Wanted — Very clever young people — Image from Daily Mail
Wanted - Misfits and Weirdos

Dear Dominic,

I read your job advert and would like to apply to work in your team.

I could programme neural networks in 1995, have hung out with project managers on disastrous government shared-service programmes, and had strange visions on how we could build a much better infrastructure of work for the 2020s. I’ve been around the world and back in the last few years, but feel I should spend more time in Blighty as it might just be a bit kiboshed.

I think I might qualify as “a weirdo and misfit with odd skills” and the most appropriate role is People, Ideas and Machines Adviser to the Chief Special Adviser to the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

To transform Britain into a “meritocratic technopolis” will require a transformed Civil Service, and relies on achieving the holy grail — increasing the productivity of our people. This will mean grappling with the “Horrors of HR”, igniting a big Brexit bonfire and throwing in most of the management constructs we inherited from the last century.

It’s a good idea to bring in new ideas and aspire to cognitive diversity — this is part of the holy grail. If you ask HR about it, they might well tap away on their Oracle mainframe from 1998, create a pivot table in Excel and then bugger off home at 4.05 pm. The next morning they may lecture you on ‘cognitive bias’, ‘GDPR’ and maybe even ‘psychological safety’, and that would be boring for you I imagine.

As W. Edwards Deming once said, “A bad system will beat a good person every time”. We can hire our smart young mathematicians, artists, and weirdos, but what will happen when we put them into the Horrors of our 20th century, hierarchical bureaucracies?

Speaking from experience, make sure you get your newbie data scientists to work with the old duffers with liberal arts degrees from Oxbridge. They will need some good questions to get them going. Then coach them on persuading people that their findings are worth reading.

The Civil Service has about 450,000 employees and some of them are brilliant, especially Sue. You already have about 45k working in project delivery and policy, and 10k data scientists. Your optimum talent pool is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed. (kisses WG). Your best ideas for the future may well already be stored on the hard drives of those dusty old HP Pavilion PCs. Sourcing work in the digital age starts with assessing the evidence, and working out how to solve the problem using automated solutions, 3rd parties, employees, contractors, and other talent pools.

Instead of going to the bother of transforming the Civil Service, you could always buy PwC? It might be funny to see The Saj fall off his Starship Enterprise

You are right about the ‘trillion dollar bills lying on the street’, this is not low-hanging fruit, but a substantial opportunity for UK plc to build new ways to solve some workforce problems, create new working cultures and high-performing teams. With some imagination, we could be ‘cool like Fonzie’ and invest in the infrastructure of work that you will need for the Civil Service. For example, Singapore is already on its way to Happy Days — every new graduate will have a digital wallet to own and manage their career credentials.

I have some ideas about building digital work-matching platforms that allow workers to own their own verified digital career credentials and enable workers and employers to find each other more efficiently. PS best not to mention this to the unions, current technology providers or recruiters — not until the Universal Credit system is humming anyway.

My final pitch is that I have the energy and curiosity of a 21-year-old, more war stories than Mark Francois, a Peter Drucker book and yet I am still only the median age of a Civil Service employee.

Yours faithfully,

Andy Spence

(Image Credit: Daily Mail)

Passionate about making work better. MSc in Cognitive Science and #AI. Subscribe to #WorkforceFuturist Newsletter for updates.

Passionate about making work better. MSc in Cognitive Science and #AI. Subscribe to #WorkforceFuturist Newsletter for updates.