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Lab Rats: Why Modern Work Makes Us Miserable – Daniel Lyons, 2019
I attended a book talk with Dan Lyons at the RSA in London in May 2019. While the questionable ethics of the of some of the more well-known Silicon Valley titans may have grown in public awareness in the last 18 months, it was the first time I’d heard anyone call out the employment and working practices of those organisations who are now world-famous for growth and market share.
Lyons was originally a journalist with Newsweek, but when he was made redundant, he took a job with a new media technology company. It was here that he first noticed the discrepancies between the business media’s evangelistic portrayal of Silicon Valley life, and the reality of what goes on behind closed doors.
Lab Rats challenges why we are so stressed out at work and directly attributes this to the prevailing Silicon Valley commercial ethos, which includes “Move fast and break things”, and “Fear is the disease. Hustle is the antidote.” Lyons calls out toxic work practices and shares findings of psychological research that illustrate the long-term impact of work insecurity on both mental and physical health.
Like many, I’ve been sucked into the Silicon Valley hubris, but Lab Rats divulges an alternative truth. It’s a reminder that in these strange times, we should question EVERYTHING.
The Ethical Capitalist: How to Make Business Work Better for Society – Julian Richer, 2018
In May 2019, Julian Richer announced he was transferring ownership of Richer Sounds into an Employee Ownership Trust, causing a momentary glimmer of hope in a sea of increasingly widespread corporate greed and mediocracy.
Simply put, there are way too few UK organisations doing anything significant to showcase a more ethical way of doing business.
The Ethical Capitalist shines a light on corporate tax avoidance and short-termism; the extent to which putting profit before all else creates huge damage to society.
Richer provides reflective insight and shares how putting people (both employees and customers) at the heart of business has been the key ingredient for the commercial success that is Richer Sounds. In so doing, he provides an aspirational blue-print that the rest of us can learn from.
How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kids for Success – Julie Lythcott-Haims, 2015
To be honest, this book was an accidental find. Cat picked it up in a moment of despondency over the trials and tribulations of parenting teenagers.
It turns out that How to Raise an Adult is, in part, a detailed analysis of how the super-pressurised US education system has contributed both to the perceived lack of resilience and the increasingly demanding behaviours of Gen Y in the workplace. When put together, the causal factors for the generational changes in attitudes towards work are illuminating, not least since the tertiary education system here in the UK seems to be assuming very similar characteristics.
This is an essential read for anyone looking to hire, engage and develop younger workers, as this enhanced understanding of the socio-cultural backdrop allows us to build empathy and rapport.
WTF – Robert Peston, 2017
You’d need to have been comatose for the past two years not to see how both Brexit, here in the UK, and the Trump presidency in the US have splintered our families, communities and nations. The advent of both seems to have left us largely unable to participate in any civilised discourse around who voted which way and why. Furthermore, a pattern is emerging elsewhere across the Western world, as populism and voting for complete outliers seem to be increasingly the norm rather than the exception. Something fundamental is changing, and yet, in real time, it’s hard to decipher what.
WTF explores why the UK voted for Brexit and the US for Trump. It’s a well-argued diagnosis of the long-term impact of globalisation, and the extent to which this has led to social inequality, leaving increasing swathes of the population behind, and consolidating wealth in the pockets of the elite few.
As a seasoned political and economic journalist, Peston is well placed to analyse what’s gone wrong with capitalism, government, finance and business since the start of the 1990s. What’s clear from this book is, a) the way most modern businesses are run is no longer sustainable, and, b) the issue of societal inequality needs urgent redress. This book is compelling reading for anyone interested in a better future of work.
Stand out of our Light – Freedom and Resistance in the Attention Economy – James Williams, 2018
James Williams worked as an engineer designing the analysis strategy for Google’s global search advertising business, before pursuing a Ph.D. in Information, Communication and the Social Sciences at Balliol College, Oxford. His doctoral thesis was entitled ‘Freedom and Persuasion in the Attention Economy’.
Stand out of our Light is a compelling collection of short essays, in which Williams draws on his Silicon Valley experience to expose exactly how today’s digital behemoths have very deliberately designed their platforms to consume as much of our human attention as possible. His insights are beyond disturbing, and armed with insider information, he is now emerging as an ethicist making the case for better-designed technology that complements humanity, rather than our current mix of attention-grabbing, hate-fuelling social platforms.
This is an essential read for anyone who cares what happens to us as a species.
Brave New Work: Are you Ready to Reinvent Your Organisation? – Aaron Dignan, 2019
Without a doubt, this is one of the best books we’ve read about sustainable and future-proof organisational structures. Taking a brief look at work up until now, Dignan shows that much of the way that we do things in business in 2019 is predicated on Winslow-Taylor’s Principles of Scientific Management – a blueprint for maximising productivity in a factory setting that was first published in 1911. We’re continuing to apply rules to business today that were first conceived over 100 years ago!
Moving forward, Dignan has created a new operating system for 21st Century agile and people-centric business. This isn’t just theory, Aaron is one of the co-founders at The Ready, a US-based B2B consultancy that helps businesses change the way they work for better engagement, productivity and results. Using a canvas approach, the book lays out key ways in which organisations can approach structural transformation, underpinned by the notion that all change is iterative.
The People vs. Tech – How the Internet is Killing Democracy (and How we Save it) – Jamie Bartlett, 2018
Jamie Bartlett is the Director of the Centre for the Analysis of Social Media at UK based think-tank, Demos. His 2017 BBC documentary series Secrets of Silicon Valley exposed the Facebook / Cambridge Analytica scandal months before the story hit the mainstream headlines.
In The People vs. Tech, Bartlett provides an overview of the psychological factors designed into today’s media platforms to keep us engaged and, more importantly, to track our behaviour; these data points are then sold to 3rd parties. He explores the extent to which social media platforms exploit our interactions to manipulate political events, and explains how our current technology habits pose an unmitigated risk to democracy as we know it.
The bottom line is this: the sooner we understand the extent to which our online behaviour can be weaponised against us, the sooner we can consciously manage ourselves in an attempt to avert one of the most significant challenges of the 21st Century.
iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy – and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood – Jean M Twenge, 2018
Using the responses from an array of qualitative research conducted over time, Twenge has tracked the changes in attitudes and behaviours of the newest generational cohort to hit the workforce. iGen, Centennials, or Gen Z as they are variously known, are defined by Twenge as being born between 1995 and 2012.
Most importantly, they are the post-internet generation – the first cohort to have been born into the internet age, and the first generation not to have known life before the smartphone and tablet. The pervasive nature of these technologies has huge ramifications for how iGen makes sense of and interacts with the wider world, with significant implications for both employers and marketers looking to engage and work with this demographic.
So just when we thought we were getting our heads around the Millennial generation, iGen is set to perplex still further. If only one thing is clear, it’s that talent management as we’ve known it in the past must adapt to meet the diverse and often opposing demands of a truly multigenerational workforce.
Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked – Adam Alter, 2017
The prologue to Irresistible sets the tone. Entitled “Don’t Get High on your Own Supply”... Alter shares that most Silicon Valley techpreneurs radically restrict the amount of technology their children have access to. He quotes Tristan Harris, former Design Ethicist & Product Philosopher at Google:
“There are a thousand people on the other side of the screen whose job it is to break down the self-regulation you have.”
And thus, it begins. Irresistible is an exploration of the way in which modern media and smart devices have been very deliberately designed to draw us in, grab and retain our attention, and keep us scrolling and engaging. You only have to look up on any train or bus journey these days to see exactly the extent to which people are in thrall of technology.
We have a crisis on our hands. At the precise moment when we need our wits about us most, if we are in any way to solve the complex societal challenges of the 21st Century, we are all utterly distracted by continuous news feeds and irrelevant memes. Alter shines a light on both technology addiction and what we might do to protect ourselves.
Wisdom at Work: Stay Relevant in the Second Half of Your Career – Chip Conley, 2018
Drawing on his time as Elder in Residence at Airbnb, Chip Conley’s book is essentially a mandate for the place and wisdom of older workers in 21st-century commercial life.
Refreshingly, he doesn’t simply extol the virtues of the older worker, but rather creates a manifesto for multi-generational workforces, sharing his own experience of reverse mentoring and what he learned and gained from being an “elder” in a rapid growth digital business.
Given what we know about increasing longevity and the impact this will have on the economy, this is a timely book and essential reading for anyone looking to complement the dynamism of youth with the pragmatism of experience.
Dare to Lead – Brené Brown, 2018
Dr. Brené Brown has spent twenty years researching the human emotions of courage, vulnerability, shame and empathy.
Starting out in social work, her qualitative research has created a vast body of evidence to show how humans work through complex and potentially limiting emotions to develop courage and resilience.
Her latest book draws on research insights gained through working with world class organisations and presents a new model of leadership that is more likely to both hold firm and create success outcomes in light of the complex business challenges that lie ahead.
The great news is that this book also provides also a toolkit for how to evolve the skills underpinning daring leadership.
The Excellence Dividend: Principles for Prospering in Turbulent Times from a Lifetime in Pursuit of Excellence – Tom Peters, 2018
I’ve always held Tom Peters in super high regard. A quote from his earlier book, A Passion for Excellence, helped nail an interview which launched my recruitment career.
The Excellence Dividend is a high-octane acknowledgement of the commercial turbulence that lies ahead, brought about predominantly by the disruptive nature of technology. Peters presents a wide range of observations and insights around how businesses can remain in the game, each underpinned by human potential to provide competitive edge.
He explores the critical importance of putting people first, so as to fully engage co-workers in the pre-requisite process of change and to fuel innovation. He addresses the need for innovation and for perpetual value-add, and highlights the imperative requirement for both strong and authentic leadership.
Working out Loud: For a Better Career and Life – John Stepper, 2015
For us, this is the perfect rulebook for several audiences. For anyone starting out in business and looking to connect with and learn from others who share similar interests, Working out Loud provides a framework. It’s also an essential read for anyone who feels they’ve reached a plateau in their working life and who wants to develop a more meaningful way of working and contributing to the world.
Since first reading, we’ve been using this methodology ourselves and have built some amazing connections both online and offline as a result, with some fabulous learning along the way.
Sharing, continuous learning and collaboration are key features of success in the future of work, and John Stepper has carefully crafted an approach for achieving this that is accessible to all. The online WOL communities that have built up around this book are genuine, warm-hearted and fully inclusive. It’s a complete joy to be witness to and part of this social movement.
Daniel Coyle spent four years with organisations such as Pixar, Zappos, The Union Square Hospitality Group and the US Navy Seals, trying to figure out what makes for a great culture within the workplace.
Across the piste, he found that three things need to be in place to make way for highly engaged and productive teams: psychological safety, leadership vulnerability and an identified purpose.
Using detailed examples, Coyle makes a compelling case for a new kind of leadership, certainly a leadership style that will be beneficial to survival in an increasingly complex and volatile future of work landscape.
We’d recommend this as essential reading for anyone with a responsibility for organisational culture.
This is a fascinating deep dive into the construct that has been created around the Professions (including, but not limited to, Law, Tax and Audit, Accounting, Architecture, Management Consulting, Education and Healthcare), and how we have traditionally both accessed and gained value from these disciplines.
The Internet and the continuous spread of publicly available knowledge throws a direct challenge to the perceived value of such professions and the advance of automation poses further threat as software will inevitably create efficiencies that undermine the business case for current pricing models.
Richard and Daniel Susskind, through in-depth analysis, shine a spotlight on the vulnerabilities of the professions, presenting a strong case for why and how they will need to pivot and adapt so as to survive in the future of work.
“I’m not thinking the way I used to think…I used to find it easy to immerse myself in a book or a lengthy article…That’s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration starts to drift after a page or two. I get fidgety, lose my thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel like I’m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text.”
I defy anyone not to relate to this statement in some way. Nicholas Carr explores the distribution of information through the ages, from oral, to handwritten to print, through to the internet and the modern information age. In parallel he presents research showing how our brain structures have changed in response to the way that information on the internet is presented. This impacts our ability to think deeply and critically.
Carr writes: “The Net’s cacophony of stimuli short-circuits both conscious and unconscious thought, preventing our minds from thinking either deeply or creatively.” When we know the skills that will be most valued in the future of work include creativity and critical thinking, this is a stark warning, and The Shallows is a credible and compelling account of the impact of the Net on our lives.
This book is full of great real-world examples of how our social networks can help us to deliver exceptional results.
Many of us dread networking; it conjures images of sleazy and fickle sales people desperately trying to push their wares.
Burkus, however, shows us, through powerful illustrations, just the extent to which we have untapped potential within our pre-existing networks of school and college friends, former colleagues and other people we meet along the way.
This is a great read for anyone thinking about going it alone and wondering how to build a viable business referral pipeline.
"What are people for? Algorithms can do many things, but they will never actually give a damn. People are for caring.”
Wow. Madsbjerg offers up a fresh and alternative view to the dystopia of a future without work. He argues that for too long business has been transfixed by a two-dimensional purely financial and analytical approach, and the singular measuring stick of financial performance. He posits that as business increasingly battles against fickle and “unpredictable” consumers, understanding the context of customer habits and behaviours has never been more important.
This is the battle of “thin” quantitative data (the kind Silicon Valley seems in love with, and the kind that AI is contingent upon) versus “thick” qualitative data. Context is everything he says and is key to competitive edge. Furthermore, it’s the one area where algorithms will struggle to make a dent for some significant time to come, so an obvious area for humans to focus on.
Building on the success of his 2011 bestseller, The Lean Start-Up, in which Ries outlined a lean methodology for approaching start-up business activity and entrepreneurialism, the writer has now applied his learning and experience to the wider corporate sector.
In part a reflection of his time spent working as a consultant to GE, Ries has written The Start-Up Way as a detailed roadmap for established corporates who wish to become agile in order to both innovate and respond to the volatility of the modern commercial landscape.
As before, he strongly advocates for customer insights and feedback loops lying at the heart of any innovation success – something that we feel would be of benefit more than a few of today’s 'set-in-their-ways' corporates (mentioning no names, obvs!).
Sherry Turkle is a professor at MIT, specialising in how people relate to technology. In Reclaiming Conversation, Turkle explores how younger cohorts, our 'digital natives', interact with and communicate using technology. It’s both terrifying and fascinating to read her observation that communications technology and social media have already marginalised the perceived requirement for face-to-face contact and communication. The implication of this is a loss of ability to read facial expression and empathise with other humans. The ability to think critically, or solve complex problems is also radically compromised by the growing challenge of constant distraction, or inattention.
To the first point, this explains in part the growing frustration that we hear among employers that millennials don’t seem able or willing to communicate effectively face to face. To the second point, when we know that the jobs of the future are contingent on our human ability to apply deep focus and think critically, we’re left wondering whether or not the creative capacity of the human brain has already been irreparably damaged by the very technology that we are told could supersede us unless we remain relevant. Super sobering!
A must-read for anyone wanting to remain relevant in the future of work.
Coyle draws on neuro-scientific research to show how synaptic connections are formed and strengthened in the process of developing new skills and how deep practice builds myelin, which acts like insulation tape in the brain to reinforce learning. The book shows how learning and skill development can take place at any age, but beware, it also takes time, dedication and a long-term view.
For those committed to the notion of lifelong learning (and frankly, we all should be, given the vulnerability of so many jobs to the machine), Coyle’s work is an excellent overview of the science behind the effort.
Ross served as Senior Advisor for Innovation during the Obama Administration and spent significant time researching and defining what he perceives to be the emerging growth areas for industry across the next few decades.
Unsurprisingly, these are underpinned by technology and cover areas including robotics, genomics, cryptocurrencies and block chain, cyberwar and cybersecurity, big data and smart cities.
For the conscientious, it gives an idea of where future career opportunities will emerge, and serves as a useful guidebook in imagining what life and work in the future will look like.
University of Pennsylvania Professor of Psychology Angela Duckworth has chosen 'grit' as her specialist area of interest.
She defines it as the mix of passion and perseverance towards achieving a longer-term goal. It is, simply put, the ability to keep going, in spite of potential setbacks, in the pursuit of a larger objective. Given the increasing fluidity of our work and commercial landscapes, we think this is an important piece of work as it provides research behind what it takes to stay constant and committed towards a higher goal.
Duckworth’s work is worth keeping sight of as we all attempt to stay on task and focussed towards excellence and mastery in the future of work.
London Business School Professors Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott have taken a close look at global longevity statistics and modelled them against current UK pension arrangements to show that because we are all living for longer, we will all have to work for longer.
Their book also shows what a much longer working life might look like, enabling us all to vision how life in the future might look.
In some regards, this isn’t the sort of book that would naturally fall into our Future of Work basket. We do, however, consider it relevant and important. The author, Johann Hari, a self-confessed long-term sufferer of anxiety and depression himself, has undergone an exploration of some of the underlying causes of depression in the 21st Century, suggesting along the way that not all forms of depression are simply attributable to genetic defects and therefore treatable by medication.
The book proposes that, in fact, many causes of anxiety and depression are due to a lack of human-to-human connection and a lack of wider purpose and meaning in life. At a time when our sense of community and belonging is being eroded by mass consumerism, growing elitism and inequality, an increasing obsession with instant gratification, and an endless race to be seen and heard online, Hari has bravely, and rightly, in our opinion, suggested that perhaps meaningfully reconnecting with one another could go some way to mitigate the mental ill-health epidemic that is sweeping the developed world.
This is a 'must-read' for anyone involved in workplace health and wellbeing and for anyone looking to build a more cohesive and engaged workforce.
This is a fascinating read for anyone who suspects that the way we run businesses today is no longer working.
Laloux has mapped ways of doing business through the ages and alights upon the Teal Organization as the evolutionary next phase of doing business. Teal consists of self-managing teams, made up of individuals who are actively encouraged to bring their whole selves to work, all focusing on a business purpose that is in constant evolution.
For those disenfranchised by the current way of doing things in the corporate world, this is hugely insightful stuff, underpinned by the success stories of real businesses (including both for-profit and not-for-profits) who have adopted Teal with significant commercial success.
Fully Connected explores our innate human desire for human connection and interaction and how the digital age is causing disruption as more and more communication takes place online.
Hobsbawm argues, rightly we think, that both online communication and information overload in the digital age are having detrimental effects on our health, and proposes that face-to-face communication is essential for good “social health”, using the latest developments in neuroscience to underpin her thinking.
A solid counter-argument to this year’s mainstream idea that AI is the way forward.
This is our 'go-to' book choice when anyone ever asks us about further reading around the future of work.
Professor Gratton teaches at London Business School and is one of the world’s leading experts on the subject. She succinctly nails the various aspects of the future of work, showcasing the topic as multiple themes in convergence, and not just this year’s hot potato of innovation in automation and AI.
She also shows us the very likely societal impact of the future of work and gives illustrations of how we might future-proof ourselves to adapt to an altogether different work landscape of the future.
Hess and Ludwig have studied a vast array of research and evidence to create an outline of the personal characteristics and traits that will drive success in the future of work.
Most thinking around the future of work points to an altogether different set of personal skills and attributes required in our increasingly disruptive business landscapes, and this book substantiates those requirements with some well-presented ideas and the latest in psychological research.
This is such a great book. It charts the emerging quest by workers to achieve more transparency, trust and opportunity to learn/grow, and supports the idea that if businesses don't work hard to embrace this, they will lose in the war for talent.
As a parent, I think the UK education is well overdue an overhaul; we need to be showing our children that it's OK not to get things right first time, because this is where true learning takes place.
We also need to help our kids fall in love with learning and help them see all the wonderful things that a love of learning can bring right the way through life.
This is one of our favourite books in recent years. It shows, through vast amount of psychological research, how, when we go out of our way to help others, good things happen.
In the rich make-up of society, there are 3 main profile types: those who give, those who take and those who match. It might be logical to assume that the most successful profile type is a matcher, but Grant disproves this time and again with fabulous real-world stories showing that not only are we hard-wired, as humans, to want to be helpful, but also that authentic helpfulness reaps rewards in so many different ways.
Deeply influential thinking when considering the future of work.
As founder of the World Economic Forum, the not-for-profit organisation “committed to improving the state of the world”, we like to think that Klaus Schwab, even without his academic credentials, knows a thing or two about economics and the state of the global commercial landscape.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution provides a detailed picture into the impact that exponential technological advance is likely to have on us societally, and not least on the relationship we have with our workplaces. In spite of the risks posed to our employability generically, Schwab argues that “talentism” is “one of the most important, emerging drivers of competitiveness”, holding that people will always lie at the heart of commercial success.
This book succinctly captures the pace at which technology is transforming both our homes and workplaces. Significantly however, Leonhard challenges the current lack of debate as to whether these technologies actually act in our best interests and also questions what we, as humans, are potentially sacrificing as we adopt them and whether society actually benefits in the longer term.
Whilst clearly a technology enthusiast, the author also takes a sensitive and humanitarian approach to the various ethical dilemmas posed by the mass adoption of new and emerging technologies.
This is a great read for anyone interested in building a more solid understanding of both the opportunities and threats posed by a more technology-dependent future.
This is a really insightful delve into not only the technologies that are coming to eat up the workplace but also a forward snapshot as to how the social and economic consequences may unfold.
Ford’s book gives a much better understanding of the various technologies, the names of which are often interchangeable within the realms of popular press.
He goes as far to look at universal basic income and the pros and cons of the various iterations and options available. A very sobering, but nonetheless necessary, read.
A great read providing well researched insight into what we seek from our workplaces, over and above financial remuneration.
As Pink points out, many modern workplace remuneration schemes are no longer fit for purpose in an age where competitive edge requires increasing amounts of “out-of-the-box” creative thinking.
He provides detailed explanation of what generically motivates humans, and why.
A delve into the influence of the unconscious mind and how intuitions are formed.
Gladwell surmises that if acknowledged and harnessed, our split-second thinking and response mechanisms can work in our favour as a powerful evaluation tool, often outperforming our well-considered logic and reasoning.
Drawing on compelling research in both psychology and neuroscience, Gladwell offers up the idea that gut instinct usually has a significant basis, even if as humans, we are less than able to explain ourselves.
This book provides a well-structured insight into the various factors that are contributing to the mass disruption of our workplaces.
From technology through globalisation to the evolving expectations of younger generational cohorts, Meister and Willyerd succinctly nail both the factors driving change, the changes themselves and also, perhaps more importantly, some key insights as to how business and HR leaders will need to adapt to ensure that they remain competitive in their efforts to attract and retain the best talent for their businesses.
This is a deep dive into the psychology of trust, detailing how and why we trust.
Rachel Botsman shows us how trust in society is evolving and how our trust in, and therefore dependency on, technology is pervasively becoming the new normal.
Trust is however an integral part of what makes us human and this raises some key dilemmas. How is trust being manipulated by technocrats? To what extent will distributed trust technologies anonymise humans? Some serious ethical conversations need to take place if we are to ensure that trust itself does not become subject to commoditisation.