There is only one of you

June 30, 2014

Ponder this for a moment:  as big and as global as the Internet is, every single human being is born with a far more impressive network. It’s called a brain.

I learned last week from author Steven Campbell (Making Your Mind Magnificent) that the human brain has  more than 100 billion neurons (that’s not a typo!). But, as Campbell says,

...this is nothing! Each of those neurons has an average of 10,000 connections to other neurons. This computes to 100,000,000,000 connections! That is a quantity found by multiplying 100 billion times 100 billion, times 100 billion...ten thousand times. As a comparison, 100 billion multiplied by 40,000 is a number larger than the number of stars in the Milky Way. We truly cannot fathom the number of connections our brain has.

(Making Your Mind Magnificent, p.4)

Campbell is describing the network inside just one human brain! And there are upwards of 7 billion human beings alive today – most of them in possession of a functioning brain.

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Instant Mind Meld

June 9, 2014

Twitter is the best way we humans have to broadcast instant messages (short and sweet) to our colleagues – and to the whole world. And we all know the profound impact that Twitter has had on our global society, most clearly in the context of recent populist uprisings in the Middle East.

Yes, there are undoubtedly many more mundane messages on Twitter (and Facebook) than there are life-changing ones; but the impact of the messages that matter is worth all the idiotic ones about who you had coffee with, what your baby sister said this morning, or how much water your cat drank out of the toilet (and never forget that what you consider mundane might be cherished by someone else).

Once you get past those trivialities, our ability to send essentially instantaneous broadcast messages to almost every other human being on the planet is far more profound than most of us realize.

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Listen to Your Mother

May 27, 2014

Mother Nature, that is.

No, this is not a rant about climate change (although I hope you know how important that is).

Rather, I think it is imperative for us to learn from living systems as we design organizations and determine how to manage them.

I spent most of this past holiday weekend outdoors (it was Memorial Day here in the United States, a time when we honor our military veterans, remember their sacrifices, and give thanks for their service).

We enjoyed wonderful weather, and the inherent beauty of the mountains, streams, forests, and fresh air reminded me of how much we can learn from thinking about the world we are so fortunate to inhabit.

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As I suggested last week ("Thinking About Thinking"), in today’s fast-paced business world it’s extremely difficult to find time to think on our own – and thus to be creative. Pressure for productivity, in combination with open office designs, means that not only are most of us collaborating with others most of the time, but we often can’t find a quiet place in the office even when we actually want some private “think time.”

But in turns out my analysis left out an incredibly important factor that makes our quest for creativity even more difficult than I realized. And may be making us more obese than we’d like.

My colleague and close friend Candace Fitzpatrick, the founder and president of CoreClarity, gently pointed out to me a few days ago that the biggest barrier to creativity in the workplace may well be stress – the tension we feel to perform at high levels, to respond quickly to emails and voice messages, and to accept as “normal” the insecurities many of us feel about our jobs and our lives more broadly.

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Stop Managing Me!

April 7, 2014

In all the debate and discussion about workplace design one very fundamental factor is often overlooked:  the importance of individual choice in where, when, and how work gets done.

In my humble opinion, there is far too much effort being expended on trying to come up with the ideal workplace configuration – whether it’s open office design, benching, cubicles, high walls, low walls, bright colors, calming colors, music, white noise, employee lounge areas, small conference rooms, large conference rooms, or private spaces.

I’m convinced that the search for the “right” design, or even the “best” design is doomed to failure. If you are looking for one workplace that will optimize workforce productivity and engagement for everyone, it will be a very long search.

Rather, we need to recognize that different tasks require different physical environments, and different people work best in different places at different times. As I wrote some years ago, “I don’t need a workplace, I need many places” (see “Musings on Knowledge Work and Place” for more on that idea). [click to continue…]


With a bow to Aretha Franklin, our focus this week is on the central role that Respect will play in the future of work.

I have emphasized the importance of Wellness and Wellbeing in the workplace over the last several newsletter issues, largely because my “Talking About Tomorrow” members have been actively exploring the topic in our recent monthly conference calls [links to those articles are here (Part One), and here (Part Two), and here (Part Three)].

Our conversation earlier this month brought that focus to a very personal level as we shared our own tips and techniques for coping with the emergence of what increasingly feels like a 24×7 work week.

We began the March conversation by visiting with Rebecca Scott of Sodexo, who compiled and edited Sodexo’s recent Workplace Trends 2014 report. [click to continue…]

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This article continues the conversation that began with the first “Wellness and Wellbeing” note in late February and continued with “Wellness and Wellbeing-Part Two” last week.

Here we focus on some differences between the United States and Europe in dealing with wellness and wellbeing. If you have not read the first two parts of this series I encourage you to click on the links above and spend a few minutes catching up with the beginning of this conversation (which took place on February 6, 2014) as part of my monthly “Talking About Tomorrow” series.

Erik Jaspers [Planon]: First, I must say I was a little surprised about the short conversation about Medicare and putting that in the perspective of wellness and wellbeing. I’m from Europe, and we don’t have this conversation, and certainly not in that context.

I have a question because I’m a newcomer in this area. How would you go about measuring results or determining the effectiveness of what you’ve been trying to achieve in these types of projects? How do you measure wellness in the larger context of an organization? [click to continue…]


This post continues the conversation that began with the “Wellness and Wellbeing” note last week. If you haven’t yet read that post, I suggest you click on the link and read it now, before proceeding with this one.

Here we pick up with Kate Lister’s overview of the biggest issues surrounding wellness and wellbeing in the workplace.

Kate Lister [Global Workplace Analytics]:

As I suggested earlier, there are two sides of this issue: the physical and the psychological. Not surprisingly, the organizations that are focusing most on wellness are those in the healthcare business.

The cost of absenteeism goes far beyond the direct costs which are estimated at about 6% of payroll. But when you consider the indirect costs, including insurance, the total is more like 20% of payroll.

On the psychological side, there are a variety of problems that impact employee performance such as addiction, depression, stress, and the like. And poor mental health often leads to poor physical health and vice-versa.

Then there’s the problem of “presenteeism,” where people come to work sick because they don’t et paid for sick days, they feel guilty about letting their co-workers down, or there’s simply a culture that frowns on taking time off, regardless of the reason. So what do they do? They come to work sick. They sit at their desk not getting much done. And they go home at the end of the having spread their germ among their colleagues.

Healthways recently did a wellness study for a Fortune 500 company. When they asked employees if they’d lost productivity due to working while they were sick, 86% said “yes.” The study also showed that people with wellness issues are less productive and more likely to leave.

The study reported that for each $1 of medical costs, the company lost another $2.30 because of reduced productivity. [click to continue…]

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This article marks the beginning of a slight change in my Future of Work Agenda newsletter publishing plans. Some time ago I simplified the newsletter format, sharing a single thought piece with you about once a month. Now I am committing to a more frequent schedule, with the goal of condensing my rants and ramblings to an even shorter format (and I have also integrated the newsletter more tightly with the blog).

What follows here is the first post of a three-part series on Wellness and Wellbeing in the Workplace. Look for Part Two a week from now.


As some of you know, I host a monthly “Talking About Tomorrow” conversation with about twenty very smart thought leaders and practitioners. We have common interests in the changing nature of work, the workforce, and the workplace – and how to manage the future of work. We exchange ideas, concerns, and visions of the future as a way of keeping all of us sharp and well-informed.

Recently we spent an hour together (virtually, of course) exploring wellness and well-being in the workplace. It’s a topic that is getting a lot of well-deserved attention in many places these days. There’s no way I can adequately summarize the totality of that conversation, but I’d like to share some of the highlights here.

Thus, this is the first of several “chapters” in that particular conversation. What follows is an edited synopsis of what I found to be the most interesting comments and questions raised by several of the group members (all of those quoted here have granted me permission to share their contributions to the conversation). [click to continue…]


People Matter!

November 8, 2013

Thanks to Sue Bingham of HPWP Consulting for this short video - a wonderful example of a company, Southeastern Mills, where culture and the engagement of the workforce have created an amazingly successful food products business.

I just received a note from Sue with this incredible story about Southeastern Mills:

...their annual turnover is less than 4% (310 employees), they pay for all reasonable and necessary absence with attendance metrics varying between 98.5% - 99.5%, and, as long as 5+ years without a recordable incident.

When they lost a major customer, they involved everyone in identifying how to take $1.2 million out of the business in 60 days with the only restriction that no one could lose their job. They successfully identified more than that amount.

As their president at the time stated: "The good news is we did it. The bad news is it was there." They attributed a 60% decrease in waste (significant dollars in the food business) almost entirely to employee engagement.

In my humble opinion, this is a perfect example of the kind of company culture and leadership mindset that is essential for any organization to thrive in the future. We are transitioning from an industrial economy to an era in which information, ideas, and networked intelligence determine strategic success. The industrial-age management approaches that got us where are we are today just won't work in a world of information abundance, an educated workforce, and a global economy that changes the rules for success almost daily.

I am convinced it is time for most organizations to put "Command and Control" management out to pasture and replace it with "Empower and Respect."

Who knows where the next Big Idea will come from? Create a work environment in which your people are actively engaged, respected, and able to converse with each other at all levels and in all parts of the company, and you will almost be guaranteed long-term success.

What companies do you know of (or belong to) that are as people-centric as Southeastern Mills?