The 100 Year Life

I’m live blogging from the 2018 ChangeBoard future talent conference. Emma Birchall spoke about the 100 year life. I found this session fascinating.

Emma’s Nana is 1 of 14 kids, there are 74 grandkids – that’s Nana’s secret to a long and happy life.

Education/ Workforce / Retirement. A 3 stage life. Organisations could plan and understand around this. Similar cohorts, lock step with peers.

As life expectancy increases – those extra years are added to the retirement phase of life. Someone starting work at 20 working to 60, living to 100 is balancing work and retirement 1 to 1

When Germany introduced a pension for 70 – average age expectancy was 48.

The 3 stage life model is breaking, the stages will blur and blend.

We manage tangible assets like homes, savings, Emma suggests we apply same rigour to intangible assets – productivity, vitality, change/transformation.

Productivity – skills/professions change – how can we anticipate what will be needed? Emma highlighted an absence of development after school, unless you’re senior management, you might get some investment in you then. What signals do we send to each other around learning and development? Look at your own diary, have you made any time for learning? Peer review – support. [During another subsequent talk the UK was referred to as one of the countries in the EU with the lowest investment in personal development per head].

Vitality – more than ‘have I done my mindfulness app this evening?’ Coping with burnout. Rest and recuperation – should we take more sabbaticals? Rethink the sequencing and pacing of working life. Peer network – friends and family. Younger people in particular leave because friendships are hard to maintain. Unpredictable long hours also affect this.

Transformation – historically we move into work and out again – broadly with people our own age. This is changing a lot, we need to get better at dealing with this change, can we reinvent ourselves? Know thyself, what drives you? As someone in his 50s moving more intentionally into the arts, this challenge resonates with me, and excites me too. A diverse network helps, your peers and friends less likely to assist here, they’re too similar to you.

Back To School : What Does Good Work Feel Like?

When I was 13 years old, I had no idea what my career path might look like. Some days I’m still not sure! How about you?

I recently accepted an invitation to talk about my career with some groups of Year 8 students at a local school. Bearing in mind my own lack of career clarity, as I was planning what to say I thought I’d try something a little different. Instead of trying to describe my meandering career path in detail, I decided to invite some discussion among the groups, starting with a conversation about what good work looks and feels like.


Before visiting the school, I posed the question about what good work looks like (which quickly morphed into what good work feels like) on a few social networks. People were very generous with their responses, and I’ve compiled them all into a ‘What Does Good Work Look and Feel Like to You‘ file for you to read and enjoy. At the risk of compressing an excellent series of exchanges too tightly, here are one or two comments which stand out for me.

Good work means I know my effort makes a difference, where I know I am valued, as I am listened to, treated fairly, and where the quality of my work speaks for itself and I and others can see results.

Hey Doug, sorry I’m late to the discussion, and I think I’m more drawn to the question of what does good work FEEL like… I’m reminded of ‘all that glitters is not gold’. So what does good feel like? When I’m involved in something that reflects my values. Also, good doesn’t need to have an outcome… What do you and others think? (‘good’ question! :-))

Leaving formerly unhappy people feeling content and at ease. Doing something that makes people smile like their faces might split. Doing something brave that helps others break new ground. Work that fills your heart as well as your mind. 

A sense of needing satisfaction, of the tension between competence and challenge, and making a difference all feature in the replies. I recommend taking the time to have a read through – it’s well worth it.

Back to School

It’s tempting to think that because I’ve been invited in to speak, I must therefore have some wisdom to impart. I’m usually more interested in what others have to say, and when I asked the students the question about what good work feels like – they were responsive, succinct, and imaginative. It’s interesting to note that in one of the replies above is the comment ‘When I’m involved in something that reflects my values.’ Being involved, doing things with others, not to others – that matters to me, and judging by how the kids chose to respond, I’m confident it matters to them too. Here are just a few of their excellent suggestions about what good work feels like.

  • You put effort into it
  • It’s satisfying
  • You’ve done your best
  • It has a deeper meaning
  • It’s what you want it to look like
  • Makes you think
  • Creative
  • You put your heart into it
  • You put time into it
  • You chose it

Organisational Development and Art

We talked a little about organisational development, and after seeking advice from my 15 year old daughter beforehand, I used the metaphor of a bicycle to describe some of my work. This way we had a common point of reference which made it easier for us to talk about the importance of exploring and improving performance. ‘At first glance – fixing this old bike which has flat tyres might look easy. How might you fix the problem, and what might you do if the bike still doesn’t ride well after the repair?’ We quickly began to appreciate the importance of the whole system: bike, rider, environment etc. Huge thanks to Keira for the inspiration.

We talked a little about art and how it is subjective. I offered up a painting which we discussed and described, quickly realising that although we’re all looking at the same thing, we all see it differently. I suggested that when exploring organisational performance, there are nearly always multiple paths to explore – be open to the possibilities and don’t get too hung up on the need for certainty. We finished with a quick look at the free art project, which I offered up as a way of developing a sense of connection with community.

Thanks to the school kids and everyone who responded to the initial question, you all helped to make an inclusive, interesting exchange. After I left the school, I shared the responses from the classroom with a friend. She replied:

GOOD WORK indeed! I LOVE that. [This exchange] will give them agency all their working life; they will remember. Fantastic energy from the words.

What does good work feel like to you?


Notes From A Big Tent

Here are my notes (they read more like a series of brain farts) from last week’s The Future of Work is Human Big Tent event.

Hosts : Robert Phillips and Peter Cheese

Speakers : Adrian Chiles, Veronica Hope Halley, Lynda Gratton, Luke Johnson, Amanda McKenzie, Tristram Hunt, Anthony Painter, Jan Gooding, Sir Ian Cheshire. Where I’ve ‘quoted’ the speakers, this was my best attempt to catch what they said, word for word. I apologise if I’ve made any errors.

Making a wish was a thread through this event, before and during. A few days before the event, we were invited to ‘make a wish’ to be displayed on our lanyards. I wish that… we would all be a little kinder to one another, that was my choice. On arrival there was a wish wall, to which I added ‘I wish I didn’t feel so nervous right now’. The event was in two parts. The first was titled ‘How can/will the future of work be human?  What condition are we in?’ and the second section was called ‘How can we accelerate, support and develop a more human future of work? What is our theory of change?’

Robert kicked off the event by reading out some wishes from 10 year old kids:

‘I wish I felt less pressure’
‘I wish we were each given five pounds, and split into groups to try and make more money’
‘I wish for less demerits, and to hear everyone’s side of the story’
‘I wish they’d teach us skills that will be useful when we’re older’

Round One : How can/will the future of work be human?  What condition are we in?

Adrian spoke about difference as he has experienced it, through making programmes for television including one about religion, and another exploring why people from his home town in the West Midlands chose to vote leave in the EU referendum. His learning seemed to be mostly about difference, and observing that people feel angry and not listened to. ‘We simply don’t talk to one another enough’ is his suggestion. I agree – and I also agreed with his observation about the need for more diversity in the room. Adrian put forward a view that our willingness to seek and listen to different opinions diminishes with age. He had no data to back this up and I don’t agree with him, it feels over simplified and stereotypical. I meet as many young people set in their ways as I do older ones who are open to different possibilities, and vice versa.

Veronica spoke about power. ‘With the privilege of power and the privilege of choice, comes the duty of responsibility’. She referenced the EU referendum as an example of ’the powerless having power’ and suggested that if we are feeling post Brexit discomfort, get used to it, that’s how most people feel most of the time. Veronica also spoke about a need to focus less on leadership skills, and more on behaviours.

Lynda spoke about how things need to change as we live longer. Lynda used three fictional people as models to illustrate the need to work longer/later in life to retire on a ‘reasonable income’. Apparently, 20 something year old Jane will work into her late 70s to achieve this. Lynda also observed (her opinion only, LG at pains to point out no further data to support) that ageism is now worse than sexism. I would have loved to hear from a real Jane, to counter and/or support the academic notion.

Luke spoke about the need to appreciate and truly integrate self employment and start ups into the wider mix of business. We currently rely too heavily on government and big business, that’s not where the work/jobs will come from in future. ‘Jobs are a by product of entrepreneurial mission’.

Amanda spoke about the human responsibility of business. She argued for a greater focus on the ‘now’ of work (yes please, too much focus on the future of work is an abdication of our responsibility to make now better first), and an acknowledgement of the stress folks are under, and the need to reduce that.

We were invited to chew this stuff over at our tables. Tables had been themed, and I chose to sit at the ‘equality’ table. As I took my seat, (I was the only man at the table at the point) someone remarked ‘you’re brave’. I chose to sit at the table because I felt curious, and the injustice of inequality bothers me, a lot. I didn’t take a seat because I felt brave – otherwise I might have sat at the bravery table (sadly, there wasn’t one). Here’s what I scribbled from the conversation:

We often position change as a loss, maybe of status, or privilege, is there a better way?
Less talk, more action.
Speak truth to power (love this and it’s one of those things, like busyness, which we know needs addressing, and which few seem willing to actively change).
Need to feel more solidarity within organisations, less about politics, more about common interest, mutual support.
There should be more women of colour in senior management positions.

Round Two : How can we accelerate, support and develop a more human future of work? What is our theory of change?

Tristram was here to talk about education, and the need for a systems by-pass. My gut reaction was – the last thing we need is a politician speaking to us (or anyone else for that matter) about education. He suggested we should ban GCSEs by 2025, and we should set up a non partisan group to achieve this. With that insight bomb dropped, he departed. I experienced his mercifully brief talk as typical politicking, all rah rah, no substance.

Anthony from the RSA spoke about the need for universal basic income. Solidarity (there’s that word again) declines, insecurity increases. Self employment on the rise, predicts number of self employed will overtake number employed in government within five years. Self employed often low paid, high stress. The system sanctions job seekers all the time, yet hardly touches tax evaders – where does the political will point to? Doing good work matters, universal basic income gives people some control and choice. We need to have the courage to make big social change.

Jan spoke about discrimination and of needing to be yourself at work. Jan had just returned room a visit to Singapore where, as a lesbian, she felt uneasy. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons in Singapore lack many of the legal rights of non-LGBT residents. Same-sex relationships are not recognised under the law, and adoption of children by same-sex couples is illegal. Male same-sex sexual activity is illegal, though the law is generally not enforced. Poverty, education, prejudice, discrimination, all preventing people reaching their potential. This harms our ability to innovate. We hire in our own image – this has to stop. 62% of LGBT graduates go back into the closet in their first job. Changing the law is insufficient, we need to change attitudes too. In support of Jan’s comments, I recommend watching this excellent talk by Toby Mildon.

Ian spoke about executive pay, and the need to reform it. I owe Ian an apology because by now, I was done with being talked at and I paid very little attention to what he said, which is a shame because this is an important subject. Average CEO pay has grown from being 64 times that of the average wage in 1999, to 145 times greater in 2009. At current rates, the gap will grow to a multiple of 214 times average salary by 2020 (source: Daily Telegraph). How much is enough?

At our tables, we spoke about some of what we’d heard (I’d moved from the equality table to the joy table, to hear more different voices), and as I mentioned in my previous post – the abstraction, and the size of the challenge, left me frazzled. We grounded ourselves at this table by telling stories of the small things we are doing to make change.

The last note on my page reads ‘confidence to change, permission to act’. I recall someone asking for a list of actions before we disbanded, which was a fair ask, and something I’d heard from others through the morning. My action? I chose to act by joining The Women’s Equality Party as an affiliate member. I love what the party stands for, I love that it wants to disband itself as soon as it is no longer needed, and I love that I can join even though I’m currently a member of another political party. I’m confident my membership will help raise my awareness of equality, and give me the confidence to affect and influence more change. I look forward to learning what action others are taking too.

An interesting morning, albeit quite abstract at times, and too cosy, and too much being talked at. I’m keen to see what comes next, and if the project continues to look interesting, maybe I’ll tag along in future. Whether I do or not, for the success of the project, the issue of diversity of thought within the group needs to be addressed. I’m yet to be convinced that the establishment are best placed to challenge the establishment.

Footnote. Interested in learning more? There is a website for this project, and after the event, a ‘call to arms’ was posted. I’ve added my action to the call, I hope others will too, as my action is currently feeling lonely.

Call to Arms