Even though we have 12 million names for the current economy (sharing, gig, knowledge, etc.), a primary one would be “the on-demand economy.” Heck, The Wall Street Journal has even done a nice deep dive on it.
You’re likely smart enough to know what “on-demand economy” means, but it’s basically Amazon, Uber, Favor, etc. You can get what you want relatively soon after you want it. Add Tinder into that mix and we’ve put “sex” up with “groceries,” so woohoo go society.
The on-demand economy obviously creates organizational challenges, but they’re not the type you think.
What we tend to think are the challenges of an on-demand economy
Line up 100 people — “thought leaders,” maybe — and they’d probably say “customer needs are changing.” Yes, they are. That is true. However, that’s an external challenge. How you deal with customers is something that happens largely outside the walls of your various HQs.
Because processes often mean more than people, no one is necessarily thinking about the internal challenges (i.e. managing employees) of the on-demand economy. HR might be thinking about it, but I’ll go ahead and say that HR probably lacks the seat at the table to do anything about it.
So what is this internal challenge?
The management problem of the on-demand economy
We’re all very conditioned now to believe that we can get stuff fast, and/or when we want it. It’s almost normative. If such a thing as “collective conscious” exists, the notion of an on-demand economy has seeped into that.
This has a major impact on how managers are.
We know from research that many managers are not good at setting priorities for employees, which often arises from priorities not being set for them. Because priority is often unclear, an unfortunate thing happens. Well, two unfortunate things actually. OK, no, it’s three.
(1) is that almost any project can be deemed “urgent” even if it’s not.
(2) is the gradual evolution of the “hair trigger boss” who needs everything now now now and will have feedback now now now, often out of context and not positive.
What’s the bottom line here, then?
There is deep work and there is shallow work, yes. Shallow work can sometimes be demanded urgently, but even then — if you’re pushing people too hard to be fast, they’ll make mistakes.
Deep work takes time. If you want to see real results and change from it, it requires commitment and time and feedback loops and all that.
Innovation usually comes from deep work. We all seemingly want to be innovative these days. But deep work doesn’t line up well with our brains in the on-demand economy.
Can we train managers better for the on-demand economy?
It will be hard, because the rest of society is slot machine stuff. That’s what your mobile phone is. Why do you think we check that thing 44+ times per day? Because we want to see what’s out there. It’s on-demand in its own right. Our brains are kind of moving towards that. Remember Facebook’s first mantra? “Move fast, break things?” Yea.
What we need in companies is more critical thinking, but unfortunately thinking is very far off. Most people get promoted at jobs because of execution, following process, and kissing the right ass. Notice that nowhere in there I said “innovation” or “ideation” or “thinking.” Now, someone might work on/develop a new product that becomes a good revenue stream. Even if it’s a complete copy of a competitor, someone will say that’s “innovation” and promote that person, further muddying the waters. We can gloss that over for now tho.
This is always a great litmus test: let’s say it was possible to split time into two, OK? You give your boss two deliverables on the same project. Deliverable A is perfect but missed a lot of process marks, like maybe the charts are in Google Sheets and not Excel. OK? Deliverable B is horrible but all the process points are checked.
Which project do you think gets rewarded and which one penalized? The answer should be “A” and “B,” but for most managers, it’s “B” and “A.” Rapid, easy-to-scale execution matters to people. True thinking doesn’t.
And therein lies the flaw of management for an on-demand economy. Your take?