Work Futures Daily | To Govern Ourselves

| 50% Think Their Leaders Can’t Lead | Workerless Retail | The Problem with HR | Big Picture for Gig Work | Goethe | Carrie La Seur | Sarah Smarsh |

source: Daniil Silantev

Beacon NY — 2019–07–29 | The past week has been liberating, since I just decided to give everyone access to Work Futures Daily. Yes, I have abandoned the paywall, but I will be working on other ways to benefit.


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Half of leaders face a ‘confidence crisis’ in their ability to lead | Valerie Bolden-Barrett delivers some really bad news:

Only 50% of employees have confidence that their leaders can drive their organizations forward into the future, a new Gartner survey revealed. But it turns out leaders aren’t confident in themselves, either; only half of the 2,800 leaders surveyed said they are “well-equipped to lead their organization in the future,” Gartner said.

But Bolden-Barett proceeds with some small-bore prescriptions about better training, or the ‘complementary leadership’ approach advocated by Gartner, where two not-so-strong managers prop each other up. Personally, that sounds like tying two rocks together and hoping they will then be able to float.

How about self-organizing? How about learning from companies with the highest levels of continuous innovation, and adopting an emergent organization model?


Standard Cognition raises $35 million to bring cashierless experiences to more stores | Kyle Wiggers

Like Amazon Go, Standard Cognition adds items nabbed from a display or shelf to a running tab that’s automatically charged to shoppers’ accounts as they exit. The system accounts for mistakes, like when a customer puts back an item they’d initially considered purchasing, and it anonymizes data to minimize the risk of overzealous brands or retailers targeting people’s purchasing patterns.

It’s also capable of preventing shoplifting. Standard Cognition’s AI can recognize telltale signs of theft from behaviors like trajectory, gait, gaze, and speed, all of which it helpfully flags via text message for store attendants. Learning those behaviors wasn’t easy — the bulk of sample data came from 100 actors who shopped for “hours” in a mock setup — but the result is an accuracy rate that’s above 99%.

In September, Standard Cognition became the second company to open a cashierless store in San Francisco, following hot on the heels of Zippin in August. The 1,900-square-foot space at 1071 Market Street lacks a check-in gate — all you need to begin shopping is to check in using the Standard Checkout app — and features dozens of ceiling-mounted cameras, each wired to a networked appliance that performs inference. It’s stocked with snacks, personal care items, and cleaning supplies currently, with plans to expand its inventory over time.

The store serves as a sort of functioning showroom. Standard Cognition is using anonymized data from it to improve its algorithms, and to walk prospective retail partners through live demonstrations. Fisher claims that hundreds of retailers are evaluating the company’s technology and that several have inked deals, including two which are deploying in multiple locations with scheduled go-live dates in Q3 and Q4 of this year. Standard Cognition previously said it plans to roll out its platform in 100 stores a day by 2020.

Standard Cognition directly competes with Trigo Vision, which recently inked a deal with Israel supermarket chain Shufersal for 272 cashierless stores and is reportedly in partnership talks with Tesco, and Zippin, which last August became the first company to open a checkout-free store in San Francisco. That’s not to mention Pandora cofounder Will Glaser’s Grabango, which this year began piloting a “no-wait” brick-and-mortar payment experience at a Giant Eagle store. Amazon is the elephant in the room — its Amazon Go locations across the country employ sensors, AI, and smartphones to streamline retail flows — but even Microsoft is said to be working on cashierless store technology.

Autonomous retail is a lot closer than autonomous cars. A huge market to be disrupted. Will this accelerate consolidation in the retail industry? What are the impacts on the workforce? Huge. And not a word about that in this Venturebeat article.

I guess the depopulation of retail just taken as a given. At least no one is quoted saying that automation is going to increase jobs in retail, or that the retail employees now stocking shelves, ringing up purchases, or washing the floors are going to be freed up for ‘better ways to serve the customer’. Nope.

These stores will have functionally zero workers. The neutron-bombing of retail.


The Problem with HR | Caitlin Flanagan wants to hold HR responsible for decades of workplace harassment:

For 30 years, ever since Anita Hill testified at Clarence Thomas’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings, HR has been almost universally accepted as the mechanism by which employers attempt to prevent, police, and investigate sexual harassment. Even the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission directs Americans to their HR offices if they experience harassment. That the #MeToo movement kept turning up so many shocking stories at so many respected places of employment seemed to me to reflect a massive failure of human resources to do the job we have expected it to perform. Even Harvey Weinstein’s company, after all, had an HR department.

Flanagan attended the Workhuman conference for HR people, and was perplexed:

No one called for reforming or replacing HR. Just the opposite: The answer to the failures of HR, it seemed, was more HR.

The experience left me with a question: If HR is such a vital component of American business, its tentacles reaching deeply into many spheres of employees’ work lives, how did it miss the kind of sexual harassment at the center of the #MeToo movement?

In her research for the next year, she realized that HR was very good at dealing with sexual harassment, but not the way you might think. HR works for the company, not the employees, and serves ‘as the first line of defense against a sexual-harassment lawsuit’.

They are not on the side of the harassed.

A must read.


The Debate Over How to Classify Gig Workers Is Missing the Bigger Picture| Orly Lobel unscrambles the lack of protections in the gig economy, and answers the question raised in the title of his piece [emphasis mine]:

The larger issue is how to modernize employment and labor protections to fit with the realities of work today. In employment and labor law, we should strive to get regulation just right: not so little as to leave workers unprotected, but not so much as to distort the market and create employment disincentives.

Local and state legislators should not only clarify and simplify the notoriously malleable classification tests, but also create categories of protection that are not based on employee status.

First, some rights should be expanded to all workers providing their services in the market, regardless of how they’re classified. For example, all workers who experience discrimination, are harassed, or witness corruption should be protected by law and have recourse when they take action.

Second, we need to create rules that are specific to platform gig workers. Because not all wage and hour laws can be applied seamlessly to platform work, Uber and Lyft drivers and others providing their services through digital platforms should receive minimum hourly rates that parallel minimum wage laws.


Third, we should provide access to welfare rights such as health care, unemployment insurance, and retirement funds for gig workers who aren’t linked to a single platform.


Fourth, before instituting rules that apply to everyone, we need to consider the different motivations behind why people go gig.

Yes, I buy into the model of an inflexible floor — wage, benefits, and labor rights protections — and a flexible ceiling — ranging from almost no gigging to full-time gigsters — with varying contractual relationships with the client companies. But the basis of justice in this area, as I discussed in The Starting Point and The Bottom Line for The Gig Economy, comes from a statement made by Bastian Lehman, the CEO of Postmates:

No competitive advantage should come at the expense of workers.

Quote of the Day

That government is best which teaches us to govern ourselves.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


On Heartland by Sarah Smarsh | Carrie La Seur, the novelist (The Home Place), reviews Sarah Smarsh’s Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth. The review is heart-wrenching, since La Seur, like Smarsh, grew up poor and managed to fight her way out through education and grit.

As with any book that strikes so close to home, I approached Heartland reluctantly. From the book jacket I knew that Smarsh was born into luck I didn’t have: her grandparents still owned the land. I grew up envying farm kids as we followed Dad’s lousy lateral job transfers across the plains of Montana, Nebraska, and North Dakota. They had that great luxury, space, and also roots, with 4-H animals, big pickups, and daddies the other men respected.

I also knew that this would be a tough book to criticize. Like the women’s code of conduct that says, Don’t create work for another woman, the rural working class code is Give a leg up wherever you can, with the flip side, Never sabotage one of our own. Working class people often take up each other’s slack and cover each other’s backs in ways that I later discovered are rare, even unheard of, among the professional class. God knows we all need a break, you say to yourself.


I, too, come from generations of teen moms and broke the cycle. I’ve scrubbed floors, slung pizza, and shoveled shit for minimum wage, cobbled together loans and Pell grants and scholarships to get through school, and grasped for an understanding of why it was so tough. One reality of living poor is little time or motivation to examine the data on why you can’t get a fair price for your grain or earn a living wage at the QuikTrip. You look for common sense answers to Smarsh’s academic question: “If a person could go to work every day and still not be able to pay the bills and the reason wasn’t racism, what less articulated problem was afoot?”

What, indeed?

Also see Smarsh’s Liberal Blind Spots Are Hiding the Truth About ‘Trump Country’:

Elite pundits regularly misuse “working class” as shorthand for right-wing white guys wearing tool belts. My father, a white man and lifelong construction worker who labors alongside immigrants and people of color on job sites across the Midwest and South working for a Kansas-based general contractor owned by a woman, would never make such an error.

Most struggling whites I know live lives of quiet desperation mad at their white bosses, not resentment of their co-workers or neighbors of color. My dad’s previous three bosses were all white men he loathed for abuses of privilege and people.

It is unfair power that my father despises.


Dropbox irks Mac users with annoying Dock icon, offers clueless support | Jon Brodkin mildly rebukes Dropbox for its poor support response to the recent release of a new Mac desktop app, which apparently does not allow users to opt out of it opening every time Dropbox starts up.


The Stock-Buyback Swindle | Jerry Useem looks into an astonishing trend line:

Over the past nine years, corporations have put more money into their own stocks — an astonishing $3.8 trillion — than every other type of investor (individuals, mutual funds, pension funds, foreign investors) combined.

Certainly there must be something better to do with that money than hand it to shareholders. R&D? Raising salaries? Acquisitions? It looks like executives of these corporations are exploiting the modern trend of stock buybacks to line their own pockets, at the expense of everyone else.

On The Horizon

Minimum Viable Ecosystem | The MVE is the least complex ecosystem that allows participants to learn about a more complex, future ecosystem with the least effort


Innovating in a VUCA World: The Six Contexts Model | How Haier innovates in an increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world


Platforming | What Jeff Bezos Thinks | The virtuous cycle at the center of Amazon spiraled up into one of the world’s most highly valued companies


The Starting Point and The Bottom Line for The Gig Economy | No competitive advantage should come at the expense of workers