The power of working away from the office

Workfromhome01Last week a friend of mine in the software industry confided me that he had already spent his usual 30 days of annual leave, but, because he was feeling tired, he decided to take some few extra days off. So he went abroad on a leisure tour for a full week without telling his colleagues and customers. During the five working days of that week, he said that, thanks to his smartphone, he was able to mimic his non-absence from work (he usually works from home and from his car). He used WhatsApp, email, Skype and other applications. Basically he realized that unless he would need to meet someone personally, or attend a social event, he could fully manage his daily business from his smartphone and laptop. In the hotel he was lodged over the course of that week, he carried on fulfilling most of his daily tasks, notably receiving and answering all kinds of messages. He said each time he got an invitation for a face-to-face meeting he would ask for a postponement for the week after his return. Highway Signpost TelecommutingHe called customers and other people through WhatsApp telephony (which does not track you down because it’s an Internet app). He noted that nobody did guess that he was phoning or picking up the phone from outside the country. Of course this was in a country where WhatsApp is widely used. Otherwise he would use Skype for other calls and video conferencing. In the end, according to his own words, “all played out quite well”. He concluded that he was even able to improve his intellectual performance in a number of areas due to a boost in inspiration and creativity. And that, he added nonchalantly, was due to the feeling of “fresh air”.

I mentioned this case because his experiment fits perfectly well with the trendy wave of people that are deciding to go mobile and work from anywhere.  Indeed, the most important labour parameters should be what and how you produce, and not from where you produce. Nowadays, especially for cutting edge companies, your whereabouts are becoming less and less relevant. Regular business meetings, brainstorming, seminars, training courses and the like can all be done online. workfromhome02It doesn’t mean that you stick yourself in a cocoon and work insulated from people. It simply reflects that you don’t have to be the whole time at the office to perform your duties. In other words, you only need go there whenever there’s a specific reason, such as to attend a company meeting, a social event or any other major activity. And if you don’t go to the office every other day, you end up saving commuting costs and time (time that can be used for business). Altogether, this also means less operational costs for the company (energy and office space savings). Concurrently, you will have more time for yourself and for your family if you work from home. Furthermore, you face less risks of being involved in a traffic accident if you reduce your commuting. Thus, you may even be tempted to accept a smaller pay-check because after all you spend less in transports, in food (eating away from home is usually more expensive and less healthy) and in clothing. In sum, it’s a win-win option for you and for your company. Besides, it is also great for the community because a decrease in commuting, multiplied by a number of people, also means less pollution and reduced traffic congestions. Little wonder that the remote/mobile work trend is gaining momentum. workfromhome04Forrester Research, a consultancy based in the US, estimates that by 2016 43% of US workers (or 63 million) will incorporate some form of telecommuting or remote work. This is an astounding figure by all accounts and it’s growing fast, not only in the US but also worldwide. This movement is actually part of a much broader picture in global terms which is the emerging worldwide distributed workforce with skillsets, especially highly qualified. These are professionals that are becoming available online, on a freelance basis. They can work collaboratively on the same project around the clock. Altogether this is a disruptive force which represents a shift from the classical Marxist axiom of labour (company/employer/employees based on a specific location) into a new world of geographically distributed self-employed people working collaboratively, each doing his task, against an agreed fee, in an structured online production system. In sum, the story of my friend is just another small piece of evidence that intellectual labour may be rapidly becoming a free flowing global commodity produced by a borderless collaborative community.

Manuel Gomes Samuel

November 2015

Can a smartwatch improve the way you work?

“The snake which cannot cast its skin has to die. As well the minds which are prevented from changing their opinions; they cease to be mind.”

Friedrich Nietzsche, 1844 – 1900

Many smartwatches (a mobile computerized device with a small display, designed to beall-the-smart-watches-2015 worn on the wrist) have been launched over the last 16 years. Yes, 16 years. The first smartwatch was actually launched by Samsung in 1999. But only recently, due to advances in processing power, miniaturization and decreasing prices of gadget components, smartwatches started to make real inroads into the consumer electronics market.  I myself, like many other people, although relying more and more on a smartphone for business and daily chores, never thought of buying a smartwatch. I always thought it would be kind of cheesy and just another mini gadget replicating what my smartphone already does with a much bigger screen.

The aversion to start wearing something on your wrist that traditionally is drawn from your pocket or your handbag is not new. The first wristwatch was invented by Jacquet-Droz and Leschot in 1790, in Geneva, but it was not until Adrien Phillipe submitted his 1842 invention of the stem-winding mechanism to Patek, in 1844, that a practical wristwatch became feasible. But, in those days, people wouldn’t swap their pocket watches for those small wristwatches. In most countries, notably the US, a wristwatch was perceived as being effeminate for a man.  It was only during the Anglo-Boer War of 1899 – 1902, in South Africa, that the wristwatch became firstly used as a practical timepiece for field operational purposes. The practicality of its use on the wrist was confirmed in military terms and it started to gradually convince watch buyers of its advantage over the pocket watch. Later on, the operational logistics of the First World War ensued the generalized use of wristwatches by the military, confirming the relevance of having a small and practical timepiece on the wrist. Nevertheless, the US continued to be a resistant market for civilian consumers. It was not until the 1920’s that Americans started to embrace what was already generalized in Europe – the widespread use of the wristwatch (a trend that led ultimately to the success of the European watchmakers upon their American competitors).

Smartwatch04So, with hindsight, nowadays generalized perceived reluctance to smartwatches may have some parallels with the dragged evolution from pocket watches to wristwatches. Evolution (and consequent changes overtime in tastes and lifestyles) is a gradual process. But sometimes an event such as the Anglo-Boer War may speed things up and generate a quick positive technological impact, in this case the advancement of the wristwatch. The same can probably be said of the launching of the Apple Watch. Even if the Apple Watch is not much different from its competitors, the simple fact that the Apple Watch is part of a wide range of successful products from an innovative behemoth that sets technological trends makes it a sound bet and a quasi guaranteed bellwether. Indeed, Apple has been able to consolidate its image as a company that changes the way people work and live. Nobody gave full credit to the late Steve Jobs when he first presented the iPad back in 2010. The same sort of skepticism surrounded the presentation of the Apple Watch by Tim Cook in September last year. Anyway, the overall huge success of previous Apple products appears to be a good omen for the Apple Watch and similar wearable devices. But is the Apple Watch an evident market success as previous Apple gadgets? Apple has not yet released sales numbers. Above Avalon (a market watch consultant) estimates that between the 24th of April (store release date in the first 9 countries) and the end of June this year, Apple shipped 2,6 million smartwatches. Above Avalon foresees that Apple will sell 11 million smartwatches in 2015, 20 million in 2016, 30 million in 2017 and 40 million in 2018. International Data Corporation – IDC, (another consultancy firm) puts Apple Watch sales at even higher numbers for 2015, at 13,9 million and 40 million for 2019. IDC’s report estimates that with sales of 13.9 million, Apple will secure 58.3% share of the global smartwatch market in 2015. However, if Apple will ship 40 million in 2019, its market share will probably drop to 47.4% share, according to the same report. Competition between Apple, Android and other types of smartwatches will accelerate in the years ahead.

Provided that Apple’s bets and visions have been an inspiration and a quasi sure path, the question to address is: should you buy a smartwatch? Will a smartwatch make your life easier? Will it change the way you work? Will it boost your productivity?

Well, the Apple Watch, first of all, tells you the time, like all other smartwatches. So it Smartwatch02starts by simply being a wristwatch. Then it comes, very much as its competitors in the market, with a number of different functions. It delivers smartphone notifications, fitness apps, calls, and other features to your wrist, allowing you to leave your phone in your pocket/handbag without missing alerts. Just for the Apple Watch there are now over 10,000 compatible apps available (and counting). For Android smartwatches there are over 4.000 (according to You have therefore plenty of options for fitness, health, social media, weather, sound recording, games, news, tourism, music, translation, personal planning, etc.  Provided that you have all that plethora of features already in your smartphone, the recurring question comes up again: why would you need another gizmo to apparently do much of the same? Well, I have done a cross-check on a number of recent smartwatches reviews published in major websites and magazines and I have found the following:

1. People check their smartphones in average 150 times per day for notifications (emails, WhatsApp, Tweets, etc.). Looking at the smartwatch for the same purpose is a lot more convenient and discreet.  Smartwatch users say that in business meetings and similar events peering at the smartwatch is almost inoffensive compared to be looking at the smartphone. It is also a lot more practical because you don’t need your hands to access information on your smartwatch (except to activate it, though you can also do it by voice). This is particularly advantageous in many real life situations, such as in field service and medical care, where freeing up the user’s hands is paramount to the job;

2. The smartwatch feels a lot more personal than a smartphone simply because you wear it. There is thus a rather different sense of ownership and privacy between the two devices and the former blows away the latter as a fashion accessory. Apple Watch, for starters, is the first smartwatch selling not just in steel but also in 18-karat gold.

3. Because it’s attached to your body,  health and fitness features in a smartwatch can go Smartwatch01way beyond the limitations imposed by the detachment of the smartphone; this may revolutionize health and fitness therapies for the general population. While the monitoring of movement and heart rate has become almost common in the latest smartwatches, additional variables such as blood pressure, blood glucose levels, nutrition, temperature and an array of other parameters will be introduced in the years to come. Based on much more data points, therapies will become increasingly proactive and tailored to each individual. Improved health monitoring and therapies will advance your physical and intellectual abilities which will consequently improve your way of life and will ultimately boost your job performance;

4. Wellness in the workplace is another field which looks promising for organisations resorting to smartwatches.  This is also related to the previous paragraph. Smartwatches embedded sensors can monitor fatigue and many other body symptoms. Sensors can also, due to improved analytical algorithms, gauge emotional, nutritional and biometrical changes of an individual which give a dynamic picture of his condition. Companies and individuals can tap into that type of data to buttress tailor-made wellness strategies.

5. Forward-thinking companies are increasingly eyeing smartwatches to boost productivity. Smartwatches can improve communication and collaboration amongst team workers.  Because smartwatches are always on the wrist they produce a much higher sense of connectivity compared to smartphones (you can leave your smartphone at home, in the car, in the restaurant or elsewhere, but certainly not the device attached to your wrist). Smartwatches embedded sensors can analyze location, motion and time that are involved in executing a worker’s task. This is opening up new avenues for precision management in a number of fields, such as inventory management and field service management. The fact that smartwatches allow real-time and hands-free access to notifications and data is leading to an increased development of software for dynamic instructions and guides for field service or related activities. Smartwatches are perfect for ease of access, mobility and streamlined reporting. They are also perfect for hands-free electronic payments and security purposes (such as access identification).

The increasing number of features smartwatches can offer are being taped by a growing Smartwatch05number of software companies looking at the business side of wearable devices. One such company is, for instance, Salesforce which has been working on the Apple Watch from the very beginning, particularly for business purposes. Salesforce launched, in August 2015, twenty new enterprise-targeted Apple Watch apps. These are applications that focus on a wide number of operational business needs, from looking at customer profiles for upcoming sales meetings, to keeping track of project tasks amongst a team to providing logistics information and instructions for workers in the field. At the end, the goal is to taylorize an expanding number of tasks to gain efficiency, save time and increase productivity. In order to do so, companies also need increased performance from its human resources. The ability to track down, through embedded sensors, biometrics of people, make smartwatches formidable tools to gauge physical/intellectual performance of workers. Predictive and prescriptive analytics of biometric data collected by sensors will not only warn to health/accident risks but will advance as well the promotion of healthy lifestyles at work and the general wellness of employees. Altogether, smartwatches may be on the verge of becoming a potent mix of health monitoring/prescriptive tools and general management performance boosters.

Small wonder therefore that a growing number of major high-tech companies are now jumping on the smartwatch bandwagon to become more competitive. Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella in his speech at the Dreamforce 2015 Conference, in San Francisco, in September 2015, referred to wearable devices, such as the smartwatch, as the next “paradigm shift” in computing. Wearables, in particular smartwatches, seem to be poised to change the way we live and work. According to a study by Rackspace, “The Human Cloud at Work” (April 2014), employees wearing wearables at work became 8.5 percent more productive and 3.5 percent more satisfied with their jobs. This is a study that dates from April 2014. The age of wearables is still in its infancy but it’s moving quickly. Maybe this should be the right time for you to join it.

Manuel Gomes Samuel, October 2015



The Varoufakis Effect

“Man is a gaming animal. He must always be trying to get the better in something orGametheroy66 other” (Charles Lamb, 1775-1834)

Yanis Varoufakis, the new Greek Finance Minister, may look kind of boyish and maverick with his untucked shirt and tireless attire selling his proposals for Greece’s sovereign debt under the aegis of his own “erratic Marxist” branding and Syriza’s leftist programme. Whether his and Syriza’s visions and proposals are right or wrong, which is nowadays a case of stringent and passionate debate in many worldwide fora between the “austeritarians” and the others, there is surely a very noticeable element of organizational interest in Varoufakis’s emergence. I refer to his game theory skills which have been particularly evident in his brinkmanship over the last couple of weeks. game-theory1Varoufakis indeed has been a game theorist, researcher and lecturer for many years. He wrote about game theory in 1995 with his friend Shaun Hargreaves Heap (“Game Theory – A Critical Introduction”). Nine years later they both released a much revised and updated second edition called “Game Theory – A Critical Text”. And he turned now, due to the spate of events in Greece, into a full blown game strategist politician. Therefore, there is a great likelihood that he has an edge over his European counterparts when he is negotiating the sorting out of the Greek financial, economic and social conundrum. If one delves into his writings and watches him carefully, one easily spots that he is able to move quickly from a chicken situation (where two game players are on a collision course) into a Nash Equilibrium solution (in which each player is assumed to know the equilibrium strategies of the other players, and no player has anything to gain by changing only their own strategy). Due to his social and educational upbringing, Mr. Varoufakis seems to have developed a keen interest in dialectical materialism, notably through his communion with Karl Marx’s sociological views. Game theory background concept glowingMarx’s sophisticated theoretical analysis induced Yanis Varoufakis into a quest for analytical generality. Maybe due to his private affairs taking him to Australia, he may have developed there an academic penchant for John Harsanyi’s  game analysis. Harsanyi, a 1994 Nobel Laureate (together with John Nash and Reinhard Selten), who lived in Sidney for sometime, expanded the theoretical analyses of social, economical and political changes of history in order to generate guidance on a game strategy framework about the probable moves and their outcomes. Harsanyi was a master in his own right in working systematically to reconstruct the logical foundations of social theory, so that people in the future could better understand the dynamics of social institutions. It is no coincidence that Varoufakis treasures Harsanyi’s in “A Critical Introduction”. Game_Theory_Strategic_Social_AlternativesIn his view, Harsanyi’s doctrine has the effect of making rational players believe that there is a unique rational way to play a game because rational players must draw the same inferences from the same information. It is interesting that Harsanyi’s teachings are equally applied to cooperative and non-cooperative game scenarios and to the complexities of Bayesian games, in which information about characteristics of the other players (i.e. payoffs) is incomplete or partly unknown. And this leads us to the reality of both the EU and Troika arenas, where the gist of the game is mostly bargaining. One has to bear in mind that at the end of the day what debtor countries do in their financial dealings with their creditors is bargaining. Bargaining theory upholds that the resulting solution for negotiations should be the same solution an impartial arbitrator would recommend. Nash/Sperner 4At this juncture, it would be impossible to come up with an impartial arbitrator for the standoff between Greece and its creditors because the resulting situation will most certainly produce a global impact and Varoufakis is very well aware of that. So he clearly exudes the experienced (or at least educated) aura of an assertive hardcore gamer. Around the negotiating table he is picking many friends (in reality, amongst them, a growing number of highly praised Nobel laureates in Economics) which are joining his bandwagon, notably in the chicken scenario. In the end, a Nash bargaining solution will likely emerge between Greece and its creditors, probably more favorable to Athens. Evidence of game situations both theoretical and real usually highlight the advantage of experienced and skilled game players (such as Varoufakis) in cooperative, non-cooperative and Bayesian environments. Yanis Varoufakis’ current role in this regard has an evident effect in the management of the current financial situation in Europe. His vision for Greece, his choice to play ball or not with its creditors and his gaming knowledge underline the importance of game theory as an ever more important tool for effective leadership.

Manuel Gomes Samuel, February 2015

New data visualization frontiers and the emergence of “Anticipatory Management “

MetricalData04Data visualization is fast becoming a new vibrant and exciting form of communication. The digestion of the current exploding influx of data using new analytical software associated to advances in computer processing power is putting pressure on the development of new computer graphics to marshal multifaceted information with the aim of illustrating messages visually. Computer graphics latest advancements open up new ways of portraying analysed data in 3D and other advanced types of generated dynamic imagery. Humans love images and retain information from pictures with much more accuracy than from text orMetricalData numbers. The ability to convey facts, variations in multiple variables, messages, and trends through sophisticated computer imagery boosts the human cognitive process of the end user. Traditional graphic interfaces are being replaced by new sophisticated graphical products that allow interaction. This means that the end user of the latest generation of business graphics can interact with the parameters of data in multiple ways in order to visualize, for instance, trajectories and expectations. One good example is the advent of Interactive Graphic Novels (IGNs) which are animated, graphically illustrated or hybrid real life animation stories typically in video game format in which the user is given some level of interaction with events or control over the outcome of a story. The story could be, for instance, a particular business project or a given situation drawn from collected and analyzed data, both retrospective and predictive. MetricalData02The user can interact in the story in order to view events unfolding from multiple perspectives; he can also chose from several developments leading to different scenarios. IGNs’ ability to appeal to multiple human senses makes them a powerful tool to communicate messages drawn from the analysis of data and to provide end users with the flexibility and capacity to look into multiple future scenarios that mathematical and predictive analysis may suggest. Data visualization, either through IGNs or any other dynamic imagery format, is thus boosting the ability to anticipate multiple consequences from multiple choices in decision making processes. MetricalData03Managers taking advantage of predictive analysis drawn from Big Data digestion and visualization have the right tools to take anticipatory steps in their strategic planning and strategic execution tasks.  In 2015 we will surely see further advancements in data visualization and predictive modelling with the unleashing of ever more developed analytical algorithms. Management is thus rapidly becoming more analytical and metrical.

Manuel Gomes Samuel, January 2015

Aren’t you afraid of loosing your qualified job?

jobs01It is irrefutable that the developed world is currently venturing into a knowledge-based global economy. Knowledge is quickly becoming the main rationale for labour value. More than ever, you have very few options these days in the job market if your knowledge does not represent an added value to an organization. Your intellect and skills dictate your positioning in the global labour network. What you know and how you professionally apply it are your most disputed treasures. You are more than ever in competition with adversaries worldwide that compete with you in the online labour market and are eager to steal your job and ready to do as much as you do for a much smaller pay-check. Indeed, knowledge is gold. Jobs03When knowledge is applied to develop something new or original it is dubbed as an intangible asset that deserves legal protection. That is the concept of intellectual property which is the main drive for innovation. Fromhold-Eisebith and Fuchs (2012) highlight the rocketing importance of intellectual property and its protection, especially in the technology driven economies that are at the forefront of current economic development. But knowledge flows freely. More than ever, you do not need to be physically present at a certain location (e.g. an office) if your job requires no face-to-face interaction with other people. If you’re professionally dealing with information you can easily work from home of from any other convenient location. After all, you’re saving your own precious time lost during commuting. You are also contributing to less transport pollution, safer roads and less traffic congestion. At the end of the day, because you spend less on your personal logistics, you represent a cheaper option to your employer because you’re willing to work for less money. Jobs02Furthermore, with the emergence of video conferencing and new office technologies (check, for instance, the recently launched “Project Beyond” by Samsung, and its implications for creating the virtual global office), employees are able to work from foreign countries, notably in regions with a lower cost of life, and, thus, eager to work for less money. That has been the case of the massive dislocation of software and similar types of jobs to India and other emerging economies. This brings us to the pivotal question: are you safe from someone stealing your job or just loosing it because your organisation (public or private) restructures or goes bust? In these days of growing economic uncertainty and fierce worldwide competition, individuals, companies, organisations and countries are competing in a global brutalized race. It is a crude fight. Only the fittest will succeed. Knowledge and its application lie at the heart of success. Masses of non-qualified labour are loosing purchase power. Non-qualified workers represent nowadays a diminishing value to the global supply-chains. Automation, lean production and robotization (the latter still warming-up) are making non-qualified workers superfluous. Jobs04But make no mistake – the automation and robotization ongoing processes will eventually go up the ladder and will gradually make higher and higher echelons of workers with qualifications redundant. Be aware that even if your job is still appealing in the market, it’s value may be gradually decreasing. Unless you are an extremely qualified expert, the value of what you can offer will tend to decrease overtime. On a general scale that will inevitably bring about an increasing wage divide between the extremely qualified and the rest. And this can only contribute to growing inequality, much in line with what Thomas Picketty exposed in “Capital in the 21st Century” (2014). Robert Sollow (2014), referring to the US example, highlights that productivity growth has been running ahead of real wage growth in the American economy for the last few decades, with no sign of a reversal, so the capital share has risen and the labour share fallen. In other words, workers are gradually loosing value.  And in this critical process, the less qualified will evidently bear the brunt. This inevitability leads to one conclusion: the only way to escape wage erosion is to make yourself more valuable to the global value-chains. And how do you increase your professional value? Here are a few options:

1) Perfect your skills on a daily basis; remember that the way you perform your duties can be always improved; 

2) Enrich your professional knowledge with investing in further education and training;

3) Improve constantly the way you manage your daily life; make yourself more efficient in your daily chores; this will impact positively on your professional performance;

4) Live healthy, eat healthy food, exercise daily (yes, daily, if possible), sleep a decent amount of hours every night, do your regular medical check-ups, keep your sexual balance in due order (a difficult achievement for most people); overall, avoid accidents, diseases or any conditions that may slowdown, even if temporarily, your professional progression;

5) Think about the future and how you see yourself in, say, 10 years time. Imagine three possible scenarios for your future, one good, one so-so and the other one bad; fight as much as possible for the good one to happen and start immediately to try to counter the other two scenarios to materialize.

Manuel Gomes Samuel, November 2014

Forward-Thinking Analytic Strategy

Forward-Thinking01Imagine that you’re venturing into investing in global vintage car retailing. It sounds like such a nice and posh business for car lovers, with plenty of razzmatazz and polished jet-set events. Now you look at the market and what do you see? A massive amount of information (Big Data) coming from every other corner of the planet. Buying and selling vintage cars is nowadays an extremely worldwide competitive business due to the internet. You have a global vibrant market characterized by a number of key players and a multitude of small businesses. So the best you can do (if you really want to become an international player) is to take an extremely good look at the world market. Vintage cars are tangible asset investments like art, so you’re often looking at picking the best deals with the expectation of quick trading or asset appreciation overtime. Forward-Thinking04In the hyper-competitive global vintage car business, dealers have to move extremely quickly to harness the value from all the data they can collect from the global market to find new opportunities, revenue streams, and to operate more efficiently in their tradings. Cutting edge dealers resort to platforms that catalyze collaboration between IT and business to meet demands for quick and sharp action aiming at delivering outstanding service to customer and at minimizing risk. The vastness and the complexity of the current vintage car business require extensive data mining and sophisticated analytics, with accurate multidimensional data visualization, to buttress informed and quick decisions. Predictive analytics assume a critical role for decision makers to minimize market risks and to forecast tendencies. Forward-Thinking02Vintage car market trends are not the most difficult to forecast but there are still plenty of investment risks from externalities (e.g. taxes, logistics, supply chain fluctuations, pollution regulations, etc.) and also from mutations of customer behavior. Customer behavior is a natural critical vector in every business, notably in trading collectible cars. As customer satisfaction becomes gradually (and arguably) the most important business parameter these days, CRM (custom relationship management) is becoming the key word for success. CRM using predictive analytics are thus the way to go. Predictive analysis opens up new avenues in CRM systems, making them easier to visualize and understand. Forward-Thinking03With predictive analytics, specialists can mine huge amounts of customer behavioral data, automate it all, and augment it with social media and third-party modular data. Predictive analytics helps you personalize customer experience through a much more developed individual tailoring based on multiple data readings that answer key questions – like how to build up value, how to zero in on customers more accurately, and how to better track behavior and market trends. Overall, predictive analytics allow the development of powerful forward-thinking strategies. Vintage car global retailing, as an example, is one amongst many other businesses that need nowadays sharp forward-thinking analytic strategies based on a mix of superb data collection, top metrics and processed data augmented visualization, in order to survive and thrive.

Manuel Gomes Samuel, October 2014



Holacracy3Since Brian Robertson invented the concept of holacracy, back in 2007, management scientists have been mooting on and on the virtues of organisational  systems in which authority and decision-making are distributed throughout self-organizing teams rather than being concentrated at the top of a hierarchy. To some extent there appears to be some correlation between the emergence of non-hierarchical organisations and the growing tendency to transform the traditional role of authority in sociological systems. Hence the advent of collaborative leadership which Hank Rubin defines as a purposeful relationship in which all parties strategically choose to cooperate in order to accomplish a shared outcome. One can easily perceive a connotation between the quest for business management based on the erosion of the traditional role of the hierarchical axis and the advancement of democracy in politics. Holacracy, for instance, is based on replacing the traditional, hierarchical organizational structure with governing circles aiming at specific work outputs. Each circle operates autonomously and may overlap with other circles and there are (almost) no job titles for its members. Holacracy4Members of circles (employees) can work for more that one circle and can do different things for each circle. Holacrats and partisans of similar organisational systems consider that hierarchical obeyance can stifle creativity and innovation. And this may seem somewhat reasonable. The feeling of living or working in a non-authoritarian environment reduces fears and concerns that usually smothers the performance of individuals, thus making them more at ease to work and to express their ideas and feelings. Their contributions become therefore richer in terms of content and novelty, allowing theoretically each and every individual to bring the best out of himself/herself for the sake and purpose of the community. Holacracy1This has also an impact on the decision making process, making it more inclusive of different shades of thoughts and perceptions coming from an enlarged number of individuals who are not concerned or subjected to the views of the leaders. Anyway, organizations based on “managerless” systems (sometimes called “team-based” or “flat-lattice organisations”), with no traditional organisational charts or chains of command, are not new. There are a number of companies, mostly in the US, that have been running (in some case for decades) on very flat—almost hierarchy-free—structures. 37Signals, GitHub, Valve Corporation and Gore are some good examples. Recently there has been some brouhaha regarding Zappos (an Amazon associated company doing online clothing and shoe retail) because its CEO, Tony Hsieh, is currently maneuvering an organisational massive transition of the entire company (1.500 employees!) into holacracy. Holacracy5Mr. Hsieh wants to achieve full holacratic transformation of Zappos by December 2014. Migrating from a traditional organisational system into a constellation of circular organisational horizontal task-forces is complex and risky. Brett Ryder, from the Economist, referring to Mr. Hsieh and his holacratic venture, says that at the end holacracy may just be a managerial fad, doomed, like many other tendencies, to loose its popularity within a short run. Ryder states that “past attempts to democratise decision-making have not been notably successful” and he goes on saying that similar previous organizational experiences “produced proved wasteful and workers bemoaned the lack of understandable career paths”. If Ryder is right, it may have to do with the difficult transition from authoritarian to democratic organisations. There are indeed many leadership and organisational similarities between the role of political dictators and business CEO’s. Gerard Endenburg, who developed sociocratic ideals into a method that worked in corporations, posited that people need implicitly the experience of democracy before they can handle sociocracy. And holacracy is basically tantamount to sociocracy in the sense that: Schematic view of a social networking members with blank text clouds1) collaboration prevails over rule-making; 2) self-organization prevails over central authority; 3) and effective action prevails over complex, multi-layered planning. That implies an organisational need to develop the ability to make decisions in an enlarged organisational context and the skills to develop the self-organizing capability. In other words, and simply put, it sounds like turning around a civil society from a dictatorial regime to a full democracy in a short span. History usually shows that populations used to live under a strong authoritarian leader are not ready right-away to live in a fully-fledged democratic regime. The same then applies to a business organisation because ultimately organisations are made of people. Turning a company based on a traditional hierarchical system into a managerless entity is not an easy change management task, and that is what Zappos is facing at the moment. And Zappos is the first sizable company going holacratic. All other experiments have been focused on small companies with less than fifty employees. But holacracy also raises questions concerning career paths. Is it possible for a worker to get promoted without an hierarchical axis? Where is the incentive to outperform your colleagues at work if there is no way up?holacracy6 Is it possible to transform human natural ambition for power into an ambition for increasing personal collaboration excellence? Sounds beautiful, but does it really go along with the human character? Last but not the least, what is the meaning of holacratic leadership? For instance, what role will Mr. Hsieh play in a full holocratic Zappos? According to holacrats, notably its creator, the above mentioned Brian Robertson (who runs a consultancy business to promote and assist the transition to holacracy), the holacratic leader is the “ratifier of the Holacracy Constitution” (an evolving set of principles which are now in their 4th version) and the “lead link” in an overarching “company-wide circle”—though in the event of deadlock over how to proceed, the ratifier will regain powers as final arbiter, very much like a conventional leader. But there are also other holacratic officers that exert power in a similar way to traditional organisations – the secretary, the “rep link” and the facilitator. Their theoretical roles are extensively described in the Constitution. Steve Denning, in an interesting article published by Forbes in January 2014, dissects the Holacracy Constitution and falls very short of saying that holacracy is after all strongly hierarchical and still based upon pillars of leadership. So at the end there are questions and doubts that holacrats need to clarify. Nevertheless holacracy is making headlines, notably as an interesting organisational concept that relates quite well to the increasing collaborative tendencies in sociological and organisational terms.

Manuel Gomes Samuel

July, 2014

Management, leadership and decision making

leading-leadersManagement as a science is always trying to devise new formulas to increase productivity and to foster organisational advancement. It is a simply way to put it, but at the end, and broadly speaking, the main goal of management research is to render organisational systems more in line with the ongoing change taking place in the environment and to study new ways to perfect organisations thus leading to its improved functioning.

Classical and holistic theories of management always put a strong emphasis on leadership as perhaps the main parameter of managerial sciences. But over the years leadership has been under intense scrutiny with some modern theories positing that the classical role of the leader in the organisation forestalls organisational developments, innovation and productivity growth.

In a recent BBC Business’ article, Peter Day likens the performance of a great orchestral conductor (in his example, Mariss Jansons) to that of a great leader. He emphasizes the role of the leader in the scope of a community of purpose and says that “in Mr Jansons’ enabling rather than autocratic style of leadership there were some real lessons for business people who look to conducting to show them how to run an organisation”.

collaborative_leadership.23 jpgThere is naturally a broad sociological evolution in the concept and performance of leadership. Human kind is arguably becoming gradually more collaborative. The old style of autocratic leadership is giving way to new kinds of rule based upon much larger decision making cells. In other words, the decision making power is becoming more inclusive and decisions tend to have inputs of an increasing number of individuals. Whereas before critical decisions affecting a large number of people were taken by one single individual, nowadays the emergence of the conscience that we are all part of a wide network, that is fed by each and everyone of us, has taken the decision making process to an increasing collaborative level. This is correlated with the advancement of democracy as a political system meaning that in organisational terms the classic hierarchies render organisations less agile and thus less reactive to the changing environment.

collaborative_leadershipThe larger the number of individuals taking part in the decision making process, the more it renders the process more inclusive of all sorts of inputs. But this also encapsulates a number of risks, notably as to where the balance line should be drawn between the leader and its subjects or employees. For instance, direct democracy seems to be the way to go, but, as we’ve seen in California (e.g. with Proposition 13), it has its risks because the voice and vision of the majorities can sometimes become elusive or easily manipulated. Moreover, the voice and vision of the majorities may simply not be the right ones, in particular in relation to morality and other sensitive issues. The same applies to enlarging the number of people taking part in a collaborative decision making process inside an organisation. The risk of a lack of focus may disrupt the process because of the multitude of perceptions of an enlarged number of individuals. In this regard, the role of the leader may assume the function of a conductor, promoting and monitoring a dynamic channel that liaises all relevant inputs in a smooth and properly articulated operation very much like a musical ensemble.

Manuel Gomes Samuel, July 2014

Visionary leadership and emotional intelligence

Leader04In the current volatile global environment, leading an organisation is becoming an increasingly complex and risky task. The traditional functions of leadership are nowadays under the impact of a multitude of exploding issues like automation, robotization, pirating, climate change, growing inequality, aging workforce, speedy technological innovations, pandemic diseases, terrorism, geopolitical instabilities and social forces expanding through the internet.  More than ever companies need to adopt an agile and nimble stance in order to quickly tackle increasingly changing business conditions. In this game of survival in an increasingly risky and murky environment, CEO’s need to develop scanning abilities to monitor all these issues and the forces underlying. Leader02They need to measure their impact and their trajectory. They need to muster all relevant data that can inform visionary decisions. Visionary decisions are the crux of business strategy. Visions are the ultimate force for business success. Without visions CEO’s will not be able to anticipate new opportunities. Waiting for business opportunities to appear down the road means loosing time and time is more than ever a crucial commodity. Loosing time may dictate the fate of a business. Anticipation and speed of thought are in crescent demand these days amongst C-suite staff. Speed of thought implies speedy scanning and data analysis. Business people diverse human resources team leaderAnalytics management software, especially predictive analysis tools, are currently in growing demand from innovative companies. Successful CEO’s will have to rely more and more in analytics and metrics concocted from big data. In order to take full advantage of those readings, they need to engage in foresight. And that’s where things become trickier because the future is not predictable. Foresight is a pivotal part of strategic thinking (in the sense described by Mintzberg, 1994). In 1975 Greanleaf highlighted the importance of foresight for business. Almost forty years later, foresight is becoming increasingly relevant, albeit also increasingly complex. For those engaged in business futures research, foresight is a tool to open up an expanded range of perceptions of the strategic options available to make more informed decisions. The goal of foresight is purely to elevate the ability of strategy-making to anticipate several future scenarios. Leader03There are various scientific methodologies to build scenarios (check for instance Tibbs, Voros, Inayatullah, Schwartz, Wack et all). But at the end of the day decision making need inspirational people with high intuition to look at the generated scenarios and to decide what to do next. This brings us to the concept of visionary and inspirational leadership. When we take decisions at personal of professional levels we always think about possible outcomes. We use our readings of the environment and our intuition to decide what we believe is most suited for a given process. Often we have scant information about what’s going on in that particular process. And we have no information at all on what may surely happen concerning the outcome of that process (because the future is not predictable). Therefore the more information we gather about that process the better we can generate scenarios and anticipate outcomes that we want to avoid. We can then take decisions to try to thwart non-desired developments from happening. Leader06This human ability to read, understand and forecast is part of our emotional intelligence. Rafferty and Griffins (2004) posit that the (business) vision is the expression of an idealized picture of the future based around organizational values. The idealized picture referred by Rafferty and Griffins is a concoction of perceptions of the current environment which generate cognitive emotions regarding the future. Unlike general intelligence (e.g. verbal-propositional) which relies in “cold” cognitive processes, emotional intelligence operates in “hot” cognitive emotional processes that are of importance to the individual and the surrounding environment (Abelson, 1963). Leader05It is the reading of the environment, proportional to the level of emotional intelligence, that differentiates individuals. Daniel Goleman (notably his 2012 book, Leadership: The Power of Emotional Intelligence) and Solan (2008) are pretty good readings on the relationship between leadership, vision and emotional intelligence. Indeed, emotional intelligence is increasingly a crucial leadership factor, if not the most important. A high emotional intelligence quotient in a CEO facilitates visions and the ability to purport the right messages across the spectrum of the organisation. That ensues the ability to leverage individual purpose and to enhance motivation, creativity, and sense of communion. In the end, it is the sense of purpose, derived from great visions properly communicated and finely tuned, that can make a corporate engine work at its best.      

Manuel Gomes Samuel, June 2012

The advancement of collaborative robotics and its impact on management

Robot01This week one of the most important events for automation and robotics, the Automatica fair, will take place in Munich, Germany (1-3 June 2014). Automatica intends to be the most important showcase for portraying the advancements in a field which is developing rapidly.  If automation and robotics have been with us for some decades (the automotive industry started using rudimentary robots in the 1960’s), real progress has only been triggered recently by the accelerating pace of innovation in artificial intelligence and mechatronics. Advances in sensors, hydraulics, mobility, computing power, machine vision, big data and new light weight materials are making robots more flexible, lighter, sensitive, precise, dextrous, autonomous, user friendly and cheaper. And it wont be long for robotics to start resorting to the latest superconductor applications which will further improve energy savings, mobility, weight, etc.

Human and Shadow HandThe current advancement of robotics is already impacting enormously on how companies do business and in their organizational management. At the same time, the global market for robotics is booming. The Robotics Business Review states that the expanding demands for automation will prompt robotics industry to grow from 27 billion USD in 2012 to above 40 billion USD in 2020.

In Munich, the major players in the industry will be boasting and showcasing their most advanced products to a global market which registered sales of around 179.000 robots in 2013 (according to the International Federation of Robots, an industry group based in Germany). Those sales were dominated by purchases from China (36.560), Japan (26.015), USA (23.679), South Korea (21.307) and Germany (18.297). Most of the sales represent industrial heavyweight robots for increasingly automated production lines.

robot05But a new form of industrial robot has recently started to make strides into factories and offices. Its advent is bringing about another revolution into the working environment. Its arrival fills an empty space which, up until recently, machines were not able to take over: dexterity, meaning the ability of the machine to: a) move or work graciously around humans and small premises; b) the capability to emulate humans in performing manual tasks; c) the faculty to think, act quickly and to learn from mistakes. These new types of robots integrate smoothly in human teams and are called “collaborative robots”. They are currently mostly used for repetitive tasks. Collaborative robots derive from the original concept launched in 1997 by NASA to develop an humanoid that could work alongside astronauts in space missions.  The latest Robonaut prototype dubbed R2 is still under development to fully integrate with humans inside space stations facilities which require a high level of dexterity.

NASA/Meanwhile, in a more earthly environment, Robonauts derivées are becoming a buzz word for efficiency and reliability. Baxter from Rethink Robotics, selling from 25.000 USD, is a good example of a gracious and flexible robot designed for packing, unpacking, loading and other tasks previously performed only by humans. BMW, in their USA factory, in Spartanburg, invested in new lightweight collaborative robots manufactured by Denmark’s Universal Robots. These machines can perform intricate tasks such as fitting car doors with sound and moisture insulation. Before BMW bought those robots, that was exclusively a human task.

Other robotic OEM’s are investing increasingly in collaborative clever machines. Kuka, a German robotic conglomerate traditionally involved in heavy-duty industrial robotics, is currently shifting their focus to include a growing number of dexterous robots in their catalogue. Major brands, such as ABB, Askawa, Festo, Staeubli, Epson and many others are following the same path. Some, such as Shadow and Universal Robotics seem to believe that the future in the business lies in the development of dexterous robotics or parts of it. robot03Shadow produces robotic hands that fully mimic the human hand. According to Shadow, the “Dexterous Hand”, as they call it, represents a truly anthropomorphic approach to robot manipulation. “With 20 actuated degrees of freedom, position and force sensors, and ultra sensitive touch sensors on the fingertips, the hand provides unique capabilities for problems that require the closest approximation of the human hand currently possible” (cited from Shadow website). Shadow says that its hand uses standard industry interfaces, therefore it can be used as a tele-operation tool or mounted on a range of robot arms as part of a robot system.  This is also a sign that the industry, still in its nascent days, is already starting to specialize in specific sub-sectors of robotics. Hence, it is likely that in some few years from now the robotic industry will see a growing number of companies specialized in specific parts of humanoid robots (assuming that the dexterity imperative will lead inevitably to building human-like machines that need to move and work in a environment made for humans). The gripping technology for robotics is a good example in this regard. It is another sub-field progressing fast thanks to the recent development of new gripping materials and techniques that are vital for precision dextering. This will foster the emergence of more developed machines ready for human tasks. robot08Artificial intelligence developments will also be critical in this regard. New technologies such as Neocortex by Universal Robotics will allow robots to learn from their experiences in the physical world rather than being programmed to act. Universal Robotics are also leading robotics in moving around complex spaces (e.g. human premises). Their technology is based on 3D vision software, called Spatial Vision, which brings better accuracy and object identification for mobile robots. Robots can have multiple eyes and in that sense they can easily surpass humans in visual abilities.

robot06This brings us to the impact of robotization on labour. It is more than evident that Baxter, for instance, will render many manual workers useless. 25.000 USD is a small investment for a machine that fully replaces humans in manual tasks. It is an investment that pays off quickly. Altogether Baxter is a game changer in the equation labour – capital because Baxter will not join the worker’s unions, will not ask for a pay cheque and, last but not the least, will need no vacation time. And Baxter is just the beginning. The robotic industry is pretty aware that dexterous robots will render companies more competitive and efficient. Integration between humans and robots will lead inevitably to the obsolescence of non-qualified workers and will isolate companies from their respective labour cost fluctuations and pressures. Organizational management will have to tackle the integration man – machine in the working environment. This will surely prove to be a quite complex and sensitive task as robots become gradually more like humans, rendering a growing number of the latter increasingly redundant.

ROBOTSIn the end, Baxter and his likes will probably bring about a social upheaval in the developed world. If nowadays there are fewer and fewer solutions to solve the unemployment scourge in many rich countries, which is, to a large extent, a by-product of office and factory automation, what will happen when humanoids become fully dexterous?

Manuel Gomes Samuel, June, 2014