We used to tell the designers what to do, now they’re showing us what is possible

A recent McKinsey report offers interesting insights into the changed role(s) of designers in organizations: “Design the business, not just the product”.
This may come as no surprise to those involved in latest design research or design(-erly)-based businesses. The interesting point is that this report is based on a fairly broad empirical study demonstrating the (mostly positive) impact of a broader understanding of designers’ roles and functions in companies. “Instead of trying to ‘protect’ designers within the design studio, leading Chief Design Officers (CDOs) work with the C-suite to embed designers into cross-functional teams and give them the training and the tools needed to collaborate and lead successfully.”

See here for further details.

Innovation vs. disruption: Shifting our focus from disrupting markets to creating them

Greg Satell shows in a recent post why it is necessary to rethink our obsession with disruptive innovation and replace it with a mindset of profound innovation. Such a shift is based on value creation for “real” human needs as well as on scientific knowledge rather than on a strategy of disrupting existing markets by increasing returns of a few large companies with almost no increase of productivity.

see: https://marker.medium.com/how-the-uber-economy-is-killing-innovation-prosperity-and-entrepreneurship-7222982cd457

Joy @ Work | Part 3

Joy @ Work — on the relationship between joy and work (in the 21st century)

This is part 3 of a first draft of an explorative paper on the relationship between joy/joyfulness and work.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Implications for organizations and leaders

The main conclusion from our considerations can be summarized as follows: in order to make work (more) joyful, it is necessary to bring back purpose to work. As we have seen, joy is not just/so much about feeling well, having fun, satisfying superficial needs, etc. Rather, joy is about engaging in meaningful activities that contribute both to one’s own self-actualization and to bringing (new) meaning and purpose to the world (be it the organization, the user, market, etc.). 

It has become clear that material or financial rewards are not the final word and do not ensure lasting and sustainable satisfaction as well as loyalty for/of employees. What has turned out to be more important is that their job provides purpose and meaning to them (personally as well as in the context of their organization). Such a working environment makes employees give the best of their efforts, lets them grow beyond their possibilities and limits of their “official” duties and job descriptions, as well as empowers them to become highly creative and innovative, because they know how their work contributes to the bigger whole and that they are part of a larger purpose.

As leaders, we have the responsibility to not only care about the (financial) performance of an organization, but also to make it a joyful place to work for everybody working there by focusing on purpose and self-actualization. Here are some guiding principles:

  1. Being alive and agency: Being alive is one of the most fundamental experiences of every human person. It implies a sense of agency, I am capable of changing something (internally and externally), I experience myself as the author of my actions and my actions have an actual impact. Leaders have to provide an environment in which employees are not only allowed to engage in pseudo agency, but must both take responsibility and earn recognition for their (successful) actions. This is part of an approach we refer to as creating Enabling Spaces (Peschl and Fundneider, 2012, 2014) that support agency and that are alive in every dimension.
  2. Creating a sense of ownership and autonomy: Related to the previous point , it is important to give employees a sense of ownership and autonomy in their tasks and daily work. Both contribute to an experience of being in control leading not only to employees’ self-actualization, but also to a higher level of identification with their company. While giving up control sometimes is difficult for leaders, many studies/papers show (e.g., Cable and Vermeulen, 2018; Peschl and Fundneider, 2014, 2017) that replacing a control attitude by an enabling mindset has positive effects on performance, creativity, and innovation.
  3. Creating meaningful workplaces and purpose: As we have seen above, creating a meaningful workspace is closely linked to the human longing for eudaimonia. This implies that leaders have to organize work for their employees in such a way that they may actualize and realize their potentials and their capacities. In the best case, employees find a connection between their own deepest purpose and the purpose of the company they are working for. It is the leader’s task to support their employees in this process and to connect their work with the larger goal of the organization. Ideally, each employee should have an understanding of what is his/her personal contribution to satisfy the user’s need/demand, what is his/her particular (added) value for the user in the overall value creation process. For that, a leader has to offer orientation and direction, for instance, by clear and transparent communication of the company’s purpose and objectives as well as on an integrative, holistic, and eco-systems perspective covering every point in the value chain/network. Some kind of personal coaching, well designed onboarding processes, stakeholder specific workshops, etc. are additional means to achieve this kind of engagement and alignment leading to employees’ more joyful work experiences and higher levels of job satisfaction.
  4. Healthy social interactions and sense of belonging: Apart from purposeful work, social interaction and a healthy social environment are critical for a joyful work environment. Humans are not only cognitive beings, but first and foremost social beings. In this context, trust and (strong) social ties are key drivers leading to a sense of belonging (both on a personal and organizational level) as well as to an experience of being accepted, welcome, and valued, that, in turn, increase the level of employee well-being. Participatory sense-making is one of the key activities of humans (De Jaegher and Di Paolo, 2007); and, it is also one of the key activities of every organization. It has both a cognitive part (“sense-making”) and a social aspect (“participatory”). Leaders are in charge of creating an environment in which the combination of these aspects can lead to joyful and inspiring forms of collaboration, creativity, innovation, decision making processes, etc. A is shown by De Jaegher (2019), it is the harmonious and thoughtful integration of these aspects as well as an open mindset that lead to deep insights and interesting results both on an individual and on an organizational level.
  5. Being confronted with the unexpected (in a safe space) and creativity: One of the reasons why we fear uncertainty is that we did not expect it and we lack knowledge and understanding of a specific (unexpected) situation or phenomenon. As a consequence, we cannot predict the future and the implications of our actions. Observing closely and listening carefully does not only bring about a more profound understanding of the current situation, but also prepares us for the future.
    Although the experience of uncertainty can sometimes lead to a sense of anxiety or loss of control, it can be transformed through direct confrontation with this uncertain reality in a safe environment by closely engaging with it. Trying to make sense of what is really happening around us on a deeper level and reflecting on our patterns of perception are all instruments leading to a more profound level of understanding. In most cases, this understanding will reduce the level of uncertainty and anxiety. It will bring forth alternative and creative perspectives opening new ways of dealing with uncertain phenomena or situations. Uncertainty becomes a source of creativity. If this happens in a safe (organizational) environment, employees will not only regain their sense of agency, but also experience self-actualization. They will feel alive and fulfilled (“eudaimonia”), as being creative is both a highly challenging and at the same time satisfying activity (it is satisfying because they will bring novel meaning and purpose into the world). Again, it is the leader’s job to create such a safe and enabling environment where mistakes, failures, or sometimes risky decisions are seen as learning experiences rather than something to be sanctioned.
  6. Pro-active and future-oriented mindset: In most companies one can find a mindset being driven by highly standardized processes. While standardization per se is not a bad thing (they provide stability, security, and efficiency), one has to keep in mind that these processes are mainly determined by past experiences and are mostly reactive. They are not only the result of reacting to changes in the environment, the market, in technologies, and/or user needs, but the way, how these processes have been designed, is mostly driven by past experiences (Peschl, Fundneider, and Kulick, 2015). They are extrapolations from the past into the future. In a sense, how such a company operates and innovates is based on a mindset that approaches current (and future) changes as problems that have to be solved by applying patterns from the past.
    As we have seen above, in most cases this leads to an alienation from purpose, because activities are mainly automatized and standardized. They can be executed without knowing why and there is little motivation to truly tackle the challenges of the future. Obviously, such a mindset is not in line with what eudaimonia is about and does not promote a fulfilling and joyful work environment. In a sense, eudaimonia is always oriented and pointing towards the future; it has a lot to do with actively co-shaping the future by realizing its potentials.
    Eudaimonia is, similarly as innovation-driven companies, about future making (Wenzel, Krämer, Koch, and Reckwitz, 2020). „More recently, actors have begun to experience the future as a problematic, open-ended temporal category that they could not fully master through planning practices alone. This renaissance of the future as a prevalent and unknowable temporal category in organizational life is what we refer to as the ‘rediscovery’ of the future. This rediscovery… has been produced through a pluralization of the ways in which actors engage with the future, with planning being just one of many approaches. Yet, very few, if any, of these activities and practices are well understood in organization studies… ..future-making practices are the specific ways in which actors produce and enact the future.“ (Wenzel, Krämer, Koch, and Reckwitz 2020, p 1442f) Hence, eudaimonia is about employing and engaging in a future-oriented mindset of both an organization and its employees that pro-actively “learn from the future as it emerges” (Scharmer, 2016). 
  7. Re:creation & slack time/space: Being efficient might boost the performance of a company in the short term. However, as we have seen, purposeless activity that is performed for the sake of itself, might lead to a contemplative and restful state, a state in which one is in resonance with him-/herself. Results from neuroscience and cognitive science have shown that such a state is a powerful source of creativity and contributes to bringing forth novelty and innovation. Even more so, if it is not explicitly directed towards a product or an outcome. As an implication, leaders should provide their employees some slack time and space for re:creation—it will not only boost their creativity, but also establish an atmosphere in which employees do not feel that their creative activities are directly instrumentalized for the company only.

Isn‘t it one of the most joyful moments when one has accomplished something where he/she realizes his/her highest potentials for the good of the world? In such moments a human is not only in resonance with his/her highest inner self (cf. Scharmer, 2016), but also with the world and with what wants to emerge. Ideally, it brings out the best of a human person (“self-actualization”)  as well as the best of the environment he/she has an impact on. In most cases, this accomplishment is characterized by going beyond pure functionality or expected requirements. The difference that makes the difference is the surplus, the unexpected, and the gratuité of the result. When work processes, environments, and outcomes reflect these qualities we can speak of joy and eudaimonia at work.


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The shattered fantasies and promises of ridesharing companies

Companies like Uber and Lyft promised environmental friendly ways of mobility, cutting down on congestion in cuties, and new work models for their drivers. It turned out to be wishful thinking in the context of a sharing and platform economy approach and of a fantasy of an algorithmically designed future of work. It is well known that its “gig workers” have to pay the price for the system of this new form of digital capitalism.

see: https://onezero.medium.com/amp/p/53940dcbac34

Digital Economy is capitalism at its worst

It is one pf the promises of digital transformation to bring equality and wealth to both producers and users of material and non-material goods, services, etc. It seems that the WWW and  new technologies provide openness and better accessibility for everyone; however, the self-reinforcing (feedback and exponential) dynamics of algorithms fosters a (n economy of) monoculture and promotes only a relatively small group of “winners” (winner-takes-all dynamics). Actually, it gates access and advances bias. The speed and frictionlessness of these technologies even increase the divide between winners and losers in this game.

Only breaking up this monoculture and replacing it by sustainable ecosystems with a high degree of diversity may change this misguided dynamics of digital economy.

see article by Douglas Rushkoff: https://medium.com/team-human/the-digital-economy-is-capitalism-at-its-worst-230b2eeb38d4

Innovation learnings from Google’s ATAP lab

One of the main goals of Google’s ATAP lab (Advanced Technology and Projects) is to make Google hardware as smart as Google software. It is one of Google’s (secretive) innovation factories working on a wide range of hardware innovations for the Google ecosystem. Apart from presenting inspiring hardware gadgets, such as the “house mouse” or a micro radar for gesture recognition, the head of the lab, Dan Kaufman, gives some insights into the lab’s innovation strategy:

  1. Even if one has a zoo of fancy gadgets, you need to develop a cohesive and coherent vision or strategy for a future of smart devices.
  2. Sometimes it is necessary to “re-invent” technologies that seem to work well.
  3. Prototype and iterate.
  4. It is not the head count of the lab that matters for the success of innovation activities, but the fact that one can tap into 100.000 smart engineers of the whole ecosystem the lab is embedded in.

See: https://www.fastcompany.com/90525392/googles-secretive-atap-lab-is-imagining-the-future-of-smart-devices

Does the Wild wild web come to an end — rethinking the platform ideology

It seems that the WWW in its original idea as the Wild Wild Web is coming to an end. The tech industry’s decade-long experiment in unregulated growth and laissez-faire platform governance is being questioned in the light of recent political and social developments, polarization, fake news, etc. As the internet giants are unwilling to make rules, the WWW has slided into a state of “out of control”. Users as well as regulators are stipulating more responsibility and a new culture that is more accountable, more self-aware, and less willfully naïve.

see: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/02/technology/goodbye-to-the-wild-wild-web.html

Amazon: Reinventing retail?

Amazon is a huge lab for retail. It is perfect in making high impact experiments in the field and follows an explorative mindset when it comes to finding new opportunities to sell all sorts of goods. Amazon’s job is “to get you the thing”, not to be a website, so what are the best ways to do it? By doing that it does not even hesitate to go into physical retail. It does not follow an ideology of “internet-only” and even tries out things that have been done before – bringing about interesting results.

The real challenge Amazon is facing: Can it work out how to let us shop rather than just buy?

see: https://www.wired.com/story/amazons-retail-strategy-recycling-old-ideas/

On Frictionlessness

Frictionless experience has become a requirement—even more so in times of COVID-19. What is frictionlessness actually about?

It turns out that when one removes friction from a system, process, business, organization, experience, etc., you offer your users what is almost the most valuable and nonrenewable/unique for them: time.

Friction is what costs you (time); frictionlessness is priceless.


Purpose: How to place purpose at the core of your organization

According to a Fortune 500 survey 93% of CEOs do not believe that the goal of a company should be to focus on making profits only. Especially in times of crisis the power of purpose and the importance of engaging for the benefit of society becomes evident. However, how is it possible to find an answer to what is an organization’s reason for its being and how it may have a thriving impact on the needs of society and the environment? In this article McKinsey develops an insightful list of questions and a roadmap on how to develop and engage in purpose and how to place purpose at the core of an organization.

see: https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/purpose-shifting-from-why-to-how