“The Great Resignation” is Clickbait

Paul Millerd, author of The Pathless Path, in an interview with Sara Campbell, points out:

This might surprise you but I think the framing of “The Great Resignation” is off. It seems like a successful media narrative that has helped generate clicks but doesn’t really get to the heart of what’s happening. The “great resignation” framing suggests there is a massive exit from employment happening. It’s not clear that’s the case…… Going deeper, however, I do there is a much more interesting shift happening. Before the pandemic when I talked to people about work, there was a lot of shame attached to the conversation. Previous generations resisted these conversations forcefully. Part of this was survival — there weren’t great alternatives to traditional employment. That’s no longer the case and people are starting to wake up to it.  

This is a great interview and worth reading. This comment really resonated with me, especially as I have started to contemplate the next phase of my life and my relationship with work.

With work as the central organizing principle of my life, the most important things were to always be progressing, improving, and achieving. One thing that’s helped me is to step back and try to define what work really is. This has enabled me to shift away from simply seeing work as something that comes with a paycheck towards it as any sort of activity worth doing.

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Future Shocked

It has been 50 years this month since Alvin and Heidi Toffler published their book, Future Shock. The Tofflers have since passed on to the next plane. However, they have left behind a work, that is amazingly prescient, especially when seen in the context of the current pandemic and its impact on society. “The future … Continue reading Future Shocked

What Work

Uber and Lyft, in response to a California court ruling that all drivers must be reclassified as employees with benefits, are threatening to quit doing business in the state. Putting the news, and the legal posturing of Uber and Lyft aside, the judgment and its possible impact on other gig-economy companies that rely on independent contractors will … Continue reading What Work

The Power of Distributed

Talent is evenly distributed around the globe, but opportunity is not.

Nearly 15 years ago, I would often talk to young Matt about many topics including WordPress, the changing dynamics of media and how work will change. He taught me a lot about open source software. I talked about broadband, connectivity, and connectedness. In 2004, I wrote a piece called, Escape from Silicon Valley. In that story, I looked at how broadband was inspiring founders to go “broadband” instead of going west.

I had launched a blog called WebWorkerDaily, and like many of our initial efforts (NewTeeVee and Earth2Tech), it came a little too soon to the market. I believed that the Internet’s killer app would be work and if you look around today, many find work on the Internet. Others find the demand for their skills. And hundreds of millions use the Internet to get the job done.

Matt would eventually help kickstart a movement — WordPress and then start a company, Automattic, and in the process become the biggest escapee from Silicon Valley.

Now here we are in 2019, and Automattic has grown to 900 employees working from 68 countries. I’ve learned so much about distributed work. I know it’s the right path.

Today, he launched a blog and podcast to share the lessons he has learned from being part of a fully distributed company, one which looks beyond the confines of dogma and conventional Silicon Valley thinking to find an edge and a way forward. He is talking to other executives and founders who are using distributed work as a core business philosophy so that others can learn from each other.

How can we work better and smarter in the decades to come—and what’s the moral imperative driving our desire to change? How can we build a more inclusive world, in which everyone has an opportunity to shine?

Subscribe to Distributed on Apple Podcasts, or wherever you like to listen.

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What I Wrote in 2010: a Look Back

Over the weekend I came across the Watchdog series on Stat News, which takes a long investigative view of science, scientific claims and hype. “Periodically in this column, we’ll take a look back at claims made by scientists five years earlier to see how they hold up, and if they were off-target, explore why. Think of it as Five Year Watch,” science journalists Adam Marcus and Ivan Oransky write.

What a wonderful idea, I thought. It reminded me of John Gruber’s Claim Chowder series for his Daring Fireball. Meanwhile my good friend and WordPress.com co-creator Matt Mullenweg recently wondered on his blog if there could be a site that covers “the top headlines on Techmeme 6, 12, or 18 months after they happened.” Another capital idea.

These guys have inspired me to apply the Marcus-Oransky approach to my own writing and claims I made in 2010.

Deciding to give an accountability report was the easy part. The hard part was scrolling back to articles from 2010. I don’t know how and when, but the search and archives on the old Gigaom site mutated and are practically impossible to use. Thank God for Google and its “keyword site:url” capabilities to sift through the piles of web information.

The whole searching exercise made me realize that the tech industry’s rigorous focus on the future has left little or no room to think about the past and what it gives as context. Instead, as Nova Spivack told me in 2010, the 21st century is all about the present. “The Now is getting shorter,” Spivack said. “The horizon is getting narrower. Now has gone from days to hours to seconds. Every new service competes for fraction of a fraction of our free time. Or displaces something else which has that time.” Spivack was spot-on: Our now is even more fractional than it used to be.

Anyway, back to the archives. There were quite a few things that happened in 2010: Square readers became available, the Nexus series of devices started to make their way onto the planet, the iPad launched amid a lot of fanfare, AWS started to change the dynamics of startups, the cord-cutting movement gained momentum and, of course, Apple introduced Ping.

I wrote about 100 blog posts over the entire year, and if you discount the news items, that leaves 30-odd pieces that matter. A quick scan made it clear that I was mostly half right and mostly half wrong. Jokes aside, if I were to rate myself, it would be 5.75 on a scale of 10. I am going to continue to do reality checks on my posts from 2010 over the next month or so, but let’s start with just three pieces today.

What I Got Wrong

My early optimism for Ping was much like thinking a team could win the World Series thanks to the trades it made in December. I was not a little off. I was flat-out “what the hell was I smoking” wrong. Apple is even now woefully clueless about social and, to a large extent, modern internet software. Ping is no longer pinging, though Apple keeps trying to push the follow-the-artist idea in its Apple Music.

The idea of applying social discovery to apps is still a distant dream, a lost opportunity that has allowed Facebook to build a multi-billion-dollar revenue stream based on app discovery. Social discovery, not only at Apple but also elsewhere on the internet, has run into the buzz saw of economic realities. Just as search that works too well doesn’t make money, efficient social discovery doesn’t make the billions that keep investors happy.

What I Got Right

Like Apple, Google’s social efforts have been akin to that of a robot. In my piece “Slide, Vic Gundotra and the Un-Social Reality of Google,” I pointed out that the Slide purchase was a dumb idea, Vic wasn’t the man for the job and Google was, well, Google. “It knows how to tweak machines and make them do unfathomable things,” I wrote. “But what it can’t do is internalize empathy. It doesn’t know feelings. It doesn’t comprehend that relationships are more than a mere algorithm.” Five years later, Vic is gone, Google is still un-social and Facebook is still kicking it in the tush.

What I Wish I Had Written About More

I had started WebWorkerDaily as a site that chronicled the trials and tribulations of working anywhere, without any shackles. It slowly evolved into a site about “working connected,” and that led to the all-too-soon conference called the Future of Work. The piece outlining the reasons for hosting that conference — apart from making money — is probably one of my favorite blog posts from 2010. It’s about how connectedness changes the idea of work and the workplace and how it will redefine our understanding of work. Here is what I wrote five years ago:

For the longest time, the concept of work had been be confined and defined by two parameters: space and time. We all used to go to a central location to work. We would work at our nine-to-five jobs, then come home, watch television, read a little, go to sleep, and start all over again.

Just as time would define our work and our life, space or location would define industries. Automobiles blossomed in Detroit. Filmmaking and television flourished in California. Fashion thrived in Paris. Publishing and advertising found a home in New York City and in these locations, business giants of the 20th century attracted hundreds of thousands of workers.

With the rise of broadband, a new factor has come into play: connectedness. Connectedness allows companies big and small to exist as a stateless entity. Today, a startup can offer a new device dreamed up and designed in California, manufactured in China and sold in Europe with support services being in India or the Philippines.

It is not just startups; companies as large as Cisco Systems and Nokia are working across different time zones, accomplishing different tasks and functioning like a beast that never sleeps. Thanks to connectedness, the old-fashioned notions of space and time are soon going to be rendered moot. How can a day end at 5:00 p.m. when half your team is spread across multiple time zones?

The shift to this new work has opened up many new opportunities, including the transition to cloud-based software and services. While I didn’t write about the momentous shift in how we work, I did manage to invest in two companies that benefited from this shift to the connected workplace: Socialcast (which was acquired by VMWare), on behalf of True Ventures, and Slack, as an angel investor.

The shifting notion of work and workplaces continues to be a theme that intrigues me. That’s why I’m exploring it in-depth with Jennifer Magnolfi in my next Pi.co interview.

Nov. 30, 2015, San Francisco

Additional Reading and Links

  1. “The Watchdogs,” Stat News
  2. “Journalistic Accountability,” Ma.tt
  3. Claim Chowder,” Daring Fireball
  4. “The New Now,” Gigaom
  5. “Why Ping Is the Future of Social Commerce,” Gigaom
  6. “Slide, Vic Gundotra & the Un-Social Reality of Google,” Gigaom
  7. “The Internet’s Next Killer App: Work,” Gigaom

Photo by me: A duck sunning on a deck in Sausalito’s floating houseboat colony. Lucia M-Monochrom with Lecia f2/35mm Summicron lens.