February 19, 2016
Facebook’s CIO Tim Campos had a candid discussion about the company’s future during the Hispanic IT Executive Council’s (HITEC) 2015 Q4 summit. Hosted at Facebook’s HQ, to an audience of 200+ Hispanic technology executives, Campos gave a talk titled “Innovation Technology: The Future of Work”. Funny enough, the talk’s main focus wasn’t on the technology, like Oculus Rift or Facebook @ work, but on the knowledge worker.
Why Is This Relevant Now?
The term “knowledge worker” isn’t a new one. Peter Drucker first coined it in the 1950s. So why is Facebook still focused on this? If you haven’t noticed yet, we are in the Fourth Industrial Revolution – an era where radical system-wide innovation happens in only a few short years. This is made possible because of our use of chip-based technologies, the ease and access we all have to these technologies, and the ability for almost anyone to create these technologies cheaper and faster than before. But, technology alone cannot generate new disruptive ideas– not yet, at least. Which is why Facebook considers their most valuable resource to be the thoughts and ideas of their workforce.
The 21st Century Knowledge Worker
In a slide that looks akin to a spider’s web, Campos describes the knowledge worker as being a critical thinker, problem solver, career planner, creative, innovator, researcher and analyst. Although the job description isn’t a new one, what is new is the way Facebook is cultivating the 21st century knowledge worker.
Distributed Team Members
The future of work relies on workers that are more generalists than specialists. A prime example of such is a growth hacker – a combination of marketing professional, designer and solutions engineer. This is someone that is focused on growth, mainly customer acquisition. They form hypotheses, based off analytics, for what can drive the most growth, use their marketing skills to build a campaign to answer their hypotheses, design (albeit simply) the campaign themselves, and use their engineering skills to implement it all. For Facebook, distributed team members, like growth hackers, are key because of the organization’s belief in not having layoffs. This doesn’t mean that they won’t, but it does mean that they will distribute people to other teams before they have to lay them off.
Teaching 21st Century Skills
Training 21st-Century workers means training them on a new set of skills, which are, ironically, the traditional soft skills. Communication, collaboration, empathy & respect for different cultures and personalities. A core point for Facebook is diversity, specifically, how to overcome cultural boundaries and biases. Which is why they provide biases training for new team members.
Biases are hardwired in everyone as basic human instincts. Some biases keep us out of danger, but most are based off stereotypes and limit our ability to build meaningful relationships. Limited relationships mean lack of collaboration and communication, which leads to decreased productivity. And, Facebook’s mission is the productivity of the knowledge worker.
It’s About Culture
“It’s not about the product, it’s about culture”, says Campos. Facebook focuses on culture because culture is everything to the 21st century knowledge worker – it’s paramount to their livelihood. It isn’t the perks, such as free food, free vending machines of technology hardware, an on campus bike shop, print shop, ice cream shop, or the 9-acre park that sits on top of building 20, that makes up the company’s culture. It’s their core aspect of innovation: don’t be afraid to fail. With this notion, comes the freedom that failure is not a problem and opportunities are limitless. All the perks, which make a place fun to work at, become by products of the core principle.
Why Should You Care?
For large corporations (like Facebook), the future of work means providing their knowledge workers with the resources they need to be innovative and instilling in them a strong sense of loyalty. Because, in this Fourth Industrial Revolution that we’re in, with the ease of knowledge, technology and resources that we have, “…even the little person that you could’ve ignored 10 years ago, literally the garage group, can create a company that will eat yours overnight”, as Bernard Meyerson, CIO, IBM, USA said in his 2015 Abu Dhabi panel discussion. For small companies, aka the garage group (like Facebook once was), it means maintaining their unique culture while scaling and creating a powerful workforce. For everyone, it comes down to relationships. Relationships between humans, machines and the companies we work for.
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