Seven years ago, Chris Anderson, recently retired editor-in-chief of WIRED magazine, wrote a groundbreaking book, “The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More”. He contrasted the one-size-fits-all, mass media world in which he grew up with the new Internet-enabled economy that requires business to target increasingly smaller niche markets – ultimately to a market of one unique person. The phrase “long tail”, which has become a catchphrase in business, refers to the decreasing percentage of any market that is commanded by the best-sellers.
This book and others before and after it have influenced the strategy of increasing personalization of products and services. In the industrial era, up to 1970 or so, one-size had to fit all because it was too costly and difficult to do otherwise. Today, that is no longer true, so personalization is a major focus of consumer products corporations.
But the concept of personalization does not have to limited to the consumer realm.
Last week, I met with one of the most respected and innovative California state government agencies. (Yes, there are some stellar public agencies even in a state government that has had more than its share of fiscal and management problems for quite some time.)
The focus of the four-hour meeting was the workforce of the future.
During the course of the discussion, only partly in response to a mini-debate on teleworking, I was prompted to point out that technology today enables different styles of work to occur. It is not like the factory of old where every task was monolithically prescribed.
Instead, those who want to work in an office can do so. Those who want to work at home can do so. Those who want to work in some co-working space with others, who may or may not be in the same organization, can do so.
When we say that many people are now in jobs where they can work anywhere – that even means working where they have always worked.
The results oriented work environment (ROWE) that often accompanies telework program is the sort of program that makes it possible for this to happen. (See my earlier post “Telework: Good For Productivity, Bad For Innovation?" http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/44219104836/telework-good-for-productivity-bad-for-innovation .)
ROWE focuses on work outcomes, not work patterns. While ROWE is neither an all purpose solution to all corporate problems nor yet fully developed, it is a useful way to think about work. From a management viewpoint, it is the outcomes produced by an employee that we really want, even if we would not personally do things the way that employee does.
So this story isn’t just about teleworking. It is true for other aspects of work that we have always assumed required rigid patterns.
This is all not an earth-shaking insight, but just the application of a trend – personalization – that we all know about to an area of life we haven’t thought about in that way. Yes, it is possible to personalize the nature of work.
© 2013 Norman Jacknis