- What do you associate with playing?
- What are your playgrounds?
- Why don’t we play (any) more?
- What does it take to un-learn playing; what, to re-learn it?
Archive for Human
The digital transformation was one of the buzz words at this year’s World Economic Forum in January 2019. Walking the streets there were numerous signs for special events, receptions, panels, speeches or forums on the topic. All of them had in common that there was an atmosphere of excitement about the technological advances of the 21stcentury, the huge potentials and promised ahead of us. Or so it seemed.
Fact was that this appearance was deceiving and possibly misleading.
I had the privilege and honor of having been a member of the panel „The Art of New Business: Body, Mind and Soul of Digitization“ in the FQ Lounge. When asked about my opinion about the prospects of the digital transformation in my native country of Germany I cautiously mentioned that, first of all, not everyone is super excited about digitization. Indeed, I have observed that a lot of people (who knows, possibly the silent majority?) do have concerns and fears about the digital transformation. When I shared my observations I had expected that at the outset of my remark people in the audience would roll their eyes or shake their hands in disbelief about my skeptical opening statement. Interestingly, none of it happened. The opposite was the case. Indeed I sensed that the audience was relieved that finally there was a panelist who talked about their silent fears, the downsides of digital transformation in contrast to the many other events in Davos this week. I admit that the audience’s reaction surprised me. And at the same time it confirmed my impression that people hesitate or avoid speaking about their concerns and fears, at least in public. So, what’s true? Is digitization a blessing or a curse? My answer is that it can be both.
It is a fact that technology has brought, brings and will continue to bring many advancements that improve our well-being overall and offer huge business opportunities. On the other side, we will see lots and lots of jobs, businesses and even industries being eliminated or disappear. This is certainly one ingredient for being somewhat skeptical about the digital transformation. But we don’t even have to look so far into the future to identify an even more obvious drawback. Fact is that rates of disengaged workers, sick days and depression and burnout rates have been on the rise and have reached record numbers. A clear sign that the so lauded world of the digital age is not so bright after all. People complain about endless work, increased pressure and expectations at work. They are often either stuck in a hamster wheel or have become themselves addicted to the ever-accelerating race of infinite growth and corporate greed and cut-throat competition. They have become pawns in the grand chess game of modern business. They are functional, efficient, productive, and effective. And yet, they don’t behave or act like humans anymore but have become replaceable resources in a big machinery. Replaceable like machines because there is no space for burnouts, sickness or alike.
Corollary, the excitement about the digital transformation can and does co-exist with fears and concerns. Both are real, though not equally desirable or sustainable. I am convinced that fears and concerns cannot be resolved unless we take them seriously and deal with them. They have a common denominator. It’s the lack of humanness. In other words, being human often only matters in as much as a human resource, as one cost factor out of many. While resources in general and human resources in particular can be replaced the principal lack of appreciation of humanity at the core of our business activities sheds a long shadow on the wonderful promises and opportunities of the digital age.
In my 20+ years in professional project management I can say that projects rarely, if ever, fail because of faults in the products or some suboptimal processes. The number one cause of failure is ‘people’. Not because we make mistakes (of course, we do) but because we don’t recognize and value each other as who we are: human beings. Our personal motivations, visions and goals are appreciated only in as far as they benefit the project or product. There is no space for more, say, our belief systems, inner drives or purposes other than our relation to the jobs themselves. It’s like driving a car with a pulled handbrake and a weak battery. The human potential is left untouched. No wonder that so many projects still fail or struggle and are characterized by waste.
I have found that projects that create the space for individuals to uncover, explore, unleash their individual potentials and share it with fellow team mates turn into co-creation wonders that help delight customers, generate sustainable business value and develop happy and joyful workplaces while nurturing the thirst for continuous self-improvement. In other words, putting humanness at the core of business is the seed for mastering the challenges of the digital age and succeeding in the business world. It is time to acknowledge, explore and unfold our human potential to shape the present and future we truly want and need. Let’s be human in the digital age. Technology and digitization are welcome and valuable tools to serve this purpose and goal. Tools, but no more and no less.
In our interview we talked about his latest book “The Age of Agile: How Smart Companies Are Transforming the Way Work Gets Done” (see my previous post about it) and his views on being human in the digital age. In this episode he explains why and how digitization can actually be an engine for co-creating joy. Corollary, there is or not need not be a dichotomy between being human and technology.
Watch and listen in by yourself and find out what Steve is saying.
As much as the title sounds like an oxymoron; it is not. The opposite is the case. I believe that being human in the digital age is ever more important and, thanks to technology, feasible.
No doubt digitization is “taking over our world”. At least, at first sight and from a traditional perspective. A perspective that tells us that we as humans are mere subjects in the big, big world and economy. We are ‘human resources’; we are a cost factor with which we can calculate. This is, more or less, a common understanding. It is based on an old paradigm depicting organizations and companies as machines that can be planned and controlled. This old Taylor’istic and mechanical paradigm has been the foundation for economic thinking for more than 100 years. It allowed us to get a better understanding of the economy and overall has served us well. However, in a world that is becoming more and more volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous the old paradigm has reached its limits. The old paradigm was a good fit and served as a helpful orientation in situations with little or no change. ‘Ceteris paribus’ is what economists call this. Well, you don’t have to hold a university degree to acknowledge that this old, mechanical and simplistic world is over.
The rapid digital transformation is overburdening people, companies and organizations, fueling fears of the future. New developments in technology, society, and environment are met with suspicion and skepticism. It seems that digitization is taking over our lives.
Traditional business models don’t provide answers to today’s challenges. Indeed, there is conclusive proofthat traditional management has been failing for a number of years now. The annual ‘The Shift Index’ report of the Deloitte’s Center for the Edge has revealed that
Reading these numbers can scare the heck out of you. It quickly raises the question, how will the future look like? And yet, this question is as misleading as it can be. Misleading because it puts us in the position of being victims of a future development. Instead, I want to reframe the question and ask, how do we want to live? An alternative question is, How do we want to shape our present and our future? I believe that this reframing makes a huge difference. We move from a passive to an active position, from being victims of volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (vuca) world to being shapers of our world.
I am not saying that I am the world leading example. I, too, still fall victim to the old thinking. Why? Because I was raised this way and have been or let me being influenced by conventional thinking. Asking the questions, ‘How do I want to live? How do I want to shape my present and future?’, and being led by them is like an opening process. It opens doors of opportunities which are in my own sphere of influence. And it starts with me. Simple? Yes. Easy? Honestly, no. But then, this is life. It is full of surprises. This is the beauty and wonder of it. And I love it.
This is not another attack on Trump. Actually, I don’t really care too much about Trump. What I do care about are the implications of his policies, ideology, worldview, decisions, moods, and, believe it or not, at times his tweets. And yet, it is not about Trump as a person. Last week, former President Obama rightly stated that Trump is not the cause but a symptom for a lot of things that have gone array these days in business, society and the world. And, indeed, Trump is a strong symptom, an excellent and exemplary figure to represent capitalism of the old ages. The problem is, we no longer we live in the 19thor 20thcentury that were heavily shaped by traditional capitalism Trump loves so much.
Traditional capitalism rewards those who seek short-term gains, maximize profits regardless of whether or not business generates value to customers, workforce, business or society. This capitalism treats humans and the environment as resources, cost factors and numbers in balance sheets. It thrives in an atmosphere of mistrust, tension, fierce cutthroat and winner-takes-all competition, selfishness and anxiety. Exploiting or polluting the environment is considered collateral damage and, hence, not evil. The dividing and widening gap between rich and poor is dismissed as a distraction that can be fixed – by the free market. While proponents of traditional capitalism don’t negate the fact the world is becoming ever more volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous they are not really concerned about it because they believe that the established business principles, processes and rules can handle these challenges, too. And, if there were a problem it is probably because some people, organizations or governments neglected these established principles.
I am not a critic of capitalism per se (how could I, having been trained as an economist?). Fact is that traditional capitalism leads to a dead-end, does not answer today’s challenges in a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) world, widens the gap between rich and poor, exploits and threatens to destroy our environment and thus our own planet. This is not a call to end capitalism – this would this too simplistic. And it would be plain stupid for capitalism is a core element of business which we, people, need to survive and thrive. What we need is a different, a new business paradigm that not only helps find solutions to today’s problems but can also serve as guidance to sustainable business in the 21stcentury.
The good news is such business principles already exist. They constitute the Human Business Paradigm. These principles can serve as a new compass for doing business in the 21stcentury. Let me summarize its key principles:
2. The purpose of human business is to generate and add sustainable value to its customers, workforce, business, and society.
3. Human business promotes diversity in the workforce, reflecting an open society.
4. Human business advocates cross-functional and self-organizing teams.
5. Human business nourishes joy and happiness in its daily operation.
6. Human business practices and nurtures conscious leadership of enablement and empowerment.
7. Human business cultivates open and learning organizations that embrace change and thrive for continuous self-improvement of products and services, processes and people.
8. Human business provides and shares guidance for responding to rapid change in business and society.
9. Human business understands profits as a means to fulfill its business purposes; i.e., human business is purpose-driven and not profit-driven.
10. Human business advocates a circular economy, in which we keep resources in use for as long as possible, extract the maximum value from them whilst in use, then recover and regenerate products and materials at the end of each service life.
Walking the Talk. Building a Human Economy
During the next couple of weeks I plan to dwell into each of these principles and share concrete stories of companies, organizations and projects that practice these principles. At Motivate2B and the Human Business Architects we walk the talk; and there are many other businesses that do so already. I invite you, too, to join us and share your stories.
I have worked in professional project management for quite a number of years. Over the last years, I have moved away from classical project management and one of its core activities: planning. There are a number of reasons for this. First of all, I believe that classical planning is rooted in fear for volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. Or, planning is afraid of reality and life where volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity are central elements. Hence, classical planning is misguided and consequently often a waste of time and energy. Let me explain.
In classical project management we are expected to have a solid, validated project plan that lists major milestones, work packages and activities. Ideally, all work packages are linked with each other so that it becomes possible to predict the final delivery date of the project.
I have drafted numerous such project plans. And actually I enjoyed it for the most part. It gave me a sense of control and security. And the final plans looked great on paper. Alas, there were and are some major flaws with this: A plan is first of all a piece of paper. That’s it. No more, no less. Yes, of course, it can denote the important phases of a project and create the false impression that everything is under control. People tend to believe that a plan gives them security and certainty, reduces risks, prevents surprises and much more. Unfortunately, this is misguided and distracting from reality. Fact is that most project plans change the minute you “finish” them. President Eisenhower once said that a plan is worth nothing, planning is key. Well, I agree to some extent and add that planning is worth nothing if you don’t understand what’s behind it. I call it agile ‘planning’.
If you start planning because you want to overcome volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity, STOP right there. Planning will not help you achieve this. Volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity (VUCA) have nothing to do with planning. They are rooted in reality whereas planning is just a tool.
If you want to get a grasp on volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity understand their nature, what causes them. And find out why they bother you in the first place. Given that they are core elements and characteristics of reality you may as well ask yourself what bothers you about reality. In other words, find out what bothers you, period. What’s your problem? Or, if you like to phrase it more positively, what motivates you?
Contrast this to your vision of an ideal situation and see the gap between the problem (or motivation) and your vision. If this gap really bothers you, causes some form of pain, think about concrete steps how to get from point A to point B. This is what you could call agile ‘planning’. It is different from classical planning as it addresses the groundwork or foundation of our activities.
Planning without acknowledging and accepting your motivation and vision is just a shallow distraction from reality and a futile activity as it ignores reality, your reality.
An agile approach to ‘planning’ does not erase volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. This is not its purpose. It accepts them as a matter of fact. And it embraces them and explores ways and means to work with them to get closer to your vision or at least your interim goals. This is the opposite of fear. It is working and playing with joy. Doing so introduces lightness, creativity and inspiration to your “planning”. It sparks life into your planning process. You don’t generate a product or service in one bug shot but you develop and deliver it in small, iterative increments. Just as you don’t reach your vision in one big step but in several smaller steps, one at a time.
Contrast this with classical planning that is guided by fear and the urge for control and certainty. Life and reality are not static, lifeless machines that can be easily replicated. Life is ever changing, complex, uncertain, and ambiguous. Corollary, agile ‘planning’ ought to reflect life. It can become a game, a dance, an art and thus an element of the art of new business.
“How can you shape the future if you don’t even know how it will look like? Even more so if the present situation is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous?” – These were two questions that were addressed during a workshop I facilitated with my business partner Dawna Jones on January 17, 2017. The by invitation only workshop took place in a beautiful chalet in Klosters, far away from the noise and distraction of a bigger city. The six of us came from different backgrounds: the medical profession, business consulting, digital marketing, cultural training, leadership training, and yoga.
As different the backgrounds and viewpoints were we agreed on one thing: That in order to make sense of what is emerging in the world of work, it is essential that you have an orientation about where you are coming from, where you are now and what you would like to do. Admitted, this is a simple insight. But then it is an insight lots of companies and organizations don’t even have. Fact is most companies and organizations either don’t have time or don’t take the time to reflect their purposes and visions because they too busy handling present challenges. They are so busy that they may not even realize the many ongoing changes around them. This goes well until they are faced with seemingly insurmountable challenges, e.g., an increasing turn-over rate in their workforce, new competitors entering the market, disruptive innovation destroying existing business models, etc. Trying to cope with these challenges with established tools of the past may work but are is likely to be doomed given that these tools and processes have prevented to embrace change in the first place.
The market place and world of work are changing at a rapid and increasingly faster pace. Technology does one part and yet it is only one out of many factors. Especially millenials are less likely to stay at a company for their whole working life. They want more than just a job. They demand jobs that have meaning and they can identify with, where they can make a difference, and a job giving them enough space and time for other activities. Change is a natural, it is a given and they may even got accustomed to this VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world. At the same time millenials as well as everyone who is aware of the VUCA world needs orientation. And this is the chance for companies and organizations to shape the future: providing orientation for its people.
However, established working and business models do not offer the answers to these challenges anymore. With growing uncertainty and volatility in the market it is increasingly difficult to plan the future. On the other side, there are at least three fundamentals in business practices that are unlikely to change. These are that a company or organization
Business fundamentals don’t change. Unfortunately, most companies and organizations seem to have forgotten them. For the fundamentals reveal something deeper. Let’s have a look at this.
Customers are better informed, have a greater variety of products and services to choose from and consequently have greater influence than ever before. Companies and organizations that want to generate and keep their customers and clients need to delight them. For this to happen, they have to understand their needs and desires, whether they are apparent or still developing. The market is no longer exclusively business-driven but becomes increasingly customer-driven, too.
As mentioned above people are less likely to stay at one company or organization for their whole working career. But it is also a fact that people are more likely to stay and perform at a very high level, if they are happy at their job, if they identify with the purpose, vision and goals of the company or organization, if they can contribute to success and their contributions are seen and acknowledged. In other words, people don’t want to be treated as resources but as people, as human beings. This requires human-centric leadership.
Profits have always been, are and will be important in business. This will not change. However, it is crucial to understand that profits are a result of good business practices, are the means to do business. What matters more than short-term profits is overall business value. Short-, mid- and long-term goals and profits have to be balanced. Corollary, an incentive system for managers with only short-term profit goals is myopic and may harm business in the long run. Focusing on the outcome of good business practices as reflected by profits only while neglecting the prerequisites for business success, i.e., delighting customers and the people workforce, undermines the foundation of a solid business. Unfortunately, this concept seems to be as foreign to lots of managers of companies, especially publicly traded corporations, as is snow in the deepest jungle.
I am not worried about the future of work because we already have the ways and means to shape it by revisiting, understanding and living good business fundamentals: delighting customers, treating people in the workforce as people and building an environment where they can unfold their potentials and, last but not least, ensure and sustain business value.
Living these fundamentals not only gives an orientation for the present and future, it can also be a driver for the future and grasping the many opportunities that lay ahead of us.
The outlined business fundamentals are not limited to the world of business. They are applicable to the public sector, too. Indeed, I believe that policy makers have to understand these fundamentals and live them.
People demand orientation for the present and future. But, they are sick and tired of the old rules of the establishment where there seems to be no place for them. Populists such as the right-wing party AfD in Germany, politicians such as LePen in France or Trump in the US know way too well how to fill this vacuum. They cry out simplistic slogans, promise a better world, a break with the establishment – and all they really want is power and control. Their visions are based on the past. They would like to hold back time and maybe even go back to the times when the world was more secure and easier to grasp. And it is true that the past was less volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. But the past is gone. Hence, using the past as an orientation for the future is misleading and dangerous because it does not help solve any problems but instead raise fear and distrust.
What we need is an orientation for today and the future. Policy makers need to understand the needs of our people. And they have to work with them building a vision of a future which is worth living for and which gives hope and orientation for today and tomorrow. However, any attempt of policy makers to offer the same old same old, established programs and empty promises will lead to nowhere and will be exploited by populists which withhold people from unfolding their potential. What we need is orientation which focuses on us.
Last week I finally went to my first Milonga (Tango Argentino). Was I nervous? Yes, I was. I only started to learn Tango only a few months ago, consider myself an absolute beginner (I am), didn’t want to make a fool of myself , didn’t want to hurt anyone on the dance floor (it is crowded), could only do a few moves (compared to what the semi-pros on the dance floor showed), …, and the list goes on and on. Today I know that it was and is a list of excuses, lame excuses that is.
[Photo © Joachim Kant | pixelio.de]
Well, especially in the beginning I felt more like an elephant on ice. My brain was mush, no, empty. It seemed that I had forgotten everything I learned in my dance classes. I felt like a rock in a storm, not able to move one inch. At the same time my head was full of, well, I don’t know what it was – void, heat, concerns, fear?
Luckily, I was not alone. The first dance with my wife was actually passable. Both of us were nervous. And yet we survived. “Time to sit down and rest, recuperate, refresh”, I thought. But the minute I sat down a friend of mine asked me to dance with her. Ooops. Here it was again, fear crawling up my stomach, my brain turning into mush.
On the other side, my dance partner was very understanding and encouraging. I think we did ok; at least, nobody was hurt. 🙂 The first ice was broken.
Time went on, was flying. Soon three hours passed. I still felt “foreign”, but not like an elephant on ice anymore, maybe more like a dog on ice.
And then there were 3-4 dances when time stood still; when all of sudden I let go of all pressure, concerns, thoughts, and all I did was listening to the music and dance with my partner. Our steps and moves flew naturally. It was smooth sailing. And with it came joy, relaxation, big inner smiles and grins. Both of us were stunned and perplexed. Amazing.
Ok, 3-4 dances out of 20 or more is not that much. But it was more than enough to motivate us to plan our next Milonga. And we are really looking forward to it. Will it be better? Possibly and probably, for this first Milonga revealed something magical.
I realized that I still have to learn a lot. Technically? Yes. But more so about letting go, relaxing, listening to the music, going with the flow, looking for and moving into free spaces, being in the moment. Letting go and being and going with the moment seems to be, no, is the key to experiencing joy and flow on the dance floor.
This was and is the outstanding insight of my first Milonga – about Tango as well as life.
People say that Tango is a reflection of life. This is so true. And it is not the Milongas, it is also the Tango lessons, the learning experiences bringing excitement, motivation, joy, frustration, depression, worries, concerns, fears. Tango can teach you a lot about your attitude and practice in life, about your partnerships, your love, your outlook, your flow (or the lack therof), your being. It drastically reveals your state of life.
If Tango doesn’t flow quite yet, check your present life style, your family life, your friendships, partnerships and professional environment. Are you limiting your thinking, are you trying to structure, plan and control it? This may work at times and yield satisfactory results. But, if you truly want to dance in your flow, you have to let go of limiting thoughts, concerns, fears. Jumping into the cold water, showing and expressing who you are in this moment. Could very well be that it is not “perfect” in the eye of some beholders and the greatest critic (which is probably you yourself).
We are human with imperfections which make us perfect; we are not machines. Ripping yourself off false expectations and just go and play like a kid is refreshing and rewarding like nothing else. Because it helps you be human and find and be yourself again.