The swings of labor sentiment

The work-from-home instructions at many organizations may be indicative of two things, one of which is widely discussed (and no need to belabor the remote enablement aspect of software eating the world and its environs). The other, more nuanced perhaps and subject to interpretation, reflecting the speed, decisiveness, and permanence of such corporate moves, is the ease with which this has all happened.


I’m kidding, by the way, as I often do around here, but it feels almost like a slight. “Stay home,” they say, “no, really, it’s ok. Forever.” This isn’t based on fact or data, obviously, not even hearsay or experience, it is entirely made up for purposes of speculation. The health concerns are obviously serious, the anxiety relief is critical all around, the crowd control will save so much grief that is avoidable.

A consequence, however, or perhaps a trend that has been underway, may be an accelerating impersonalization of the workforce. A time may come, perhaps, when we will miss the long commute, and when business labor practices will become centralized again as a point of differentiation.

The big cities, the main hubs, will maybe concentrate again if that should come to be, or possibly some new ones will emerge before the feeling passes.

To pivot in an earthquake

To pivot – a term recently popularized in the startup economy – is to change course around a stationary point from which the angles and trajectories are guided. Before the startup ecosystem borrowed the idea, and after physics, a sports motif was sandwiched in between, such as in basketball for instance, where a player rotates from a pivot foot to find free space, to fake out a defender, or shape a new course of action.

In all of these examples, the idea of the pivot is predicated on two elements, only one of which is the new direction. The other, arguably the more essential, is the stationary point that is the root and base which makes the pivot possible. In enterprise, this is a core technology, a differentiator or essential skill, from which new possibilities emerge. As in sports, this center is a necessary springboard of support and leverage.

Now, if this central base is shaky or planted on unstable ground, the resulting motion is not a pivot, technically, but (in basketball) a travel (resulting in a penalty and turnover). In the enterprise, the change of course may be a broken line, a reset, a whole new profile that may or may not bear semblance to the previous. In other words, the thing that made the business what it was, good or bad, is cast aside and entirely refashioned.

A pivot is often prescribed in business, where flexibility and nimbleness are advantageous, particularly when new markets or new trends are visible. What matters in these cases is the efficiency of execution as much as the directional vision. If either of these two are botched, the pivot, good or bad, may not even be a pivot. It may well still work out, randomly or by good fortune, but not necessarily by planning, unless the plan itself was based on chaos theory.

In the environment we’re in, to pivot with success may be a challenge because the pivot foot, and also the potential new directions, are being knocked around by an unstable ground that makes the planting virtually impossible. And as we have little visibility into what comes on the other side of this, when the ground has stabilized, it’s hard to know what the area one lands upon will look like, or what one’s place in the area will be.

The better course, perhaps – although it’s difficult to know and to pursue the ideal path when the ground is violently shaking – is to stay liquid and keep all options open. If that is at all possible. One day this turbulence will end.

Related reading in context, on Airbnb, Magic Leap, Disney and a grocery supplier.

Street musicians

These guys were a scrappy bunch, they barely made the playoffs as the 8-seed in the eastern conference, and they went on to the finals in the only such occurrence for the league to-date.

The ’98-’99 season started four months late, in February ’99, and was shortened – 50 games out of the usual 82 – with several back-to-back-to-backs on the schedule just to fit those 50 into the allotted time. The labor dispute that led to the delay, a player lockout in which our city’s franchise player was the union head, kept said Big Fella busy and distracted in what would have been pre-season. He – already past his prime, running on fumes, and hurting everywhere – was joined that season by his polar opposite, a quick improvisational firecracker coming off a season-long suspension (don’t ask), which made that year’s team an experimental hodgepodge of chemistry and style. What a season.

The new arrival played the same position as the incumbent smooth-as-silk sharpshooter, and was thus relegated to the bench for quite a while. The other notable big name, one Grandmama, played with a sore back and had lost his signature explosiveness for years. The two point guards were maybe one good role player if combined. The tall athletic up-and-coming forward bounced around and swatted balls like flies around the court, and sometimes even scored. There was a slow and grinding starting unit and a fast uptempo second; it was such a mess.

The coach who kept it all together had sort of made his mark the year before, latching on to the opponent center’s ankle and the hardwood floor in what was at the time the traditional annual skirmish with the conference rival.

So anyway, this was the freakish team that barely made the playoffs in that freakish season, coming off a winning final stretch in which somehow there came to be chemistry, like a miracle, and the 8-seed beat the 1 and 4 and 2, in that order, to get to the championship round.

By that point though, the Big Fella was out for the count, Grandmama could barely walk, and the rest of them could only do so much against what was the start of a major franchise on its long historic run, only recently ended.

No matter. The moment was an inspiration for all involved.

[Play this with the volume on.]

After the game the crowd spilled out into the New York City streets, chanting and energized, glorious, inspired, the grown-ups and the kids, everybody and in all directions from the Garden. Because these guys who we all saw coming together in those few months of concentrated action, were more than entertainers, more than athletes, as a whole. These guys really meant it.

It was a nice gift in our isolation for the MSG Network to rerun these highlights yesterday.

Here’s to the street musicians, everywhere.

In virtual reality

A sentiment is beginning to spread that once the pandemic crisis has subsided, we (i.e., social norms and patterns) will never be the same. While this is a justifiable prediction, matters of “we” are very difficult to predict.

There is a tendency, as always, to extend the observed trajectory out into the future, with no friction or reaction to the trend, without external elements that may influence a movement, even if indirectly and from afar, which influence itself is probably non-linear in nature.

In real-time, the broken lines or shifting of momentum that occur to change an outlook or to render forecasts incomplete, if not completely wrong, appear as though random or chaotic. With hindsight, there are always explanations, over which there usually is dispute because with hindsight even explanations are complex and subject to interpretation.

The one on which we settle is then used to shape an outlook going forward, and maybe we convince ourselves at times that we predicted well, but who’s to say if we were right for the right reason or by happenstance. And sometimes we learn more from instances where we were wrong, at least when we acknowledge our wrongness.

Anyway… with this by way of backdrop, here is a current event that may be projected out, and one day prove to be prophetic, or at least symbolic, though possibly anomalous, or maybe all these things, depending on perspective.

The Verge

Conflicting interests

Everyone has an interest or two, often more, some held more strongly than others. It is the case sometimes that interests are so many that the tracking is impossible, maybe even for their owner. That may be generally the case, it’s not for me to say, and maybe the successful (in whatever way that gets defined, which is subjective) are those who keep these interests organized, prioritized, and focused.

For example, the new category dropdown menu to the side, just introduced, is an attempt to list the interests in this space in an organized, prioritized, and focused fashion. My favorite is “Etc.”, which I expect to use more often (in fact this very post), it seems thus far under-represented. In fairness, though, all subjects have a bit of “Etc.” to them, it’s really more a question of how much and is it worth the special designation.

A messy business, as I think it through… and depending on how deep below the surface one may choose to dig, the mess only gets more tangled, intertwined, and circular. And that’s just for the simple subject of this little blog, which doesn’t scratch the surface of complexities around it.

The point of these digressions anyway relates to yesterday’s “Etc.” post on choosing experts. We give and take advice, we follow and unfollow, we converge around directions set by those we deem to be in privileged positions to lead the way, but as we do, it pays sometimes to think about the interests involved. Sometimes these are disclosed and clear, though oftentimes they’re not, which isn’t necessarily for deception, but just because the matter is quite complicated.

Choosing experts

We often latch on to success in any form, and project it out to every form, for following and guidance. This is especially true, I think, when uncertainty is more than ordinary.

The shown example is just one, in terms of scope as well as subject, and the phenomenon prevails in business execution especially…

… where uncertainty is always great and expertise is deemed quantifiable, measured by value formation and investment return.

But every situation is different, even with some common elements here and there, while expertise tends to be general to an area.

What’s more, when the portfolio is diversified, and when investors are observers rather than active doers in most cases, this does not make portfolio success (in the past) a good credential for individual success (in the future).

And it’s unfair, I think, to put some investors in such a position, expecting the big answers and big guidance to the big unknowns.

Though, on the other hand, many enjoy it.