Redefining Work and the Process of Value Creation 

David Nordfors, Vint Cerf, Curt Carlson, and Robin Farmanfarmaian

One of today’s most important issues is whether in the future society will offer enough meaningful work for its citizens. Some argue that automation will eliminate essentially all human work. Since work is a primary source of human dignity, that is a dark vision of our future. That is not the perspective of the recent Silicon Valley Innovation for Jobs (i4j) conference organized and run by David Nordfors, Vint Cerf, and Robin Farmanfarmaian (see picture).  One reason is the emergence of Internet platforms that connect workers with work, allows the efficient learning of new worker skills, and facilitates global collaboration using innovation best practices.   

In today’s global innovation economy most of society’s needs are still unmet, whether in communications, healthcare, education, environment, agriculture, manufacturing, energy, mobility, and security. Over three billion people live on less than $2.50 a day. As a result there are huge global markets that are largely unaddressed. In addition, technologies are advancing at rapid exponential rates, which opens up one major new opportunity after another. Automation may be a problem in the future, but today there are unlimited opportunities for work if people, society, and governments respond appropriately.

The i4j group is exploring different ways for how individuals can broadly add value to society while providing meaningful work that provides a living wage (see end notes).  Many areas, such as healthcare, aid for the elderly, and education are greatly underserved, but workers in these areas to earn an acceptable wage.  As part of its efforts, the group is exploring emerging companies, networking platforms, and educational initiatives that help people find work and learn the skills required. Kindergarten through adult, project-based learning is a core element of what is required today.

The recent conference showcased a family of on-line companies that will make it profoundly easier for workers to present their formal and informal capabilities along with their human values and work preferences. These platforms aid in matching workers to work aligned to their interests. This includes workers in the “gig economy,” which is already 30% of U.S. workers and predicted to increase to almost 50% in several decades.

Important needs: Just in the U.S. the inefficiencies in matching workers to work today are enormous — easily many $100s of billions per year. Most of this waste is due to delays in finding workers or in not finding the best workers. In addition, record numbers of workers have given up looking for work. This is a waste of financial resources, but mostly it is a waste of precious human resources. Remarkably, according to Gallop, only 13% of today’s workers are actively engaged in their work and committed to helping their enterprises improve.

Waste in companies: Inside established companies there are similar problems. How to match the right staff with the right initiatives? How to improve the skills needed on an effective, just-in-time basis?  How can innovation best practices be employed across the entire enterprise? How to make the company and the world “transparent” to staff so they can assemble the best teams both inside and outside of the enterprise?

Upside: Not included in these estimates of waste is the lost up-side from workers creating more value for their enterprises and society when they are employed and fully engaged. This lost value is likely measured in trillions of dollars per year. Unleashing a fraction of this latent human potential would make a major contribution to the economy and likely create many millions of new jobs.

Virtuous cycle: There are four networked computer platforms being created that provide a virtuous cycle: those that connect workers with work, with learning systems that add needed skills, and with collaboration systems to allow the formation of productive teams (see the figure).  At the center of this virtuous cycle the collaboration platforms allow teams of networked experts, both inside and outside of an enterprise, to work together on a customer’s problem.  Together these four platforms enable the rapid formation of Value-Creation Communities (VCCs), which will create a revolution in the way we work, innovate, and create economic prosperity.VCC 2016.001

These positive developments are enabled by more than technical advances in communications (e.g., 4-K teleconferencing), artificial intelligence (e.g., real-time simultaneous speech translation), and smart devices (e.g., 4-D head mounted displays). They are also being enabled by advances in value-creation best practices and core principles from the learning sciences, including digital on-line education.

I call the convergence of these elements value-creation communities, or VCCs, because:
1.  The only purpose of a worker is to create value for their customers.
2.  Productive value creation requires a community of workers, customers, and partners.

The customer value created can be for individuals, companies, non-profits, government agencies, or voluntary organizations. But the goal is always to create and deliver superior customer value. As importantly, the most powerful way to efficiently and effectively create significant new customer value is with complementary colleagues using essential concepts, processes, and tools.

VCCs create a virtuous cycle where workers can find work, advertise their unique capabilities and human values, and develop new skills to make themselves more valuable.  It puts power back in the hands of the worker and allows more freedom and choice.

Importantly, this new generation of platforms promises dramatic improvement in individualized learning and skills development (see end notes). Just about every topic will be available on-line: academic topics (e.g., calculus), tools (e.g., spreadsheets), and programs on innovation (e.g., TQM, Agile, and Innovation for Impact). Furthermore, these platforms will increasingly be in a form adjustable to the individual’s best learning style.

At the center of the VCC, leveraging all these capabilities, are platforms that allow networked, collaborative workers to be engaged in the process of value-creation.  VCCs allow individuals to assemble distributed, multidisciplinary teams to offer more value for their customers. Once a VCC is established, the process of value creation is performed either synchronously or asynchronously. That is, workers can contribute when they want, in a way they perform best, and wherever they are in the world. The early VCC platforms are already sophisticated and successful (see Convetit).  They bring together customers with needs, teams of expert workers, a platform for continuous value creation, and access to innovation best practices.  

Transparent world: VCCs can ultimately make the world effectively transparent, so that genius level teams can be assembled for every project from superb professionals wherever they live.  VCCs can be either proprietary to an enterprise, or open to the world.  Workers can champion and assemble their own teams and be participants on other teams.

Improved innovative success:  VCCs have the potential to transform the rate of innovative success around the world.  They open possibilities for completely different kinds of enterprises — not ones composed of just gig workers on their own, but rather distributed, multidisciplinary teams who share applications, insurance, healthcare, and opportunities for new business.  VCCs represent the merging of the best networking ideas, the best value-creation principles, and the best principles from the learning sciences.

VCCs will not only create whole new business models but also transform how established companies work and innovate for their customers.  In the process they will amplify the numbers of workers who can participate in meaningful work.

End notes

Innovation practices: As we have discussed on this site, innovation is about learning and creating fast, not failing fast. VCCs create a platform that makes this possible throughout the enterprise, whether the innovation process is TQM, Agile, or Innovation-for Impact, as described on this site.  There are three core elements required to assure systematic success:
1.  Work on important customer and market needs, not just those that are interesting to you.
2.  Have a value-creation playbook that everyone understands, which includes essential concepts, frameworks, and processes. The most important framework is a value proposition, NABC.  N = important customer Needs, A = Approach for addressing the need – the hypotheses for the solution and business model.  B = customer Benefits per costs from the approach, and C = Competition and alternatives to the approach’s benefits per costs.
3.  Recurring value-creation forums where champions present their value propositions and get feedback from their teammates across the enterprise.
These ideas were used across SRI International when I was CEO. Every 2-8 weeks our staff presented their value propositions at recurring value-creation forums. VCCs can implement the ideas we pioneered in a much more efficient, effective, and scalable way, both inside and outside the enterprise.

Learning principles: Cornerstone Math is a learning platform developed at SRI International with many its partners over the past decade to teach first-year algebra. Remarkable results have been achieved in trials with thousands of children from every demographic group.  These results demonstrate that when ten core learning principles are combined as a system in the classroom, remarkable results are achieved.  Cornerstone Math encapsulates the ten learning principles listed below.
  ·  Experiential learning: doing
  ·  Rapid feedback
  ·  Complementary teams
  ·  Practitioner mentors
  ·  Multiple representations
  ·  Productivity tools
  ·  Challenging incentives
  ·  Human values
  ·  Focus on the big ideas
·  Complete system
In a new book being written I describe these ten concepts in detail.  These same learning principles are also the basis for efficient and effective value-creation methodologies, such as Innovation-for-Impact (i4i), described on this website.

Human values: Certain human values are often much more important than having specific skills. My hiring filter as CEO of SRI International always put curiosity, creativity, collaboration, and passion above specific skills.  I knew that if a person had the basic skills plus these attributes they could learn what else was required. Innovation is, by definition, the creation of sustainable new knowledge, it is not just learning old knowledge.   VCCs will select workers for those human capabilities, just as we did at SRI. Perhaps surprisingly, many people who are extremely introverted but smart and creative will thrive on these platforms.  It rapidly becomes obvious who has the needed abilities.  

Meaningful work:  From Gladwell: “Meaningful work is one of the most important things we can impart to children. Meaningful work is work that is autonomous. Work that is complex, that occupies your mind. And work where there is a relationship between effort and reward — for everything you put in, you get something out…  If you are convinced that the work you are doing is meaningful, then curiosity, there’s no cost to it. If you think there’s always got to be a connection between what you put in and what you get out, then of course you’ll run off with a great excitement after an idea that catches your idea.”

Flow:  In a conversation with Gary Morgenthaler he commented that the low, 13% engagement rate of workers is in part because most people do not experience a mental state called flow. VCCs will help facilitate the conditions that lead to this desired state and increase the possibility for meaningful work.  See, for example, here.  “Flow tends to occur when a person faces a clear set of goals that require appropriate responses. It is easy to enter flow in games such as chess, tennis, or poker, because they have goals and rules that make it possible for the player to act without questioning what should be done, and how. For the duration of the game the player lives in a self-contained universe where everything is black and white. The same clarity of goals is present if you perform a religious ritual, play a musical piece, weave a rug, write a computer program, climb a mountain, or perform surgery. In contrast to normal life, these “flow activities” allow a person to focus on goals that are clear and compatible, and provide immediate feedback.” “Flow also happens when a person’s skills are fully involved in overcoming a challenge that is just about manageable, so it acts as a magnet for learning new skills and increasing challenges. If challenges are too low, one gets back to flow by increasing them. If challenges are too great, one can return to the flow state by learning new skills.”

Government: Top-down government employment programs will be only marginally effective in the global innovation economy, which moves fast and has endless possibilities for unique, creative work.  Only workers are aware of the particular work to be done, understand their individual motivations and abilities, and can add the skills needed to provide more value to their offerings.  In addition, government cannot build powerful collaborative communities, like VCCs, where real genius resides and where most professional learning will take place.

Douglas Engelbart: Over forty years ago many of the ideas described here were anticipated by Douglas Engelbart, the innovator of the computer mouse and the modern computer interface. We wrote about some of Engelbart’s ideas in our book, Innovation: The Five Disciplines for Creating What Customers Want, and described how they relate to value creation and innovation.  The interested reader is strongly encouraged to read Engelbart’s contributions.