Economic Life After The Corporation.

Corporations are a major protagonist in the capitalist system. We think of them as the source of the goods and services we accumulate and combine to power our businesses, furnish our homes, enable our communication and mobility, aid our productivity, entertain us, clothe us, protect us, and generally provision us both as businesspeople and consumers. 

When we think of individual items that make up the categories of these goods and services, we often think in terms of innovation: the new iPhone that didn’t exist 20 years ago, or AI chatbots and electric cars, or new clothing styles and fabrics, online shopping with same day delivery, fiber optic cable and cloud computing, streaming video and CRM systems and Quickbooks and run-flat tires. Innovation is the output of corporations.

But corporations themselves have not always been a part of the economy, or central to economic functioning. They were, in fact, a capitalist innovation. Prior to their introduction, in the second half of the 19th century, the more usual form of economics organization was the partnership. This was generally an arrangement of two individuals, sometimes a few more, who came together to collaborate temporarily on a single-purpose business undertaking. The partners typically invested their own money, and did so at one time, since they would expect to finance any future expansion out of the positive cash flow from the business. Mostly, these were small, local businesses although some proved able to generate broader appeal. 

A great example is Josiah Wedgwood, who, along with his partner Thomas Bentley, established his company as a leader in pottery, producing innovations such as creamware and Jasperware (often in the distinctive shade of Wedgwood Blue). The company had an international clientele, including Catherine the Great of Russia and the Queen of England, as well as a large base of affluent households as customers. But the partnership was not a corporation and it was never a big business. 

With the introduction of the limited liability corporation, new vistas of scale and scope emerged. Indeed, the mass production, mass distribution, mass marketing businesses of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century required the new corporate structure to make them possible. The new corporations could recruit investors widely when investors knew that their liability was limited to the amount of their investment. Eventually, stock exchanges, funds and investment clubs would become institutional supports for the growth of large corporations. The emerging corporations could contract with each other for scale implementations never before dreamed of – Standard Oil contracting with railroads to bring affordable illumination in the form of kerosene to every household in America, and Carnegie Steel (and eventually US Steel) contracting for ever more technologically advanced steelmaking equipment to raise the quality and lower of the price of steel for the construction boom across the US. The corporation was an emerging benefit for customers and consumers throughout the world economy.

But all systems can decay. Science calls the process entropy – the leakage of productive work in the form of waste and the loss of clear direction and defined purpose. In the case of corporations, we can detect several forms of entropy. The first is found in their management systems. The corporations were founded by entrepreneurs, purpose-driven individuals aiming to serve the needs of customers and receive the market’s rewards for doing so. These entrepreneurs found that the new scale and scope of operations they had brought into being required a lot of co-ordination that they could not oversee entirely on their own, so they invented management (e.g. supervisors to oversee workers) and specialized departments (e.g. for construction, operations, marketing and sales, accounting, and so on – individuals focused on specialized tasks via division of labor).

After the entrepreneurs passed on and the managers took over the reins, they transformed management systems into command-and control systems. The goals became prediction (planning and projecting business outcomes in advance), precision (no surprises), and power (coercive and administrative sway over the behaviors of employees). These command-and-control systems were dominant in corporate management in the twentieth century.

These systems, in turn, bred three more distortions of the corporate form. The first is bureaucracy, the mechanism for corporate control. Bureaucracy is not externally focused on production for customer value, but internally on control via compliance and procedures, accounting, regulations, and process management. One of the outcomes is that bureaucracies spawn more and more of the jobs and methods of control, to the point where researcher David Graeber (a professor of anthropology at London School of Economics) coined the term “bullshit jobs” to describe them: jobs that have no point implemented by individuals who recognize them as pointless and totally lacking meaning and purpose.

The second distortion takes the form of entanglement with government. This phenomenon was greatly accelerated by the war economies of the First World War and the Second World War. In these periods, government took it upon itself to allocate resources in the economy to serve war purposes rather than customer needs. One of their methods was to appoint “czars” for munitions production and the production and distribution of supplies for the armed forces, and to import CEO’s and senior executives from the private sector to put them in the czar role with command power over the productive firms in the economy. After the wars, the executives returned to the private sector, but their relationship, and that of the corporations they managed, with government had been irreversibly changed. Corporations now found that they could benefit from government protection via regulations, tariffs and laws, and actively sought them in return for considerations such as political donations, subsidized research and construction contracts, and mutually designed policies. Companies like Amazon, Microsoft and Palantir are entangled with government via their contracts for developing government IT and security and AI systems. Banks accept government subsidies and bail-outs. GM was another that accepted government funds and conceded greater compliance. The separation between the private and public sectors is no longer clear.

The third distortion can be encapsulated in the concept of financialization: the financial sector of the economy (what Americans often call “Wall Street”), which corporations initially utilized productively to fund R&D, internal investment and innovation, becomes an extractive, counter-productive and quite dominant influence, eclipsing the productive sector. Corporate priorities shift to financial quantification and away from the purpose of fulfilling the qualitative needs of customers. The financial sector demands predictable, consistent earnings on a quarterly horizon, compromising the investment firms must make in longer-term projects that may not have a pay-off for years rather than this quarter. Firms use stock buybacks to transfer their profits to hedge funds and institutional shareholders rather than fund current innovation projects. Financial markets prefer cost-cutting and budget control to meet quarterly earnings targets over creative innovation. 

These three distortions of the corporate form will lead to a much different economic landscape in the future. Today’s landscape is dominated by the major global corporate entities and their supply chains, and the financial structures that support them including not only stock markets but megabanks, giant pension funds, hedge funds and corporate finance behemoths like Goldman Sachs. Here are three vectors of change.

  1. The ascendancy of the dynamically flexible network.

Customers drive markets. They identify their own needs and then evaluate all the alternative ways of meeting them, ultimately selecting one or more as the best alternative(s) while continuously remaining open to the next new alternative that emerges from the churn of market dynamics. Increasingly today, customers have the option and ability to sort through all the possible business connections to find the suppliers and partners they prefer. They can close off one connection and switch to another and build a customized, dynamic network. Some of the connections may be to big business, but, increasingly, they will be able to connect to innovative new small and emerging firms with novel solutions. They’ll be able to shape these novel solutions to meet their own distinctive needs. The result will be a flatter network of small to medium-sized firms, highly specialized in serving customer needs, interspersed with a few big businesses providing relatively undifferentiated utility services.

  1. A new relationship with financial markets.

The conceptual size of the statistically dominant corporations today is inflated by their relationship with stock markets. It’s convenient for investors and money managers and CFO’s to bundle multiple businesses together in a single stock. Berkshire Hathaway is the poster child. According to Liberated Stock Trade Berkshire Hathaway owns 65 distinct companies divided into a complex web of over 260 subsidiaries. Why? So as to trade Berkshire Hathaway as a single stock. Amazon, Google, and Microsoft are, to a large degree, similarly structured: they operate multiple businesses under a single brand and stock umbrella. They are financial brands rather than operating brands.

Yet stock markets are no longer fundamental for the capital needs of the largest companies. Investors are trading the stock, but the companies are not raising new capital there. They’re actually pumping capital out of the corporation into the coffers of investors via dividends and stock buybacks. Stock markets are drains on the economy’s productive investment in innovation. They serve the interests of the financial sector not the productive sector. Over time, they’ll become less relevant as corporations fund R&D from free cash flow or from private sources other than stock market investors.

  1. A rise in entrepreneurship

Bureaucratization and financialization exert a significant brake on innovation in large corporations. The cost of innovation has gone up for corporations – the cost in time and administrative burden, as well as the sheer deadweight of size that compels the undertaking of larger and larger projects to move the behemoth’s needle. The opposite is true for entrepreneurial projects in smaller and more nimble companies. The cost of entrepreneurship is coming down in small and medium size businesses. Without the bureaucratic overhead, small and medium businesses can quickly experiment with new value propositions, test and explore with real customers, respond to feedback and expand and grow agile new businesses and brands quickly. The cost of operations is greatly reduced by the advent of AI and plug-in supply chains from the Internet. A new business can be tested, launched, expanded and made profitable before the large corporations have completed their budget meeting.

These three shifts will not herald the end of the presence of the corporation in the economy, but will relegate corporations to a subsidiary, residual role.

Customers don’t have problems to solve. They have imagined futures that are better than today.

One view of how businesses succeed is that they solve the problems that people need solving. That’s the “jobs to be done” school of thought, popularized by Clayton Christensen and embraced by many others. This school of thought pictures people’s lives as being full of problems, and the role of entrepreneurship and innovation as fixing them.

Do consumers buy a subscription to Netflix because they have the problem of being bored or repulsed by alternative content? Do startup companies buy cloud services from AWS because they have a computing problem to solve? Does Mom buy frozen dinners to solve the problem of what to feed the kids?

No. It’s the wrong mental model – the wrong way to think about the demand side of economics and the role of businesses in our lives. The energy of economic growth derives not from the negativity of thinking about problems but the positivity of thinking about opportunities for betterment. The capitalist business system is powered by customers’ imaginations. They see the possibility of a better future, a set of circumstances that is different from and preferred to the current state. They imagine this desired state, not so much as a set of features, but as to how they will feel in it. Today’s circumstances may be fine, but there’s always that inner voice that thinks, “Things could be better.” When it’s really important, “Things that matter to me could be better.”

It’s purely an act of creativity. It’s what social scientists call “counterfactual”. People are imagining a future that doesn’t yet exist, yet they can conjure up the future feeling in their mind. There might not even be the possibility of it existing today, because it requires an innovation to bring it about. How brilliant is that? It’s the same level of imagination that Einstein employed to think about relativity and  Niels Bohr used to think through quantum physics, when relativity and quantum theory didn’t yet exist.

It is cognitive acts of counterfactual imagination that drive civilizational advance, the unrelenting seeking of human progress. And the same counterfactual imagination drives commercial innovation, from the iPhone to new flavors of breakfast cereal. Things could be better. Our phones could cease to be tethered so that we can talk on them while walking. They could cease to be clunky so that we can enjoy the elegance of design. They could help us do multiple tasks so that we can carry one device instead of many. Users didn’t invent these functions. Users made them possible by imagining the world as a better place – more convenient, more amenable to our preferences for convenience and speed and aesthetics. By being open to new value propositions, users bring new value into being. 

The other face of the customer’s imagination of future value that’s better than today’s is entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship is the business function that turns the customer’s imagined future into commercial new reality. Entrepreneurship is the second stage of innovative genius, the stage that responds to the customer’s initiation. Entrepreneurship is the imagination of not just the future feeling of satisfaction that the customer feels, but also of the product or service or proposition that delivers the satisfaction. Entrepreneurial imagination becomes more and more substantive over time. It starts with an idea – “what if we were able to….” – that’s framed in an incentive: there could be a significant economic reward from the customer if we are successful in realizing the idea as a deliverable product or service. The process moves from idea to concept to some kind of early-stage artifact (the sketch on the back of a napkin) to prototype and MVP and test market. At every stage there’s a check-in with the customer who is imagining a better future: is this idea / concept / artifact / prototype / MVP aligned with your imagination? Is this what you were thinking? (Because, of course, they don’t “know” what they were thinking. What they had in mind was an abstract desired state. But when prompted with an artifact, they can respond – yes, that sorta/kinda points in the right direction. Such encouragement is sufficient to fuel the entrepreneurial development process.)

There’s an ultimate test of the alignment of the new value proposition with the imagined future state. It’s willingness to pay. If the customer is willing to make an exchange of something valuable to them – usually money or some derivative of money like a credit card payment, but also their time and effort – in return for the new product or service, it must, by definition, feel to them like it will bring about their imagined future state, or at least part of it, or, at the very least, provide a useful test of the viability of reaching that desired state through commerce.

People buy Tesla EV’s. Businesses buy AWS cloud computing services and harness Microsoft’s AI tools to help them succeed. These are all innovations that stimulate the customer’s imagination of a better world – an emissions-free transportation system that counters the trend towards climate change; a world of easy access for all businesses to the most advanced and robust computing power; a world of new learning and experimentation. These are all imagined first by customers – “these things that matter to me could be better” – and then by entrepreneurs in response. It’s not a linear progression, of course. Perhaps the first act of imagination that ultimately led to EV’s was the thought that air pollution from tailpipe emissions is unpleasant. That meme becomes a vector in a complex system where EV’s emerge from an unfathomable number of interactions and consequences and further interactions and new experiments and news cycles and conferences and scientific advances. We can’t untangle it. Reductionism no longer applies. There’s no cause and effect. But EV’s wouldn’t happen without customers imagining a better world in the future.

There’s no place for management any more. What will replace it?

The Drucker Forum has put out a call to management scholars, executives and consultants to “reframe management”.  The existing management model that dominates today’s business practice and education – Drucker Forum calls it the “inflexible machine-management model” – is at odds with today’s complex and unpredictable world. Therefore, they propose, let’s replace this model with another, “The Next Management”.

A more appropriate step would be to recognize that management as a concept is no longer needed and no longer valid. There should be no “management”, whether the old model or a new one. When business sensed the need for management as a rational approach to bring order to the new scales of mass production, mass distribution and mass marketing that the Industrial Revolution made possible, the science of complex systems had not been formalized. This science, specifically the science of complex adaptive systems or complex evolving systems is genuinely new. The business world didn’t have its insights and findings when management was invented. They had Newtonian physics; economics aspired to be like physics; and management looked to economics for initial guidance. 

We now have the opportunity to learn from the latest advances in systems science.

Business firms, industries and economies can themselves be viewed as a member of a class of complex evolving systems. Evolving systems display these three attributes.

1. They are composed of numerous diverse and interacting components that have the potential to combine in vast numbers of different configurations – a multiplicity of emergent structures. It is impossible to predict the configurations that will emerge, which will be successful, which will survive and which will die.

2. The multiplicity of new configurations is autocatalytically generated, simply from the interaction, combination and recombination of the components. More firms are born than survive, more projects and business models are created and tested than actually persist and become established.

  • The term autocatalysis introduces one of a number of related principles from systems science that are fundamental for emergence: self-organization, autopoiesis, self-creation. They all relate to the idea of evolution: that there is constant endogenous change that has its own energy and can’t be stopped or even influenced by exogenous forces.

3. In the multiplicity of new emergent configurations, as in evolution, there are winners and losers, those that survive and thrive and those that don’t. Winners are established through a process of selection. Configurations are preferentially selected based on function (sometimes referred to as fitness, as in fitness for a purpose).

Among business firms, the function that is selected is the creation of value for customers. The market is the selection mechanism, through customers’ willingness or unwillingness to pay for value.

The functional capacity for value creation is determined by functional knowledge – knowledge of what actions are advantaged in value creation. There is actually a scientific law in play: the law of increasing functional information, that the system will evolve (its functional information will increase) if many configurations of the system undergo selection for function. Firms are knowledge building systems utilizing experimentation to generate new knowledge.

Therefore, the function of “management” – which can be thought of as an arrangement to attempt to bring developmental order to a firm, making the results it achieves more predictable and controllable – is replaced by experimentation, a number of concurrent trials, tests and bets with no attempt to predict or control outcomes since no predictability is conceivable. 

There’s an equivalent in economics, which is entrepreneurship: action under absolute uncertainty. Entrepreneurship is a mindset of imagining multiple possible futures and setting in motion a selected set of experiments from which one of those futures will autocatalytically emerge through the mechanism of creating value for customers, a value that is unpredictable from the entrepreneurial perspective because there is too much swirling change in the evolving ecosystem for any prediction or estimation.

Management as a rational approach to bring order has no role to play. Decision problems are no longer well defined, and therefore not amenable to rationality. The challenge is to translate knowledge and expertise into new experiments, without predicting how they will work or what the payoffs might be. This challenge can’t be conceived as management in any form. Entrepreneurship is the method to establish new starting conditions for new value creation, and market selection will take care of future allocation of resources between winners and losers.

Value Geeks

What is The Geek Way? Andy McAfee has just released a book with that title, in which he writes about the organizational culture of modern business firms who have achieved extraordinary results in a short period of time. He’s taking about Netflix and amazon and Microsoft and Apple and their Silicon Valley neighbors. These are all tech firms, but McAfee is not focused on the technology behind their products and services, but on the culture and mental models of their organizational setup and their managerial practices.

He calls their approach to organization and business “The Geek Way” as a device to separate their thinking from that of the typical business school where it is believed that study and analysis by wise observers can deliver some general propositions about how to run a successful business. Geeks believe the opposite: that there are no generalizable propositions and that learning does not come from others but from within oneself and within the firm. It’s cultural.

Geeks focus on a narrowly defined subject matter, and then dig into it deeply with insatiable curiosity and love of experimentation. They’re not pre-committed to any outcome of their experiments and they certainly don’t concern themselves with conventional wisdom or majority opinion. They go wherever their inquiries take them

McAfee’s book is about management geeks. Discarding conventional business school teaching about how to manage firms, the geeks the author studies think from first principles about how to manage the new firms that have emerged in the digital era and which don’t seem to conform to industrial age thinking about command-and-control management structures, hierarchical organization and business planning. The new age companies flow. They’re not managed.

McAfee proposes that there are 4 guiding principles for management geeks: speed, ownership, science and openness. Speed refers to speed of iteration – the capacity to run lots of experiments that can be quickly mounted, analyzed, interpreted and used as design feedback for the next version, next step, or next move. Ownership refers to the removal of bureaucratic barriers to rapid decision making – distributing both authority and accountability so that the right individual can make – and own – a decision without running it up too many flagpoles or organizational hierarchies. Science refers to the determination of good and bad ideas through the scientific method of falsification. A good example is an A-B test: rather than making a decision about red versus blue as a color choice, run an A-B test with customers and let the response data point to the better choice. It’s better than HiPPO – the highest paid person’s opinion. Openness refers to bringing all opinions and arguments for and against any proposition to the table without any deference to hierarchy or supposed expertise. Argumentation rather than consensus is the method to get to agreement on how to proceed. Once the argument is resolved everyone moves on in unison.

The problem with the Geek Way that McAfee describes is its introversion. Geeks tend to be introverted, unconcerned with the opinions and preferences of others and entirely concerned with their own projects, their own firms, and their own technology platforms. But that won’t do for business success. 

The purpose of business is to create value for customers. Those who work at building and growing a healthy business need to be Value Geeks not management geeks. To do so requires an extroverted approach – always looking outwards to the customer and the market, listening to customers’ hopes and concerns, translating the signals that the market sends, and turning them into ideas and projects for new and better ways to provide value in response.

The algorithm for Value Geeks is different than the one for management geeks. The four guiding principles are:

Empathy – the number one mindset and most important skillset for value geeks is empathy, the ability to identify the customer’s mental model of a desired state compared to their current state, and to be able to think like they think when ideas and propositions are run through that mental model. Value geeks can’t feel what customer’s feel – that’s a false claim for empathy – but they can simulate how they think and the implied consequences for choices they will make in the future.

Creativity – via empathy, value geeks understand customer dissatisfactions, what customers are uneasy about in their current circumstances, what they think could be better in the future or under different circumstances. But customers can’t invent new solutions; they’re not the innovators. How do innovative businesses create new value and new solutions? It requires creativity, that magic, unpredictable leap of imagination to a place that no one’s gone before. Value geeks prize creativity above all, because it holds the promise of novelty and surprise, the keys to new value. Will every creative idea be a winner? Of course not, so value geeks test and probe and experiment to add more substance and certainty until one of them is ready for market. But it’s creativity that is the essential ingredient to get the value process started.

Value Propositions –  the form of the experiment to test for market acceptance is the value proposition, a promise to the customer that a product or service or experience proposed in a business offering will deliver a benefit that the customer will value. A value proposition incorporates the idea that the business listened to and understood the customer’s needs, creatively translated the customer’s signal into an innovation, and is humbly offering it for customer evaluation. A value proposition is an exquisite act of design and a persuasive act of communication, a promise that entices and a promise that is kept. Value propositions are creative art and delivery science, offered with the humility of hoping to get it right while ever-willing to improve.

Learning – value is a process, a learning process. For the customer, it’s the process of identifying, selecting, purchasing, using, experiencing and evaluating. The customer can’t know exactly what the experience will be in advance. They learn, and they evaluate by comparing actual with expected value. Similarly, the business making the value proposition is learning, too. They learned enough about needs to make a responsive design, and they subsequently learn from the customer’s evaluation of their experience how accurate the design turned out to be, and how to improve it if it’s off-target in any way. Learning is accomplished through open recursive feedback loops from the customer to the business. Value geeks welcome feedback and seek it out at every point in the process because they love to learn. Learning is fuel for value.

Empathy, creativity, value propositions, learning. These are the 4 guiding principles for that make up the value geek way. 

Let’s stop calling creative and innovative businesses “small”.

The government and business media and sideline observers want to call your business small. That categorization applies to more than 99% of business firms in the USA. So someone’s missing something about the nature of the business economy. Small business makes the biggest contribution.

The error lies in misunderstanding systems thinking. The reason why people start and nurture small businesses is that they have an imagined idea for a new and better future – a better product, a better service, a better membership club, a better environment for office workers, whatever it may be – and they work with other people to try to bring it about. The other people they work with may be customers, partners, supply chain elements or employees; the business owner figures out the best network. The network and the connections and the information flows are never small. Today, thanks to the internet and collaboration software and communications, the network is the whole world. Any so-called small business can link to and orchestrate the world’s resources, the world’s designers, and the world’s imagination to bring value to its customers. What’s small about that?

Cynthia Kaye is one small business owner and consultant who fully recognizes the implications of thinking about the scale of the network rather than the scale of one node. First, it requires big thinking. What is the best way to harness the global resources to which business has access? What is the best service for customers? What’s the best way to provide service to customers?

For example, in her own business of video production, she has defined many ways in which her company can be the best. For example, being the best at getting the most out of the client’s budget. That’s a compelling value proposition and a genuinely unique claim. To deliver requires knowledge, experience, imagination, creativity, relationships, control, and meticulous attention to detail – all of which can be combined in an unsurpassed combination recognized by clients as superior. 

Economic growth and value creation come from using imagination and experience to create new knowledge: a surprise, a revelation, an exceeding of expectations. Imagination is not a product of scale but of creativity. 

Cynthia translates this big thinking into big opportunity. Often, this comes from growing with a client. That growth can begin parallel with a small customer – growing together through co-creation and collaboration. It can also come from small business supplier serving big business so well that more and more revenue is directed their way. The resultant shared growth benefits both parties. Is that big or small? It’s actually unrestrained, unlimited, unbounded. 

From this collaborative networked co-creation process comes big success. We know from Hermann Simon’s database of Hidden Champions that so-called small business can outperform big business in many ways, including higher revenue per employee, higher profit margins, greater employee retention, longer and stronger customer relationships, and more innovation and investment in R&D and new projects and capital equipment. Hidden Champions is a better descriptive term than small business. 

Small business shouldn’t be hidden or ignored – it should be celebrated, lauded, cheered on and loved. Small business is the economic system that generates the prosperity we all enjoy. 

The hybrid workplace is an excellent example of emergence in a complex evolving system.

Management thinking about business and how work gets done to generate value for customers requires radical revision. Happily, the understanding of complex evolving systems is improving, at least to the point that we can recognize and embrace the consequences of emergence – that property of evolving systems that results in new phenomena and new traits and new patterns that could never have been predicted based on our prior knowledge. We can’t predict future developments of our own systems. We can only observe emergent developments as they occur.

One example of an emergent pattern that no-one predicted is the hybrid workplace. This is the new condition of the office or factory in which the elements of where we do work and how we do work and how we synchronize work with each other have changed beyond recognition. Some people might be in physical proximity in a meeting or gathering, while others are remotely connected through technology from another physical location, and the tools and devices and machines and data we use are in yet another physical place and another digital dimension. Everything is in motion and the relationships between them are fluid.

How can the hybrid workplace be managed for value generation and productivity? Yesterday’s management techniques of hierarchical control no longer fit very well. Two of the best experts to address the challenges of the hybrid workplace are Julie Kantor and Felice Ekelman, authors of the book Thrive With A Hybrid Workplace. Here’s what they say.

First, focus on culture. Culture is a value proposition for employees. Some bosses have claimed that corporate culture can not survive the hybrid workplace without an office or factory where people spend extended periods of time together on a regular basis. But culture stems from intentionality – what kind of a culture do you intend to nurture? Culture is a function of the things that matter to employees, which can include learning and progressing, empowerment, shared vision, connection, collaboration and trust. These are all subjectively evaluated, and it is entirely possible to shape the appropriate value proposition when the right intent is employed and declared. Whether work is hybrid or 100% in-person and on-premise does not have to be the governing variable. Empathy – understanding the things that matter to individual employees – is the binding force.

Second, embrace change. Evolutionary biology suggests that humans prefer predictability and stability to change. But in the emergent upheaval that brought us the hybrid workplace, change came to the forefront. Changes in work habits and practices, changes in relationships and collaboration possibilities, changes in the very nature of work. Part of the new value proposition for employees is that we all are swimming in the river of change together, and we should all be open to the excitement and energy of the experience.

Third, redefine connection. In complex evolving systems, it is the connection and interaction between individuals that opens up new pathways to productivity and value generation. Julie Kantor calls this connection interpersonal glue. If there’s no glue, teams find it harder to work through challenges and conflicts. Julie urges us to find new ways of networking, new forms of “dropping by”, and new forms of mentoring, and new ways of connecting in general.

Communicating and collaboration  take new forms as well, when the medium of connection changes. We should be newly sensitive to the subjective interpretation of our communications when they come in new formats (e.g. e-mail and text compared to in-person). “How can I help” becomes the new expression of connection – making communication inbound and not just outbound, and declaring the intent to collaborate. 

Be a coach rather than a manager. Coaching is a commitment to help individuals evolve as the ecosystem changes. Coaching involves observation and active listening rather than giving instructions. Coaching provides resources, but doesn’t specify how to use the resources. Coaching facilitates but does not prescribe. Every individual should receive coaching.

With new mindsets, the hybrid workplace can be even more productive than its more restrictive predecessor workplace. Responsiveness to the real things that matter to employees can be tuned to any kind of workplace, including one that changes all the time.