Where innovation is a sin

Working in Central-Africa and Greece, I cannot help but think that the strongest force shaping the future, is the past and that our current thinking about the world of work is hopelessly outdated. The gap in our global village of work has never been as wide, the exclusion of young professionals has never been as big.

In our post-industrial era, we have to revisit our way of thinking about work, its purpose and how it’s organized economically. The digital era over the next few decades will in the West marginalize many jobs to meaningless minimum wage roles or wipe them out altogether while the exodus from the poverty stricken regions on the planet will increasingly continue in force. More than two thirds of the population will not qualify for rewarding roles in the near future. Exclusion looms on all fronts.

You will argue there will be different and exciting roles, that many meaningless roles will be replaced by robots and that we’ll all live in a sort of Silicon Valley, going to work with our pet, dressed in our shorts and favorite T-shirt.

I fear this will be for a minor percentage of the population. Like for those who work at Uber, not drive around for Uber. Our digital economy seems to be a race to the bottom where the winner takes all and the losers are many.

We all appreciate the value of work differently. We all seek a different purpose in work too. One specific value of the many we extract out of work allows us to be part of a social and cultural setting: money. Excluded from the world of work means for many exclusions on other fronts, from the golf club to health care, from recognition to self-respect.

The powers that be are religiously holding on to the world of work as is, portraying their thinking as virtuous in defense of a culture and a set of values. Innovative thinking, anticipating the challenges of the new paradigm of work, is considered a mortal sin. They are hereby ruthlessly condemning future generations to exclusion. Lifelong learning with strong workmanship might cater for the happy few but excluding the majority of people from a purposeful working life is not a viable policy. I call on all concerned to rethink work in its broadest sense. Where a job rewarded is not based on fighting time. Where a job is rewarded on human value creation, not extraction.

In the picture above, sent to me by a dear friend, I see the dichotomy these guardians of culture face. Defending the virtues of the past against an unavoidable future, powered by algorithms and Wi-Fi. Physically recreating a space back in time is what a museum does. People however live in the real world. Nothing however is so difficult as not deceiving oneself (Wittgenstein).


Old school

Not a day goes past or a futurist predicts a brave new world. One where entrepreneurship, artificial intelligence, the human cloud, big data and anything that represents the new economy are put in a comprehensive framework that represents our tomorrow. A tomorrow already emerging and on the verge of overpowering our mundane little world of today.

The disruption so far isn’t coming from the apostles predicting a radical future but rather from the conservative forces of the past, holding on to what they currently have, while trying to stop the future from happening.

In the financial world banks are the prime example. The crisis in 2008 has brought mayhem to all their customers but not to them. There is no evidence for any learning or fundamental change. Nor do bankers want any. They continue to make money on money doing the only thing they claim to know how: manage risk. Well, the masters of risk ensure that the risk is with you as an individual or with a company, or since 2008 with the state. It is however never with them.

In the world of work, employers are paying lip-service to new labor market entrants, lulling them into the rat race with seemingly attractive salaries and career opportunities, hoping a mortgage for too big a house and too big a car will retain the talented ones working their heart out. Every year, a new generation of salary slaves is born. One day they will become the lesser talented, the anal middle manager or the stale technologist, hanging on to a nonsense job for fear of being put by the bin, ready to be recycled at somebody else’s cost. Or not.

Sadly, in the world of work, the unions are fighting the wrong battle. Instead of helping to shape the future of work in a proactive and positive manner, they cling to their current power position in the only way they know how. Instead of working towards an inclusive and prosperous society in a sustainable economic framework, they revert to 19th century industrial thinking. Solely focused on self-interest, refusing to modernize the outdated labor environment, they represent the ultimate bureaucrats with an attitude and wisdom predating the digital age. Their disruption is ‘back to the past’ and ‘no future’.

There’s a third party in the world of work and that’s you. I’m happy to call you a critical thinker. The above would otherwise remain unread. In a world where resources are finite, creativity is not. I’m asking you to think and act despite of yourselves and never to go back to your old school


Five Years

Your job as you know it will probably not be here in 5 years. Nor might HR as a function.

I’m telling you nothing new. Most of you have heard this s a thousand times. While the digital imperative is disrupting all facets of your life, you have to renew yourself, just to maintain your employability. You have to produce a better, more agile version of yourself every morning. The job requirements increase overnight. Speed and diversity of learning are crucial to your survival. It’s a never-ending cycle. Companies come and go, just like occupations. Employees come and go, just like students at universities.

Can the homo faber survive in the VUCA world? Not in the traditional sense. Controlling the environment in a global village with innumerous competitors is only for the happy few not a bridge too far. Believing you can outrun the pace of change is naive and foolish.

As the digital imperative intensifies, change is not a choice. It might scare you at first, but change is good. It might require courage, energy, resilience and the need to go above-and-beyond. However, it fuels a uniquely human gift: creativity.

Creativity solves the problems of today and shapes the future to be. If ethically applied,  it is the most precious asset man has.

It’s also THE asset HR painfully lacks. HR continues to apply yesterday’s practices to today’s challenges, oblivious to the business needs of tomorrow. I expect the homo creativus to reduce HR in 5 years to an app, buried on your phone among the hundreds of others. I predict HR to disappear as a separate function: the non-value-add outsourced or merged with other operational units, the value-add integrated in larger business teams, coached by third parties.

Creativity loses a compagnon de route today. I originally was going to end with David Bowie’s Five Years. He’s the epitome of creativity, reinventing himself multiple times over 5 decades. But that’s not how I want to close today. Give your creativity free reign today. Reinvent yourself. After all, we can be Heroes. Even if it’s just for 1 day.


The Immigrant Song

In previous blogs, I’ve been more than critical of guru’s claiming a numbered list of thoughts, habits or actions to be the secret formula to success and happiness. You know, the 3 to 10 things you should do to succeed in life, or at least as an entrepreneur or in a job, and why not, in a marriage, relationship or parenting. Don’t get me wrong, there might be some great advice or help in those lists but at best they are fragmented generalizations rarely worth your selective memory space. I dare you to recite any such list you have read in the last 3 months.

Why I am so critical of a numbered list has as much to do with the immeasurable but deeply unfounded disappointment in my former math teachers as with my experience that any perceived reality is far too complex, unique and situational to be reduced to a single number of rules, actions or thoughts.

Anyway, I thought 10 items on a list to be the maximum number palatable for audience and guru’s alike and 3 to be the dummies number. Imagine my luck when I came across Benjamin Hardy’s 35 things you should know before becoming successful, another well-intended contribution to the life-learning internet library. The first 33 suggestions, ranging from popular wisdom to boring platitudes, do not really differ from things you have read a hundred times. Tell me otherwise if you disagree. Reading number 34 left me bemused: The Music You Listen To Determines Your Success In Life. Plenty of you are now thinking you must have been listening to the wrong kind of music at one point in your life. Rest assured, it is never music causing misfortune: it was an iceberg, not the orchestra causing the Titanic to sink. Nor do I think the other 34 statements carry in their own right any more legitimacy to success. Hence I disqualify advice #34. It bothers me though. It suggests there is right and wrong music. Qualifying the latter as Entartete Music is just a step away.

I understand all music acts on its audience and connects to the real world but what charms one individual gives headaches to another. I am totally overwhelmed every time I listen to Ligeti’s Herbst in Warschau while others just hear dark painful ugliness. This short piece of music equals for me the auditory archetype of fall. Not just the season when thousands of leaves fall off a tree but also the fall to their demise of millions of victims of war and genocide. But that is just me: musical meaning remains vague but foremost intensely personal. The last 15 seconds of this piece always send me in a spiral of uncontrolled sorrow and awe for all human suffering. I can very well fathom this doesn’t resonate with you and that you hear something totally different, if not noise.

I have no advice to give you but to stop reading any list claiming any solution to any problem you think you might have, reclaiming valuable time. Time you could spend on listening to music. Your music.

With Syrian fugitives turning into European immigrants , I side with Finnish conductor Susanna Mälkki who says: There are days when Led Zeppelin is the only right thing to listen to.

Are you being served?

The new brave HR world is defined by dynamic, agile, business integration.  HR professionals focus on the few critical things that enhance the economic value of the organisation. They improve revenue, profit and market share through people actions. They are few but master data, productivity, engagement and culture. All with a long-term view Finance and Marketing are jealous of. In short, the new world HR has transformed into a business function centred around making money, just like Sales and Marketing.

In the process, HR has reinvented performance management, shaken up the redundant hierarchical structure, thrown away the rule book, diversified talent in all its facets, mastered agile learning and deciphered the engagement enigma.

Shutting down all distractors, like the yearly merit and bonus cycle, HR has understood how to reward performance in a holistic, transparent, creative and flexible way, individually recognizing skills, varied life stages, preferences and market pressure. Learning and development is recalibrated in the same way, demonstrating real value gained for the individual and the organization. HR has also redesigned the way everybody works, maximizing individual solutions, prolonging everybody’s productive life and wellbeing. Yes. Wellbeing is at the heart of any HR action. Wellbeing for the individual, wellbeing for the organization.

Can wellbeing prosper in today’s competitive business environment? Can it be the driver of a business-focused HR department?

I don’t think there’s a choice. Every company will have to work out what it means for them, like every HR department will have to reinvent and redefine itself.

What stops HR organizations today to perform at this level? Business acumen? Administrative burden? Legacy? Lack of talent? The immense drag boomers cause on innovation?

Probably all of this in some shape or form. But the root cause is HR’s service attitude. HR can only succeed if it refuses to be a service organization. HR can only start adding value if it stops taking orders, starts to reflect, challenges and provides sound business solutions. It needs to run the people function from a business standpoint, short- and long-term, not in a solely cold and calculated way but in a positive, appreciative, creative manner, having both the individual and organizational wellbeing in mind. One size fits all and we’ve always done it this way are HR’s biggest but very well-known enemies. Still these 2 old school dogmata are traceable in most programs, processes and initiatives to this day.

Are you being served was a BBC television series running from 1972 till 1985. The glory days  of HR as a service organization ended around the same time.


Like Arnold Schönberg disrupted traditional classical music into what most of you would describe as noise, so has technology radically upset the world of work into what most of you would call a new economic paradigm. Digital disruptors and Unicorns dominate the financial and economic news. They are also spearheading all new HR and organizational thinking. Some of these firms seem to foreshadow the future of what the old Economy will transform into. That new world of work will dictate the way things get organized, decided and executed.

True, the Old Economy is being challenged. It cannot ignore the major transformation it will need to go through. Is the root cause however the digital imperative or a broader cultural force?

If you look at how things get decided in the New Economy, it is clear that classical top-down authority, with a command-and-control hierarchy headed by a CEO, doesn’t apply anymore. This phenomenon has in my eyes nothing to do with the digital imperative. As our western national industrial economies transformed into global service economies, knowledge displaced physical manpower. The workforce evolved from docile doers to educated, technology-savvy, emancipated intellectuals. Generations now of these intellectuals have been raised to function as autonomous individuals. They participate in economic, social, political and cultural life as independent actors, thinking and acting for themselves.

Some companies have long understood that capturing the combined intellectual and executive power of these individuals brings far more value than any CEO can bring with his limited executive committee. More and more companies today are looking at alternative management structures as there is ample evidence the top-down approach is suboptimal. Today’s knowledge workers are eager to displace the command-and-control hierarchies. They understand that with autonomy comes accountability. I believe companies unleashing that potential will be the winners, irrespective of Old and New, as long as they adapt to the digital age.

Let me go back to Schoenberg and all modern classical composers. None have true mass appeal. Bach, Mozart, etc. continue to dominate the classical music scene. In economic terms, the traditional Warren Buffet type companies are not about to disappear. Yes, they will have to adapt to the digital imperative at work. But that’s not really their biggest challenge. The emancipation of the knowledge worker is: how decisions are made and work gets done is up for total renewal. The incessant drive for economic value will leave companies no option but to change how authority is applied.

The philosophers under us which I presume to be few will see in this evolution the Enlightenment at work: horizontal organizations with a deliberative or bottom-up democratic authority show remarkable likeness to our political and scientific systems where equality and freedom dominate.

The economists under us which I presume to be many will see the omnipresent rule of capitalism at work. Both explanations carry validity. I’m sure you have your own explanation. All explanations will be formed by the rule of reason. That’s Kant’s definition of Enlightenment at work: Sapere aude (Dare to know). Remember what the Dormouse said: Feed your head.

HR Popcorn

Before the yearly performance, merit and bonuscycle turns all HR departments into a usine à gaz for the next 5 months , I wanted to share some HR popocorn I had the pleasure to discover these last couple of days. You will find all the links to the source material at the bottom of the post.

In the category 3 things, 4 things, 5 things, etc.. to be a succesfull something, I wanted to salute the 6 habits of highly effective employers by Rob Catalano published by the HRZone. Who would have guessed that those employers have an employee-first mentality and know what motivates employees? Or that they treat employees like consumers, focus and act? I’m sure this is all news to you. He does score one out of 6 though: employee practices need to be real-time to be effective, not once a year. That’s really new.

In the category Employee Engagement, without diminishing Ben Patient’s correct intention to defocus management’s obsession with employee engagement metrics but rather have managers focus on their own behaviours, the concluding sentence, though correct, is a led balloon: if we focus on the people, then we won’t have to worry about the metric. I would recommend you not to read beyond the title of the blog: Employee Engagement…It’s not about the metric.

In the category Cognitive and Emotional recovery at work and home, we learn there are 2 potential sources of conflict: work may affect family life, i.e. you work too many hours and do not have time for the family, or family may affect work, i.e. when you child is ill and you cannot attend a meeting. We also learn that these 2 types of conflict lead to different outcomes. But if you renegotiate roles both in the work and home domain and learn how to manage emotions, you’re on the right track to improve quality of life in both domains. This wisdom is shared by Ana Isabel Sanz Vergel, lecturer at the Norwich Business School.

In the category Disclosing Illness in the C-Suite, we learn that when a company leaves employees in limbo, employees escalate doomsday watercooler conversations and respond with deteriorating morale and productiviy. HR must ‘take the lead’ in communicating news of the illness internally, although the ultimate decision about how much detail will be shared must remain with the chief executive. I’m quoting Lynne Curry, president of the The Growth Company Inc., an Anchorage, Alaska-based management and HR consulting firm.

Yes, Anchorage Alaska. You will notice if you click this link  this quote was too good to pass.

You hereby find the original source material:

6 habits of highly effective employees

Employee engagement…it’s not about the metric

Cognitive and emotional recovery at work and home

Disclosing a illness in the C-suite


Us dreamers

Belief in progress and development is as old as mankind. Since the Enlightenment, all of us are constantly contemplating a better world. Economic disruptors coupled with a growing scientific insight into the nature and culture of man form today a formidable alliance in predicting how the world of work will evolve. Everyday, a new book, article or tweet announces a better view with firm authority.

I started reading the intro to Reinventing Organisations by Frederic Laloux (http://www.reinventingorganizations.com) a couple of days ago. Frederic talks about the soulful organization, explaining how every time humanity has shifted to a new stage of consciousness, it has also invented a radically more productive organizational model. He suggests we could be facing today another critical juncture and that we are about to make such a leap again. I really encourage you to watch the video on his blog where he explains the emergence of a new management paradigm.

Whether or not his thesis holds water or not, is for you to speculate and the future to reveal. What made me pause was the following sentence: If we accept that there is a direction to human evolution, then we hold here something rather extraordinary: the blueprint of the future of organizations, the blueprint to the future of work itself.

With these words, Frederic suggests human evolution to be teleological: meaning there is a purpose, an end, a goal, a direction, a progression to evolution. This idea, as old as mankind, was torpedoed by Charles Darwin on November 22, 1859. Science has since then respectfully delegated this conviction to the realm of beliefs.

Randomness, mutation and selection drive evolution but do not inherently provide direction. The economy, and hence the world of work, does not escape the laws of evolution.

The only certainty is that organizations will need to adapt to their environment to survive. Predicting the environment beyond 5 years is  impossible. Nokia doesn’t live to tell. Nor might Volkswagen.

I fear that even an essential element of Frederic’s work, namely the emphasis on growth and productivity, is bound to hit the wall in a world of finite resources. Which he recognizes. In his defense, he adds that It is probably no exaggeration, but sad reality, that the very survival of many species, ecosystems, and perhaps the human race itself hinges on our ability to move to higher forms of consciousness and from there collaborate in new ways to heal our relationship with the world and the damage we’ve caused. I seriously doubt the human race is moving into a higher form of consciousness. The European political landscape is indicating the opposite. Correcting the damage we caused to the planet might be best served without the human race around.

However, the issues Frederic is trying to address are very real. We need to improve the world of work. Too many people are caught in mechanistic organizations doing pointless jobs. The improvement will not lie in higher productivity and growth but in fundamentally addressing people’s unhappiness at work. Soulful organizations deserve credit and respect in trying to address the deeper human needs. Evolution will take care of the others.

The first thing we need to address in today’s organizations is the over-emphasis on individual contribution. Food for another blog. Meanwhile I challenge any organization to be as straightforward, harmonious, warm and human as Ludovico Einaudi’s I Giorni (link) and encourage everyone in the profession to contribute just like Frederic.


Sobering statistics

Europe continues to treat the world of work in all its antagonistic industrial glory: employers and employees belong to 2 different worlds, regulated by laws and practices, with national governments unwilling to address today’s reality of a post-industrial society. In all of the EU member states, the labor code has become overly complex and out of touch with the Zeitgeist and modus operandi of the world of work. Proof is that we all turn a blind eye to the law stricto sensu as it is trying to harness the present into an armor of the past. Being 100% legal is not only unworkable, it’s also impossible.

I know I might read too much into the physical abuse of Xavier Broseta, head of HR of Air France, when I say the unions present at the work council meeting, realizing again their impotence and irrelevance, resorted to violence and chose the easiest target to vent their frustration. Some of you think it was just be a scandalous act by a couple of individuals. For me there’s more. The unions seem to be stuck in the industrial model while for the last 30 years it has been abundantly clear that Europe thrives on a service and knowledge economy, therefore requiring a different approach. Thirty years of wrong strategy kills all companies, unions included.

The world has not only moved on. There is another reality dawning, which might (r)evolutionize flexible work: the human cloud: work performed remotely and on-demand by independent workers. Knowledge work is easily transportable to these individuals who refuse to be employees. This allows employers to get the right person at the right time for the right cost, irrespective of their location, without employment contracts or limitations. I can imagine a world of work where independent knowledge workers will start to bid for the work on offer. Even a ‘Work Echange’, much like the NYSE, is not unthinkable. Upwork, connecting freelancers with jobs in a variety of industries, guestimates it will reach $10bn in the foreseeable future.

The most sobering statistic out of the Air France story that I discovered in the press is that only 8% of the workforce in France carries union membership. It’s high time the unions revise their strategy and start thinking about how they can influence the future legislative labor environment. They need to surmount their heritage and totally reinvent themselves. Their framework will have to be European, or potentially global, just like their environment. Violating individuals just like strikes withholding essential public services is not the answer. Abandoning current thinking and practices is a prerequisite. It will not be long before union membership falls below 5%, as the industrial share of the economy continues to decline.

Meanwhile, not only the unions but all stakeholders in the European labor market believe they’re making real progress and are modernizing at the required pace. Few acknowledge that the world has passed them by. Most are making swimming pool-size changes oblivious to the fact they are swimming in the ocean. Ask Volkswagen. They understood how big the ocean is they swim in. Air France meanwhile is still trying to fly it every day.


Leadership opportunity

The need for change has never been so obvious. Nor have the opportunities ever been so numerous.

The Euro crisis formed a unique opportunity to transform Europe from a mere union of money and numbers into a humane political, social and economic project.  The interim solution as it stands today fails on all fronts and condemns Greece to decades of poverty.

The Syrian refugees offer a new opportunity.  Europe responds with solutions of the 1930’s. Climate change, youth unemployment, the masses of older people living in solitude, … how many more opportunities do our European leaders need to understand that none of today’s problems can be solved on a national level? That the framework of countries within Europe claiming sovereignty on all fronts is outdated and outpaced?

When I see Europe, an economic force of 500 million people, struggling to integrate and provide a future for up to 4 million destitute refugees, I can only conclude that Europe has some work to do. Four million doesn’t even amount to 1% of Europe’s current population. While the current inflow might be disruptive, its long-term effect will be positive on all fronts. If Europe can’t cope with this, how will it provide a future for 25 million young unemployed? How will it provide care for the tens of millions of septuagenarians (and up)? How will it keep from being marginalized on the world’s stage?

If I didn’t know any better, I would have to agree with John Gray’s claim in Straw Dogs (2007) that progress is a myth and morality is a fiction. However, the spontaneous flow of support for the Syrian refugees has corrected Europe’s political course. We need to build on the momentum and continue to seize the opportunities. Our economic, social, political and cultural challenges are excellent drivers for change and growth. All we lack is leadership.

You would think that leadership would be available in abundance. Over the past 50 years, no subject has been better studied and documented. Gazillions of leadership books, courses, consultancy programs and guru’s have created a leadership industry. Is Leadership such a hard nut to crack?

In its simplest form, Leadership is about embracing the need for change, developing a framework for a better future, elaborating a strategy to implement the journey towards that future but above all it is about transforming the people’s mindset to set the change in motion. Leadership is about maturing people’s minds to different ideas, capitalizing on random opportunities. Leaders rise to the occasion and people respond.

Our European leaders seem to have none of this, not even the thought leadership. They clearly have lost sight of the objective of Europe as they only see obstacles in the form of nationalistic barricades. Managing these obstacles with recipes of the past might prove popular but is penny-wise and pound-foolish. It’s time for Europe to step up. The leadership opportunity knocks…

Today I leave you with a satirical reflection of Randy Newman on the Great Nations of Europe, just to add some historical perspective to our glorious past. Don’t we want to do better from now on?

Great Nations of Europe by Randy Newman

The picture by courtesy of the Huffington Post.