The evolution of the employee-employer relationship

Here’s another piece from the archives, this one from April 2004. I’ve pulled this one out as part of a response to a discussion between Bill Brantley and Harold Jarche on the question of the work literacy gap and its impact on, and the role of, the organization.

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Employee-employer relations in a knowledge based economy

I’ve long believed that the prevelance of knowledge work in organizations today will (eventually) fundamentally shift the employee – employer relationship. In many ways, knowledge workers will come to be “self-employed” in the sense that they are working to improve themselves and to make an impact on the world at large and not just within the company they happen to be “working for” at the time.

With 401k plans allowing for retirement planning independent of a specific job or pension plan, and for various other reasons that are well documented elsewhere, knowledge workers don’t seem to be staying in the same place for their entire careers anymore. With retirement taken care of, other things today’s employees need to consider include health/life insurance, etc. A truly self-employed knowledge worker also has to worry about the business end of things, such as billing’invoicing, taxes, payroll, etc. etc.

By working “for” a company, knowledge workers are in many ways simply out-sourcing the business end of being self-employed so they can focus on the job itself.

This obviously raises some interesting questions for organizations….

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The emergence of Web 2.0 has definitely had an impact here, since individuals can be more “independent” than ever, even within the confines of being an employee of a company. As Bill writes:

In fact, as the rise of social network-based learning has demonstrated, employees no longer need the company to develop their knowledge, skills, and abilities. In many professions, communities of practice and professional organizations have replaced the shop floor and company mentors as the source of employee training.

The challenge for organizations in this situation becomes not providing employees the training they need to carry out the company’s goals and projects, but rather providing employees with goals and projects that engage the employees and effectively use what they are learning for themselves.

Updated [27 Jun]:  Although this post is primarily targeted at the changing role of the organization, it also addresses Michele Martin’s questions concerning changing knowledge workers’ attitudes about learning and training.

Tools do not a master make [redux]

I’ve been catching up on the posts over at Work Literacy (that’s a lot of catching up!), along with discovering new (to me) blogs in the field of learning. This in turn has had me revisiting old posts and ideas of my own.

Joan Vinall-Cox’s post Old Skills and New Know-How, a response to Michele Martin’s post Knowledge Workers as Craft Workers (which, as it turns out, is based on a comment I left to another of Michele’s posts), discusses the importance of understanding the skills that must go into using a new technology.

Re-printed below is a post of mine from August 2006, Tools do not a master make, that explores a similar theme.

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No tool of modern technology is as universally used, and almost as universally reviled, in the world of business and government as is Microsoft PowerPoint. Perhaps most famous of the PowerPoint bashers is Edward Tufte, writer of several books and essays on information design. (I was fortunate enough to attend one of his courses in the late ’90s, his poster of Napoleon’s March to Moscow still hangs on the wall in my office.)

Tufte has described his issues with PowerPoint in magazine articles (such as PowerPoint is Evil in Wired magazine), in a self-published essay entitled The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint, and in a chapter in his latest book Beautiful Evidence. In the past week or so a few others have also lambasted PowerPoint, including Dave Snowden of Cognitive Edge in a couple of posts (Festival of Bureaucratic Hyper-Rationalism and Tufte and PowerPoint) and Scott Adams (via Dilbert).

Don Norman, of the Nielsen Norman Group, has a different take on PowerPoint. In his essay In Defense of PowerPoint, Norman places the blame not on PowerPoint but on those who use it improperly. “Don’t blame the problem on the tool.” Or, put another way – PowerPoint doesn’t bore people, people bore people. Cliff Atkinson is another who believes that PowerPoint can be used effectively. For some great ideas check out the Beyond Bullets blog or Atkinson’s book Beyond Bullet Points.

Of course, this problem is not limited to the world of business. One of the big promises of ever faster and more powerful consumer technology (if we are to believe marketing campaigns) is that everyone will be able to perform like an expert. Take, for example, the following pitch for Apple’s GarageBand software (emphasis is mine):

The new video track in GarageBand makes it easy to add an original music score to your movies. And don’t worry about your musical talent — or lack thereof. Just use GarageBand’s included loops, or try a combination of loops, software instruments, or any previous audio recordings you created.

Don’t get me wrong, I love GarageBand (and the whole iLife suite for that matter, I use it almost every day). It is very easy to create a ’song’ using loops, like my First Song. Once I got comfortable with the GarageBand interface, it only took me a couple of hours to browse through the loops, pull some together so it sounded good, and export it to iTunes. The ’song’ is listenable, but doesn’t reflect any real musical skill on my part. I didn’t apply any knowledge of time signatures, keys, tempo, or anything. I just dragged-and-dropped.

I guess my point is don’t get pulled into a false belief that a tool, any tool, can make you an expert at something or give you expert results. Remember, good tools are nice to have, but in the hands of a master even the simplest of tools can create wonders.

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You may also want to check out one of my earliest posts, Quick example of individual productivity gains / savings based on digital thinking.

The toys of today, the tools of tomorrow

At the end of a brief history of human communication, Dave Gray of XPLANE gets to what he sees as the future of communications: visual communications.

Today, we are free once more. Paradoxically, now that everything has been reduced to zeros and ones, our only limit is our imagination. What’s interesting is that we continue to constrain ourselves to the grid, even when it is no longer necessary. The conventions of printing, which once liberated ideas by making them mass-producible, have now become a prison.

So what’s next? Watch the kids. In the 1970s we started playing video games, and although we didn’t know it at the time, we were learning how to interact with digital technologies. We were learning the hand-eye coordination skills we would need to operate the computers of the 1980s.

The toys of today are the tools of tomorrow: blogging, podcasting, photosharing, videoblogging – these are all early indicators. People are making their own movies and publishing their ideas to the world. With every passing year the technology gets cheaper and easier to use.

As Dave alludes to, we all learn how to use tools when we are young, by playing with them as toys. How many of you had toy trucks and played at construction. How about “play” carpenters? (I’m a guy, so please excuse the boy bias.) Using the “toys” of today is much the same, with one key difference being that the “toys” that kids play with are often the very same “tools” that adults use. (No plastic saw blades here!) This obviously presents some dangers, and how kids play with their digital “toys” needs to be watched, but it makes the process of gaining literacy go that much faster.

So next time someone asks you why you’re “playing around with those toys”, or why you let your kids spend so much time on the computer or playing (or designing!) video games, just tell them you’re not “playing”, you’re learning how to use the tools you’ll need to be successful tomorrow.

Blogging from OneNote ’07

My notebooks are littered with scribbles and notes of ideas for blog posts. Unfortunately, many of these ideas have never made it off of paper. If only there were an easy way to post from my quickly written out ideas….

One of the things that caught my eye when going through the things OneNote 2007 can do was the Blog This option when you right-click a page. This page is meant to be a test of that functionality.

Because of the way OneNote handles text and images – basically, put it wherever you want it on the page, I’m curious how it will handle the different placement of elements when it converts to HTML. This paragraph that I’m currently writing is a separate element from the text above, placed below and a bit offset from the rest of the text. I captured the graphic using the windows+S key combination and dropped it in on the right side of the page.

Update from within Word 2007:

Once I clicked on Blog This, OneNote sent the page into Word ’07. I kind of expected this based on my previous experience with Word ’07 and blogging, but I was hoping that OneNote would simply use the account settings from Word. As you can see (well, I can see it since I know what the original looked like), Word has taken the free-flowing format of a OneNote page and converted it into a more structured document. The only change I made to the page (except for adding this description) was to adjust the text wrapping properties and location of the image.

From here the process is somewhat familiar, but I’m still going to have to do some tweaking once I get it up into WordPress. For example, you can Insert Category from within Word, but you can only select one category – Ctrl-click doesn’t work.

Update from within WordPress:

Once I got into WordPress, everything in the post looked fine. I added the categories I wanted this post filed under and it was ready to post.

A quick recap of the process:

  1. Put together a rough (or not so rough) draft in OneNote.
  2. When ready, right-click on the Blog This option
  3. In Word 2007, adjust the flow of the text and images as needed, then Publish as Draft.
  4. In WordPress, open the draft, modify the post properties (Categories, tags, timestamp, etc). Then Publish.

Which is what I’m going to do now.

Blog maintenance

Just to let you know, I’m going to be going through some blog maintenance over the next day or two, including an update of the WordPress software and databases and a possible template change (haven’t decided about that one, yet). I’m also planning to import posts from the original …no straight lines… from Blogger, partly to have a consolidated collection of my writing but mainly to follow my own advice (inspired by Harold Jarche) to “own my data.”

I’m giving this warning because 1) I’m not sure what will happen when I import the posts, whether subscribers will get a blast of new posts or if there will be no effect, and 2) in case I screw something up you’ll know that it is my fault – not my host, DreamHost – and is (hopefully) temporary until I can figure it all out.

I’ve been keeping busy other places (here, here, and here), but do have a backlog of things to write about that I’ll be posting soon.

Who owns your data? Who should own it?

Two interesting posts on the question of data ownership, coming from two very different perspectives.

Harold Jarche comes at the question from a “physical” standpoint, as he contemplates the closure of Eduspaces, in his post Own Your Data:

The impending closure of the Eduspaces service has many people wondering what to do and several options are cropping up in the online discussions.

Anyone who asks me about blogging or setting up a community on the Web using wikis or some other application is given pretty well the same advice. If the site is important and the data are of some significance for the long term, then:

  1. Use an open source platform from a stable and functioning community.
  2. Own your own domain, and have a Service Level Agreement for your hosting.

Using open source gives you freedom from vendors and ensures that you are not handcuffed to your technology provider. Having your own domain name and paying for a service provider (or hosting on your own server) ensure that you have control over your data.

This is one of the reasons I moved this blog off of Blogger and onto my own domain . I’m eventually planning to import that old version onto the new, but I’ve not been able to get the function to work properly. (An excellent example of what Harold is talking about.)

On the other hand, Ton Zijlstra is thinking more about how to control how the data is used. In To (Web2.0) Developers: I Want Control of My Data, I Want to Write My Own Rules, he gives developers his two key reasons:

I sure am with Doc Searls and Dave Winer on this one. I want control of my own data. And I want to write my own rules on how others may and may not use my data.

First because if you tell me I have no friends simply because my data is not on your platform, you’re not getting it. I am the landscape, you are the map. And the map does not get to say what reality is, just what it thinks it looks like.

Second because I want my tools to become smarter, a lot smarter. And it is only me that can provide the context and data that allows tools to be smarter. I need to be in control of my data for you to let your tools be smarter. I need to be the owner of e.g. my favourites/wishlists and preferences for you to really give me good recommendations.

Something to think about.