNA strands in the world of work.  You can create a better diversity of people in your organisation which WILL impact on the culture.  You can have a culture that attracts a more diverse range of people.  Even if it may not SEEM like you have a diverse workforce, you do.  You may seem to have a culture of a hard-nosed sales and macho achievement culture but you will have secret empathisers, rule benders, inclusiveness believers and kind givers.  There’s ALWAYS the espoused and externalised culture and then there’s the deeper shadow culture.  The secret is to have a less long shadow and more in the light and open.

I think you create balance when the two strands are SO intertwined you don’t see a difference – when you accept your openness might lead to challenge yet know your openness brings the most passionate and diverse thinking people to your positions.

11.   Is the Gen X,Y,Z & millennial terminology helpful for understanding or lazy stereotyping?

Lazy stereotyping.  Your date of birth determines some of the attitudes you’ve formed based on the world that you’ve operated in but at a point in time – i.e. NOW – we’re all more similar than we are different.  Unless you look for the differences and focus ONLY on those, does this stereotyping stuff make sense to you.  Sadly, many of us do only look for the differences.

12.   What’s the point of work? To get happiness? Make a difference? Recognition? Will the point of work change and how might it do so?

The point of work is is to provide.  Provide income, purpose, happiness, a point, help, salvation, comfort.  Let’s just leave it there.

Are multiple questions ever a good thing?  Do you think we should break them into one long question?  Why ask more than one thing at a time?

13.   How do we step away from a 9-5 working week construct together?

As soon as we can hopefully.  I don’t get why we’re so fixed on this pattern.  How is through the disaggregation of the things that hold 9-5 together.  School and working patterns.  Break them down you change the entire thing.  Digital connectivity gives us a chance to do more of this but in 10 years I hope we are going to see some newer ranges of working patterns emerging as norms.

14.   How much longer will income and wage inequality be tolerated by those on the wrong side of the stats?

Not for too long I hope.  I have faith that some kind of Moore’s Law (or Law of Accelerating Returns) will ensue here.  The more we’re narked about it the more it’ll see change as people drive things forward and momentum is gathered.  So let’s keep pushing this as fairness means we should all be vexed about this whatever side of the bar charts we’re on.

15.   How many more years of casual sexism in workplaces do we have before that dies a death?

I’ll give it 2 years maximum.  The more people think this will be tackled the less they’ll do it.  So let’s keep the pressure on that this will not be tolerated.

16.   If whole chunks of your life are viewable on the internet will we become more tolerating of mistakes at work?

Mistakes at work are often caused by some form of pressure, neglect or naivety.  We’re encouraging iteration and that mistakes will be made.  I believe we can judge a bold aspiration that didn’t quite work out versus wilful malevolence that damages people’s lives.  We don’t need an algorithm for everything.

17.   The image of everyone working on the beach is an attractive one – but what does this mean for introverts or people with mobility issues?

Introverts and people with mobility considerations will probably invent something that gives them a fair crack at working on the beach.  I’m an extrovert and dislike the beach.  Well sand particularly.  Give me the Cabana.

18.   Do I own my data or am I just a data point?

We don’t own anything – only rent it. So we are a data point.

19.   You can already automate ‘congratulations’ messages on Linkedin. How much effort can you remove from a gesture before it becomes meaningless?

I like to think of it as digital assistance and not digital replacement.  So add your own phrase to a prompted message and it’s the best of both worlds.  Therefore far from meaningless.

This response has been automated by the PerryBot.

20.   If I can outsource work cheaply to another country is that simply the free market in action (and an easy decision) or should I care more about the wellbeing of people I already employ?

Yes.  As an employer your duty of care is to your employees first and foremost.  You’ve invited them into your enterprise and will compensate them for their time, brilliance and efforts in return for sustaining your company purpose and reason for being.

21.   If work is to become more transient (the gig economy) then who takes responsibility for long term capability building of people? If I’m only with an organisation for 6 months then why would they invest in me?

Gig workers (!) looking after themselves is another form of self-directed learning.  It’s our own responsibility to be capable and companies benefitting from this will compensate accordingly.  If you’re a Gig worker and your clients take you for a ride (no I’m not talking Uber here), then acquire the capability to negotiate better and it should all work out fine.

22.   The more we understand about the mind the easier it is to manipulate it. How do we build in ethical safeguards within organisations?

We acquire the skill, know-how and ability to not be manipulated.  The more we know how to manipulate people through (say) behavioural economics then the more aware we become of BEING manipulated through nudges so we are more informed.  Organisations don’t build these safeguards, we should build them in ourselves with some help from educators, scientists and benevolent geniuses.

23.   How much do we really know about the organisations that curate the world’s information and present it back to you and how much do you need to know?

Not enough.  So we need to find out more and share amongst ourselves.

24.   Is happiness a legitimate business and economic outcome?

I prefer Menlo Innovation’s awesome CEO Rich Sheridan’s phrase of joy rather than happiness.  I think you can help people find happiness and that has a positive impact on an economical proposition.  When people experience joy in what they do, then work for them has a whole new meaning and drives a business forward constantly.  So create joy and experience happiness would be my way of framing this.

25.   What is the best way for groups to create influence and make a difference in a digital age?

Like-minded people come together and create a force majeure.  Now then, some people say that if all you do is hang around with like-minded people it’s a homogenous echo chamber.  Yet we all know we come together with people more strongly over shared interests so this is the digital tribes and communities we’re seeing all over.  So find your tribe and create the energy to do things that make a difference.

26.   Why do organisational IT solutions still tend to be more expensive yet less useful than consumer solutions?

Over-engineering.

27.   Does the age of automation mean that a universal basic payment to all is required?

Such a big question in so few words.  We’re yet to see whether this works BUT we know that some instances of being in poverty create helplessness and dependency that is harder to break.  Esteem and worth come into this a lot.  Automation COULD see us need to earn less to acquire what we need and live accordingly to more values-based things we do rather than value-acquisition things we do.  Tiny house movement, slow living, we’re seeing some anti-modernity movements that are creating a post-materialistic view of the world.  As the need for owning things goes down, so the feel of power in owning stuff is less desired.  I hope that some form of universal income provides the stabilised way of living, and that we can see more choices for people in how they do their thing for the world.

28.   When we do save time where does it go? For all the automation and efficiency I don’t hear many people saying they have more time to relax

I think we’re all a little way off of Tim Ferriss’s vision of a 4 hour work-week.  I’m going to pretend we’re in 2029.  I’ll be busy volunteering somewhere whilst getting my universal basic income.  I won’t have any more time to relax on my hands, yet I’ll be doing stuff I love and looking after people I care about.  So that’s time well spent for me.

29.   What aspects of our behaviour is it appropriate to legislate for? Is restricting access to company communications after hours unnecessarily interfering or saving us from ourselves?

More multiple questions?  Why is that?

I don’t like creating too many rules.  Educate and liberate not legislate and regulate.  Let’s spend more time helping people be better in a big old field than by providing electric tags and fences to keep them safe.

30.   Will you ever want a consoling hug from a robot?

Nope.  Robots might be fun but they have no soul.  Only humans and pets can do this hugging thing right.

31.   Why are so many organisations already designed and led as though the workers are robots?

Pin manufacturing has a lot to answer for.  Design will save the world, so I think we’re redesigning things like this right before our very eyes.

32.   What does not having to leave your home to work, socialise or shop do to fitness levels over time?

It makes sedentary ways easier but equally, convert your garage/bedroom into a gym and no problemo.  The streets are always there to run on.

33.   What are the chances the world left by this generation will be better than the one left to us?

Better can mean many things.  I HOPE we’re creating better opportunities in a Yin-Yang way to those things we thought would work out but aren’t doing so like pensions.  It’s the planet’s well-being that scares me most.

34.   Do children entering school need to read or write – or will those be surplus skills by the team they leave school?

You mean by the time they leave school?  Oh the irony in the typo.  We should always read and write is my view.  These developed technologies are at the heart of our most civilised moments.

35.   What are the issues that we are sleepwalking towards now that we will regret not taking action on sooner? (thanks to Siobhan Sheridan at the NSPCC for this)

We’re sleepwalking towards our over-reliance on digital without thought of the consequences of what we might be letting go of.  I love digital but I know that over-reliance on anything isn’t great.

36.   What are the opportunities that we will regret taking?

Wow – where’d this come from?  I think we’ll regret taking too few steps into education reform/recalibration whatever you want to call it.  We’ve made (IMHO) way too little progress in what education is, could be, should be and a lifelong learning approach to the world.  Too many people have stopped learning and are fixed in their views of themselves and the world and want to go backwards as a result of it.  Madiba had it right “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”  Yet it’s a political football, we’re locked into league tables and now grammar school arguments in this country.  We should all be more bothered about better education and that’s our big regret moment.

37.   How much of our enhanced technical capability will be channeled into solving societal problems and how much into increasing profits?

My dream is that these two combine so there is no distance or choice here.  I suspect (as we’re seeing now) profits are still driving the technical capability yet there is hope that tech will then also help societal problems incidentally.  I’d like to see it the other way around.

38.   How do you get a mortgage in the ‘Gig Economy’?

Some bright spark will set up a mortgage for Giggers.  Via an app.  And all algorithm based.

OR we dispense with this and some other form of domicile choice creates a new market.

39.   Does the Sharing Economy really share – or does it just collect a smaller margin from a larger volume of workers that are dependent? If we called it the Snaring Economy would it be such a popular concept?

It starts from sharing but it then gets a bit tenuous as it grows, scales and people start looking at money-making from it as the sole reason for doing so.  I don’t think it’s snaring I think it’s mis-sold and overused so there’s more due diligence needed when entering it. I will say it again: educate and liberate not regulate and legislate.

40.   When Prof Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk and others describe AI as a potentially extinction level threat why do people think they are overstating it? When did we start thinking we had a better grasp on big issues than Stephen Hawking?

I take their words as a sound set of principles to adopt in ethical use of AI.  Watch them closely and heed their words but also other geniuses are available.

41.   How confident are you really that the Financial Services industry is now running as it should – and what are the knock on risks given the fragility of the world economy?

It’s a broken model struggling still.  I wish there were more convergence on what’s best for the world and not just the elite.

42.   How can we help design roles and organisations that make the most of people?

Listen, learn, let go.  We need – by we I mean all people at work – to activate our most imaginative, brave and curious selves.  Listen – to what others are saying and sharing that may influence your own desires.  Learn – experiment, experience and research those who are changing things.  Let go – we need to (as Alvin Toffler predicted in Future Shock) unlearn.  Letting go of things that no longer serve us well or service our needs must happen.  There are people doing this (check out WorldBlu.com and the Corporate-rebels.com for 2) so join in with them and help make the world’s biggest work-based redesign happen.

43.   What are the implications of the current level of gender imbalance within the tech sector over the next decade?

Bad.  We need more diversity of everything in tech.

44.   Much of the technology we utilise on a day to day basis would struggle to meet most people’s definition of an ethical supply chain. When do we start making different purchasing decisions?

Fairphone are trying.  And so we should keep the pressure on those who are being ethical in their supply and materials utilisation.  Again, see Justin Dillon’s work on Made In A Free World as an example.

45.   What are the best sources of information on the changing world of work and how can we ensure the independent voices are heard when organisations with the biggest budgets will be looking to exploit this space?

Each other.  Social Networks are the best form of pulsating insight ever.  Find the people, find the research, find the examples.  They’re normally not found on the mass media sites but in blogs on Medium, Twitter chats, SlideShare decks etc.

46.   People frequently talk about wanting more equality and higher living standards for others – yet how many people would give up, for instance, 25% of their salary in order to improve the living standards of others?

I think it’s more than giving up salary.  It’s channeling your political activism.  It’s supporting community and local groups.  It’s tough as time is hard to find but that’s my recommendation.  Don’t just chuck money at it.  Human endeavour will help more.

47.   How will we filter content effectively in the future and how open to abuse is that filtering process?

How much do you rely on the ethics of an algorithm which may enforce the echo chamber mindset?  I think filtering tools are already there and are already coming under scrutiny for what they filter.  Something like Wikipedia will probably pop up as an open-source community of hackers providing an Anonymous-like filtering tool to keep you in the driving seat of your autonomous media feed.

Did that even make sense?

48.   How do the business role models of the future act?

There’s a ton of them so they need to act in a symphony.  If we look at music we need to world to be like the Proms meets Glasto meets Ministry meets Madame Butterfly .  A collection of varying models, formats and approaches that are constantly evolving for better.  So they ACT like a planet full independent but interlinked eco-systems.  I’d like to see them all adopt a triple-bottom line though: best for the organisation and its people; the community and their people; the planet and all people.

49.   People cry when their pets die. What will be the first piece of technology that you cry over the loss of?

What kind of question is that to lead with..?  I won’t cry over any tech loss.  I will get angry and jubilant over some tech.  I will cry over the loss of compassion and tolerance that over-use of tech might bring us.

50.   If you had one contribution to make to making things just a little better over the next decade what would it be? 

Be part of something that boosts the way we educate each other for a more uncertain future.

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