The key question to advertise is not “what do I know?” but rather “how fast have I been able to learn?”

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Hi Curt,

Great idea, but here’s what you are missing. 

Just kidding. :-}

It really is a great idea. I do have one suggestion though. You say that these communities would be “a virtuous cycle where workers can find work, advertise their unique skills, and asynchronously develop new skills to make themselves continuously more valuable.”

I would like to suggest that there be much more emphasis on “advertising learning capabilities” than on “advertising unique skills.” 

At present, we have x million positions vacant and y million people looking to fill those positions. Why is this?

You can say that it is in the inefficiency of the labor market and that’s true. But there is another dimension to this. 

What you see is firms looking for specific bundles of skills and experience, e.g. as shown in the examples given by Gregory Tseytin

“5 yrs. experience developing in C++ or 5 yrs. experience in OOP”
“7+ years in Java application development”
“2+ years of Node.js development using common middlewares such as express, async, and q.”

The chance of someone having exactly that particular bundle of skills and experience and being available in that time and place is remote. 

Moreover, suppose the firm does find the right person–a hexagon shaped worker to be fitted into a hexagon-shaped slot. Then the firm may abruptly discover that some new computer language or tool is required–say Python. So now the firm needs octagon-shaped workers. Do they then throw those hexagonal workers aside and advertise for octagonal workers i.e. with five years experience in Python?

In a fast moving workplace, the whole process of trying to get exact matches of needs and skills is doomed.

One part of the solution to this tangle of issues is for firms to start doing what they once did, namely, gulp, retraining existing workers. What a strange idea! This comes back to the management mindset issue that I mentioned in my presentation on the Creative Economy last Thursday. In the new workplace, the team becomes the asset, not the product they are working on. Nurturing and upgrading the skills of the team becomes a central management preoccupation. That’s what we saw on the site visits of the Learning Consortium for the Creative Economy.

The other part of the solution is to fundamentally rethink the whole recruitment process and HR mindset.

The current approach of trying to find the worker with the exact set of skills and experience is obsolete. What the firms should be looking for are “fast learners.” The skills that the firm needs today are not going to be the skills that it needs tomorrow. So why not recognize this and plan for it?

One firm that has done this is Menlo Innovations, a small software firm in Ann Arbor, MI, that writes software for high reliability medical devices. The CEO Richard Sheridan has written a book about it, called Joy Inc. Well worth reading.

Menlo explicitly recruits for “fast learners”, not specific skills. When they need new staff, they invite a bunch of people in, without being particular about their backgrounds or experience. Physicists, anthropologists, philsosophers as well as programmers. They might have 30 potential recruits and they sit them down with their existing employees for a morning of “speed dating.” The question for the existing employees is: would you want to work with this person? 

Those who get accepted are invited in to work for a day on a specific task with another employee in “pair programming.” The question again is: would you want to keep working with this person, because they are adding value and learning?

If that works ok, then they are invited in to work with an employee for a week.

If that works ok, then they are invited in for a month. 

If that works ok, then they are hired. 

In this way, the firm has people with quite diverse backgrounds and a demonstrated capability for fast learning and collaboration. It doesn’t matter whether the work requires Java or C++ or Python, it has people who can quickly learn. The result is that churn is eliminated and the firm can cope with pretty much anything. 

In the same spirit, I would like to suggest that, in the communities you are proposing, there be more emphasis on “advertisng learning capabilities” than on “advertising unique skills.” The key question to advertise is not “what do I know?” but rather “how fast have I been able to learn?”

What am I missing? :-}


On Sun, Jan 31, 2016 at 11:25 PM, Curt Carlson <>wrote:

Team: Here is a rough outline of one of my big take aways from the conference (in David’s formulation for a meme: name, definition, narrative).  Other names are welcomed.  More in a bit.  What am I missing?

Name:   Empowered worker communities (EPCs)

Definition: The emerging virtuous cycle between networked workers, available work, and skills development on emerging Internet, h/w, s/w, and AI enabled platforms. 

Narrative:  The advent of online web applications that connect workers with work plus the advent of individualized digital education creates a virtuous cycle where workers can find work, advertise their unique skills, and asynchronously develop new skills to make themselves continuously more valuable.  It puts power back in the hands of the worker and allows more freedom and choice.  Importantly, this generation of learning platforms (e.g., Cornerstone Math) promises dramatic improvements in skills development, an enabling technology.  

The learning platforms can include academic topics (algebra), tools (spreadsheets), and also collaborative learning and value creation systems and networks.  These collaborative networks can be built by individuals who can then leverage the genius of their extended team to add more value to their offerings. These global collaborative networks can ultimately make the world “transparent” so that a great team can be assembled for every project.  The teams can be either proprietary or open to the world.  Workers can be both participants on other’s teams while leaders of their own teams.  

These emerging empowered worker communities have the potential to transform the rate of innovative success around the world.  They open the possibility of a completely different kind of company — one composed of “gigers” but who all share services, insurance, healthcare, and opportunities for new business.  This represents a merging of the best networking ideas, the best value creation principles, and the best principles from the learning sciences (see here Doug Engelbart and the idea of a NIC).  Clearly it will also transform how established companies work and innovate.  

Top down government employment programs are only of marginal help in the Global Innovation Economy, which moves so fast and that has so many possibilities for unique work.  Only the worker is aware of the unique kinds of work to be done, their individual motivations and abilities, and the skills required to add more value to their offerings.  The government cannot build powerful collaborative network communities, where real  genius resides.  These platforms are on the path of creating meaningful work for millions.

On Jan 31, 2016, at 7:11 PM, Curt Carlson <> wrote:

Dear David, Robin, Vint, and Team,

You are the best.  This was a terrific conference.  It is inspiring to see all the progress over these years.  Seeing real solutions come out of the fog of only a few years ago shows how prescient you were in developing this area and in giving it a unique twist, not only in terms of content (e.g., the importance of narrative) but also format.  The quality and passion of the participants is a testament to the importance of the issues and the value of the meeting.  Mazeltov to the Nth power!
All the best,

PS  Steve, What am I missing?
Curtis R. Carlson, Ph.D.
Founder and CEO Practice of Innovation
President and CEO SRI International, 1998-2014
Our most important innovation is the way we work

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