Issue #89
#89 - Keeping It Playful In The Future Of Work
October 27, 2023

"Work is either fun or drudgery. It depends on your attitude. I like fun." -- Colleen Barrett

So far, the most often-used emojis in this newsletter are probably 🤔 and 🧐.

Which fits! TalentStories is an exploration of work. It's curiosity-driven; we seek to understand. Often, it's about things that make you go "hmm". 🤔

Next up on our top-10 emoji list is 🤯. Mind-blown. "Wow", in either a good or a bad way. Usually, it's the scale of a phenomenon that prompts a 🤯. But it's also something we drop when we're overwhelmed by the wonder -- or the absurdity -- of work. As in, "Come on. Really? Still?"

But there's another go-to set of emojis that we inject into these issues: 🙃, 😂 and 🤣.

These are less intuitive. After all, TalentStories is about work. And work is drudgery. Work is hard. Work is,

What's more, the stakes are high, folks. We spend so much time at work, we draw so much meaning from it, it impacts the rest of our lives so much -- and it is not as good as it needs to be. So the urgency is real.

And yet! And yet. These humor emojis persist. 🙃

Because here's the thing: we need to maintain an air of playful curiosity. Even if our main task is to examine "work". Or better put: we have to maintain that playfulness precisely because we're examining work.

This week then, we don't couch the humor in the analysis; instead, we go the other way around and make humor the starting point. But we use our three funny Stories to get into work, just the same:

🎯 Story #1 - It's become the default: dial into your call, spy your colleagues' beaming faces, and there, in the Brady Bunch windows, is also the AI chatbot notetaker. All well and good, but what happens when the bot starts grading your performance in a meeting? We learn it's a mix of useful, dystopian -- and damn funny. 🙃

🎯 Story #2 - Google and its complex system of OKR's, or "Objectives and Key Results" is the target of a cheeky, playful Tweet in our second Story. The cheek aside, it's also an excuse to wax on goal-setting, and to see what Google's CEO -- who replies to the Tweet! -- has to say about it all.

🎯 Story #3 - What's your go-to email sign-off? Are you a "Regards" guy or gal? More of a "Thanks" enthusiast? A sophisticated "Cheers" closer, perhaps? Well, GenZ are over it; all of it. And they've got a new set of sign-offs that are either going to make you laugh, or cringe 😬 ; one of the two.

Thanks for reading and exploring with us. And thanks for keeping things playful, too!

Another day, another slay,

Aki + Usman


#Fun@Work #AI #Pros+Cons

At the heart of this Story, which lurches from interesting and relevant, to dystopian, are two hilarious vignettes that remind us how funny and absurd modern work can be, and will only continue to become.

Let's dig in:

Workers around the world are adopting artificial intelligence to streamline tasks ranging from email writing to product development. Now companies have begun using AI to root out another workplace inefficiency: meetings.
Across the U.S., some workers are using tools that record, analyze, and summarize what has been said, allowing them to skip gatherings entirely and skim the highlights. 
The AI also acts as a kind of virtual Miss Manners, reminding people to share the mic and to modulate their speaking pace, and advising them how to avoid verbal flubs.

So far so good. But enter a legend: one Josh Stir, a software engineering manager:

Josh Stir knew he had been talking for a long time during a recent virtual company meeting. But he didn’t expect a robot to call him out on it.
Stir was presenting about a new software feature that would allow his colleagues to automate tedious tasks. Then a notification popped up on his laptop telling him he’d been talking nonstop for 30 minutes without letting anyone else say a word.

30 minutes? Non-stop? On corporate tax software?

🤯 and 😂 and 😱. And where is the "make it stop" emoji?


Thank goodness for the bot, which had some sage advice (one wonders why no one on the team called this out earlier, by the way):

In Stir’s case, his robot minder suggested he let his pitch rise and fall more to sound less monotone, something he says isn’t the easiest task, given the technical material he covers.

To Stir's credit, he seems to have taken it in stride:

“It’s technology for corporate tax software,” Stir says. “No one’s going to carry me out of the room on their shoulders.”


The article goes on to a less funny use case of the AI meeting bot, which is super interesting nonetheless:

Joseph Zalkin, 65, a retired medical services worker says the idea of recording and analyzing meetings is “Big Brother personified”—and extremely helpful. On days when he is double-booked, he'll send in an AI-powered notetaker to silently listen in, transcribe and recap what was said. The follow-up reports hit his inbox from 20 minutes to two hours later.
The reports Zalkin receives for meetings he attends also note whether he arrived on time and the number of times he interrupted people. During one recent family meeting about investments, the answer was 14 times—mostly to interject over his brother, Zalkin says. “I’m sure it was important to move things along,” he says.

Fear not though, the last story in the article goes right back to lol funny:

The tools have spread enough that some workers say they regularly show up to meetings to find the only ones present are the AI notetakers programmed to log in as soon as the sessions begin—with all their accompanying humans running behind.
“I was like, this is super dystopian,” says Colin Dougherty, 28, a marketing director at tech company Zenlytic, who recently found himself in one such situation. “I just hung out there awkwardly, waiting.”


#Fun@Work #GoalSetting #PlayfulCEO

First, some context on the lingo here:

  • OKR's are "objective key results", a performance management framework for setting, communicating and tracking an organization's goals and results. The goal is transparency and alignment: company-level OKR's typically cascade down into team OKR's and then into individual OKR's, all in a measurable way.
  • Ben is accusing Google of "psyops" -- psychological operations, a military term for efforts to influence an audience or an organization's behavior in your favor.

As someone who spent many, many quarters at Google using this OKR system, and now works with much younger companies -- I do wonder if there might be something to this. 🤣

On the one hand, it's logical for startups to mimic successful organizations. On the other, we can't just "copy-paste" one org's features into another's. What might make sense in the context of one culture, or one scale of organization, doesn't automatically make sense in another's.

But more generally, the greater the amount and rate of change outside our organizations becomes, the more we can question the efficacy of traditional goal setting. Especially when that goal-setting process can be such a tremendous lift or tax on your company.

We would pose a similar question to any organization keen to attract and retain creative workers; those who thrive in cultures of high trust, and ownership. What would those firms get if resilience and adaptability, for instance, were more of the guiding stars?

To be fair, OKR's certainly haven't stopped Google from becoming a trillion-dollar company. The question is whether it would or could be even more successful with something lighter weight.

For now, it seems the company is "all in" on OKR's. The Tweet even landed in Google CEO Sundar Pichai's feed, and kudos to Sundar, he dropped a pitch-perfect response that neither confirmed nor denied the psyops strategy 😉 :


#Fun@Work #GenZ #Snark

My best friend and I have a long-running joke about his use of "Best" at the end of an email. He finds it useful, and I find it sterile. Which is why I laughed as hard as I did when I stumbled onto this Story about GenZ taking the absolute piss out of our modern sign-offs. (Thank you, Gen Z! 🙏)

From the read:

Welcome to 2023, where the formal email sign-offs that most of us are used to are being left in the past by the younger employees. Instead, Gen Z'ers are taking on a more casual and carefree approach to ending an email.
That means that traditional closers of "Sincerely," "Thanks," "Warm regards" and "Best wishes" are out of the question. Instead, they are using closers like "Yours unfaithfully," "Bless up" or "Cold regards," to name just a few.

Is it professional? Passive-aggressive? Offensive? Sarcastic? For a small subset of companies only (if any)?

Fair questions, each of them. But you can't deny the humor -- and shouldn't ignore the subtext of the eye-rolling frustration here, either. A frustration that GenZ so often brings to the work conversation. "Why should we play your game and adhere to your rules, if your upside isn't also there? Why put up with the sterility and formality of modern work, without the payoff?" 🤔

Meantime, let's just revel in some of these closers, shall we?

* Bless up
* Mean regards
* Another day, another slay
* Slay, serve, survive
* Lukewarm regards
* Over and out
* Cold regards
* Stay slaying

Make sure and click here and here for more gems on TikTok, some of which are below for your closing pleasure:

* Live, laugh, leave me alone
* [Insert pleasantry here]
* Please hesitate to reach out!
* Yours unfaithfully
* If you have any questions, please ask someone else
* Thanks (not sure what for)

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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