This Is My Life. How Did They Know?

This seems to be an appropriate time to confess that over the past two years I have not read every page of my reading assignments for this doctoral program. However, I do find that for this particular class on Technology and Leadership the videos and reading assignments are so timely and insightful that I read and watch many parts of them a second and third time. I have come to know enough about Ignatian spirituality that I realized it would be instructive for me to enter into a period of reflection to attempt to discern why I find the material so captivating.

The fruit of that reflection can only be expressed by saying that what I read this week from Gartner (2010), Husband (2013), and Shirky (2008) described with stunning accuracy the world of work in which I find myself immersed. Regarding those few hours a week in which I am not engaged in work, the reading also accurately describes my “free time” spent individually or with family and friends. For the past several decades I have ascribed to the principles of time management laid out in the work of Stephen Covey with a special emphasis on those ideas expressed in First Things First (1994). This is tantamount to saying that I spend a reasonable amount of time thinking about how I will spend my time. You can watch more about Covey’s work here. 

Since it was all found to be so relevant to me it seems appropriate to highlight the conditions described by the authors that are most profoundly true in my own situation. These are as follows:

Husband (2013) describes today’s environment as the “permanent white water” in which today’s decision makers operate. This is such an appropriate metaphor for the situations that leaders find themselves in today. An expert rafting guide leading others through whitewater requires sensitivity to changing conditions such as water level, obstacles in the river causing dangerous waves that must be negotiated, and the surrounding weather. Such a guide must also understand the strengths and weaknesses of those with whom they are working with in the raft. Finally, they must have an indefatigable energy to stay engaged with the river until they reach a calm spot in the stream. Of course, in today’s world those calm spots seem to occur less often than they once did.

The decreasing frequency of these calm spots led to me nodding my head in enthusiastic agreement as I read the point that Gartner (2010) makes about the growing “de-routinization of work”. The fact that robots are replacing work by individuals that can be automated (work during the calm spots) should cause us all to pause and give thanks that there are still many positions requiring non-routine functions that only human beings with capacity to analyze, synthesize, and interact can adequately complete. Those who can do such work well will continue to find gainful employment that allows them to make a contribution to the world and the well-being of their families.

Reflecting on scandals within the Catholic Church, Shirky (2008) poignantly reminds those in positions of authority in larger institutions that are hierarchical in nature that they are well-advised to reflect on the lessons regarding the impact of electronic media that now allows traditional structures of hierarchal authority to be circumvented – particularly in cases where large groups of people become aware of injustice. The Catholic school in which I work is such an organization – 1,200 students, 230 teachers and staff, 2,500 parents, 10,000 alumni etc. Even more noteworthy, the students with whom we work are much more fluent in the languages of this evolving form of linked communication than the adults who supervise them. Control of the message is tenuous at best.

I believe that Shirky’s work could be improved by giving other examples of this phenomenon at work in today’s world as opposed to focusing on events that unfolded in 2002. The rise of the “unapproved message” made possible by the expansive access to electronic media has impact on all traditional structures of authority in journalism, politics, corporations, and education. Nonetheless, Shirky is to be commended for the insightful comparison of similar events in Boston in 1992 that could largely be ignored. In 2002, thanks to the growing interconnectivity of the world, that was no longer the case. Today’s leaders are wise to take note that we now operate in a refreshingly stimulating environment.

Finally, I must return to a point raised by Gartner. The press release notes that “work will increasingly happen 24-hours a day, seven days a week. In this work environment, the lines between personal, professional, social and family matters, along with organization subjects, will disappear.” For better or worse, this is the life that I live. How did they know so much about me?

References

Andrade, R. (2013, December 27). 7 big rocks | Stephen Covey | YOLO video on choosing success. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fmV0gXpXwDU

Covey, S. R., Merrill, A. R., & Merrill, R. R. (1994). First things first: To live, to love, to learn, to leave a legacy. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Gartner, Inc. (2010, August 4). Gartner says the world of work will witness 10 changes during the next 10 years [Press release]. Retrieved from http://www.gartner.com/newsroom/id/1416513

Husband, J. (2013). What is wirearchy? [Web log post]. Retrieved July 15, 2014, from http://wirearchy.com/what-is-wirearchy/

Shirky, C. (2008). Here comes everybody: The power of organizing without organizations. New York: Penguin Press.

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6 thoughts on “This Is My Life. How Did They Know?

  1. Oh, this is my life as well. I sadly cannot remember a family meal where I am not on my phone texting a co-worker about something, or if we’re actually eating at home I don’t have my laptop on the dinner table. Husband’s (2013) description of ‘white water’ is a perfect one, as that is what is feels like, although sometimes it does feel a bit like you’re swirling the drain.

    I’ve found that I truly rely on technology to get the thru and keep me organized. Back in the day it was a Palm Pilot, then a Blackberry, then an iPad and now my iPhone and my iPad as well as my multiple laptops. When I get to the airport to fly out I need 4 bins for my two laptops, my projector and my other miscellany – lucky I’m TSA Precheck most of the time! I’ve got programs that manage my boarding passes, manage my schedule, manage my presentations. But what happens when the batteries run out on these devices? That’s when the interconnectivity kicks in – you start sharing outlets in airports with fellow travelers, juicing up your much needed phones, iPads and the like.

    It’s interesting that you mention work being replaced by robots. Some of the work activity in my industry (medical coding) is currently being replaced by computers using a newer technology called ‘computer assisted coding’. Computers ‘read’ the medical record and apply a diagnosis and procedure code based on logic engines. There is great fear from the medical coders of the country that they will all lose their jobs to computers, although lucky for them, the computers aren’t terribly good at coding, yet.

    Reference:
    Husband, J. (2013). What is wirearchy? [Web log post]. Retrieved July 15, 2014, from http://wirearchy.com/what-is-wirearchy/

  2. Julie Fickas says:

    Joe –
    Great post! In Shirky’s TED talk, he mentioned that the more media there is, the more disagreements there will be. His belief is that this is a new style of arguing that is good for society. In your opinion, has adding more voices to the communication table been beneficial or has it made leadership more difficult because the possibility of adding less productive and more argumentative voices to the table slows decision-making down too much? Public voices in social media can now have a profound effect on decisions made internally in an institution, just to put my thought into context.

  3. What a great reflection, Joe! You nicely captured the life many of us now lead.

    I was thinking about your “organization” – a Catholic school with 1,200 students, 230 teachers and staff, 2,500 parents, and 10,000+ alumni. To me, this means nearly 14,000 individuals with an equal voice that could be heard. It really epitomizes the challenge of filtering we leaders now have!

  4. You know I think it it increases the amount of disagreements. From my experience you may have more to say the younger you are. Most disagreements happen when you have less experience. Simply because you think you have a better idea. As you gain more experience you realize it may have been thought of before.

  5. This previous reply was meant for another post but either way I want to commend you are bringing up a great point. I have no idea what I would do without technology. As I write this comment I keep checking my cell while watching the news and looking on my ipad to see if anyone has replied to my last blog post. Oh my how much is too much. The only technology has not effected in my life is being a taxi for my kids. I still have to drive them to school/work. When can my cell help me with that lol.
    JB

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