At a recent informal managers’ forum I noticed that the discussion wasn’t around strategy, tactics, achievements or success, it was about coping. The discussions were around managing within the maelstrom of stuff that happens in our VUCA world. And what were they aiming to achieve? Happiness? Self-actualisation? No, something that “would do”, that was “OK”, that they were “content” to accept, that were the results they would settle for.
This chimes with what the comedian Bridget Christie said on the radio the other day: that adult life is a stream of necessary, but mundane, administrative tasks and then you die.
Twas ever thus, perhaps, but maybe the internet age has made it worse ,as Craig Lambert explores in his book Shadow Work: The Unpaid, Unseen Jobs That Fill Your Day, which is based on the work of the philosopher Ivan Illich. Shadow Work is the work that organisations have outsourced to us – filling out all our personal details on job application forms, self-serve supermarket checkouts, creating our own videos to upload on YouTube – the list goes on and on. It’s not just the internet age, the IT age created it too – just last week I had 4 tickets open with the IT service desk, further slowing down my productivity.
This all seems a million miles from a couple of recent studies from the Henley Business School, which look at how Side Hustles and the Fourth Industrial Age of Big Data, AI & Machine Learning are, and will, enhance our working lives.
Bridget Christie says that she and her husband cope with the stream of mundane admin by putting on funny voices – “I guess it’s time to put the bins out!” – so I propose a new research program that identifies the ways managers cope, and the compromises that they make to get through the day.
The findings might be a little late to help the UK Prime Minister navigate Brexit whilst maintaining the day job of leading a country – but hopefully they can help the next one.