Wednesday, February 8, 2017

For Better or Worse, In Sickness or Health ... We're In This Together

Data from Internet World Stats indicates that as of June 2016, 50.1% of the world’s population had access to the internet.  In 2011 that figure was roughly 33%.  In the US this penetration is 89%.  Every second approximately 10 people gain new access to the internet.  This pervasive worker connection brings both opportunities and challenges to the workplace.

Jarche highlights the economic benefit networked workers bring to an organization noting that because of their connections a small handful of workers can now accomplish what it took entire departments to accomplish in the past.  They have fast access to knowledge across multiple sources of information and the transaction costs of accessing this information are minimal.  Networked workers may also require fewer direct supervisors due to their reliance on the network for information and support and this introduces additional cost savings.  And although not everyone would see it as a benefit, in a VUCA world, being able to tolerate ambiguity is crucial, and the Pew piece notes how networked workers and AI are changing how we define exactly what makes a job a job and how ultimately this can result in the restructuring of the social contract.  Staying cognizant of this will help organizations stay flexible.

According to the details of the Workplace 2020 info-graphic, there are six primary drivers of change under way.  They are:

Extreme Longevity The rise of smart machines and systems Computational world New media ecology Super-structured organizations Globally connected world

Only extreme longevity (i.e. estimating that by 2025 the number of Americans over 60 will increase by 70%) does not clearly benefit from networked workers.  The other five depend on competently connected workers.   These workers bring each of the ten necessary skills for success in 2020 to the job. They include:

Sense making Social intelligence Novel and adaptive thinking Cross cultural competency Computational thinking New Media Literacy Transdisciplinary Design Mindset Cognitive load management Virtual collaboration

Weinberger (2011) discusses a 1963 letter written by Bernard Forscher titled Chaos in the Brickyard which discussed all the random pieces of data that were being developed but not linked together.  There are many more random bricks strewn about today.   And, although computers are able to categorize “bricks” quite well, it will take connected workers with the skills listed above to provide a holistic and deeper understanding of these varied data points.  And stringing these data points together will not be an easy task.  Weinberger explains that our new medium of knowledge, can't keep information, communication, and sociality apart.  This combination can lead to a plethora of knowledge about which we will most likely tend to disagree.  He has little optimism that we will ever again find something we all agree on.

Networked connections enable greater work flexibility and we’ll likely see an increase in the number of workers working remotely.  Depending on the research one cites, remote workers present various opportunities and challenges.   Ann Bednarz in a piece in Networkworld describes the key aspects.  Weinberger (2011) states that, "the mechanisms of belief have become detached from the means of knowledge” (p.150). This leaves us in a time where you can remain ignorant yet seem like you are knowledgeable.  With this in mind, I felt it particularly interesting to note that research by Zimbler and Feldman (2011) mentioned in Bednarz’s article points to an increase in lying in virtual environments.  If no one is truly seen as an expert and we disperse with many of our former tests of validation, it seems this trend could continue to grow. This would present a critical challenge for networked collaboration.  Another, consistent challenge presented by remote workers is the desire to have a trusting, close relationship with their leader.  They want a leader who not only keeps them organized but who cares about their development both personally and professionally.  Millenials in particular are clear about their need for feedback from their leaders.  An article in the Harvard Business Review    discusses Millenials desire to receive purposeful feedback from their manager on a monthly basis – more than any other generation in the workplace.  They want an authentic and approachable leader who can inspire and connect them to a higher purpose. These very human needs must occur in tandem with the technological savvy required to function effectively in the role.  This challenges leaders to fully integrate seemingly opposing elements and to help their workers do the same.  

I found some solid guidance on this integration from Tiffany Shlain, who among other things co-founded the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences, and the Webby Awards.  In an OnBeing interview she discusses the relationship with technology and points out that technology is not something other than us – we are its creators and by mentally reframing our relationship and seeing it as an extension of our abilities and an amplification of our desire to connect we can come to see ourselves and technology in a more interconnected and holistic way.  She encourages us to view the network as a nervous system for the world.  Her work gives me hope that as leaders and workers we can continue to evolve our relationship with technology and ourselves for a dynamic and positive outcome.

Weinberger, D. (2011). Too big to know: Rethinking knowledge now that the facts aren’t the facts, experts are everywhere, and the smartest person in the room is the room. New York: Basic Books.

Zimbler, M., & Feldman, R. S. (2011). Liar, liar, hard drive on fire: How media context affects lying behavior. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 41(10), 2492-2507. doi: 10.1111/j.1559-1816.2011.00827.x


  1. Volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous...VUCA certainly sums up today's world. I like the visualization of our networks as a nervous system of the world. I have my have yours...and through the interconnections, we are connected to multiple networks.

  2. I first was introduced to VUCA 6 years ago and have found it more and more applicable every year since. So glad you too appreciate the nervous system metaphor. I really found Tiffany's work to be very optimistic and helpful in my finding my voice and direction in our topsy-turvy world. ~Tricia

  3. Tricia,

    Good afternoon. I enjoyed your contribution this week and the discussion you are having with Dr. Watwood. I am particularly intrigued by your discussion regarding the various generations in the workforce that make up our teams. I think it interesting how each of the various generations are quick to point to the other generation’s weaknesses. I would be interested in hearing your thoughts on ways to create a cohesive network of individuals that come from differing generations. Recently, I am trying to change my thinking to focus on the strengths of individuals and how they can help the team rather than focus on the weakness and trying to create strengths from weaknesses. This is a different approach for me, as I like to “fix” things. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.


  4. Jason - so good to hear from you! I applaud your focusing on strengths in order to build cohesion. Finding bridges takes awareness AND perseverance. I've seen great results in having generations focus on ways they enhance one another's lives. Everyone wants to be needed and partnering people in mentoring and reverse mentoring situations gives everyone a chance to appreciate and share their skills and expertise. At work we have begun focusing less on generational differences but rather on common goals and a culture of inclusion where everyone feels recognized, appreciated, valued and necessary for full functioning. It is honestly not that difficult - just a refocus. You mention creating strengths from weaknesses. A different approach might be PIN. With the PIN approach you create the habit (in yourself and others) to force yourself to always find something positive in a situation/individual. It may be small but that's OK. Next make yourself find something that's interesting, special, unique in the situation/individual. Only now can you consider the negative - that which you would like changed. And if you are really creative you can use elements of what you found to be positive and interesting to work together with the individual/team to set some goals to change. To motivate yourself you can remember that anyone can find what's wrong in a situation/person - that's easy. Only the really observant, compassionate and creative leader can do PIN effectively. Look forward to hearing your thoughts :-) Again - so nice to chat with you Jason! ~ Tricia

  5. Tricia,

    Great post! Thank you for introducing me to “VUCA ”. In a Harvard Business Review article, Bennett and Lemoine did a nice job of plotting Vague, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous on a two dimensional grid ( The X dimension is how much is known about the situation, and the Y axis is how well the results of the actions can be predicted. Another article, "Leadership in a VUCA World" (, suggests that there is a leadership shift from reducing uncertainty to actively engaging with it. The article offers tips for leading in a VUCA world, such as having a clear vision, providing consistent communication, focusing on employee engagement, leveraging diversity, and engaging networks rather than hierarchies. I noted several parallels to our class discussions.

    I had to laugh when I searched for VUCA and came across the computer generated translation: “merci vocu: thank you so much” ( I also found a “vacu vin” pineapple slicer that might help navigate the crazy pineapple world ( Searches are a good example of the benefits of human-machine partnerships.

    Merci beaucoup mon amie, for the opportunity to make yet another valuable connection!


    1. LOL - a less scholarly person might be responding to me about French fruit! VUCA awareness has helped me so many times in the last 5 years. So many things have simply made no sense (in the old fashioned way of making sense). And there seems to be little promise of that changing. Thus, reminding myself that "crazy" is the new norm has helped me more calmly move forward. Thanks for that reference about how leaders can use it successfully in their practice. I think you might enjoy Tiffany Shlain's work as well. If you have a chance to check it out please do and let me know what you think. And so glad the blog gremlins allowed you to post freely this week. Always a pleasure. Vous etes les bienvenus ~ Tricia

    2. Tricia,

      So glad to have a chance to look at Tiffany Shlain’s work! I checked out the interview you recommended and her TedX Women talk “Reimagine” ( ). Her encouragement to view the potential of the net as the beginning of a participatory revolution is inspiring. Sometimes it feels like technology is simply happening to us. Yet, as you said, we create technology, and we can shape our relationships with, and around, it. The "Did You Know?" video that Dr. Watwood shared ( illustrates that there has never been a bigger force for change than technology. Tiffany Shlain inspires us that there has there has never been a bigger opportunity to connect, and to use the power of technology for the greater good!


    3. So glad you found value in her message. She is a woman with a mission for sure. I had never heard of her until last fall and she was a keynote speaker at a conference I attended. I did feel tech was happening to me and both her work and all we are covering in this class is helping me develop a more empowered outlook. Connect for the greater good! I like your line. I'm ready for the participatory revolution!!

  6. Your point about millennials is well taken, and supported by my experience. I personally ran into this recently. I was mentoring someone at work (a millennial), and she had significant angst that our manager had not attended her 1-1s in the last few months. I had experienced the same situation, but I had very little, if any, angst about it. My view, after having worked at my company for almost 17 years, was that she was very busy, and if she needed to tell me something, then she would reach out directly (or make the 1-1 meeting we had scheduled). I believe that this has a lot to do with my comfort at self-directing, something that many millennials may be challenged with – if only because they are early in their career those optics makes everything bigger. They likely need more direction and reassurance that they are heading in the right direction. But there are varying data points from different studies. One by PWC ( indicates that 41% of millennials say they prefer to communicate electronically at work rather than face to face or even over the telephone. But even here, I suspect that if the question was about interfacing with their bosses, they would opt for face time.

    1. My experience aligns with yours. Millenials do seem to appreciate face time in general. I wonder if the electronic communication stats are regarding specific work assignments because we have many millenials as professional interns and they love to network, eat lunch with their peers and statused workers, spend time with leaders and colleagues. They seem to really appreciate time with others. And I like you also have no angst when my manager has to delay or reschedule a 1:1. That's more the norm. I'm not sure why they are scheduled actually - I much prefer to set up time on a more natural cadence. Enjoy your mentoring.