Techies in search of a new philosophy
Yesterday I had a long conversation with my dear friend Pree Kolari who is a designer, artist, engineer, and a beekeeper. He started his academic career studying instrumentation engineering in Mysore and has evolved into a sensitive silicon valley tech leader who is driven by humanitarian and sustainability values.
During our long call we primarily talked about effects of pandemic on people’s priorities of life and the consequences of this mind shift on the future of work. The provocation was a recent statement by Elon Musk telling Tesla employees to “return to the office full time or resign.” Our conversations were guided by both our personal beliefs and the behaviors and attitudes we have observed through conversations with people during the pandemic. To put context to our common curiosities- Pree and I share over a decade long travels around the world for ethnographic research work. We have developed common curiosities from our work at SonicRim. We have been friends for almost twenty five years.
During our conversation Pree advocated for the benefits of in-person work from the perspective of a company. We discussed the need for nurturing a sense of meaningful social interactions and mentoring relationships, cultivating common culture and values and the importance of creating environments that provide employees immersion in the organization’s mission and ethos. On the other hand, while agreeing with him from the place of our shared experiences, briefs and values, I also took the opportunity to express what I have observed from conversations with close to 500 participants of our projects during the pandemic. I do maintain that no matter what employers believe, there is a storm brewing in the minds of the workforce that questions every decision employers want to make in the interest of the business. People want work life balance and want to live a more purposeful life.
While recognizing that “growth”, “productivity” and “cultivating an environment best suited for enabling competency building for employees” continues to be employers’ concern, employees are questioning what they have to give up in personal lives in order to help companies serve their own mission. The capitalist system, large and global corporations, the culture of working 80+ hours to succeed/ rise in an organization, spending hours in commute- all of these elements of the work of the past are being questioned today.
I proposed to Preetham that the younger generation is asserting their right to live life on their own terms- even if it means deviating from the traditional path of overworking to accumulate wealth. There is a growing curiosity for how much is enough to live a secure and purposeful life.
I reminded pree of my interview from 2013 by Sharon Simonson of The Registry, a bay area magazine of real estate industry). She asked me,
“Do you believe the companies now building these large corporate campuses in Silicon Valley are going to achieve what they hope to achieve with them?
My response was, “Large working complexes will be pyramids for dead people. I’m not making a judgment. I am just observing. They are fading symbols of an era that is soon going to be a bygone era. The ideal environment is where people don’t have to go to a workplace. The workplace is distributed in the community.
As long as we think of work from an employer’s perspective, it won’t succeed. You can’t say, ‘how do you make slaves happy?’ We need to treat workers as real people and include them in the process [of creating their workplace]. Why do people want to come together? It’s not to work or play but to do something constructive. Happiness doesn’t mean turning people into clowns. Happiness is tied to having an optimal state where one is overextending your capabilities. It’s not tied to working or playing but to someone who is extending their boundaries and getting feedback. Make happier people, not happier slaves.”
In the article Simonson wrote:
“Dandavate appeared as a panelist at the March chapter meeting of CoreNet for a program entitled, “Inspiring Innovation in the Workplace, or How to Get Out of the Way of Our Talent.” He also spoke independently to The Registry.
Perhaps there should be no dedicated workplace at all, Dandavate said. Rather, income-producing work — whatever it may be at any moment — should be seamlessly integrated into the work of daily life, functioning in and around personal demands.”
In the course of our conversation- I said to Pree- I hold these observations in my evolving thought process, independent of my crystallized beliefs, because I believe the forces of change to an emerging future are stronger today than ever before. The pandemic is nature’s call to reconsider life outside of human made criteria for prosperity. I also said- I am practical- my ultimate objective still is to help my clients ride the forces of change to go-create a future that resonates with the values and needs of everyday people. I still want to deliver results and support decisions in my client organizations and not just indulge in a fantasy future. I do believe that the future of work is going to be defined by two principles- “Caring and Sharing”.
Pree’s response was- Uday, you are a designer by training but have become a philosopher over time. I want you to talk to the engineering team in my company and provoke a new way of thinking about the future while tapping to their musings from the pandemic.
I was delighted that a tech leader who cares for the community he leads- wants to build a philosophical framework through which his team can process their relationship to work and help build their competencies for an emerging future.