This interesting BBC post ‘The dirty secret about success‘ puts back the subject of luck to the forefront. In computer experiments simulating social interactions and including random luck factors, luck was identified as a major parameter of social success.
“Very often, the most successful people are moderately talented but very lucky“. “Italian researchers] used a computer simulation of success defined by financial wealth to show that the most successful people in the world aren’t necessarily the most talented. They are the luckiest.” As a result, the researchers have proposed ways to improve reward based on talent rather than actual luck.
Luck is important and should not be neglected. One of the limits of the approach though is that nowadays, success more often happens in teams rather than individually. How to account for collective luck, at several scales (individual / team / organization / society?). Certainly a topic for further research!
Distribution businesses have always been very significant employers (such as for example, supermarket chains) because of the labor-intensive nature of their trade. Amazon in the US (1.3 million employees or direct contractors) is on the way to overtake Walmart the first employer (1.6 million).
Those numbers mean that we can expect in the next few years some unionization of the relationships between employees and Amazon (and potentially some struggles too), and also that any decision taken by Amazon HR regarding general policies will have far-ranging effects on local economies. Amazon also certainly is developing its political influence where unemployment is a major local issue.
Amazon will probably soon become the first employer in many countries. This will necessarily change the nature of its social relationships both inside and outside the company.
In a newsletter, Christopher C Penn (link to his blog Awaken your Superhero) writes about the ‘demise of the T-shaped marketer’ with the argument that AI is eating the concept rapidly – producing quickly mediocre content but thus replacing the generalist aspect.
The ‘T Marketer’ is someone with a vast array of generalist skills and a particularly deep area of specialization. It is widely recognized to be a rare beast – and that such people have a very high value on the market. It is quite rare because it is difficult to be both a strong generalist and a strong specialist as this requires quite different intellectual approaches.
Any way, Christopher C Penn’s point here is that as AI develops (and while it is still producing quite mediocre output), it is much better at bringing together all sorts of information and it thus in competition with the generalist aspect.
“Why does this myth of the T-shaped person endure in marketing and business? The reality is that most of the time, mediocrity is sufficient to get the job done.” “As the line of mediocre output from AI advances, it will do more and more of the mediocre work, the stuff that everyone can do to some degree. That line advances a little more each year; three years ago, natural language generation was in a sorry state of affairs. You wouldn’t even consider using machine outputs for final product. Today, machines can write the same bland press releases humans can, with the same average level of quality. Three years from now? Those machines will probably crank out better blog posts than the average person.” The conclusion would thus be rather to focus on being really good at something special. “Good enough isn’t good enough any more.”
It is quite a good question before I personally strive to achieve something like a T-shaped competency, because I believe complementing deep expertise with the breadth of generalist approach is quite beneficial. The question is really how much generalist thinking can inform and make even better the specialization area. I am convinced that while one must definitely be very good at a narrow domain, keeping a broad overview is still quite essential.
In this post ‘How Effective is your Digital Body Language? Let’s find out…‘, Charlene Li reports on her conversation with Erica Dhawan, the author of a book on Digital Body Language. A passage in particular has attracted by attention: “reading carefully is the new listening, and writing clearly is the new empathy.”
Attention on reading is now very scarce as we see so many messages on our digital platforms and it is true that reading carefully is akin to modern listening skills.
The authors goes on to recount how proper skills at digital communication is also essential in the field of empathy. Since communication is now going through the written word on electronic messages, conveying empathy through this medium is now an essential skill.
“You can’t get away with showing empathy in traditional body language only. We must master the skills of digital body language to build a culture of empathy and respect and showcase that we’re listening and that we value each other.“
The post goes on to highlight 3 recommended practices:
Assume good intent
Practice virtual water cooler moments
Show your vulnerabilities
The digital age requires new skills and we’d better pay sufficient attention to developing those to remain effective in communicating in particular to the younger generations!
“The five-day workweek is so entrenched in American life that everything, from vacation packages to wedding prices to novelty signs, is built around it. When you live it every Monday through Friday, year in and year out, it can be hard to imagine any other way.” Of course, this was also build about 8h presence per day on the work location which was the only location where work could be done.
Currently most people in intellectual professions or service work tend to work more because they also work from home thanks to modern technology. But even the official 9-to-5 office rhythm does not make any sense anymore because we don’t need to be all at the same place at the same time to work together. “Some employers are testing out four-day workweeks. A recent study of shorter workweeks in Iceland was a big success, boosting worker well-being and even productivity. And workers themselves are pushing back against schedules that crowd out everything that isn’t work.”
It seems to me quite inevitable that work duration will go down, but that in exchange workers will need to be more flexible in the week or even during the year (working more intensively when needed, taking off when not). While this will be made easier with technology, it will also require new management tools and new discipline from the workers themselves. This transformation is just starting!
Many things get written nowadays about the future of work. We will know in a few months how the pandemics has really changed our approach. In this post ‘The end of the office‘, Seth Godin takes a historical perspective on the modern office and how it may have been a transient phenomenon.
The modern office building has appeared with the industrial age and was conceived in fact as a data management factory. “For a century, the office was simply a small room next to the factory or the store. The office was upstairs from the bakery, or next to the stockyard or the foundry. Proximity to the worksite was its primary attribute.” Then it became sprawling office surfaces with layers of bureaucracy. For many it became one of the main centers of social life.
“As social creatures, many people very much need a place to go, a community to be part of, a sense of belonging and meaning. But it’s not at all clear that the 1957 office building is the best way to solve those problems“. With the remote work experience and the fact that we can share data irrespective of location, the need for large offices has disappeared.
I believe in the future there will be more remote work from home or decentralized offices, accompanied by a number of get-together events. This is already how many global companies work when it comes to global project teams. Transition may be faster or slower depending on industry and tradition, but it is ongoing!
This interesting post ‘An incomplete list of skills senior engineers need, beyond coding‘ by Camille Fournier – targeted at coding engineering but more widely applicable – lists a number of skills and capabilities that are actually required beyond simple technical abilities. Of course they address a number of softer skills and human interaction capabilities.
Amongst all those skills listed I pick up my top 5 – those which based on my experience seem the most urgent to be acquired:
How to run a meeting, and no, being the person who talks the most in the meeting is not the same thing as running it
How to indulge a senior manager who wants to talk about technical stuff that they don’t really understand, without rolling your eyes or making them feel stupid
How to explain a technical concept behind closed doors to a senior person too embarrassed to openly admit that they don’t understand it
How to lead a project even though you don’t manage any of the people working on the project
How to find interesting work on your own, instead of waiting for someone to bring it to you
In any case this reminds us that whatever the position today, even in the most technical and expert positions, sufficient abilities in soft- and interpersonal skills is required to fully participate and contribute to projects and organisations.
This interesting and recommended The Atlantic column ‘The Psychological Benefits of Commuting to Work‘ takes a novel view on remote work, highlighting positive aspects of actual commuting. The main effect would be to create a barrier between personal and work life, in effect a time buffer for disconnection.
“Employers—even the ones that have provided the tools for remote work—see cause for alarm. “No commute may be hurting, not helping, remote worker productivity,” a Microsoft report warned last fall. After-hours chats were up 69 percent among users of the company’s messaging platform, and workers were less engaged and more exhausted.”
Historical studies would have shown that average commuting times have always be around 60 mins per day even since roman and greek times. ““You get a very strong feeling of two lives with the train a bridge.” The distance between those two lives is explored in a body of research loosely known as “boundary theory,” and this, perhaps, is where we see the commute’s more important job.”
There are even recommendations if you are working remotely to have certain rituals which may include a short stroll to set the boundary between working time and private time.
I am personally not so sure that this border between work and private life really continues to exist as we continue to be connected all day long to work through our phones. Still it is true that the psychological effect of distance between work and family life is important at least from the geographical perspective – having a separate work space at home certainly helps.
It thus may be a good idea when working remotely to actively and consciously implement a ritual to demonstrate the switch between working and family time and ensure that this transition is clearly delineated.
It shows that unicorn founders are quite likely to be founders with a history of small scale success and having exited from previous ventures.
“Among the founders of billion-dollar startups, almost 60% were not first-time founders. In a randomly selected group of startups that had raised a minimum of $3 million in venture capital funding but didn’t reach unicorn status — the typical picture for a seed-funded startup — about 40% were not first-time founders. The statistic shows that repeat founders were more likely to start a billion-dollar company.”
Thus, “It turns out that the best preparation for starting a wildly successful company is founding a startup. If you have never started a company, the best preparation for doing so is to start something, maybe a club, a side hustle, or simply selling something online.”
From those considerations we can infer interesting observations for the business angel that I am: repeat entrepreneurs with a history of growing and selling their startups are interesting candidates for investment. I am aware that this statement reverses in terms of causality the simple observation of the paper, but at the same it demonstrates the possibility of overcoming an emotional attachment to a venture, as well as experience through the entire lifecycle of a startup, and hence this inspires greater confidence in the new project.
The first days of the Biden presidency has raised a few eyebrows with some sweeping changes in the economic field. In this interesting article ‘Bidenomics, explained‘ an analysis is proposed around “creating a two-track economy – a dynamic, internationally competitive innovation sector, and a domestically focused engine of mass employment and distributed prosperity“.
In any case, all commentators agree that the Biden economic approach is singularly different from the liberal and deregulating approach applied since Reagan. A number of measures include funding family and child care, minimum wage substantial increase, and building and upgrading national infrastructure. This leads to supporting and developing a very national, non exportable economy, generating high level of employment while at the same time supporting a smaller export-orientated economy based on technology and knowledge.
The point being that “this [high technology] sector will generate a lot of productivity and a lot of export revenue, it is not going to employ most Americans. Instead, most Americans will work in less competitive, domestically focused sectors — selling houses to each other, pulling each other’s wisdom teeth, preparing each other’s food, bagging each other’s groceries, taking care of each other in their old age. That vast domestic sector will distribute the income generated by the highly competitive knowledge sectors“
It will be quite interesting to watch how this approach unfolds and whether a new equilibrium can be reached in terms of economic redistribution. In any case it is quite a logical approach to try to address major current issues in terms of globalization impact and increase of inequality.
Seth Godin in his post ‘The revolution in online learning‘ makes the point that education and learning are quite different. Experiencing makes learning; education being increasingly recognized as a formal process which may not lead to actual learning.
“Education is a model based on scarcity, compliance and accreditation. It trades time, attention and money for a piece of paper that promises value.” On the contrary, “we learn in ways that have little to do with how mass education is structured […] If you know how to walk, write, read, type, have a conversation, perform surgery or cook an egg, it’s probably because you practiced and explored and experienced, not because it was on a test.”
Although higher education as we know it today is clearly an institution of the industrial-age, it still provides some benefits which are more on the social side. This includes an important component of networking and knowing peers, being part of a group of students that have attended the same university in the same year or close.
However increasingly learning is understood to happen outside the formal framework of education, and this probably needs to be better recognized. The experiential part of learning cannot be dismissed, as it is really the foundation of true learning (as much as failure).
I believe education is still there to stay for a while because of its social role, but that actual learning experiences will be increasingly sought and recognized, even highlighted. In any case, be sure to have much learning in addition to education!
The trigger for this post is actually that I updated my LinkedIn profile with the names of the startups I have invested in as business angel, along with the 2 I am part of the strategic council (along with the 3 private companies I am active in with significant shares). Hence I felt the need for a follow-up and update from my 2015 post ‘How I Became a Businessman‘.
Since 2015 I have invested in quite a few new companies, some of them where I am busy, some where I am only an investor. I have also developed a business angel activity with more than a dozen investments. I realize how much I am continuing to develop as a businessman along this journey, and how this changes my perspective on things.
My latest post ‘How Being an Angel Investor Requires Developing Some Personal Rules‘ is part of this reflection on my evolution. I realize, as I have witnessed and lived through some tough difficulties in some companies, and sometimes utter failures, come across crisis like the Covid crisis, how my responses to those events have become more adapted and reflective. I also realize that I think more in terms of value created in the mid and lon-term than in terms of immediate income. And I start thinking about creating synergies about companies and how projects can be developed combining expertise and dynamics.
The perspective on the world offered by the viewpoint of the businessman-investor is quite different from the traditional employee perspective. It gives me hope though as we see a generation of entrepreneurs emerging that attempt projects.
Still my conclusion is that the priority is still the people and that nothing beats relevant teams being put together to support projects. And that this is what needs to be protected and enhanced, in particular when times get tough.