Singular vs Plural

I had a great chat yesterday with Ian Sanders. We’ve been tweeting and sharing some of the same ideas and realizing some common interests so it was time for a “live” discussion.

One of the things that came out of it was an insight on something that has been bugging me for a few years and which I only attached with workplaces at that moment.

The “problem” I’ve had the last few years (and Ian confirmed he has the same issue) is that, in general, people seem to be able to keep only one thing in mind when thinking about what someone else does. Antoine’s a web developer, Dan’s a designer, Patrick’s a… well that depends. I used to be a web developer but then we launched The Alpine Review and for many people that was the thing I was doing. Which it was. But it wasn’t the one thing, it was one of the things I was doing—and certainly not the one bringing in money. I was still looking for work as a web developer and we weren’t only doing the magazine, we were also trying to do some think tank / strategy work together around some of the topics discussed in the mag.

Now I’m spending more than half my time working with e180 but I’m also working on some (and looking for more) gigs as Thought Partner but for many people I work at e180. That’s fine, it’s a great company with some great people, not a bad mistake to make. But it’s not the whole story and people seem to have difficulty keeping two different offers / services / situations in mind.

Last weekend I read Jon Evans’ editorial on TechCrunch, Not even remotely possible where he makes a good case for remote work but, more importantly, makes some good points on the historical “stickiness” of workplace habits and the fact that we analyse remote work while skipping over some office work issues.

I’m not saying remote work is a panacea. It too has its failure modes. But the assumption that its failure modes are worse than those of office work, just because office work is the historical default, is sheer intellectual laziness. [Emphasis mine]

That’s why when speaking with Ian I realized that the same thing happens with “X is a Y.” It’s been the case for so long that people have one job in one place that we still have a hard time understanding that some people are as (or more) effective working out of the office and that some people (sometime the very same) are also effective doing a few different things.

Image shamelessly lifted from Adaptive Lab

So it’s a smallish issue; needing to explain that one does many things, but it’s also an important point to understand in the new landscape of work, just like it’s important to better understand the modes of work.

  • There’s a manager schedule and a maker schedule. How you work, how you split time, how meetings are important or hinderances, all of those things are changing and vary depending on what you do.
  • There are office work efficiencies and remote work benefits.
  • There are people who do one thing and people who do many different things. Which often makes them (us) good at bridging disciplines. I like calling them hybrids but they/we are also called Neo-Generalists.

We’re stuck in thinking that work is done in an office and stuck in thinking that people do only one thing. But really, whether at one job or on our own, more and more people do many things, the “workspace” is not necessarily one physical location, it’s a shared “place of the mind.”

We are plural and we work in many different ways.

The onward movement of thinking occupies the most limited and important things there are: our time and attention. What we focus on is called our attention space. The attention space is the new metaphor for the industrial process and the corporate office. It is a “place of the mind”. It is an expression of our effort and the live movement of thinking.
The Future Skills We Need