You Had One Job...


How many of us, actually, do a single thing for work? If you're in the technology, retail, education, consumer products, travel, spirits, healthcare, ecommerce, fashion, finserv, marketing/communications and certainly the start-up-of-any-kind business, you likely do at least two or three things for a living.

Most days I feel like I've got about five jobs. But I'm not complaining, and you probably aren't either. We tell ourselves we live for the thrill of pressure and thrive on complexity. Also, it's just the way it is. This new, buzzed-out shared reality inside the churning neoliberal global commerce machine. And I mean this quite un-ironically and, mostly, without political commentary...

Still, many companies operating in the thin climes of Fortune 1000+ altitude, continue to tinker with their C-level job descriptions and hires. Look no further than the much-besieged role of chief marketing officer for plentiful evidence.

A recent blog post by a trio of PwC consultants inspired me to a deeper think about what sorts of officers enterprises actually do need and benefit from having, as a top-down strategy for surviving at least another seven or eight quarters. Which, perhaps not coincidentally, seems to be the average life span of the unluckily appointed CMOs.

The gist of the PwC guys' pitch is that the world has changed and digital is the thing that changed it. That's why hip, switched-on companies that need to compete with other equally hip and switched-on companies should be hiring impossibly hip and, like totally, switched-on digital big brains if they really do want to win.

This makes zero sense to me. I've been doing digital since there was such a thing, founding a small digital shop in 1994 hanging on for nine wild years across the dotcomeggedon, spending the past twenty-three years living the digital dream. By my reckoning, digital isn't a thing that needs an officer. Digital is the oxygen, the fabric, the sinew, bones and flesh of our businesses, our brands and our marketing. Having a chief digital officer in 2017 seems as ridiculous to me as having a chief electrical officer in 1917.

Make no mistake - every senior exec at the corporate officer level must be a digitalist, in that she's got to understand and apply actionable digital theory to everything her group thinks about and does. Saying a single officer owns 'digital' dangerously creates yet another silo of roped-off competency and turf, at the exact time we need to be reducing if not shattering organizational silos.

I think it's equally wrong-headed to be hiring and listening to chief innovation officers or chief creative officers. Digital, innovation and creativity must be core, strategic characteristics endemic to all leaders and managers of a company if they're going to compete, survive and thrive in this century.

While we're deleting executive job reqs, I think we'll soon see companies losing the chief marketing officer role for a similar reason - marketing in all its manifest forms becomes a function essentially baked-in to everything a business and a brand does. Yes, this from a guy who has spent the past 30+ years in the global marketing services business across every channel and category. A man who's raised five kids on money from checks either signed or authorized by CMOs.

Yet, I do believe there's room for one more officer at the table, one that replaces the CMO role with a more broad and yet intensely specific remit. Value creation, brought to you by the chief value officer. Why would a silo-leveling troublemaker like me suggest adding another C-level?... My defense is simple: it's not a net-new suit joining the harried crowd at the officers' table. Smart businesses will be losing the chief marketing officer job title, replacing them with an even scarier, seemingly impossible three-part remit for the freshly recruited CVO:

a. value creation for the humans we need to get and keep as customers;
b. value capture to the business's bottom line from getting 'a' right;
c. repeat, relentlessly & enduringly.

About ten years ago, another consulting firm (Deloitte) began a modest call for companies to develop this new role of chief value officer, but the job description they were suggesting was much closer to a chief revenue officer with a happy face appended. We're suggesting something different, something perhaps more radical, but something that should have been the first and most important job of all those CMOs spinning through our c-suite revolving doors for the past fifty years - human value creation.

The logic is pretty straight forward. Regardless of what sort of widgets your business makes and sells, you're not in the widgets business - or the selling or the servicing business, or the digital business, or revenue business, or innovation business, or the data business, or the creativity business - you're in the value business now. That's all that matters to the people who matter most to your bottom line: the humans we'd be honored to call our customers.

It doesn't take an officer of any imaginable type or pay level to remind us that, if we create more value for them - and job no. 1, by the way, is replacing all your wasted 'advertising' with value marketing - incremental value will return to the business, its stakeholders and its shareholders. If you really did have just one job, can you imagine how much fun creating value for a living might be?

Me too.

New to Platforms? Learn How to Get Them Right

It’s gratifying to see how we’re getting a handle on what it takes to lead and succeed today in an era of big data. We’ve been saying this for some time because the starting point for business model innovation—radical, not incremental—begins with the platform. You will hear a lot about platforms in the next few years but the concept of “the platform” is often misunderstood (trust me, I check whenever I hear the term used) yet they’re actually rather simple: platforms are layers of software that gather and synthesize data to link assets, products and partners together. They’re created to satisfy customer demand, drive innovation, the next best action etc. Get this and you start seeing platforms everywhere and why they are so important.

The easiest example I can think of is the ubiquitous LinkedIn account because, if we’re honest, we all have one. We carefully curate them to say what we’re professionally all about. But LinkedIn quite simply is made up of layers of software that gather data about you, your work and what others say about you and your work. Its clever algorithm predicts when you will be looking for a job and what type of roles to serve up to you based on what you and others feed into it (Ah. Mr. Davis, we notice it’s your 5 year anniversary...we have this wonderful role for you click here.) When you think about it, the collective insight LinkedIn holds over our working lives is staggering, second only to the insights Facebook holds over our personal lives. So last year, it was no surprise that Microsoft splurged a whopping $26 billion on LinkedIn because Microsoft is building a machine for how work gets done in the future. That machine will feature people (i.e. LinkedIn) plus machines (software)—a perfect combination for the burgeoning gig economy, so kudos to Microsoft because I think they got their mitts on LinkedIn rather cheaply.

Seeing platforms as layers of software means you’ll see them everywhere, making our lives easier, simpler and frictionless—that’s the theory anyway. Perhaps there is a layer of software or platform forming around your home right now, gathering data on how you, and your loved ones like to live: Do you have a Nest thermostat or Hive? Perhaps you share your life with Amazon’s Alexa who (who? who! it’s a device!) that understands when to dim the lights (10.38pm) and when to switch on a bit of Coldplay (10.45pm) and when to turn the kettle on for a brew the following morning (7.03 wait it’s a Sunday, 9.17am). Could this very simple piece of AI become the default organizer for our busy lives as the homes we live in become ever thick and rich with data? Will Alexa be the orchestrator par excellence in charge of an eco-system that Amazon (and only Amazon) commands? Now you can understand why Google Home and Johnny-come-lately Apple’s Homepod have brought out their own Alexa versions as an era of platform wars around the home kicks in. Because control the platform and you win...

It’s not just the digital steam punks like Amazon or Google that see the power of the platform. Older, pre-digital companies are beginning to reorganize work around the concept and are rebooting how they create value for the Work Ahead. Check out Bosch, GE and DHL, three large, mature organization whose leaders have pivoted their research and development, production, marketing, sales and competitive futures around the rich flow of platform data generated across their processes. In fact, the future of these companies is being bet on transforming into software powerhouses with the platform—software—the central organizing principle for how work gets parsed and chunked to create value. Take GE’s innovative analytics platform Predix, which applies process data to redesigns workflows for a disparate customer base. As such, it is instrumenting entire value chains, and in its wake, bringing an entire industry ecosystem behind it. Or Bosch’s Software Innovations (BSI) group which provides a cross-company platform to orchestrate an industry push (or rather an industry hold) into its burgeoning Internet of Things activities.

What does this all mean? Well I would argue that those lumbering organizations struggling with legacy business models, bloated cost structures and zombie workforces are, we think, turning a corner. They’re getting “match fit” if you will, for the opportunities ahead. Platforms are starting to become the organizing principle for work while the metabolism for innovation steadily rises as new agile ways of working, collaborating, and partnering proliferate. Last year in our study on the Future of Talent we wrote how the dynamics surrounding talent and power (read decision making) are shifting, and a couple of months ago, we described the new mandate and blueprint for leadership under Relearning Leadership in the Second Machine Age. Enabling people and enabling leaders is part of the journey for the modern, match fit organization but I wonder if there is another bigger lever that needs to be pulled. The dynamics surrounding how we work. Look at our increasingly nomadic work cultures, the growth of gigs, and the rise of talent clusters in many cities around the world which are all changing how we think about place and the space for work. Watch this space...

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Redefining Work in the Second Machine Age

We are in the midst of an under-reported work crisis. Not an employment crisis – unemployment levels in the G7 are at historic lows and there are more people in work in absolute terms than ever before.

A work crisis.

We simply don’t know what work is for anymore. It is to fulfill human potential? Is it to be morally virtuous? Is it to keep the devil at bay? It is to fill the hours? Is it to have purpose? Is it to pay the bills? Is it because we can’t think of anything better to do?

Why are we working? What’s the point?

Some people love work but the vast majority don’t. For them they work to live, and work is exactly that - work. Many of these hundreds of millions of people around the world do what David Graebar of the London School of Economics calls “bullsh-t jobs”; pushing paper, filling out forms, having inconsequential meetings – doing work that, in Greabar’s words, “they think is unnecessary”.


Of course, the simplest reason is for money. Other than inheritance, winning the lottery, or robbing a bank, work is the way we get the money we need to pay for the things we need to survive and thrive. For 20% of modern western societies this arrangement works pretty well. Do ok in school, get a decent white collar job, and life is reasonably good. But for more and more people work doesn’t work at all. For these people, work in 2017 means longer and longer hours for lower and lower wages, with less security, and less prospects. Secretly as well, many of the 20% lie awake in the wee small hours of the morning, worrying about just what the hell they’re doing with their working lives ...

Modern capitalism is predicated on the concept of efficiency; modern societies have become extremely efficient by reducing the labor component of the production of any good or service - by de-skilling jobs and driving wages down. People in insurance back offices, production lines, and supermarket check-outs have been reduced to doing rote, repetitive, boring tasks that see them end up as little more than robots. This is their work; being a quasi-robot. Trying to eke out a living in markets that see them increasingly as surplus to requirements. As a balance sheet liability, not a societal asset. No wonder they hate their work.

And now to make things worse real robots are showing up. Not human imitations of robots but the real thing.

Already, robots make most cars. Now software trades most shares. Soon algorithms will read most MRIs.

In the next few years machines will do everything that people do today to make money.

What happens then? What is work in a world where humans won’t be needed to make things, sell things, move things, service things, even create things?

Will the only work available for people be oiling the Terminator?

Will the majority of people end up living on a Universal Basic Income a.k.a. The Dole 2.0?

Will “the people” rise against their capitalist overlords and the unenlightened bourgeoisie?

Will there be blood?

To fully understand the future of work we have to start with an understanding of the history of work.

Through the years there have been 11 major ideas of what work is;

1 Subsistence – staying alive was a full time job.

2 Slavery – Romans and Greeks (and Americans and Englishmen) owned slaves who did the work.

3 Militarism – taking a King’s Shilling was the most common form of work for thousands of years.

4 Usury – before they were kicked out of the temple money lending was popular work.

5 Servitude – Henry VIII didn’t own slaves (nor did Lord Grantham of Downton Abbey) but his servants did the work.

6 Calvinism – work (even in its lowliest forms) was morally righteous; with a Protestant work ethic working took you closer to heaven than kings or cardinals could ever reach.

7 Capitalism – the invisible hand was the route to the riches of heaven in the future and the riches of earth now.

8 Communism – work was a tool of capitalist pigs. Collectivism was not work but joint ownership of the means of production.

9 Yeomanry – Pa Ingalls didn’t have a job but worked (hard) for himself.

10 Fordism – Charlie Chaplin worked as a cog in an auto production machine in Modern Times.

11 The Office – from The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit to Michael Scott of Dunder Mifflin the modern world of work has had a decent run. But it is coming to an end. In the manner that 2% of the population now produce all the food we need to eat, in the near future a small percentage of the work-force will process all the mortgage applications and insurance claims that society makes – artificially intelligent software will do 90% of the work.

Now we need a new, twelfth idea about work. Modern, bourgeois, white collar work, that some consider a Platonic, idealized norm which will continue indefinitely, is hardly that at all. Working in an “office” may come in short order to be seen as antiquated as working below stairs in an English country house.

Now we need to re-conceptualize what work is in our Second Machine Age. Many people sense this ... but few have any clue as to what that new idea is.

This new, twelfth idea is currently nascent, but is fast emerging from a Precambrian soup of the following ingredients;

  • Hyper-localization – the new frontier after the “false song of globalization” is your doorstep.
  • 3-D production – print your new sneakers (in minutes) or your new home (in hours) in your local Staples.
  • Self-actualization and “experiences” – concierge services on steroids from Airbnb will let you realize your dream of being a French vineyard owner, or winning Wimbledon (in virtual reality) or walking to the South Pole. Pursuing higher Maslovian order activities will sync chic and geek.
  • Platform based barter – I trade a day of my Ruby on Rails coding for your three hours of legal contract review; no monetary exchange necessary/no IRS involvement required.
  • Open source commerce – if Linux can be made by thousands for free, why can’t all software? All products?
  • The creative commons – copyright be damned; all property is theft.
  • The sleep renaissance – Margaret Thatcher was wrong; sleep isn’t for wimps, it’s for those who believe that living well is the best revenge.
  • The 4 Hour Work Week – John Maynard Keynes was 87 years too early; machines should let us work less. Even less than 15 hours, as Keynes suggested; maybe just four hours, as Tim Ferris boasts.
  • Bitcoin and Ethereum – disrupting the hyper-financialization of society with new forms of wealth storage and exchange.

All of which will be served with a re-mix of ideas 1, 8, and 9 from above, i.e. post work subsistence, collectivism, and digital yeomanry.

Work is the foundation of modern society; everything else that we value, treasure, dream of, take for granted, worry about is based on work. Without work things fall apart. The rise of nationalism and anti-globalism is a direct consequence of this slow motion work crisis which has been gathering momentum, but has gone largely unacknowledged, for the last 40 years. Populists promise a return of work – without bothering to point out that the work being offered was, and will be, terrible, and would be short-lived anyway due to advances in new technologies. Tone-deaf elites proffer salvation through education, not stopping to weigh the fact that old dogs struggle with new tricks. Especially ones that cost thousands of dollars to acquire.

At its simplest, the time is right for a new idea of what work is and what role it should play. The twelfth idea – whatever it becomes when fully realized, and whatever it comes to be known as – is an idea whose time has come. Not a moment too soon.