Are we still hanging onto old new ways?
A recent Gartner report cites that following the recognised eras of manual labour, followed by the industrial revolution and then the more recent digital revolution, we are now entering “the biggest experiment in the history of work”.
This comforted me greatly as I waded through the endless blogs, talks, podcasts, articles and various publications about ‘new working ways’ in the post-pandemic era, and most seemed to be implying they had the answers for us. Don’t misunderstand me, I think ideas like four day weeks, job-sharing, remote working, virtual offices, rotational bases (a dizzying thought), flexible workspaces, new technologies, hybrid working, and so on, are great little ideas to be thrown into the ‘experiment’, but I’m not sure they’re big enough ideas to make the profound shift we seem to be looking for.
What’s the difference between an experiment and experimenting?
At school there was a lot of fun to be had from experiments. But the truth is, we weren’t really experimenting. We were carrying out tried and tested science processes with already proven outcomes.
I took a look at the word ‘experiment’ in the Oxford English Dictionary. There are a number of similar definitions but the one that caught my attention was:
‘An action or procedure undertaken to make a discovery, test a hypothesis, or demonstrate a known fact.’
It seems there’s some scope in the noun, and our school experiments sat comfortably in the last part of that definition.
But the verb – ‘to experiment’ – leaves no doubt in its meaning.
One of the good things about saying “we’re going to experiment” is that it encourages us to accept nobody out there has the answer for us. They might have answers we can draw from, but there is no ‘best practice’ yet.
An experiment needs drivers and measures
If we are ‘to experiment’ then everybody in the business needs to be clear about the purpose and the parameters. Rather than leaping to implement ideas that seem to have worked for other organisations, I think organisations would benefit from greater thought around the drivers and metrics around their ‘experimenting’.
When we were looking for ways to keep our businesses running during that difficult lockdown period, we were focused almost solely on the continuity of productivity and efficiency. And rightly so. We had to survive. But since then, these two factors still seem to be the main priority for most organisations – the final, deciding measures. In fact, they’ve been the ‘go to’ measures and drivers of our businesses since we developed ‘new working ways’ at the beginning of the industrial revolution, almost three centuries ago.
So perhaps it’s here that we need to look first, to become more imaginative, more sophisticated and intelligent about applying new measures, before we go searching out ‘fixes’ to achieve the same old things. Perhaps the first step is to break free of one-dimensional measures and drivers that were set for a completely different operating environment three centuries ago.
But if we’re going to place more intelligent measures into the mix along with productivity and efficiency, how on earth do we give them all the same level of importance and maximise each and every one? Well, in truth, we can’t. Which is probably why most businesses still default to prioritising these two drivers above all else.
In a corporate world that has grown up on rhetoric such as ‘winning is everything’ and ‘no compromise’, many will find the answer difficult to say out loud in the boardroom. But as we start to apply some new measures and drivers to our experimenting for new working ways, we must also recognise that compromise is the only way. There is a finite amount of resource, time and energy in an organisation. If we continue with the objective of maximising productivity then we will continue to ‘dial it up’ too high in the mix, at the expense of other important new measures. Like everything in the world, the answer is ‘balance’.
If we truly invest time and energy into being clear about why we’re here, what we stand for and what is important and meaningful to us, then compromise becomes deeply informed and intelligent.
I said earlier that I don’t have any answers, and I stand by that. But I do believe we should be working harder at equalising the importance of the growing measures and drivers of our organisations. Then, by raising the concept of ‘intelligent compromise’ to the board table and placing it at the heart of our businesses, instead of continuing to build on the industrial revolution, maybe we can begin one of our own. Then we’ll really have some ‘new working ways’.
Intelligent compromise. It’s how our world works.
Kevin is fascinated by the workings of our world, in every respect. His journey has been rich, colourful and quite long, having had the great fortune of working in just about every sector and lots of different cultures around the world.
From an early career in marketing, Kevin quickly gravitated towards brand, defining it in his own way – ‘Brand is what we stand for and the way we do things around here’. It was this thought that drove him to help corporates ‘wake up’ to the value of brand beyond marketing – the profoundly influential role it can play for an organisation by clarifying purpose, outlook and attitude.
He refers to himself as an earthy hippie who got caught up in the corporate world and realised it was a good place to play his part in trying to change attitudes and outlooks for the better. So he stayed.
Kevin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and you can learn more about y? here. They’re a strategic brand consultancy for businesses who don’t want to just build attractive brands, but shape their reputations, and possibly the future. Kevin led our rebrand, from Robin Heller International to The Athena Advisors and we think he did a great job.