Wednesday, August 13, 2014're still here? Term limits for employees

After 3 years, all employees, especially ones at large companies, should receive a personalized pink slip from the CEO. The content would read:
"Dear Ex-employee - it has come to my attention that you are still here. Why haven’t you left yet? We have innovation to conduct and disruptive business models to evolve. Why aren't you working as our advocate at a client? Or for a business partner? Or somewhere in our supply chain? Why didn't you leave and start a company we want to buy? Good luck, thanks for your contribution. Now beat it."

Having labored in the bowels of a sprawling global multinational company for a decade and a half I have strong feelings about how long employees should work in one place. Their level of engagement often diminishes over time and the only thing they get really good at is navigating the processes and policies of the mothership.

Three years should be the top end, the limit in this current climate. And it should get shorter in the next decade. People should understand when they are hired that they will have a few years at most to contribute, to learn the ropes, to take advantage of any educational opportunities, to internalize the culture, to build their network and establish their credibility and value. Then they will be dumped.

Given the rate and pace at which companies are changing and business models are evolving, this only makes sense. There are going to be way too many interesting opportunities available to potential employees. It is unrealistic for a company to think they can entice anyone to stay in their employ for very long. But don't take my word for it.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics says that today's learners will have 12-15 jobs during their working life. Because they want to - not because they have to.

Successful companies' models will evolve and change so that certain aspects of their organizations will increasingly become unrecognizable. In order to accommodate these kinds of seismic shifts, companies will have to be much more fluid in how they manage employee acquisition and retention but more importantly - termination.

It is a model that has been practiced by consulting firms for decades. An evolution of the up or out approach. If you don’t make partner within a certain amount of time you are expected to find a "different opportunity". Hopefully at a client.

Put simply, after a specified (read: short) amount of time, the corporation should ask employees why they are still collecting a paycheck - no matter what their historically documented level of contribution is. Disruptive globally-tentacled business models require too much agility and flexibility to let workers just wallow and proselytize.

Employees should have this guidance from day one. As part of the on-boarding process, talk about off-boarding. Describe the parameters. Ask them to do their best. Know that their tenure is limited. Build it into their plans. Make it a part of their psyche. Then tell them to get to work...for the duration.

This model is going to become key as work writ large is conducted more and more on a project basis. Teams of people from different disciplines will come together to work, resolve an issue, solve a problem over a certain time frame and then disband to move on to the next engagement. MIT professor Tom Malone shares this insight eloquently in his terrific book "The Future of Work".

So whether you are comfortably ensconced in your current employer’s bosom or are considering taking a job at a rapidly evolving company, I hope for your sake that you get a pink slip sooner than later. It will serve you well in the long run.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Harvesting – key to a sustainable energy strategy

Millions of kilowatts of kinetic energy are created every day (and night) by unmanaged sources within our current global culture. Energy that is unfortunately lost as heat or movement. A thoughtful strategic plan for energy management requires focus on finding ways to capture, store and distribute this kind of energy. 

This area is typically divided into two general categories:
·         Movement: piezoelectric devices containing ceramics or polymers can self-generate power through being squeezed or stretched.
·         Temperature: thermoelectric devices based on materials that create a charge through changes in temperature

There are many places where energy could be captured and exploited. 

Large scale:
  • bridges shaking as cars roll over them
  • subways zooming through subterranean tunnel
  • heat from airplane engines and smokestacks

Small scale:
  • people walking on urban streets or in office buildings
  • pushing a cart through a grocery store
  •  waste heat from vehicle exhaust pipes
This field represents an exciting new area for exploration and for #futurework. Share your thoughts.
Here is a BBC article about a company in England called Pavgen building floor tiles that capture energy. For info on the Metrology of Energy Harvesting go here.

Friday, July 19, 2013

clueless in the ivory tower

I recently had a conversation with a tenured English professor at a university in the Mid-west. We were bandying ideas back and forth about the role that institutions of higher learning have in preparing today's learners to be successful contributors to the emerging global job economy. 

We both agreed that the system was broken in a major way and needed to be fixed. That kids were getting out of college with skills that were not applicable or extensible – that they were not well-prepared to meet the needs of the current global borderless workplace.

But then he said something that completely blew my mind. He said that his role, as a professor, was to *teach for the ages.* Meaning he thought that the perspective and insight and facts that he was responsible for transferring were designed to merely provide his students with an esoteric worldview that would in turn pass through them and their progeny and into the broader society and culture, informing and influencing the coming millennia.

What a pompous and irresponsible statement. Global economy, we have a problem.

Thank goodness he is in the minority (I hope!). This unrealistic and disconnected perspective, represents a key aspect of the challenge students face today as well as a “going out of business” strategy for him and his colleagues.

Because education is more geared to a public sector approach at its core, there are no clear motivating factors to encourage investigation and adoption of innovative and bleeding edge approaches. No rewards for innovation that drives efficiency and improves outcomes, increases customer satisfaction – all factors that keep leaders of modern businesses up at night. But the rise of MOOCs and for-profit colleges is clearly an indication of a sea change, as broader and more practical and inclusive approaches gain momentum.

But this guy is now tenured in and thinks he can simply pretend the outside world does not exist and that his wit and wisdom are all that his students will need to have successful careers. 

Maybe he could get away with that empirical approach at Oxford or Cambridge where the students are brilliant, but in most institutions of higher learning this worldview won't work. Especially at state schools in the middle of nowhere.

Business has the opportunity to step in and wield an increasingly influential role in driving the transformation of education. Clowns like this professor, so disconnected from the rapidly changing requirements of the workplace, should be fired. Or his courses should at least be clearly and explicitly positioned in the course catalog as totally esoteric, so students know they are not going to get any real, practical training or perspective from this guy.

To deliver the proverbial goods - graduates who will be successful in the new workplace paradigm - teachers need to work more closely with the private sector - especially in fields where disruptive business and socio-cultural transformation is occurring - healthcare, privatized space exploration, renewable energy and robotics, to name a few. Learning from these verticals what kinds of cross-discipline experience and insight are needed to drive their business models forward will be key to the success of the next instantiation of higher education.

Share your thoughts.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Shortening the cycle of invention to innovation

3D printed lunar building

Cambridge professor Carlota Perez describes her concepts of the "Techno-Economic Paradigm Shifts" in her book "Technological Revolutions and Financial Capital" - five historical cycles of invention and innovation over the last 250 years or so. From the Industrial Revolution to today's Age of Information and Telecommunications, she talks about a repeating pattern - inventions appearing, a frenzy of excitement, struggle with standards and definition of appropriate applications. Then over 20-30 years these inventions are incorporated into the global socio-cultural fabric. Then the pattern repeats.

I found a recent example of this particularly inspiring. It also provides a stark indicator of the rate and pace at which these cycles are accelerating. 

Fosters and Partners, the London-based architectural firm behind Wembley Stadium, announced on Feb. 1 designs for a building on the moon to be constructed by robotically-operated 3D printers using lunar soil.

These real-time fabrication devices have come a long way since they were first developed in 1984. And amazing how quickly this has gone from specialized corporate industrial applications to being exploited by the Maker movement to being mentioned by the President in his State of the Union address. 

What an exciting advancement - 3D printing in an extra-terrestrial setting. First the moon, then Mars, perhaps on an asteroid. 

I am always on the lookout for the next shortened cycle of invention to innovation. Please share ones that you have seen!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

coding as a metaphor

Saw this ad in a car on the Red Line on my way to Harvard Square recently. I love the tone - the edgy, accusatory nature of the question. A definite taunt.

Like, yeah, I'm talking to you punk. You think you write some serious code? Well let's see if it can solve a critical global issue. Write it and compile it and then we'll talk. Let's see how capable you really are!

This is such a great way to compel atypical thinking about not alone application development, but health care and business and society. It covers so much in my mind. 

The taunt is of course to coders and developers on the surface, but underneath is a larger message about how technology is more and more capable of driving improvements in life on the planet. How it is inseparably and deeply woven into the progress of culture and society. 

There is no turning back. Imagine how Louis Pasteur might have reacted.

Friday, October 12, 2012

jack in, jump out

Tech Valley is an amazing place. An *experimental* high school in Renesselaer, NY near RPI. It is focused on project-based learning and combining disciplines.The students are taking classes in history and engineering, physics and physiology.

I had the privilege of speaking there yesterday morning to an entire school assembly - about 130 kids plus some faculty. I shared my concepts around “metacognition+reinvention: the 21stcentury career paradigm”.

These students are exactly the right audience for this message. They are creative and talented and are being taught in a way that will ultimately prepare them well to be successful in the global borderless workplace that awaits them.

After the assembly, I conducted a workshop with just the seniors. We worked on skills needed for jobs predicted to be in demand in 2030 – such as nanopharmacist, lunar tour guide and metaverse event designer. The students’ perspectives were very interesting: trending toward practical and executable in the near term.

Afterwards the principle and the business development director and I had a candid conversation about the crisis that exists in today’s education model. 

My feeling is that the tipping point will come when several successive graduating classes are unable to find work because they have not been given the skills needed to be successful in this changing paradigm.

I look forward to sharing my perspective with more 21st century learners. 

Monday, August 20, 2012

drawing guidance on 21st century education from 1754

I have been reflecting on the myriad societal, cultural, scientific and musical contributions made by Benjamin Franklin. There are lessons we might take away that could help orient today's learners in how to be successful 250 years later. 

What areas should they focus on? What values need to be taught and reinforced? How did the son of a tallow chandler, a runaway from Boston with only two years of formal schooling, have such a tremendous impact on the world? 

To try to find some answers to these questions, I made a two-day pilgrimage to Philadelphia, in late July of 2012. I walked the streets of the city where he settled after sneaking out of his father's candle factory. 

To be fair, Benjamin Franklin was an extraordinary person. That said, some observations that struck me were:
  • His endless and wide ranging curiosity about everything - how do we encourage kids to be curious?
  • His ability to see connections across disparate disciplines - connecting nature and science - lightning as electricity for example.
  • His use of the communications tools of his day (printing) to spread his ideas, opinions and ultimately his influence and reputation. Kids today can model this behavior, taking advantage of social media and other evolving technologies to communicate THEIR unique perspectives and achieve notoriety and thus influence and credibility.
  • The amount and variety of content he created -  writing in a range of formats, under pseudonyms, for his brother, for his own readers, for his critics, for his countrymen, for the world.
  • The ability to see the art in science - the beauty and wonder of how the planet is put together. How do we teach kids to comprehend and embrace this? To emphasize the sheer volume and majesty of the planet while at the same time continuing to investigate and unlock its secrets.
Are these skills much different from ones that would allow success today? No. 

The way Benjamin Franklin addressed them can provide valuable insight for today's learners. He advanced his career(s) by asking, by collaborating, by listening, by emulating, by doing.

He didn't take a class in how to write witty aphorisms for Poor Richard's Almanack - he just did it and published them. They were rough at first, but they evolved into crisp, dense nuggets of wisdom and advice that everyone could understand and appreciate.

He never went to school to study printing - he stood at his brother James' elbow and watched what he did and then imitated it and expanded on it. 

Did he go to a prestigious policy school to learn how to be a statesman and a diplomat? No - he trusted his internal instincts, watched his peers, pushed forward and created his own unique approach.

Could every child today follow this model at a macro level? Absolutely. If they were encouraged and guided in this direction.

We need to encourage today's learners to use these tactics to help them find their own voices. And share them. Know that school is but one node in the broader learning eco-system, but that more macro learning processes and techniques are equally if not ultimately more important.