Note: This post outlines our plan for a video project / documentary we are producing while in Austin next week.
Many of you, like myself, have spent the past several years, or decades perhaps, focused on inventing and building our future. Through our own personal experiences, challenges and insights we’ve made decisions about where we wanted to invest our time and energy and what outcomes we wanted to produce. For some, it has been a movement. For others, a family. For others, building a business to solve both small and large problems. For others, its been about manifesting a vision of something never before imagined possible. And for others still, it’s simply been about getting by in an increasingly fast paced, overly complicated and increasingly connected world.
While we are on one hand still fighting poverty, injustice and inequality, we are truly standing at the dawn of an even more incredible future then we might have even imagined just a few years ago. In fact, my Alynd Co-Founder Rawn Shah made the point during our Work Hackers Salon the other night that the Renaissance could be considered a failure due to the limited participation it produced in the upside of the prosperity and knowledge it generated. His point was, can you imagine what we are capable of within our connected society today, where we have access to each other and so many enabling technologies? Indeed, a new age of enlightenment is already underway, but the era ahead of us can be even more spectacular then we can even imagine.
This is why I want to bring people together in painting a picture of what we want our tomorrow to look like and sharing our blueprints for how to build it. The real challenge is, how do we look past how things are and begin to make them how they should be? Can we transform large slow moving conservative organizations or are they beyond hope? With a sense of unease coming from a perception that both corporations and governments are failing humanity, and a market that is seemingly unfair and out of balance, how can we break free from what we have always known to create a better tomorrow? What are the most important things for us to understand? Where should we invest our most precious and limited resource, our time?
So next week in Austin, we will connect and have conversations with the many great people who are leading us towards this future. We will seek to discover more about their own noble pursuits and see if we can determine how we can each find the courage that it takes to lead others into this future with us. While George Bernard Shaw famously said “all progress depends on the unreasonable man”, Building Our Future is not a solitary act, but the collective actions of millions spread around the globe. In the connected society of today, perhaps he would have said “all progress depends on the connected man’s ability to gather others for collective action.”
This is post is an introduction into the idea behind “Building Our Future”, to bring together leading futurists, entrepreneurs, executives, influencers and those who are on the front lines, leading us into a better tomorrow within our deeply connected society. There are of course, many worthy areas for discussion, but we’ve identified a few key topics that we believe to be the macro-trends around which our collective future is being built.
- The Future of Media and Brands (request VIP Access to this Round Table here)
- The Future of Work and Careers (request VIP Access to this Round Table here)
- The Future Economy
- The Open Web That Connects Us
So next week in Austin, from Friday March 7 through Monday March 10, 2014, we are gathering the leaders and the tribes who are already in town for that big interactive conference. We will be hosting round tables on each of these topics (links to come shortly) and interviewing leaders with visions of the future and stories of transformations to share. You can request an interview time slot using this form – be sure to explain what topic you want to address and a little more on your story. For the round tables, we will be using the same format we did for the Social Media Clubhouse in Austin in 2010 – in short, a handful of featured speakers/guests and other subject matter experts in the audience to lob in questions and participate on a more limited basis.
We are still seeking sponsors/investors in this project. Our goal is to collect as much footage as possible while in Austin from conversations with the people who are building our future, so that we might be able to create a long form video/documentary that we can release in a few months. We have different sponsorship levels available from $2,500 to $25,000. Only $10,000 gets you a co-producer credit, a small one hour meet up on Saturday or Sunday and a room at the Echo Studio, which is being held at a beautiful bed and breakfast just off of South Congress about a mile from the convention center.
More info to come on the bigger story behind this idea shortly, but if you have any questions, please feel free to email email@example.com
Many thanks to Sponsors Echo, Ancestry, Alynd and many other in-kind sponsors for their support of this effort. [disclosures: long time friends with Echo, for who I am producing this event; my wife works at Ancestry.com and Alynd is my new startup we are previewing next Sunday, so it is still just a family affair, though that will change shortly with your help]
I’ve been trying to synthesize everything I have been seeing at this year’s CES into some trends and insights on a macro level, but the pattern wasn’t clear to me till just now. I have a lot more of the show floor to see today, but I’ve talked to a lot of press, analysts, startups (IndieGogo and Kickstarter companies are everywhere) and industry leaders, so I have a fair impression at this point which started forming after my meeting with my friends at Seagate, my tour of Eureka Park and my limited time in the Lenovo Lounge (where I am co-hosting their Social Media party tonight).
From what I have seen, it feels that there is a lot more harmony between technology and our daily lives in the solutions being offered, and there are truly more solutions for life instead of technology for technologies sake. Makers, engineers, developers, designers and business folks are thinking more holistically and more focused on real world needs and applications of technical insight. No where was that more visible then in the number of solutions around controlling lighting, or creating ambiance through it as Bonsai Light does. But Bonsai isn’t as yellow as they are green, with their unique energy harvesting technology.
CES started for me on Monday when I kicked off the week by visiting with my dear friend and former Palm colleague, Rick Wootten over at the Seagate lounge in the Vdara. I personally have a Seagate Wireless Plus that I take everywhere with all my media and a backup of my key files off my laptop (for the just in case situations), but have been struggling to love it because of the mediocre media browser app they offered with it. I am happy to report that the new app they are bringing out shortly (in the next month I believe) will finally solve my challenge with this. I am unhappy to report that I love the new Seagate Slim models so much, I think I need to buy one. The other major software improvement they made is a new mobile device synchronization backup service that lets you move files from your mobile tablet or phone to your storage device with one click of a button, wirelessly.
Seeing everything that Seagate is doing (they now own LaCie btw) is what got me into a solution state of mind actually. They are no longer just a hard drive company. Seagate Central (I also own this for my home storage cloud) and their other drives now connect and synchronize with each other, making it easier then ever to have a simple to use file backup, media server and even social media backup configuration at home. I don’t think I will be getting the new LaCie Chirstofle designed Sphere myself, but it’s an absolutely gorgeous storage device as you can see from the photo of it with myself and Rick reflected in its shiny silver plated surface.
One thing I saw that I am going to buy right away, is the Seagate Rescue and Replace data protection plan (I’m still in the window to add this to my prior purchase). I suspect everyone who has been around tech for a while will also buy this with every new drive they purchase. In short, for $30, you insure your hard drive so that if anything happens to it. Whether it just fails, gets dropped into a toilet, run over by a car or chucked up against a wall in frustration at a spinning beach ball, you can get your data back and drive replaced. Apparently the team there has a 90+% recovery rate, one of the best out there, if not the best. Better still, after you send in the damaged drive, they send you back a new drive with all your data on it and do a very secure shred of the drive and destroy all copies of the data. The one time I had to recover a drive during my first startup in the 90′s it cost me $1,400 to attempt recovery of something like 10GB.
One other thing that has me impressed and thinking about the harmony between technology and life is the Lenovo Yoga Tablet, which I am going to be buying shortly if I can’t manage to get a product loaner for a while. But I need to get out to the show floor, so I will need to tell you why my long time friends and occasional client Lenovo has me thinking about something other then an iPad…
And you often wonder why,
And you sometimes wonder how,
But you never quite find out.
Even when you reason with the mind,
Even when you feel with the heart,
Nought to you is ever revealed.
Though your quest began in earnest,
Though your path is paved with good deeds,
Never for a moment are you certain.
Yet you strive for even greater things,
Yet you fight the battle every day,
Because you have faith in spite of not knowing.
Neither natural disaster nor man-made mistake,
Neither purposeful malice nor accidental action,
Withdraws the whispering white wind from your sails.
Either you’ve developed uncommon resolve,
Through patience, compassion and hard work,
Or you already know the answers you seek.
- Written in late1995
Edward Jankowski, 97, passed away this past Wednesday night of natural causes. He is survived by his son Jack Jankowski, his son’s extended family and a grandson, Chris Heuer (that’s me). Jack’s son Tony Jankowski recounts Ed’s pride and happiness to know that the Jankowski name is carried on through his children, and now their children, where recently 5 generations of Jankowski were photographed together beginning with Ed, his son Jack, Jack’s son Tony, Tony’s sons (AJ, Tyler, Clayton) and AJ’s son Tristan.
Ed was a kind, faithful, friendly and happy man with a keen mind who was loved by all who knew him, and all he met. Active well into his 90’s, he played golf five days a week until arthritis and artificial knees with expired warranties denied him his mobility and grace at the age of 92. Old age had begun to take its toll the last several years, but his warm smile and character never suffered.
A grave side memorial service will be held on Saturday November 9, 2013 at 11am at Woodlawn Caballero Cemetery and Funeral Home in Kendall on 107th Avenue where he will be buried next to his wife, Louise Jankowski.
Born in 1916, he saw the depression through the eyes of a teenager, eating so much chicken as a child, he would never eat it again in his life. The son of immigrants from Lithuania and Poland, he lived a comfortable middle class life with over 36 years in retirement. His life was rich with experiences uncommon for most men of that era. He lived an active lifestyle boating, fishing, golfing and spending as much time in the sun as he could after many cold winters shoveling snow in his native Chicago. His life was largely defined by the love he had for his wife, Louise, with whom he spent more then 50 years of his life. Though she passed in 1993 a few months after Hurricane Andrew tore through the home in Perrine, FL that he and the rest of his extended family had called home since 1976, he remained faithful to her until the day he died.
After working at a parking garage in Chicago for a number of years in his younger years, he was promoted to the role of driver for a family businessman who owned many downtown Chicago garages in the 1930’s. He was fortunate to be off on the day in which his boss, his replacement driver and several others were gunned down in a Chicago Gangland Shooting at a barber shop in a style all too typical of that era. After proving he was not involved in the incident to the satisfaction of the owners family and colleagues, he got another job, which ultimately lead him to the career of his lifetime as a machinist in a factory.
When WWII broke out, with a newly born daughter with Cerebral Palsy, he was able to stay away from the front lines while supporting the war effort building B-25 bombers, routing miles and miles of electrical harnesses for hundreds of planes. When the war was over he found work at Continental Can/Whitecap building, running and maintaining the machinery that produced cans and the tops to bottles and jars. He was exceptional as a machinist and could figure out any engineering problem easily with his sharp mind and soft heart, building close ties with both co-workers and management.
In the early 1950’s he left the city of Chicago behind to move to the suburbs of Glenview, IL where he literally built his first house which stood till just a few years ago at 34 Lincoln Street. His can do spirit inspired his children, Amanda and Jack. He loved them dearly though he could never really tell them, as the stoic men of his era didn’t have that sort of emotional expression in their repertoire. He gave his daughter Amanda every chance for success by encouraging her to live a life of a normal child as best as possible despite her Cerebral Palsy. Ultimately she was one of the first ‘handicapped’ children to ever graduate from a public high school in the Chicago school system.
He stayed with the same company for over 25 years until taking an early retirement at 61 to move along with the entire extended family, including his wife’s sister’s family to live near each other in Miami. He would say, “it’s just too damn cold. I want to be where it’s warm.”
His daughter Amanda lived with him throughout her life except for brief marriages to Leo Heuer, the father of her only child, Chris, and the second love of her life Frank, until her untimely death in 1995 from Cirrhosis after a life long struggle grappling with the frustration inherent in a brilliant mind and beautiful soul trapped in a broken body. Ed’s gregariousness was passed down to his family and you can see him in their smiles and when they smile through their eyes. Mandy as she liked to be called, touched as many if not more lives then Ed did learning to roller skate, volunteer in her son’s school and being a recognized member of the communities in which she lived.
Ed and his wife Louise loved to just get in the car and drive. Every winter vacation would involve a drive from Chicago to Miami Beach, through Louise’s home state of Kentucky to visit with family and friends. In later years, before her death, they would drive from Miami to Naples where they would stay a few days at their favorite beachfront hotel listening to the waves roll in and watching the sunset. They never did get to Las Vegas together, a lifelong dream, but through their senior citizens club at St Louis Church in South Miami, they would often go over to the Bahamas on day trips aboard Sea Escape, or to Orlando to visit Disney World. When Epcot opened they took their grandson where he saw and was forever enraptured by a technology driven future and the realization that we could always develop new ideas to make the world a little better – a trip that ignited his imagination and set the stage for his entire life.
Mostly, Ed and Louise just sat together, read, and held hands. While he didn’t express his love in verbal ways, the light of love shined brightly in his eyes whenever he would look at her, ensuring that everyone, especially her, knew the depth and breadth of his heart. Every day after work at the factory she would welcome him home, he would make his martini, kick off his shoes and sit back in his La-Z-Boy to enjoy a pipe before dinner. She was briefly a cook for a high school and was a wizard in the kitchen, but most importantly she was a guiding force as the matriarch of the extended family.
In Miami he had to wait several years till he was able to get a spot as a member at Briar Bay Golf Course, where he played every weekday for almost 30 years. Between the golf course and his senior citizen club, he watched as way too many of his friends and family passed away, with only a handful of people who knew him still on this earth today. He and his friends would always get to the course early and vie for a position to be the first to tee off. He made friends easily, always courteous, always smiling and always with a witty comment at the ready.
Even though he was retired, he joined a business men’s bowling league at Don Carter’s Bowling Center where he bowled every Thursday night from the late-1970’s until the early 1990’s. For some reason he took his grandson with him (me), feeding him quarters to play video games, buying him French fries and letting him play pool. His teammates always got a kick out of the way his grandson exchanged bards and smiles with him, occasionally celebrating his multiple strikes and high scores, but mostly giving him shit and warning him to ‘not choke’. Even then, he still smiled and laughed, and his teammates were encouraging to that young child as it persisted until he went off to college, and even then occasionally when he returned for a visit. After picking up a bit of golf in college, Ed half-jokingly remarked to his grandson that he never took him to the golf course because that was the only place he could find peace and quiet.
His daughter’s cerebral palsy was bad enough that she couldn’t bowl in the traditional way. But there was a bowling league for people with disabilities, and every Saturday night he took her, his wife and his grandson to that league where they volunteered and she learned how to use a special ramp to direct the ball down the lanes. Ultimately, unhappy with the quality of the ramps that they loaned out, he built her a new and better one, and he ultimately built several for other members of the league. That ramp increased her average by almost 20 points to the delight of both son and daughter.
Bowling ran in the family, and the family spent a lot of time at Don Carter’s Bowling Center with his grandson ultimately getting a small college scholarship for the sportsmanship he displayed in his traveling league, a trait that was most certainly imbued in him by Ed.
After outliving both his wife and his daughter, Ed was fortunate to have many friends with whom we would occasionally go out to dinner and often play penny ante poker one day every week. While he was often alone, he was never truly lonely, until the last of his friends also passed and his body gave way to old age.
His son Jack and his wife Joanne ultimately took him in to their home after getting to the point where he was no longer adequately taking care of himself. They looked after him for nearly a decade, ensuring that he didn’t have to go into an institution for his final years. Only a few days after going into hospice last week, he passed away at approximately 8:10pm the day after his wife’s birthday, November 6, 2013.
I’m sad that I wasn’t there for him at the end, to help guide him, to give him comfort and to let him know it was ok, that he was loved. What he did for me can’t be put into words. When Louise passed, I was living in Philadelphia and they didn’t want to worry me because they knew I would want to fly down there to be by her side, so they called me the night before the triple bypass from which she ultimately didn’t emerge. I told her in that call that it was ok, that she could let go if she wanted to and that I would do my best to look after Ed and Mandy. I know she was staying around to do that job herself.
Unfortunately I didn’t know that Ed had been slipping the last couple of weeks, and worse the last couple of times I did call, I wasn’t able to get him on the phone because he was either sleeping or in the bathroom. I didn’t call enough in the final weeks because it had grown too difficult to talk to him when he just repeatedly told me about his medical struggles and his desire to just die and be done. Our wonderful family doctor, Dr. Zimmerman, had said for 20+ years that he would live to be 100. He was almost right.
When both my mom and grandma passed away, I asked grandpa Ed a big favor. I asked him “Please don’t die before I have kids. I want them to know you.” He was such an amazing man and I was so selfish. I know in part he hung on because of this request. We had a very special bond, more then just grandfather and grandson. We had become friends from those nights in the bowling alley and all the times he drove me around to football practice, to my computer programming classes at community college to school events and yes, to Disney World/Epcot.
He taught me to drive in Cutler Ridge mall. He gave me his favorite car and I wrecked it less then two weeks later, though not my fault. He not only ensured that I was able to go to college and get the first college degree in our family, but he loaned me money to start InfoApps in 1999, and again when I got into financial trouble when my consulting work wasn’t going well. He was my rock. I am who I am because of the opportunities, support and love he gave me.
When I saw him last in June, I took him to buy new shoes. We went to Florsheim and ended up buying what he told me was the most expensive pair of shoes he ever owned. We went to Outback Steakhouse for his favorite meal with my aunt and uncle as we did for almost all of my visits over the last decade. When we were alone I told him that it was ok, that he could let go and that when he was ready he could move on. It was a difficult conversation, as he never knew how to respond to such direct and emotional discussions. But he nodded, understanding.
I left that evening and wept for almost 15 minutes as I drove up the Palmetto. I had a sense that it was likely the last time I was going to see him. Of course I hoped differently, and we had planned to see him this Thanksgiving for one of the first holiday meals together in many years.
Instead, I cashed in those tickets to pay for the trip to his funeral this weekend.
Don’t ever hesitate to call or visit. Don’t ever hesitate to express love. Don’t ever think something doesn’t matter. Everything matters. Every word. Every deed. Every thought. Every heartfelt gesture. Make the most of them all with the loved ones you have while you have them.
I was fortunate to have had him in my life as long as I did. But I still feel robbed. Yes, I go on, and we persist. I have a wonderful wife and a crazy happy life where I get to enjoy the world more then most, compensation perhaps for early struggles and difficult days. But I have what I have because he, and my grandmother and my mother believed in me and gave me a loving home and every opportunity to become something greater then where we started. That love and encouragement made me believe in myself enough, and find enough courage to try to make a difference in this world. Sometimes it is that courage to try that is all that is needed to inspire others, but without love, respect and compassion in the intention of the work, it would be nothing and I would have nothing.
I learned all of that and more from Edward Peter Jankowski, my gramps. He was my best friend. I will miss him so much. I just want to play 9 more holes with him, or share one more meal, or just one more loving embrace. I won’t be able to do that again, but I have 44 years of memories, more then most get with their grandparents, and for that I am forever grateful.
Given his condition of late, I must admit I am happy he is not suffering any longer, it was indeed time to go, and I am sure my grandma had something to do with it, helping him shuttle off his mortal coil and join her in spirit.
After the inevitable grieving over the next few days and weeks ahead, I will celebrate his life and I will go on. Through my life, Edward Peter Jankowski, his big heart, his infectious smile and his legacy of kindness to all will live on.
UPDATE: During the funeral service I spoke with my cousin Tony and updated the obituary to reflect conversations Ed had with him about his son’s extended family carrying on the Jankowski name. The story of my name is much more complicated. We should have changed it to Jankowski, but I just got used to it. Though I never knew my father, and my mother remarried to become a DeNormandie, I felt that since I was born a Heuer I would remain a Heuer.
The service was simple. We had a brief open casket viewing on the parlor which I had thought I would forego, but after his son told me he looked peaceful we went into the room to see him and say good bye. I felt a much lighter feeling then I expected and was glad to see him one last time. At the graveside, after the preacher read some bible passages I gave a short eulogy to celebrate his life and basically told everyone to read this if they wanted to hear the rest. Facebook posts referenced as eulogies. Wow. But how appropriate. I think he would have been embarrassed knowing how many lives he touched through this post and the one I made to Facebook the day after he died. For me though, I was glad to let people know how special he was, and how much he touched this world and how much he shaped me. I am forever grateful to have had him in my life so long.
Today (Friday September 20, 2013) I am in New York City participating in the Work Revolution Summit. While I have many professional and personal reasons for participating, not the least of which is our new Social Business SaaS company Alynd and our desire to fix what is most broken with work, I am here focusing on one big, yet simple idea. That the shift in the balance of power we are experiencing as consumers in our relationships with brands will soon be coming to our work lives and the relationship we have with our employers.
More specifically, I believe it is time for us to go beyond the constructs of the employment agreement and begin to embrace a new vision for an employee centric corporation. A simple, yet profound movement in this direction is the creation of an employee agreement that makes plain the more important aspects of the employee-employer relationship from an employee centric point of view, instead of a liability limiting corporate perspective.
The employee agreement is designed to make visible each employee’s purpose at work, defining who they are, what they can uniquely contribute and what they expect to be doing in the time they devote to the corporate mission. This should not be written in legalese, but in easy to understand, plain English. It should be openly and transparently shared internally with other employees, and in some cases, perhaps even publicly. It should be written in such a manner so that every other employee may not only understand their purpose and motivations, but also understand their strengths and what activities they personally expect to be doing at work each and every day. If you have every participated in a team sport, this may sound familiar to you, it’s what we do to win – work together, aligned towards our common goals in mind, body and soul.
If you are an individual change agent who wants to ignite this part of the Work Revolution but don’t know where to start. Here is something you can start today, right now in fact. The concept of the employee agreement starts out as a simple post to your intranet, employee forum, social network or blog that answers the questions: Who am I? What unique value can I contribute? What is expected of me? and Why am I here?
This isn’t a new concept, it is a new call to action for doing something meaningful about it without requiring permission or systemic change. Bill Jensen, change agent and thought leader on the future of work has long called for a New Work Contract. From his perspective, he sees the new work contract as an asset revolution. Employees (aka humans) aren’t just resources to be managed, but their time, attention, and ideas are assets. With the new work contract, like all assets, employers must respect the intrinsic value of those assets and provide a proper return to their investor.
In Bill Jensen’s “Work 2.0: Ten Year Report”, he found that business is “at war with its workforce”. Executives may not feel that this is the case, but ask any cog in the machine that is a big corporation and they can not only validate this sentiment, but provide story after story from their experience that supports this finding.
It may be hard to remember, but it wasn’t always this way.
In the not too distant past, the corporation served a central and lasting role in people’s lives. At the birth of the industrial era, there were ‘company towns’ built literally to house the employee population near factories and provide for their needs. As recently as the 60’s and 70’s, there was the notion of the ‘company man’, where an employee invested their entire lives working for one company that helped them develop both personally and professionally. They looked after each other with the utmost loyalty. The employees looked forward to getting their watch and their pension plan on retirement, when they could finally relax and move to Florida. More recently, this has become less and less true, while many employees continue to hope for the best.
Over the past few decades, there has become an increasing understanding that we are each CEO’s of our own careers. In the modern world, we each need to take responsibility for our prosperity both professionally and personally. Of course, there is still professional development opportunities in many companies, where they pay for training with important skills, send key employees to conferences to learn the latest techniques of their profession, and may even put them into an executive MBA program – if they have been recognized as being ‘management material’, and are willing to exchange a few more years of their life as part of the reimbursement. Unfortunately, for the average employee, they don’t see these sorts of opportunities for growth. Instead they go through the motions of setting professional development goals when that time of year comes around, telling their managers what they think they want to hear instead of telling them what is really in their hearts and minds.
Indeed, many professionals have taken this advice to heart and left their corporate jobs in pursuit of greener pastures. During the dotcom boom, as with the “forty-niners” of America’s westward expansion, many courageous souls left comfort and security behind to pursue a chance to strike it rich. Over the past few decades, an increasing number of knowledge workers have taken their careers and their futures into their own hands to become independent consultants, to spend more time with their families, to start their own businesses, to begin early retirement, to serve their communities, or to pursue their other dreams.
In short, there has been a great migration of the best and brightest talent away from the corporation. The idea that employees might have jobs for life is now a distant memory. They have lost faith in the corporation as companies and their leaders have proven they don’t really believe ‘that people are their greatest assets.’ Worse, most leaders have created strategies and policies that prove they don’t trust their employees as far as they could throw them. This challenge is perhaps more localized to the US, but the pace of this migration is increasing as more and more talented professionals realize that many of their so-called leaders are incompetent at best and sociopaths at worst.
As corporations have demonstrated their preference for at-will employment, many of their leaders have also clearly said they care more about shareholders and their personal bonuses then they do about the well being of their employees and the markets they serve. This is natural of course, because just like Pavlov’s dog, they will act in the manner in which they are rewarded and avoid the behaviors which cause them pain. Even though competitive strategy guru Michael Porter has pointed out the need to think about prosperity over profitability and shift our focus to creating shared value, it’s not a topic that has reached many boardrooms.
Further to this point, we have read recently that many corporate leaders see people merely as a ‘cost’. To some, they are merely resources, and not recognized as human beings. For too many leaders in the elite towers of power, ‘human resources’ are fungible, easily replaced by less expensive, and less experienced, humans, thus enabling greater profitability (and ensuring their personal bonuses). While people may be equal under the law and god, they are not fungible, each is unique and each brings a unique value to the work they perform, and to the dynamics of their teams. Just ask any manager that has tried to hire a skilled replacement for one of our aforementioned workers that promoted themselves to CEO of their own career.
At the same time we have seen incredible gains in productivity over the last several years. While they are surely driven in part by technological advances and other gains in global market efficiencies, I believe that there is another driver. There is a fear among those who remain in the corporation, who have not yet realized they are their own CEO, that the proverbial axe may fall at any moment, leaving them without an income and without security for themselves and their families. They have less resources, but put in 120% effort in order to keep their jobs, and hopefully get a promotion and/or a raise, which often times simply doesn’t come. Worse, some of these individuals do not have ‘new world skills’ as they have been too busy working as cogs in the machine, sustaining the status quo, and trying to look after their loved ones, their communities and their own personal interests.
These symptoms unfortunately speak to a more fundamental unraveling of the status quo of the socioeconomic foundations of our society that is creating a future that few senior executives are able to comprehend, and to which even fewer will be able to adapt. Meanwhile, individual employees are being forced to adapt to a world of constrained resources and increased expectations. Over the past several years, their personal technology became vastly superior to that provided by their employers. So they started bringing their own devices to work, raising expectations and demands on their IT departments. Douglas Neal and John Taylor of Leading Edge Forum identified this “Consumerization of IT “as an emerging trend over a decade ago, and yet many corporations are still in reactive mode, with many treating it as if it is a foreign and unworkable concept.
Now there is not only more access to thousands of channels of entertainment, but access to more information, from media outlets, from trusted friends and from familiar strangers. All available on demand, in real time. The advancement of our connected society has been reaching into all organizations, of every size, from every sector. Still, few corporations have been quick to embrace the idea of becoming a connected company or deploying social business technologies. Even as their customers, and the dollars they provide as their wellspring of life, demand it of them.
As Dell Hell and many other examples since has shown, this demand is not one to be taken lightly. Corporations have been forced to respond, with few prepared or willing to embrace it as an opportunity, and the majority being reluctant to even consider its impact on operations beyond the use of social media as another marketing and support channel. Even still, brand managers are perplexed with their new roles in a world where they fear that the consumers control their brand, and their jobs by proxy. The truth is that this idea is a misnomer. Consumers don’t control the brand, but they do help shape it, and they have a greater degree of influence on how others perceive the brand then ever before. Ultimately, the corporation controls whether or not they are delivering on their promise and whether or not their marketing and communications efforts are an accurate reflection of the reality of the brand experience. This is what has actually changed. The market will not be deceived through false statement and exaggerated claims in a connected society. In this way, both the consumer and the corporation share control of the brand.
Fundamentally, in the market itself, we have recognized a shift in the balance of power from companies to their customers. If a company, or a disgruntled customer service representative unhappy with their employer, treats a customer poorly, or has a policy that is clearly unfair, that customer is likely to turn to Twitter or Facebook or their blog to complain. Whether they have 5 or 500 or 500,000 followers may indeed change the speed and nature of the response, but increasingly, they may actually get a response that is different than if they had called the company’s customer service line, waited on hold for 30 minutes and gotten nowhere.
While we haven’t seen this shift occur widely in the employer – employee relationship just yet, I contend we stand on that precipice. This is certainly the case in Silicon Valley, where rising salaries, benefits, flexible work schedules and seemingly outrageous perks are the norm. In fact it has gotten so ridiculous that it is nearly impossible for new companies to recruit top programmers in the valley and many are actually considering setting up development in far away cities. Of course, the developing world sees this as an opportunity, with outsourced software development being performed in Russia, China, Poland, Chile, India, Phillipines, and other far flung corners of the globe.
The war for talent is a complicated issue. The need for corporations to win this war is obvious. If you are to compete in a world where invention and intelligence are your best weapons for winning market share and earning the trust and loyalty of customers, it is a war that must be won. Hence the win at all costs approach of the largest companies in the largest markets, and the very visible way in which top talent is disproportionately rewarded.
But it’s not all about perks and cash. For an increasingly growing number of employees, it’s as much if not more about connecting with a deeper purpose in their lives. As with consumers who are making purchase decisions based on how green or socially responsible a company is, employees too are now choosing employers who are more closely aligned to their purpose and their interests. Those who realize they are the CEO’s of their own careers, but who dislike the multitudes of hats they must wear as an independent contractor, are seeking enlightened employers where they can earn a good living while living true to their purpose. Organizations who are realizing this and building organization structures and policies to attract and retain top talent are winning. Dave Gray in his book The Connected Company calls out many examples; among them well known names like Amazon, Semco, Nordstrom, SAS and Whole Foods.
While not all corporations are able to adapt fast enough to this changing world, there are some simple steps that can be taken in the right direction. An invaluable first step is recognizing the importance of purpose at work, and nurturing employees to find and connect with what matters most to them. There is no place where this reality is seen more clearly then at Zappos, where they cultivate individuality by helping employees realize as much happiness and success in their life away from work as they do at work. While many more, like my former employer Deloitte do this through sabbaticals and integrating community service opportunities via paid volunteer programs and pro-bono services, there are other simple ways this can be accomplished.
As mentioned at the onset, there is a very simple step that anyone can take right now towards bringing their purpose to the forefront of their work. It requires no permission, and should not require forgiveness. First, you must do the somewhat harder effort to get clear about what your purpose is, so you feel it as your truth as much as you can intellectualize and rationalize it. Then you merely need to share your purpose with others inside, and potentially even outside of your company. Share it on your internal employee profile, across the enterprise social network, in speeches at all hands meetings, and most especially in more intimate settings with the teams on which you work.
This is something I did personally while working at Deloitte Consulting, and it really felt incredibly liberating. While I can say that it shocked some, it also generated a great deal of trust and respect for my willingness to be transparent, and to be so clear in declaring my purpose for why I was working at the firm. I made it clear and stated plainly that I had taken the job at Deloitte for two reasons. First was a matter of urgency, I took the job to advance their social media and social business efforts because I needed the money. After several years running a non-profit community organization, it was time to find financial security, pay off my debt, and get into a position where I could once again become an entrepreneur.
But money alone was not my purpose, just a reason and an impetus. What moved me to choose Deloitte over several other options was a desire to have a front row seat to the great restructuring that would allow me to understand how large, traditional organizations were adapting to the great restructuring being forced on them by the advent of our connected society and widespread market adoption of social technologies. More importantly perhaps, was getting a chance to help them with that transition, to convince them of the necessity and opportunity. While a few scoffed at these statements and fixated on my stated financial need, those who came to know me, who heard the passion and truth in my voice, realized that it was a deep desire to be part of the change I have long sought to see in the world.
In this way I earned the respect of many, particularly the large millennial work force at Deloitte. Not only for the higher purpose I had communicated, but for my willingness to state it so clearly and openly. Regardless of what your thoughts may be on the recent millennials at work discussion, I can tell you with absolute certainty that what they and all other members of our work force want is to be told the truth. They crave someone who will shoot straight with them and not pretend that a challenge or unpleasant fact is untrue when it clearly is. They also crave leaders who can inspire and support, not managers who will nitpick and obfuscate.
I did more then declare my purpose at work though, I also declared what I did well, and what I did poorly. I made clear who I was, as a human being, as a member of the industry I helped cultivate and as an employee of the firm. It gave me back a great deal of energy I would have normally wasted, because I was able to be myself and not pretend to be what I thought others expected of me – I didn’t waste emotional energy being someone I was not. While in some cases it didn’t necessarily serve my better interests, it freed me to live my truth, to give my best and to find greater meaning everyday. It also kept me connected with that purpose on a regular basis, staying focused on why I was there everyday, enabling me to get through the rough days and really celebrate the great ones.
This experience got me thinking about the nature of the employment agreement, and how it defined the legally necessary aspects of the contract designed to protect my employer, and how little of the employment agreement was designed to serve my interests. In fact, while I negotiated a salary that was to my liking, none of the other terms of that agreement was negotiable. The rest of it, from intellectual property assignments, to sick leave and benefits, was a take or leave it proposition as it is in virtually all large corporations. Now, to be clear, Deloitte has awesome benefits (really) and there was little I would seek to be changed in that regards, so I willingly entered into the agreement with a full understanding of its terms, even the few with which I disagreed. This point is being raised relative to the general nature of the employment agreement itself rather than a complaint with the one I signed.
Ultimately, what I realized was that the shift in the balance of power, the war for talent and the coming changes to the structure of the corporation will necessitate that the employment agreement, and how we enter into it, will change too. While corporations will fight back saying they can’t efficiently manage different contracts with different terms for each of its employees, the current state of compliance by fiat will not survive as it is in the future of work. Soon, I hope, we will reach a tipping point where there is a true balance of power between the employee and employer that is more the norm then the fringe.
The employee agreement expects the employee to fully and deeply answer the questions “Who am I, why am I here and what value can I offer others with my time, experience and ideas?” By making the answer visible to others, and enabling them and their employer to enter into a truly two-way relationship, the employee will not only be better aligned with the company, but also with other employees. In this way, while they are getting their work done and contributing their unique value, they are also able to connect more directly and consciously with their purpose for entering into the agreement, increasing their level of engagement, increasing their value contributed and decreasing their emotional energy wasted.
While the idea of the employee agreement template I suggest here is a simple one, where we collectively go from here, remains to be seen. In fact, I look forward to your thoughts and comments here so that we might together begin to redefine the employee-employer relationship. If we begin to take these small personal steps, we can all begin to better see our colleagues at work and improve our collaboration with each other. In this way, through these straight forward but powerful questions, we might not only be able to make our work more meaningful, but we might just find a better path to living our lives in alignment with our unique purpose.