The final word on… workplace trends

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You would not believe the number of firms that ask us to publish a list of workplace trends each week. Or maybe you wouldYou would not believe the number of firms that ask us to publish a list of workplace trends each week. Or maybe you would, given the number that have appeared – and are appearing -elsewhere. Each firm perhaps convinced they are saying something original, unique or interesting, or maybe simply convinced they stand out in some way, while pushing the same timid, stale narratives about the workplace. They will proliferate over the next month or so at the turn of another year.

It goes without saying that the commercialised messages often do little to shine a light on complex realities. In the words of the Scottish poet and anthropologist Andrew Lang, they use information ‘like a drunk uses lamp-posts—for support rather than illumination’.

That is not to say that they things they say are necessarily untrue per se. Narratives exist precisely because they almost always contain a kernel of truth and so help us understand what is going on. We look for these patterns to make sense of an increasingly complex world.

We can all recognise it is a helicopter, but we wouldn’t want to build and fly in one

The author (and arguable genius) Ray Kurzweil described pattern recognition as the ‘basic algorithm of the neocortex’ in his 2012 book How to Create a Mind. The neocortex is the region of the brain responsible for perception, memory, and critical thinking so his theory is an attempt to get to the foundations of how we perceive things and think about them.

The problem with many of the commonly accepted narratives about the world around us is that they are low resolution. They lack detail, nuance, layers of complexity and expertise. They are like a child’s drawing of a helicopter. We can all recognise it is a helicopter, but we wouldn’t want to build and fly in one.

The problem here is not that workplace trends don’t exist, but the way that ideas that have already become mainstream or have been around for a long time are described as ‘trends’. So, activity-based working, flexible working, the gig economy and even coworking all have been around in one form or another for years, decades or even centuries.

If people are going to claim that these ideas are particularly pertinent to the modern world, they need to concede the fact that they are standing on the shoulders of giants.

Then there’s the whole issue of the future of work. Too often this is a reflection or extrapolation of the current world of work, and the predictions made by authors are nothing more than a realisation of ideas that are already well developed and widely implemented. In the longer term, we really have little idea what the workplace will be like. Only that we will almost certainly be wrong in any detailed predictions we make about it, even when we get the generalised predictions right.

 

Bookmarks

OpenAI’s chief scientist made a tragic miscalculation

The OpenAI thing is not your standard startup drama

Letting people* work from home is good for companies’ revenue growth

Deliveroo riders are not employees

The regeneration project that became a £100 million ghost town

Disengage

The average becomes a psychopath when left alone at home (spoof)

In dark times, the miracle that saves the world is to act

The breakdown of the 9 to 5 job makes us lonelier

 

*Salespeople at large multinational corporations. Doesn’t make a good headline though