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Job of the day: Corporate Historian at Ralph Lauren

Friday, 5 October, 2018

“Corporate Historian will lead archival efforts in documenting, preserving, cataloguing and promoting the company’s 50+ year history. The Historian will also leverage the company’s archive and history to work with internal and external partners to engage audiences with the story and heritage of Ralph Lauren.”

That’s the job. If you want it, bring some knowledge to the table. For example, knowledge of twentieth century American Fashion history and general knowledge of American and New York history. Helpful, too, a “working knowledge of library database, taxonomy, and metadata.” Photoshop, InDesign and Excel proficiency are pluses.

There’s a significant media component: “Pull and capture notable quotes by and about Ralph Lauren found in editorial, social media and advertising on a weekly basis,” and a legal one: “Lead ongoing vetting process by partnering with high-level executives in design, philanthropy, and legal departments.”

Naturally, there’s “storytelling” to be done: “Collaborate with Director of Rare & Historical Collection and Director of Marketing & Advertising Assets to promote the company’s history through storytelling in partnerships with internal departments as well as potential external partners in exhibitions, publishing projects, and new media.”

Ralph Lauren’s story deserves a historian as it’s a uniquely American one of rags to riches. And, as Churchill said, “History will be kind to me for I intend to write it.”

Ralph Lauren


The Unbundling of Jobs

Wednesday, 22 August, 2018

“In the mass economy, each job used to be a bundle. With that job came money, health care, a pension, provable solvency to purchase a house and a car, the promise of stability and constant enrichment, and more. Each worker accepted a ‘bargain’: division of labour in exchange for a ‘bundle’ of benefits and security. Work wasn’t necessarily fulfilling and interesting. But the bargain made the relative alienation perfectly acceptable.”

So begins The Unbundling of Jobs and What it Means for the Future of Work by Laetitia Vitaud at Medium. She believes that the “bargain” is ending and the “bundle” is being undone, but a brighter future beckons thanks to what she calls the “digital transition” that’s happening right now. Those who “hunger for more autonomy, flexibility and purpose” will be at the forefront of adopting “new work models”, and these workers, “freelancers, in particular” will be “in a position to negotiate a new ‘bundle’, one where work comes with self-fulfillment and autonomy,” claims Vitaud.

This may be true for an elite, but those who have been unbundled and unbargained will face new overlords intent on devising ever more repressive forms of bondage. In the past, serfs would pay dues (in the form of work) to the manor in exchange for using part of the lord’s land to produce their own food. If the microserfs of the future ever get around to reading history, they’ll find the Middle Ages oddly familiar.


Diarist of the day: Barbara Pym

Saturday, 11 August, 2018

“Visit to Jane Austen’s house?I put my hand down on Jane’s desk and bring it up covered with dust. Oh that some of her genius might rub off on me! One would have imagined the devoted female custodian going round with her duster at least every other day.” Barbara Pym, 11 August 1943

The English writer Barbara Pym died of breast cancer, aged 66, on 11 January 1980. Her sister Hilary continued to promote her work, and helped set up the Barbara Pym Society in 1993.


On being a remote

Wednesday, 18 April, 2018 0 Comments

“I’m used to working at home and now I find being at the main office a lot more distracting than working from home.” — Julia Evans

Julia Evans is a software developer. She lives in Montreal and works of the payment processing platform Stripe, on infrastructure. Her blog, she says, is about “being delighted about programming” but it’s not all Python headers, Ruby profilers and bash scripting. Back in February, she wrote about her experiences of working remotely, something she’s done for four years now. It’s a very useful post for those in the so-called “gig economy” and it addresses a lot of the questions posed by people contemplating replacing the commute with the home office.

A ton of people asked me questions about what I think of as sort of basic job health — how do you make sure your coworkers don’t ignore you / leave you out of discussions, how do you communicate, etc.

My current theory about this is — as long as I work on a team with a lot of other remotes, everything will be fine. Working as the only remote on a team of people who are all in person seems like hard mode — I have never done it and I’m not that interested in trying that.

Note: “I can’t imagine working remotely without good videoconferencing technology.”


Work: Accompany will replace the PA/EA with a CoS

Sunday, 22 January, 2017 0 Comments

Amy Chang is betting that her app, Accompany, can replace the PA (Personal Assistant) many executives employ to manage their complicated schedules and lives. By the way, PA is undergoing a professional and linguistic update right now and the main contenders for the new title are Executive Assistant and, Amy Chang’s own favourite, Chief-of-Staff. With its hints of martial hierarchy, authority and White House glamour, Chief-of-Staff should emerge as the winner.

Back to Accompany. It’s marketing itself as an intelligent Chief of Staff and its goal is provide an automated briefing with all the information you need before you walk into a meeting. This includes relevant files, e-mail conversations with participants, details about their lives pulled from the web and up-to-date information on company performance. This is already a crowded space and Accompany will have to battle with apps such as Clara, Tempo and Charlie, but as Matthew Lynley pointed out last month in TechCrunch, Amy Chang is in the money: “Digital chief-of-staff app Accompany raises $20M and launches a UK Beta.”

Accompany


Lucy Kellaway swaps keyboard for blackboard

Monday, 21 November, 2016 0 Comments

“We will live until we are 100, and will work into our 70s. If Leonard Cohen could do world tours until he was 80, I can surely find the energy needed to be in a classroom all day, teaching kids my favourite subject.” So says Lucy Kellaway, who surprised the world of business journalism yesterday by announcing that after 31 years at the Financial Times she’s changing careers. She’s training to be a teacher.

Kellaway is famous for her acerbic writing about the loathsome side of corporate life, but she’s trading in the cushy punditry for a future facing teenagers in an inner London school teaching the basics of trigonometry. And she’s got it all figured out.

She has set up Now Teach and one of its goals is to persuade experienced managers at outfits like McKinsey and Goldman that teaching “is a cool and noble thing to do”. But isn’t teaching, like, complicated? It certainly is. Kellaway, however, is partnering with Ark, an educational charity that specializes in training teachers, which means all those ex-executives will be well prepared for their lessons

Again, the announcement yesterday caught everyone by surprise, but it’s not as if there weren’t portents. In April last year, Lucy Kellaway had lunch with Australia’s Financial Review, and at one stage she said: “I’ve been at the FT for 30 years. 30 YEARS! With the same employer. That is kind of ironic given the whole thing I do is write about new ways of work and loyalty and all of that.”

That was then. Life begins at 58 they say now.

Lucy Kellaway


Whither work?

Thursday, 17 November, 2016 0 Comments

“It’s one of the dirty secrets of economics: technology progress does grow the economy and create wealth, but there is no economic law that says everyone will benefit.” — Erik Brynjolfsson

Who he? The Director of the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy and author of the best-selling The Second Machine Age, is he. Brynjolfsson maintains that in the race against the machine, some are likely to win while many are likely to lose. It’s a view that’s gaining traction as pessimism about the role of technology in a globalized economy increases, but Stephen DeWitt is more optimistic.

He’s held senior positions at HP, Cisco and Symantec, but instead of retiring, he became the CEO at Work Market, a rapidly-growing platform that’s reformulating the worker-employer equation. Backed by New York VC Fred Wilson, Work Market helps connect workers with companies that need to get stuff done.

The concept isn’t new. The “gig economy” of Uber and TaskRabbit is familiar to many, but DeWitt believes that this “on demand economy” will include all kinds of work eventually. Millions of people are stuck in jobs that are unnecessary and inefficient, he argues, and points out that by 2030 there will be 3.2 billion skilled workers on earth, all connected to the internet. Will a company filled with full time workers be the ideal model then? Or might the model be an agile core of managers assigning work to a network of workers competing for projects based on their skills, reputations and their ability to deliver results? That could spell the end of unnecessary and inefficient jobs. Or it might lead to a dystopia. We are approaching the crossroads and we’ll have to turn left or right.

“If you want something new, you have to stop doing something old.” — Peter Drucker

The gig economy


“Put it off for a bit. All life is putting off.”

Tuesday, 9 August, 2016 0 Comments

“I am a storyteller, using film, animation and a peculiar imagination to solve problems, connect people, and make change,” says Stuart Langfield tongue-in-cheek, using all the clichés of the trade. He’s fond of that story one, though: “I’m also developing a brand storytelling system for Shopify’s product marketing films,” he says. That should help pay the bills. The Ottawa-based e-commerce software maker more than doubled its sales in the second quarter of this year to $3.4 billion.

When storytelling was young and commerce was not preceded by an e plus a hyphen, Thomas More said, “What is deferred is not avoided.” Some 500 years later, Anthony Burgess said, “Put it off for a bit. All life is putting off. Well, not entirely.” In that spirit, Stuart Langfield tackles that most unavoidable of chores: Procrastination.

“But indefinite visions of ambition are weak against the ease of doing what is habitual or beguilingly agreeable; and we all know the difficulty of carrying out a resolve when we secretly long that it may turn out to be unnecessary. In such states of mind the most incredulous person has a private leaning towards miracle: impossible to conceive how our wish could be fulfilled, still — very wonderful things have happened!” — George Eliot, Middlemarch


Own the robots, rule the world

Wednesday, 9 December, 2015 0 Comments

According to Marx, it’s simple. Ownership of the Means of Production is in the wrong hands and this has led to the class differences that bedevil the planet. Individual ability, religious or cultural factors are irrelevant to the Marxists — all that’s needed is to wrest the machines from the capitalists, give them to the proletariat and the world will be as one. The disciples of Karl Marx have been preaching this “gospel” since the mid-19th century with spectacular calamity for the masses, most recently in Venezuela.

Is there a better way? And if so, who should own the modern Means of Production? The question is increasingly urgent in a world where Google is replacing librarians and professors are being eliminated by massive online courses. As computers and robots eat up the tasks being done by humans, workers need to do something or they’ll end up doing nothing. One solution would see governments taxing the Zuckerbergs and the Musks punitively and redistributing the “take” to the workers, but that’s the Venezuela way. Better: workers own shares in tech firms, have stock options in the AI start-ups and be paid in part from the profits generated by the robotics companies.

Who says? Richard B. Freeman, who holds the Herbert Ascherman Chair in Economics at Harvard University does. Recently, Germany’s Forschungsinstitut zur Zukunft der Arbeit GmbH, better known as the Institute for the Study of Labor and abbreviated as IZA, asked Freeman for his thoughts on technology, work and capital. For the Bonn-based non-profit, Freeman wrote “Who owns the robots rules the world” and in it he argues that the best model is an American one in the form of the Employee Stock Ownership Plans introduced in 1974 and which have since energized a sector that now employs some 11 million workers.

“The EU has endorsed such schemes in its various Pepper Reports and encouraged these forms of organization, though with, at best, modest success,” notes Freeman, ruefully. The continent of Marx is not too fond of worker ownership, unless the state is the proprietor, that is. On the other side of the Atlantic, which remains Marx resistant, despite the best efforts of the elites, Freeman points out that “enough firms in the US have extended some form of ownership stake to their workers that on the order of half of American employees get some part of their pay through profit-sharing, options, or stock ownership.” This is the way forward because, “In the US, at least, people with widely different ideological and economic views find attractive the notion of spreading ownership. One can imagine governments giving preferential treatment in procurement to firms that meet some basic ’employee ownership’ financial standard.”

As we enter the age of Industry 4.0, a priority of every developed economy should be encouraging worker ownership of capital to provide income streams from the technologies changing the world of work. Otherwise, Richard B. Freeman warns: “If we don’t succeed in spreading the ownership of capital more widely, many of us will become serfs working on behalf of the owners. Who owns the robots rules the world! Let us own the robots.” Aye!

Robots at work


The eighth Station: Bibs

Tuesday, 1 December, 2015 0 Comments

As the tide of the past recedes, it carries away much of what we thought was permanent. Gone with the undertow are the “bibs”, those apron-like uniforms rural women once wore indoors and outdoors. Unlike so much of modern work clothing, numbingly alike in its drabness, the bib was colourful, floral, cheerful. So what if the work that had to be done by the wearer involved drudgery? One could still tackle it in style.

The bibs

My mother’s favourite was the crossover bib. As a young girl she had fashioned them from recycled cotton flour bags, adding an embroidered decoration here and there and finishing off with some bright ric-rac trim as a flourish. The patterns had their origins in pinafores that relatives had sent back from England and the uniquely Irish result was a wrap-around coverall titled the “bib”. The word itself has its origins in the Middle English verb bibben, meaning to drink, from the Latin bibere, either because the garment was worn while drinking or because it soaked up spills. It was definitely the latter in my mother’s case as the bib was worn when bathing children, milking cows, washing dishes and countless other tasks that involved spills and splashes.

“I’ll take off the bib,” was my mother’s declaration that something significant was about to happen. This could indicate preparation for a trip or it might involve the arrival of an important visitor. Once the visitor had departed or when the trip ended with a return to home, the bib has donned and “the jobs” began again.

Our next station in this series of meditations on 14 photographs is Tracing.


The seventh Station: Farming

Monday, 30 November, 2015 1 Comment

Each cow had a name and a designated place in the stall. All had unique personalities and this had to be taken into account during the milking, otherwise the bucket might be kicked over and its valuable contents would merge with the rushes and dung that covered the cow-house floor. Unappetizing. Unprofitable. It paid to be mindful.

Mother milking

Nothing much changed when the milking machine arrived. The hard labour of milking by hand ended and the herd size doubled, but the individual attention to the cows remained the same. Mother and father fed them all kinds of good things: wheat pollard decorated with pulped turnips; crisp hay adorned with scented beet pulp and, above all, good grass. In return, they delivered quality milk. My mother’s love of cows was more than the stereotypical affection for those big bovine eyes. It was bound up with the firm knowledge that care and attention would be rewarded with a product that fed the family, warmed the home and provided for the rainy day.

The cows and their precious milk were part of an ecosystem called “the farm”. Like the cows, this was not an anonymous conglomerate: each field had its own name: the Paddock, the Long Field, the Spout Field, the Drainy Field, the Meadow, Egan’s, Neill’s, Franks’… That latter name was bound up with a contested Anglo-Irish history that stretched back to the 17th century and both my parents had an encyclopaedic knowledge of the connections between the parts that made up the whole. Twice, in the 1960s, they bought fields that helped turn the farm into a more viable enterprise. This was the biggest “play” of their careers. Money had to be borrowed which was risky because farming, regardless of the scale, is a hazardous industry and an accident or an illness can change everything in an instant. With a young family and a lack of “staff”, as my mother used say, they took the chance, anyway, and it paid off. Their assembly of fields, paid for with blood, sweat and tears, was their joint masterpiece — a true labour of love.

There’s a vague memory of early summer Sunday mornings, when the milking still took place in the fields. It was early because the milk had to be taken earlier than usual to the creamery on a Sunday. The splish-splash of the milk hitting the inside of the metal buckets was accompanied by the sound of my mother and father singing. They were in their prime, they were healthy, they were happy and they were in their fields.

Our next station in this series of meditations on 14 photographs is Bibs.