Issue #66
#66 - Things fall apart, the center cannot hold -- at work
May 12, 2023

#66 - Things Fall Apart, The Center Cannot Hold -- At Work

What's up, everybody?

In issue #34 - The Great ̶R̶e̶s̶i̶g̶n̶a̶t̶i̶o̶n̶ ̶ Erosion of Trust at Work", we wrote:

"There is an *epic* crisis of trust in the workplace right now. Just as trust in the media, in the government, and in politicians is plummeting -- so too is trust at work."

Today, we hone in on the idea of "decentralization" and to be clear:

📌 Decentralization isn't just spontaneously combusting as far as a trend -- it's a response to a global erosion of trust and confidence across many of the (centralized) institutions we've relied upon in decades past.

📌 Decentralization is not just a move from the center to the fringes -- it also connotes a shift in power. And that power shift, in turn, animates so much of what we see happening in 2023.

So today, we use our 3 Stories to explore decentralization at work, on 3 different levels: as a society, on a company-level, and as individuals. We look at examples of work decentralizing and fractionalizing in real-time, and we ask as usual: what does this mean for us as organizations, leaders and individuals?

Story #1 - The shift from commuting to an office to remote working continues apace, and is a classic example of decentralization. In our first Story, a stunning chart from one of the foremost scholars of remote work helps us appreciate how real the trend is -- and what it means for the cities and towns in which we live.

Story #2 -
What does it mean to "demote the authority" at work? What does that look like in practice, and what lift -- and challenges -- does it bring? We learn all about this in our second Story, via a leader at Netflix (my former employer, whose culture is specifically designed to empower creative work).
Story #3 - For most of us, "work" has meant having one job at a time. Having all our time and effort focused -- centralized -- on a single employer. And having our career tied solely to that institution. But as gig work, side hustles, and Internet-based "creators" become normalized, this is no longer always the case. And in our final Story, we learn about another growing form of decentralized career trend: "fractional" work.

Thanks for reading and exploring with us -- and have a great week!

Aki + Usman

P.S. Our podcast of issue #65, "How high is your...wellbeing IQ?", is right here.


#Trust #Decentralization #RemoteWork

Nick Bloom is an academic who researches remote work. This was not his study, but its results comparing pre and post-pandemic cell phone usage in the downtowns of major U.S. cities were striking. Not only does they underscore the staying power of remote work (the data are from late last year), they also us appreciate the incredible scale of the change, as we decentralize from daily office use to more of a hybrid norm.

Nick's editorial also brings to life the very real downstream effects of remote work, from reduced use of expensive office real estate (apparently no fewer than "26 Empire State Buildings Could Fit Into New York’s Empty Office Space" right now 🤯), to reduced retail spend in and around those offices, to the shrinking use of public transport. It all serves to remind us how zero sum these decentralizing power shifts can be. As Bloom says: the city centers' losses are very much the suburbs' gains.


#Trust #Decentralization #DemoteTheAuthority #Netflix

Chip Paucek is the founder and CEO of an education technology firm. Above, he describes a philosophy of leadership he learned from Netflix exec Greg Peters; namely, how to "demote the authority" at his company. The idea that in order to scale yourself and your time, you need to learn to push your power "down" the org, to its furthest reaches.

Paucek explains what this means in practice:

[He] is finding that his time has to increasingly be spent on the bigger picture. Micromanaging is no longer an option. He says Peters' advice in practice is like creating lanes for his employees, giving them the freedom to fall and "bruise their shins".
He's begun questioning meeting invites, accepting only those that require his presence and pushing the rest to his senior leaders. And in this transition phase, he's making sure to support rather than punish these leaders when their plans don't go exactly right. If he's going to trust them, he can't have them be afraid of taking risks.
"You can't do it all anymore, and if you're trying, you probably shouldn't be in the job," he said, reflecting on his position. "So like, demoting that true authority to make the call and supporting them when they get it wrong is hard. It's really hard."

I got to spend nearly 5 years at Netflix, working within its culture of "freedom and responsibility"; a culture purposely engineered as an alternative to the command and control bureaucracy that defines many organizations, even after their transition from manufacturing to knowledge work. The entire goal of Netflix's culture is to enable creative empowerment.

And while "demoting the authority" was absolutely the requirement at Netflix, doing it well was, as Paucek says, challenging. It meant constantly needing to let go, to trust more -- and to share information and context liberally.

And this devolution of authority extended beyond just pushing power down to lower levels of the organization. It also meant empowering the furthest geographic reaches of the company, which in practice were often Netflix's "newest" markets. The need was to empower and trust the teams in these non-headquarters offices, closest as they were to the customers, and expert as they were in those markets. Not only because this was more scalable and efficient -- but because that proximity and ownership invariably led to better business decisions.


#Trust #Decentralization #FractionalWork #SpreadYourBets

First off, we just love the notion of having a "third third" to one's career! We're big fans of thinking of our "career journeys" as separate acts -- not unlike the acts of a play. And it's exciting that Karyn's questioning, awareness and intent is now more common after the pandemic.

Meantime, the fractional work she took on ⬆️ is another example of a shift in a long-held approach: centralizing all our work time into one institution. Versus working across multiple organizations, or using some of our time to feed other parts of our identity -- family, community, hobbies, you name it.

You'd be right to question whether fractional work is a privilege that only execs with years of experience -- and the leverage that comes from it -- can enjoy. But then we see the same dispersion of work in the rise and growth of gig work, creator and Internet-based jobs, part-time and contractor work, and side hustles; all of which are embraced by junior and senior talent alike.

In the end this says to us that the traditional model -- holding one, inflexible job at a time, for a long period of time -- wasn't delivering for enough of us. Clearly, as these fractional options become more common and easier to adopt, more of us are asking: why should we keep putting everything into a single organization, versus spreading out our time, our bets -- and our trust?

Thanks for reading. 🙏🏻

Work moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.
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