Category Archives: Work, worker, workplace

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Setting the stage for creative performance

We have a new essay published by Deloitte Insights, Setting the stage for creative performance.[ref]Evans-Greenwood, Peter, Robbie Robertson, Robert Hillard, and Peter Williams. 2021. “Setting the Stage for Creative Performance.” Deloitte Insights, October 29.[/ref] This essay is the follow-on to Unshackling the creative business from a couple of months ago.

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Reconstructing the workplace

We have a new essay published on Deloitte Insights, Reconstructing the workplace: The digital-ready organisation.[ref]Evans-Greenwood, P, Solly, S, & Robertson, R 2021, ‘Reconstructing the workplace: The digital-ready organisation’, Deloitte Insights, <>.[/ref] The essay follows on from The digital-ready workplace from last month. (We do seem to be publishing at a surprising rate at the moment.)

The big idea here is that if we want to move forward, taking advantage of digital technology in the workplace, then we actually need to think about ‘workplace’ differently. We use the analogy of electrification of factories. The initial attraction of electrification was a 20% saving in fuel (coal) costs. This was dwarfed by a the much larger benefit of a 20-30% improvement in productivity (using the same workers, machines, and facilities) from rearranging the workplace to optimise for workflow rather than the distribution of mechanical power. It’s important to remind ourselves what while this seems obvious in hindsight, at the time ‘workflow’ wasn’t a thing, and it took around 30 years of tinkering with electricity in the factory to realise that we should be optimising floor plans for the flow of work, rather than the flow of mechanical power.

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What skills gap?

A lot of angst has been devoted to discussing the skills gap—the large and growing gap between the skills workers hold and those sought by employers. Reports have been written quantifying the skills gap, how it’s a drag on the economy, or estimating just how much the economy might boom if we manage to close it. One estimate has closing the gap as adding US$11.5 trillion to global GDP by 2028.

Think pieces and TED talks promote “the skills you need”. Training schemes and education incentives have been implemented to reskill workers, providing them with new skills, skills more relevant to a digital age. Despite these efforts, the skills gap continues to grow. It’s now ‘catastrophic’, a ‘critical issue’ for educators, employers and government.

The problem is that the more we’re looked into the skills gap, the less we’re convinced that it’s a problem. This isn’t to say that there aren’t challenges we must overcome as we sail into our digital future—it’s just that the skills gap doesn’t seem to be one of them.

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The digital-ready workplace

We have a new essay published in Deloitte Insights, The digital-ready workplace: Supercharging digital teams in the future of work,[ref]Evans-Greenwood, P, Stockdale, R, & Patston, T 2021, ‘The digital-ready workplace: Supercharging digital teams in the future of work’, Deloitte Insights, <>.[/ref] a collaboration with Rosemary Stockdale from Griffith Business School and Tim Patston from UniSA STEM at the University of South Australia.

Most (if not all) research groups have done a survey on the affect working from home has had—this is ours, though it’s ended up in a different place. We start by trying to understand the relative merits of a push or pull approach to support workers during the transition, where push is the usual “give them the tools and training we think they’ll need” while pull is empower and support workers in finding their own tools. Generally, a push approach works well when the challenge is understood beforehand, while a pull approach is better when the challenge is not well understood as it enables workers to adapt. We’d heard anecdotal stories that firms had taken different approaches, and we were wondering how the relative benefits and problems stacked up. What we discovered, once the data started coming in, was that we were asking the wrong question.

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Unshackling the creative business

We have a new essay published in Deloitte Insights, Unshackling the creative business: Breaking the tradeoff between creativity and efficiency.[ref]Evans-Greenwood, P et al. 2021, ‘Unshackling the creative business: Breaking the tradeoff between creativity and efficiency’, Deloitte Insights, <>.[/ref] Creativity is seen as an import capability for an organisation to be successful in today’s volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) world. Significant effort has been invested in fostering creativity in business, effort which sadly is often wasted. This essay looks at why this might be the case and what we can do about it.

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Building the peloton

We have a new essay published in Deloitte Insights, Building the peloton: High performance team-building in the future of work. Jess Watson is the lead author of a report that looks into how we need to think a bit differently about teams, team work and leadership as the drive to create more agile organisations breaks down established organisation structures.

The report uses the analogy of a cycling peloton—the team-of-teams that competes and cooperates in a road cycling race—to integrate current research on team formation and operation in a world where firms function as a team-of-teams.

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Digital agency and the skills gap

The concluding report from Deloitte Centre for the Edge and Geelong Grammar Schools’ collaboration looking into digital skills in the workplace, Digital agency and the skills gap,[ref]Evans-Greenwood, P & Patston, T 2019, Digital agency and the skills gap, Deloitte, Australia, <>.[/ref] has been published by Deloitte, Australia. This report pulls together the results from across the project to provide an overview of the journey and the findings.

There’s a huge amount of angst in the community that our education system cannot keep up with rapid technological change, however this project shows that this is likely not the case. What we’re seeing is, in many cases, not a lack of skills, but an inability to navigate an increasingly complex digital environment. While digital skills are important, knowing when and why to use these skills is more important, particularly in a world where new knowledge is no further away than a search engine accessed via a smart phone.

Workers are unable to make the connection between the skills they have and the problem infant of them, making this a problem of unknown knowns. It’s not that workers lack skills, what they lack is discernment, the ability to read the digital environment around them and make sharp judgements about when and why particular digital tools and skills should be used. A lack of discernment limits a worker’s digital agency, their ability to act freely in a digital environment.

Solving this problem is not simply a question of teaching students and workers more, and more relevant digital skills. We need to focus on fostering in them the discernment required for them to develop the work habits that will enable them to make the most of digital technology.

The project was a long and fascinating journey so this concluding report itself is quite long, around 12,000 words. A much shorter business-friendly summary, The digital ready worker,[ref]Evans-Greenwood, P, Patston, T, & Flouch, A 2019, ‘The digital-ready worker: Digital agency and the pursuit of productivity’, Deloitte Insights, <>.[/ref] was published last week by Deloitte Insights. A lot of valuable insights were dropped on the cutting room floor to create that summary, hence this report.

This report provides a summary of project’s journey, from the initial provocation through the roundtables, the more recent workshops, to the development of the project’s conclusions, as well as providing a detailed exploration of the findings. If you’re an educator (K12 or post-secondary) you might find this longer report more valuable as it digs into the details of the models presented, and does a better job of exploring the implications of the findings. If you were involved in any of the projects, the this report will join a number of dots and provide that ah-ha moment.

Revisiting the concept of learned helplessness, the report shows how the solution to learned helplessness is not to teach students more digital skills, but to foster their digital agency, their capacity to act independently and make their own free choices in the digital workplace. The concept of digital natives is explored in light of what the project discovered, resulting in a new model of digital competence in the workplace the identifies four archetypes: the digital naïf, digital pragmatist, digital explorer, and digital evangelist.

Finally, the report develops a progression capturing how one’s digital agency changes over time, and explores how digital agency might be fostered in both students and workers, and the changes this implies.

The digital-ready worker: Digital agency and the pursuit of productivity

We have a new essay published on Deloitte Insights, The digital-ready worker: Digital agency and the pursuit of productivity, which is the result of a collaboration between Centre for the Edge and Geelong Grammar School.[ref]Evans-Greenwood, P, Patston, T, & Flouch, A 2019, ‘The digital-ready worker: Digital agency and the pursuit of productivity’, Deloitte Insights, <>.[/ref] As the blurb says, this essay looks into how:

To be effective in an increasingly technological workplace, workers must know, not just how to use digital tools, but when and why to use them. Critical to this ability is digital agency: the judgment and confidence required to navigate and be effective in unfamiliar digital environments.

There’s a lot of concern at the moment of a growing skills gap, the gap between the the skills held by graduates and those demanded by employers. Studies have been done to measure this growing gap, and significant resources have been devoted to updating curricula in an attempt to close the gap, all to no avail.

If we peal the lid of these studies we see they rely on aggregate skills data, typically from O*NET, which means that they’re limited to seeing a single negative view of how technology affects jobs, one where technology automates skills making workers redundant. The problem is that this isn’t the only pathway for technology to affect work. There’s also a positive pathway, where technology automates skills making the workers’ remaining skills more valuable, as well as a “no net change” pathway (or collection of pathways) which we have empirical evidence for but are yet to pull apart and understand.[ref]Spenner, KI 1983, ‘Deciphering Prometheus: Temporal Change in the Skill Level of Work’, American Sociological Review, vol. 48, no. 6, p. 824, <>.[/ref]

One of the key insights, if not the key insight, from Centre for the Edge and Geelong Grammar Schools’ To code or not to code collaboration, was that many of the problems we’re seeing in the workplace are likely due to learned helplessness,[ref]The term “learned helplessness” is borrowed from the psychology literature, drawing upon the work of Martin Seligman and many others. See, for instance, Martin E. P. Seligman, “Learned helplessness,” Annual Review of Medicine 23, no. 1 (1972): pp. 407–12.[/ref] where a person suffers from a sense of powerlessness arising from a persistent failure to succeed. We’re teaching students how to use particular digital tools in particular ways, but we’re also teaching them that these tools are fragile and using them the wrong often results in problems and might even ‘brick’ the device. Rather than framing the problems we’re seeing in the workplace as the result of a growing skills gap due to the destruction of skills, it might be more appropriate to frame them as a problem of unknown knowns. It’s not that the worker doesn’t have the skills required, their problem is making the connection between the skill and the current problem they’re working on.

The solution to this problem isn’t to provide students with more, and more relevant, digital skills. Indeed, that approach is unlikely to help as the students are not lacking in skills. While it’s important to know how to use particular digital tools, it’s more important to know when and why these digital tools should be used. What students lack is discernment, the knowledge and experience required to make observations and sharp judgements about which digital tools might be useful and how they will affect the work. We need to foster in students the attitudes and behaviours—something we’ve taken to calling a predilection—that help them navigate the digital workplace and develop the habits that enable them to integrate digital tools into their work. Ultimately the solution is to foster digital agency in students, to help them develop the literacies, knowledge, skills and predilections the need to act independently and make their own free choices in the digital workplace.

The essay explores, in some detail, the concept of learned helplessness in the digital workplace, and how we might might foster digital agency in both students and workers. There’s also a few of useful models for thinking about this problem, helping us move beyond misleading dichotomies like Digitial Native vs Digital Immigrant which have proven to be wrong.

You can find the entire text over at Deloitte Insights. Feel free to leave a comment here with your thoughts.

Digital agency and the skills gap

In 2016, Deloitte Centre for the Edge and Geelong Grammar School hosted a series of roundtables looking into digital skills and the challenges of the digital workplace. The project that emerged from those roundtables took three years to peel back layer after layer of assumptions to discover that it’s likely that our graduates are suffering from a lack of discernment, rather than a lack of digital skills.

On the 30th of October Deloitte is hosting an event in the Melbourne office around close of business to launch the reports that lay out the project’s findings, and to explore where to next. Fill out the contact form at the bottom of this post if you’re interested in attending.

The future will be digital and mastery of digital technology is seen as an essential skill. The growing skills gap—the gap between skills held by graduates and those employers seek—is a cause of great concern. Prescriptions range from new curricula, new technology-driven pedagogy, through to blowing it all up and starting again.

Our research shows that while digital skills, knowing how to use digital tools, is important, knowing when and why to use them is more important. The challenges graduates experience in the workplace a more likely due to a lack of digital agency. They suffer from learned helplessness, struggling to navigate a workplace saturated in, even defined by, digital tools.

The event will consist of a plenary discussing the findings and a panel to dig into the details. Can we fix the education system? Or do we need to disrupt it?

You can find the previous reports from the project on the Deloitte web site.

Reconstructing jobs: Creating good jobs in the age of artificial intelligence

Fear of AI-based automation forcing humans out of work or accelerating the creation of unstable jobs may be unfounded. AI thoughtfully deployed could instead help create meaningful work.

This is a 25 minute presentation providing an overview of the report Reconstructing jobs (published in 2018) from the Edge Session just after the report was published.

This third essay in the series, Reconstructing jobs, takes a step back and looks these jobs of the future might look like. The narrative is built around a series of concrete examples – from contact centres through wealth management to bus drivers – to show how we might create this next generation of jobs. These are jobs founded on an new division of labour: humans creating new knowledge, making sense of the world to identify and delineate problems; AI plans solutions to these problems; and good-old automation to delivers. To do this we must create good jobs, as it is good jobs that make the most of our human abilities as creative problem identifiers. These jobs are also good for firms as, when combined suitably with AI, they will provide superior productivity. They’re also good job for the community, as increased productivity can be used to provide more equitable services and to support learning by doing within the community, a rising tide that lives all boats.