Finding Fulfillment in the Digital Workplace (CMS Wire Interview w/Steve Faktor)

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An interview I did with CMS Wire

By  (@blakelandau)   Jan 21, 2013

Steve Faktor is the author of Econovation and the Harvard Business Review article “Happiness Will Not Be Downloaded.” Faktor is an entrepreneur, futurist and digital commerce expert. He was a senior executive at American Express, Citi and MasterCard.

Faktor spoke earlier this month at the New Media Expo on “What the crowd will do next: How Social Currencies will Re-define the Economics of Work.” In our interview Faktor talks about how one “can’t deposit retweets at Wells Fargo” or “use FB Likes for cab fare.” He also unpacks the state of knowledge work in the age of social business.

Blake Landau: In your piece on HBR you talk about the knowledge worker and how things are difficult in a 9 to 5 situation. Do you think social media has improved the life of the social media strategist — or people who work in the digital realm?

Steve Faktor: Well, social media created a life for social media strategist! Social media is a crude, but necessary baby step towards a global mind. That’s where the distance between the knowledge you need and the knowledge inside someone else’s head completely disappears.

We are slowly building a plumbing system of networks, devices and services to bind all human knowledge together. In the process, it will create temporary categories of jobs, like the ones we see now in social media. They will go away as the technology matures.

The reason they’ll go away is that the process of sharing and finding relevant information is still full of friction. Time and automation will eliminate that friction and those jobs. That’s what happened with programmers in the 80’s and many web designers in the 90’s. The software itself (like WebKit or WordPress) eliminates the need for redundant “code.”

When it comes to quality of life, the challenge of digital jobs is they create immersion and compulsion but mostly unsatisfying output. The constant communication creates the illusion of productivity because there’s a flurry of activity generated, but considerably less actual benefit.

The best analogy is — imagine constantly having brainstorming sessions, but never implementing any of the ideas. Our satisfaction from work comes from three sources — producing a product, stimulating the senses, or helping others. Most digital work, especially social media, scores quite low on all three counts. To recover, we need to re-engage the senses — even if it means simulating it through environmental means.

BL: Your book Econovation talks about a future ruled by “producerism,” not consumerism. Can you explain your theory of producerism, and how business will be implicated by this?

SF: Think about all the things around you right now. You’re probably surrounded by consumption devices — your phone, computer, iPad, TV, fridge, couch… Of all the things you own, how many were you (or anyone you know) involved in making? Of the dwindling list of things you do make, how many of them make the world better — or even different? Now scale this up to 300 million people and you see the makings of a national malaise.

We’ve been on a monumental binge — constantly sucking in knowledge, food, entertainment and products. But they’re no longer filling that emptiness inside — or creating real wealth or jobs. My thesis is simple — the US economy is structurally imbalanced and rebalancing it will require an army of makers — both analog and digital.

A cheaper dollar, government incentives and constrained consumer credit will create tremendous opportunities for small businesses. They have to be ready. In the next decade, businesses that produce things we can export, replace imports and attract foreign capital will be big winners. Luckily, all those cheap consumer technologies we’ve used for consumption can now power revolution in production.

My contention isn’t that we stop consuming. It’s that a personal rebalancing will power a national one. It will happen bottom-up, like drinking Scotch.

BL: Do you think social business will make employees’ lives better?

SF: It depends how you define better. The work itself will continue the trend of automation, which generally separates employees from the final product. Most white collar workers don’t touch the supply chain. So it won’t offer that deep satisfaction of having produced something.

It can have two positive effects. First, it can turn every employee into a customer service representative. That might not sound like fun, but people derive great satisfaction from feeling like they’ve helped someone.

The second positive effect has a caveat. Social business will expose us to lots of new ideas. It will make everyone aware of everything that’s out there. Full transparency. To the extent people act on those ideas, it can improve existing jobs or help people find new, more satisfying ones. Left unimplemented, we’ll drown in a big empty ocean of hyper-awareness.

 BL: Do you think social media is just another channel? Why or why not?

SF: The one place social media is transformational is in accelerating the movement from one-way communication to two-way. It’s like a union for consumers. It creates unprecedented leverage and bargaining power for consumers — but only in highly elastic industries. Your local cable monopoly can still tell you to stick your tweets where the sun don’t shine. But Zappos has to be really nice. They are selling a commodity and bad service would destroy them.

At its core, social business is still business. The discipline is still marketing and the goal is still selling more products — no matter what the zygote in ripped jeans will tell you. A lot of the confusion comes from social media’s ability to generate metric tons of tempting process metrics — intermediary numbers that aren’t dollars. Try to deposit your re-tweets at Wells Fargo or use those FB Likes for cab fare in London. They’re directional indicators of an open channel of communication, but they are not results in and of themselves.

Like in any industry, jargon makes everything sound complex and important. It lets experts capitalize on temporary knowledge advantages. Business people who don’t have a native understanding of social are paranoid that they’ll be obsolete.

That fear is driving huge expenditures on social technologies, consultants and staffing. All but a few of these investments will look silly in a few years. Until then, this insecurity will continue to be a bargaining chip for some younger workers and others who can operate Hootsuite.

Editor’s Note: Interested in reading more from the New Media Expo? Check out Blake’s interview with Amy Jo Martin: Digital Royalty Founder Amy Jo Martin on Social Business, Entrepreneurship, Gender #nmx

About Blake

Blake Landau runs the Bay Area marketing services firm Artemis focusing on influencer engagement, social media and content strategy. She serves on the board of SOCAP as the VP of Programs for the Bay Area. Before Artemis she built Customer Management IQ. She lives in Oakland, CA with her boyfriend Jacob and her dog Athena.

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Provocative predictions & prescriptions on where innovation, economics & culture will take us. Fearless. Funny.