Posts Tagged ‘future of work’

This post is part-8 of a series of ten essays on the essence of work. For an introduction and overview of previous posts, check here.


This time, I invite you to look into the mirror, and watch the scars in your face, the arrows in your back, and the experiences that can’t be unlearned.

I invite you to make contact with the emotional and physical footprint of your work.

To make contact with those projects where you went really deep, where you chose your own path, where you challenged all existing conventions.

The ones that completely exhausted you, but where you are left with the deep and satisfactory warm feeling of having done the right thing.

In many cases, these are the projects that you chose to be part of, which you initiated.

In the same way it is better to be in a position to choose the clients you want to work for, in the same way you’re better off when you create a interdependence in life that allows you to chose the projects you want to be part of.

When projects become your projects. Where you know that you shaped the project and the project would never have become what it is without you having been part of it.

Those projects, you know, where you do the skunk work whatever it takes.

Those projects where you feel home, where you are meant to be, and that feel like your own – sometimes messy – creative studio.

Sculptor studio

Sculptor Alexander Calder's studio, 1964, photographed by Pedro E. Guerrero

For many years now, I follow and get inspired by the work of Jan Chipchase: he used to be the executive creative director of global insights for Frog Design, took a sabbatical, came back, and created in April 2014 his own Studio-D, a research, design and strategy consultancy.

You really have to read everything on the Studio-D site: the annual report, the project reports, the way to think of a company as a pop-up crew that comes together to serve a customer and then disbands when the job is done, the ethical ways of choosing projects and clients.

His own webpage opens with:

“Everybody needs space to do truly interesting work.”

That resonates with me.

It reads like a dream to me, and it’s how I would like to be, a beacon: I just don’t have the courage (yet) to make the choices Jan made.

More dreams

Building more dreams – By Hugh McLeod @gapingvoid

Studio-D has a page about “those projects”. This page did something with me at a level beyond the cognitive. It resonates very strongly with me. I have been part of and initiated some of those projects…

There are projects.

The ones that shape, mould and refine what we do, allow us to iterate on what we know – the operational things that help us get stuff done better, faster, smoother.

And then there are those projects. 

Those projects shape us and our team, they expand our world view, open minds to new ways of thinking, bring our short existence into sharp focus – they remind us that our time on this planet is too fleeting to devote to things that are no sooner done, than forgotten.

Those projects make us question our beliefs, our career goals, who we work for, who we work with, who we want to work with, and where we want to devote our energies for the next few years.

It’s those projects that rapidly evaporate any tolerance for bullshit.

They remind us of what we’ve let drift, and provide a rough hand to steer us back on track.

They are the essence of a life worked well.

Everyone has their own criteria for what makes one of “those projects”. They can include heart-in-mouth, will-we-or-won’t-we-make-it moments where the cost of failure is absolute, where fear stalks and somewhere along the line hearts leap, and tears are shed. They generate experiences that can’t be unlearnt, are in no danger of being forgotten.

“Experiences that can’t be unlearnt, are in no danger of being forgotten”!

Isn’t that great?

Is that not what life is about? Or was I discussing work? It is the same if you look at the essence of work this way?


Picture from Burning Man 2015 – I was not there ;-)

The danger to be forgotten is in the eye of the beholder.

At one level of consciousness, the fear is about being forgotten as a person in the organization, and what you think you meant and mean for the organization. Why you think you and your work matter. Why you think you made a dent in the organization you work for. When that gets forgotten, that hurts. It is the stage where you wonder if you still matter.

At another level of consciousness, you have internalized that fear. You acknowledge what has been, and you don’t care anymore about being forgotten.

Because you now think in terms of experiences that can’t be unlearned and made you that unique human being that you are, with your own history and timeline of experiences.

The previous post was about the next 10 years. And the fear of not having enough time left to do what you were meant to do. In that post I also invited you to look back and interrogate the progress you made in the last 10 years. You probably can see the milestones and progress of your previous last 10 years.

But the trap is when you start worrying whether others have seen it too. When you let others decide whether you matter or not. When you wait to get picked, because you live in the illusion that the organization has internalized your last 10 years in the same deep way as you did yourself, and that the organization cares.

The organization does not care.

And your history trace evaporates a little more every year with the apparent mandatory half-yearly or yearly re-organizations, killing existing connections (and creating new ones), cutting-off the historic trails, and the milestones you were part of.

What re-organization do you work for?

The older you get, the more you witness how the wheels are re-invented over and over again. Testosterone, rivalry, positioning and ambition drive projects and organizations, not purpose. It has become standard practice to ignore history, to forget “those projects”, their lessons learned and the warm bodies that were behind them.


One of my heroes: Pablo Picasso – by Yoo-Hyun – Hand cut paper

Our conversations become tweets, at best. There is no time for a quality in the essence of our work. We are getting fragmented, and become shrapnel of our own identity.

We become irrelevant.

The essence of work is about relevancy.

But relevancy for whom and in what context?

Being forgotten is only in the eyes of the beholder.

The essence of work is that you were part off, where you were instrumental to one of those projects. They are engrained in your physical and emotional DNA, and make who you are. Nobody can take that away.

So look back, and interrogate those projects that made you who you are. That gave you the scars on your soul, and the arrows in your back. Those projects are those projects because you cared. You cared for yourself and the organization that you were part of. This relationship is different from doing your job, different from the employer-employee relationship.

The madness is many of these relations are un-even, unequal. In many cases the performer cares for the organization, but the organization does not care for the performer.

As in so many of the essays in this series, the only one way to survive this madness and is to choose and adhere to your own norms and standards for an essence of work that is after superior qualities and experiences.

That is what our next essay in the series will be about: ethereal qualities.


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This post is part-5 of a series of ten essays on the essence of work. For an introduction and overview of previous posts, check here.


Artwork by Tania Derijcke – 3rd year painting – BKO Academy

The initial inspiration for this post was an article about robots being able to make your dinner.

Video about Moley Robotics

According to the company, the mechanical chef, which incorporates 20 motors, 24 joints and 129 sensors, learns how to cook by watching a plain old human chef, whose movements are turned into commands that drive the robot hands. Moley hopes to eventually create a product that can do everything from preparing the ingredients to cleaning up the kitchen, and include a built-in refrigerator and dishwasher. The idea is to support the robot with thousands of app-like recipes, and it would allow owners to share their special recipes online.

At the same time I was immersed in Matthew Crawford’s great book “The World Beyond Your Head: How to Flourish in an Age of Distraction”, already mentioned some time ago in my post “Moments of Enchantment”. The whole book is about attention and agency and tangible results of your agency.

It suddenly dawned to me that

making dinner is a matter of attention.

And that “they” – the robot tribes – don’t get it. As we have seen already in our series’ post about belief systems, “They don’t get it” is a strong indicator of living in a different belief system.

peter goossens

Peter Goossens - Hof Van Cleve

Let’s contrast this with the craftsmanship of Peter Goossens and his team, who are running Hof Van Cleve, one of the best restaurants in the world. Best like in world-class: a 3-star Michelin and much more, bringing them into the top-25 of the world.

Hof Van Cleve - Craft

“In order to cook at the highest level every day and guarantee an exceptional experience for our guests, it is important that the interior of our restaurant exudes the same traditional spirit and identity that our kitchen does. Our preparations are, after all, in my opinion, the result of a great deal of effort at all levels. Indeed, we handle the best local products that the gardeners, farmers, growers, fishermen, hunters and cheese refiners can provide. Out of respect for their passionate work and thanks to their fantastic ingredients, we are able to provide our guests with a unique culinary experience. This makes cooking a true craft.”

You can take this wonderful definition of the Essence of Work, and apply it to your own domain. Note the emphasis on guests, tradition, respect, experience, and craft.

Cooking is much more than executing a recipe.

The essence of work is much more

than building to spec

In “The world beyond your head… “, there is a great chapter about a small family-run business that is specialized in restoring and building from scratch old baroque organs.


A New Organ for Anabel Taylor Chapel

Like Peter Goossens, these organ builders don’t content themselves with restoring or building to spec. What they aim for is a dramatically superior musical experience by the musician who will play the organ.

Tradition is about building on the shoulders of giants, a bit of a simplistic statement. The author goes at length to “craft” deep into the meaning of tradition, to internalize tradition, and to pass it on in your work and onto next generations.


is not seen as non-authentic,

but a source for energized work.

“Unlike a space shuttle, the pipe organ is a species that comes to us through cultural traditions, and serves aesthetic purposes that would be unintelligible without reference to those traditions.”

“the historical inheritance of a long tradition of organ making seems not to burden these craftspeople, but rather to energize their efforts in innovation.”

What is driving these people to strive for unconditional excellence? Wouldn’t it be easier to componentize and modularize the different elements of work and cast them in a repeatable process, so we can be more efficient and produce more at less cost? Yes, that would be possible, but I think some of us don’t get excited anymore by the efficiency game and we are aiming for a higher quality and awareness of quality of our work and the experience it delivers to our customers, or should I call them “guests”?

“There were also electronic organs available. But there’s a part of the population that will only take this.

“It’s a totally handcrafted, handmade object, and some people are willing to pay an enormous premium for it. They realize the performance musically is superior. And that’s the only justification.”

“We’re weird: we’re trying to make a living, for one thing, and make this whole thing practical, so we have to make the parts in good order and build to the contract price, which is an insane thing to do for what we’re producing, and we have to make something that’s going to perform technically or our customers are going to be coming back and getting on us. At the same time the ethos of the instrument has to be authentic—that’s why people are paying big money for us to do the work. So we’re jammed in the cracks, trying to make a realistic business out of this and at the same time be as authentic as we can. The thread of what we’re doing is totally authentic.

The author leads us into two criteria that are essential for the Essence of Work:

  • Historical coherence: The work is enlivened by a sense of going further on a trajectory they have inherited.
  • Musicality: Timeless standards of engineering, specifically as they contribute to musicality.

So, we are getting into something called

The timeless demands of musicality.”

Wow! This is getting pretty close to Christopher Alexander’s “Timeless way of building” and his passion for “pattern languages”, much more profound ways of communicating, integrating, and passing on of patterns of tradition and craftsmanship.

How would you define “musicality” in your work, even if your work has nothing to do with organs or music?

I would now like to mix-in two other criteria for our Essence of Work:

  • Constraints: Constraints have to do a lot with craftsmanship, tradition, and musicality.
  • Authentic observation: perceiving as a baby does, liberated from conventionality

Constraints. Good work is usually performed within the boundaries of timeless tradition and qualities. You have to respect the scheme, the pitch, tone, the rhythm and other musical traditions to create the right “musical experience”. Very well trained musicians, who have superior mastery of their instruments, and respect the tradition canvas of conventions, usually perform a good jazz jam.

The Essence of Work is about producing a good jazz jam. Grounded and building upon the conventions and traditions of the thousand of years before us.

The other “constraint” is the audience: the public, the commissioner, the customer, the guest. Where the context of the host and the guest meet, where host and guest get into a dance, not a fight. Host and guest: much better than the transactional supplier and buyer, or producer and consumer.

Like Rem Koolhaas about architecture in When Architects Swim:

Architecture is not at all about letting your imagination go. You must confront your imagination again and again with the request and desire of your customer

Then there is “authentic observation”.

In my art classes last year, I learned to observe. To draw what I see and not to draw what I think. This has helped me a lot to get the basics more or less right: arms and legs in the right proportion vis-à-viz the body, that sort of basics. I only got a feel for the basics. Much more work to before i am getting any good at it, let’s not even think yet about mastery or even mystery. It’s still something very tactical, mechanical for me. So much more to learn.

This week-end the 2015-2016 art class started.


Picture of my art class – season 2015-2016

I will try painting this year. I never did painting, never worked with color. I am completely novice here, and open and receptive to anything that comes my way. No clue what will happen. No plan in mind.

It was thus a happenstance when my art teacher showed this as the main guiding principle for this academy year:


We were asked to “observe”, to look through a frame and let ourselves surprise by the shapes in the frame. Just see. But it is more than non-judgmental observation. It’s more than the facts and the spec.

  • An historian looks at the world adopting an non-judgmental stance towards the facts.
  • A preservationist adopts a deferential stance towards the world

What we are talking about in the Essence of Work is the “Artist’s Way” of looking at the world.


“This is what an artist does. She must defamiliarize herself with her everyday perceptions, which depend on—are conditioned by—her past experiences, including the experience of inhabiting a world that is thoroughly conventional. She has to try to perceive as a baby does, or as the empiricist supposes we all do, but this is a subtle and extraordinary accomplishment. There is nothing infantile about good art, but it does show us the world as viewed by a consciousness that has, for a spell, liberated itself from conventionality” (from the World beyond your head…)

Craftsmanship, Historical Coherence, Musicality, Authentic Observation, and Creating The Dance between host and guest are critical components of the Essence of Work.

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This post is part-4 of a series of ten essays on the essence of work. For an introduction, check here.


Innovators and Change Agents are probably the most frustrated people in a company’s workforce.

That is because they care. That is because they refuse to look at their work “as a job”, and refuse just “to live with it” or “get over it”

seth godin

Seth Godin recently posted a short post “In search of your calling” in essence about “What is your caring?” in stead of “What is your calling”

I don’t think we have a calling.

I do think it’s possible to have a caring.

A calling implies that there’s just one thing for you, just one thing you’re supposed to do.

What we most need in our lives, though, is something worth doing,

worth it because we care.

There are plenty of forces pushing us to not care.

Bosses, systems, bureaucracies and the fear of mattering.

None of them are worth sacrificing something as important as caring.

And elsewhere on his blog

Caring is unpredictable, hard to command and regulate and sometimes expensive in the short run.

When your organization punishes people for caring, don’t be surprised when people stop caring.

When you free your employees to act like people (as opposed to cogs in a profit-maximizing efficient machine)

then the caring can’t help but happen.

Caring is about making interventions at a dimension of societal progress, the dimension of meaning making, the dimension of societal context, and the dimension of sense making.

Ocean Atlas Jason deCaires Taylor

Artwork: Ocean Atlas Jason deCaires Taylor

Caring is the higher and deeper dimension after purpose, objectives and tactics.

Caring gets closer to needs.

Purpose is closer to intention and beliefs, and values

Objectives are closer to outcomes

Tactics are closer to building to spec, read instructions and apply them

The ambition is to find a “Life worked well”, where needs, purpose, objectives and tactics of the individual and the organization are maximum aligned and self-enforcing. A “Life worked well” is growing on the ladder of:





Once your reach the caring dimension, you don’t want to go back. Design serendipities with others who care. Avoid the people who try to reduce your caring back into thinking about your work as a job. They are in a different belief system. Have empathy, take note, but move on and continue on your path to greatness.

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This post is part-2 of a series of ten essays on the essence of work. For an introduction, check here.

This video is the record of a talk by Santiago Ortiz at EYEO Festival in 2014. Santiago is a visualization artist, and that is what triggered my attention first, but listening to the talk, I realized if was about the essence of work.

The description of the video starts with:

“Six Months – The last 6 months of 2012 happened to be the most stressful and creative of my life. Here’s the story.”

It’s a great way to create perspective of where you are now, your last six months, and to see why you were meant to be here, and what you’re going to do with the rest of your life. It’s a great way to re-assess what the essence of your work should be for YOU.

The first 6 minutes is a fantastic way on reflecting what is boring or not, whether you are boring or not. A narrative that is first looking at “before the 6 months”, then looking at “after the 6 months”, and then looking at what really happened “during his 6 months”.

It’s a different form of curriculum. In the case of Santiago’s talk, the real core of the curriculum of the last 6 months starts at min 11, where he shows how his visualization work lead to a different visualization of a curriculum.

It is called the “Ross Spiral Curriculum”

Ross Spiral Curriculum

It makes me think about “Spiral Dynamics” of John Beck. It makes me think of the “Teal Organizations” by Frederic Laloux, who got inspired by Spiral Dynamics and Integral Life Practice of Ken Wilber (Ken will come back in Part-3 about “Needs”).

But instead of the Spiral Dynamics of an organization, a culture, a worldview, it feels like the Spiral Dynamics of a person, documenting the specific evolutionary complexity of the narrative of a person, beyond any specific grade or self-aggrandizement.

At minute 10:30, he gets into the fundamental questions:

“I am alone, I am living in Argentina, and I have to build something. In order to create a work-life, a business”.

It’s a deep reflection:

the essence of work is to create a work-life.

Think about that…

What are his assets at the start of the 6 months:

Assets 6 Months

There is an interesting one under reputation. “My company was well known, but not my name, my reputation”.

The essence of work in the very near future (if not already here) is working your personal brand.

The isolation topic is interesting as well, as it is about having “access to the opportunities” that are of interest to YOU, not your company.

Thinking about it, with the six categories above Santiago invented a great way of making your personal assessment, and – maybe without knowing it – Santiago created a framework and model for self-assessment and personal growth, where you stand and want to be in terms of:

  • Your financial savings
  • Your personal brand
  • Your access to opportunities
  • Your existing portfolio (like a artist’s portfolio, or a model’s portfolio – quite different than your LinkedIn profile that is more about bragging then anything else)
  • The toolkit that you currently master
  • Your contextual environment

Next is to look into what can I do in “the next 6 months”, to improve yourself dramatically on all of these axes to create a place where you can “live a life well worked”. In the case of Santiago, that was:

What can i do 6 months

What is yours?

How will you improve dramatically

on the axes of the self-assessment framework

to get to your “essence of work”?

You have – like Santiago – ask yourself these fundamental questions:

what i love

  • “What I deeply love to do?” should be answered with action not with thought!!! It is really asking the question what gives me dopamine, what makes me happy when I am DOING that. It is probably in the realm of developing new techniques, and the pure joy that doing something from zero is very good.
  • In the “What I am exceptionally good at?” the keyword is “exceptionally”.
  • “What makes social sense?” is asking the question “What could be a business for me?”. In the sense as mentioned above: “what could be a good work-life?” But first make sense. Once you made sense, it is easier to make a business out of it.

It is all about meeting yourself, seeing yourself in the mirror of the magic tension of stress, fear, health, and fun.


Map art by Fairburn

Santiago ends by saying that what he does NOT want to do is ART. He wants to work with people who have real problems, not just experimental stuff that is food for thought, inspiration, etc. That is his choice. All respect.

But it seems that for me, the “essence of work” is almost becoming the opposite of that:

  • I want to create an environment for my clients where we deliberately stay way from the day-to-day problem solving, as that is what you already do all year long.
  • I want to create an environment where we make deeper connections with our purpose, our caring in life, and the deep underlying narratives of our personal and corporate mission statements and intentions.

It’s “basically” connecting with each other at another level than the pure cognitive, staying away from the unbearable lightness of tactics.

At the end of the talk – really in the epilogue at minute 36 – there is the short appearance of the “System Maps of Life”. I love it: reflecting about your life, not as a linear curriculum, but a dynamic spiral of many narratives that come together in one person, that make that person unique.

The key question of this all is of course how to create a “life well worked” around the essence of you as a person, with that rich spiral dynamic. How you create the essence of work for your “onlyness” (a term coined by Nilofer Merchant)

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This post is part-1 of a series of ten essays on the essence of work. For an introduction, check here.

How many times does it happen to you that you say/think:

“They don’t get it,

they really don’t get it!”

This happens to me when sharing ideas about my work as an event creator, or should I say “créateur d’expériences”, like Renaults famous advertising tag line: “créateur d’automobiles” which is quite different than “car manufacturer”. The elegance of the French language of course helps.

I keep on trying to explain that we are not in the events business, that we are in the business of creating high quality feedback loops to enable immersive learning experiences, and my employer keeps calling what we do “events”. I have come to a point where I stop trying to explain, and just do.

Part of this “not-getting-it” is probably due to a different (therefore not better or worse) vocabulary used by business people and creative people. But most of the non-connection is there because we live in, are inspired by a different belief system.

The subject of belief systems really started resonating with me when I discovered a video of Dave Gray’s presentation “Liminal Thinking: Sense-Making for systems in large organizations”, his closing keynote at Enterprise UX 2015 Conference.

Dave Gray is author of the fantastic “The Connected Company” and many more, and there is a fair chance that his next book will include “Liminal Thinking” in its title. Dave is a good fried, and he shared with me a preview of his next book.

I read it and gave some feedback, so I believe I really have internalized his message. In respect of Dave’s work, nothing in this post is a cut and past from his preview edition, I just distilled it from the public video.

The core message in the video/book is that of the “Self-Sealing Bubble”. The bubble of a belief system, the bubble where one is only receptive to the obvious, the belief system, the DNA that the organization has been trained for, and sometimes like in religions, brainwashed for.

Belief systems and self sealing bubble

Where it becomes even more interesting is when Dave starts connecting needs, beliefs and actions.

To be more precise:

“Needs create beliefs that create rules for action”

And if my need is not fulfilled, I will create a belief, a story that will give reason for my actions, also called rationalising.

needs inform belief systems

“Why are we here?”

asks Dave, and his answer is the mind-blowing “To meet our needs and to help others meet their needs”. Wow!

Say that again.

“To meet our needs and to help others meet their needs”

The model presented, can also be used for reverse engineering of needs in case of conflict of belief systems: what would I do if I believed in the belief system of the other party? What would happen if I act as if that belief system were true? What if I would adapt, even fake my behaviour to give the other belief system a chance.

To give the other belief system a chance

is sometimes also called

an “experiment”

But giving the other belief system a chance, is very different than changing your needs. Dave does not recommend you change your needs.

On the contrary. And he  leads to a very interesting reflection whether security is at all possible at work.

For me security at work would mean to have

“an environment where nothing needs to be protected”

An environment where the quality level of “being a group”, being a team is such that there is no competition between team members, where there are no egos, where there are no posers, losers, clueless and Sociopath pathologies as described in the magic post by Venkatesh Rao “Executive Engagement”.

Where there no classes and hierarchies, and where everybody is respected for the value and insights they bring to the table. And classes is not only about hierarchies. A class could also be associating people with the past, and isolating them deliberately from the future thinking.

An environment without organizational pathologies or self-conforming belief systems.

“Most enterprises are not emotionally safe places”, says Dave Gray, and he is unfortunately so damn right.

In many organizations, people are encouraged to leave their emotions at the door.

“But that is impossible”

It even is more impossible when you get promoted in senior leadership positions, where it really gets schizophrenic, and nobody dares to challenge you. Where most will say yes or whatever latest buzzword to please and charm and schmooze you.

“The more senior, the more difficult it is to leave your emotions at the door, because everybody else will conform to your self sealing logic, and your needs will always get met”

But the key lesson learned from Dave Gray keynote for me is to go and search and discover my deeper needs for a healthy functioning of myself in and outside the organization.

Because needs inform my beliefs. My beliefs inform my actions. My actions result in effects. And the effect confirm or adjust my needs.

That is why in part-3 we will dive deeper into value and needs and how they are the fundamental building blocks of the essence of good work.

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