The Techno-Utopians who are delighted to have their faith in Progress so strongly validated.
The Techno-Dystopians who are suspicious of any perceived effort to sweep the excesses of the Industrial Age under rug.
The Compassionate Core who deeply resonate with the positive solutions described in the book, but are rightly concerned with unintended consequences, collateral damage and overreaching as we try to get there.
While we’re deeply grateful for the enthusiasm of the first camp, we know that for the book and its ideas to get real traction, we have to be able to speak directly to the concerns of the latter two camps. That got us thinking, about the last bit in particular—as we try to get there—and prompted us to take a crack at a deeper response to the foundational question of how we practically bring Abundance about.
We’re going to lay out the skeleton of the argument here and look forward to feedback, pushback and commments. Over time, we’ll flesh this out into a more mature essay; for now, we’re stoked to get the conversation going.
Big Idea: While the Future may indeed be better than we think, it will evolve faster and less predictably than anything we’ve ever experienced. Anyone “fighting the last war” and applying 20th century methods of predict and control management to their projects, products and organizations will be left behind. But those able to harness the fluidity and agility of the peak performance state will be poised to create and share more value than ever.
Abundance examines three emerging forces—the Technophilanthropists, DIY Innovator and the Rising Billion—that are driving us toward a better tomorrow. Here is a quick look at how Flow can impact each in turn:
Key Point 1: Technophilanthropists
Leaders will have to focus on their own vertical development as aggressively as they used to focus on their horizontal skills (conscious complexity vs. categorical competence.) Flow States are the secret sauce to accelerating vertical development—turbo-charging practice and mastery efforts, as well as providing extended optimum experiences that, in turn, create somatic markers for future development. Leaders who can harness this accelerated learning will be poised to solve more complex problems faster, and play an outsized role in stewarding the future.
Key Point 2: Harnessing the DIY Ethos: entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship
At the core of the DIY phenomena is an incredibly motivated workforce. What’s driving all of this productivity? In technical terms, the autotelic experience–the irresistible pursuit that has its own intrinsic reward for doing. Since tinkering is its own reward, DIY’ers never need to look for outside motivation. They innovate because they have to. This autotelic drive is something that all organizations, from single-person shops to multinational corporations, need to harness.
It’s for this reason that, in a recent Forbes piece: Five New Management Metrics You Need to Know
, Greylock Partners’ venture capitalist James Slavet advocates that the amount of time your knowledge workers spend deep in Flow states is the single biggest indicator of value creation.
In light of this, managers will have to reconsider their role—from tuning cogs in machines to curating conditions for innovation. Experience designers and culture architects will rapidly outpace mechanistic managers as they attract and engage employees, freelancers, partners and customers to collaboratively generate content and design. Rather than extracting value from human resources, companies will need to leverage compounding value from human capital.
And it’s not like the current state of the art in org design is getting us there. Open workspaces, extended team projects, doorless offices–all sound great in theory but suck in practice. In the New York Times’ Rise of the New GroupThink
, Flow founder Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi suggests that many of the well-intentioned effort of the last decade to foster workplace collaboration and teamwork have been woefully counterproductive, and companies should replace them with a combination of light socializing butressed by long stretches of uninterrupted deep work (doors closed).
Whether we’re talking about large organizations, or startup incubators, it’s clear the output of knowledge workers and innovators is non-linear and non-fungible–meaning, the best contribute outsize value, but they can only do their best when they’re at their best. Crappy conditions will shut down innovation much faster than they would the more durable skills of computation and assembly.
“Someone who is exceptional in their role is not just a little better than someone who is pretty good,” Mark Zuckerberg argued when asked why he was willing to pay $47 million to acquire FriendFeed, a price that translated to about $4 million per employee. “They are 100 times better.”
And while we’d all do well to hold Zuckerberg’s HR strategy loosely, he’s not the only seasoned Silicon Valley entrepreneur who thinks like thiis–Netscape and Ning founder Marc Andreesen argues “Five great programmers can completely outperform 1,000 mediocre programmers.”
So one Great can outperform many Mediocres (think massive returns on payroll).
But if the conditions aren’t right (think Death by Meeting and distraction riddled open-plan workspaces that Csikszentmihalyi details) many Greats can be reduced to just Pretty Goods–wasting whatever investment it took to land them, and missing whatever exponential value they could have created.
So creating Flow based work environs offers tremendous opportunity to unlock maximum innovation and performance from teams–keeping top performers at their peak, and bringing the rank and file well above the collective mean.
“The only sustainable competitive advantage is to create an organization that learns faster than the competition”
–Arie de Geus
, former executive Royal Dutch Shell and author of The Living Company
Key Point 3: (Rising Billion–Blunting the Blow of Disruptive Innovation)
Here’s our argument for that last camp of readers of Abundance–the Compassionate Core–the ones who are willing to try on the ideas of salvation-through-Progress, but need some credible assurance that it’s a big enough tent for all.
Maslow had it wrong–the strive for transcendence doesn’t wait until all other needs are fulfilled, instead, it co-arises with the lumpy and imperfect unfolding of human experience.
Transcendence–it’s not just for the housewives of Marin
That’s an incredibly powerful one-two punch–harnessing our highest need for transcendence to our most immediate needs for survival. And those three factors that Pink describes–Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose overlap pretty neatly with the exact factors that precipitate Flow.
Sure, the Times are indeed a-changing and millions are finding themselves on the sharp end of Schumpter’screative destruction, but that doesn’t mean it’s a downhill slide into McWorld. People all over the globe have access to information and communication tools that didn’t exist even five years ago. Once trapped behind centuries-old walls of language, race, class, faith, gender and geography–world citizens can now find their tribes of choice beyond their tribes of birth.
If Pink is describing how to Drive, then Flow simply tells us how to hit the turbo button.
And this presents a tremendous opportunity for Flow to serve the accelerating collective commons. Chris Anderson’s hugely popular 2010 TED talk on how YouTube is amping up the rate of innovation
maps the snowball effect that tech-enabled cross-pollination can have on otherwise disparate communities of practice. Whether it’s skateboarders, breakdancers, or social entrepreneurs, the impact is the same. I get better faster because I see what you’re doing sooner. We all borrow to build better quicker.
With the dematerialization of knowledge and training (moving from within the walls of the Ivory Tower and the IP vaults of corporations, to beyond the constraints of place and time) more people have more access to what lights them up than ever before.
And when they find that essential combination of Needs and Dreams, they learn, create, share, and iterate with others just like them around the world–for pennies, not fortunes, and in days, not decades.
But the value they might create–whether it’s a skylight made of an empty water bottle
from the shantytowns of Brazil or an electric windmill from the African plains–can ripple back out into the very same rising tide of humanity that prompted the need in the first place.
A billion pesos here, a billion rupees there–pretty soon, you’re talking real money–and real impact.
Stay Tuned For The Follow Up Chapters of Hacking Abundance