Health and the Happy Hamster

Two months into my new work-from-home lifestyle, it hit me: having my elliptical machine right in my office is not making it easier to be healthy. It is just locking me more securely into an approach to health that does not work.  Like Robin Williams, I feel exactly like a caged hamster. One particularly lousy-body-day a couple of weeks ago, watching the Discovery channel for inspiration, realization dawned: we are an ape species that evolved into perfection outwitting and killing huge mammoths. And then we got too clever for our own good and turned ourselves into caged hamsters.  Thinking got us into this mess, and only thinking can get us out. Hamsters of the world, follow me to freedom. I don’t have my blockbuster fitness DVD idea yet, but I’ve got a few attitude-fixing principles that I’ve been trying out, and they seem to be working.

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Trust in the Age of Twitter

One of the most interesting problems around today is modeling trust levels in a relationship. The NY Times today has an article on the ettiquete of “unfriending” on Facebook for instance. Facebook has a binary 0/1 solution. eCommerce sites have a narrow, transactional rating model that works well enough in a limited context in the aggregate. Requests for references ask the blunt question: would you hire this person again? But all these approaches are blunt instruments. We need better approaches for the age of Twitter. Here’s my first stab. What do you think?


The Cloudworker, Layoffs and The Disposable American

(warning, this post is much longer than usual, so here is a PDF version)

It has been bitterly cold here in the Washington, DC metro area for the last two days. Experiencing cold as ‘bitter’ is as much a cultural and emotional reaction as it is a physical one. This is my first winter in the DC area, which likes to think of itself as the ‘South,’ creating expectations for itself that nature unsympathetically shatters. An appropriate setting for trying to write a sober article on cloudworkers, their relation to layoffs and Louis Uchitelle’s 2006 book, The Disposable American: Layoffs and Their Consequences. If the cold is bitter today, my attitude towards one of my pet subjects, the future of work, is bittersweet. On the one hand, I am receiving a steady trickle of news of layoffs affecting friends around the world. On the other hand, my own modest efforts at punditry on the subject of work are heading in cheerful, hopeful directions. My friends at, just announced the results of their December contest. Here is my favorite entry, by Second Prize winner Dave Raymond, a musician who chose to represent his cloudworking lifestyle with this stark picture of being on the road.


His note on the picture: “I have no desk, I have no office, I have no schedule, I have no home.  I have a small family that is far away, and a few friends that I see rarely. I travel the United States all year, and collect inspiration to make the next reason to continue traveling.” Terse and unaffected romanticism worthy of the landscape that inspired Walt Whitman and Jack Kerouac, and ideally representing the paradox of cloudworking: individualism that is at once radical and socially situated. The picture is a perfect American cloudworker backdrop: Big Sky, green grass and a hint of modernity in the electric cables. Perfectly proportioned.

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Allenism, Taylorism and the Day I Rode the Thundercloud

Today, January 7th, was a brutal bitch of a day, and it was a great day. Every grim reality of the cloudworker lifestyle, the dark side of everything from mobility and laptops to eating on the run and elite car-rental status, hit me with full force. Both my New Year’s resolutions were hammered by gale-force winds. The business of life hit many potholes, and the game of work threatened to fall apart on me. But I not only survived, I actually made it a better-than-average day. I made it all work. Truly, it was the day I rode the thundercloud (I stole the phrase from a really old Reader’s Digest article I read as a kid).

And that’s why as my first post of 2009, I will offer up a meditation on the life-work of David Allen, he of Getting Things Done (GTD) fame, and his new book, Making It All Work: Winning at the Game of Work and Business of Life. I’ll tell you all about the role of Allen in the emerging landscape of the future of work.

Here’s the short, illustrated version. In 1911, Frederick Taylor invented the management model of Taylorism, which became the operating system of the The Cathedral, where the Organization Man was born, with William Whyte becoming his biographer. Six Sigma is the last hurrah of Taylorism. Ninety years later, In 2001, David Allen, with Getting Things Done, created Allenism. A model of work that is well on its way to becoming the operating system for the antithesis of the Cathedral, The Bazaar, home of the Cloudworker, whose biographer is undoubtedly Dan Pink (I just came up with the word, Dan’s written three books about cloudworkers). Eric S. Raymond, who wrote The Cathedral and the Bazaar about the open source movement, billed himself an accidental revolutionary. I am more modest. I’ll call myself the accidental wannabe-word-coiner, and hope that ‘cloudworker’ at least merits a footnote in the history of work. Anyway, here’s my picture explanation of Allenism vs. Taylorism:

You doubt that GTD is the future of work? The original GTD book has been seeing increasing sales every year since publication and is currently at an astronomical #53 on Amazon. With MIAW, a tipping point has been reached. The future of work is now here.

But to understand it, we have to zoom down from these century-level dynamics, what Allen would call the 50,000 foot level, to the runway level: 8:00 AM, the morning of 1/7/09, Wednesday, hump day, when the thundercloud hit me.

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How to Make New Year’s Calibrations

You read that right. Calibrations, not resolutions. Until you know a) exactly where you are, b) where you are already going, b) with how much momentum, c) and how much discretionary steering authority, resolutions are just rituals. For New Year’s party drunkards. You, of course, are a paragon of follow-through, but forward this to all those friends of yours who clearly need help. It’s an illustrated five-step program. If you start right now, you might actually be ready to make real resolutions by first-drink-time on December 31st.

Step 1: Calibrate PERSPECTIVE

Resolutions are supposed to be significant, even lofty, life-course-changing intentions. The only way you’ll know what counts as significant for you is to look back as far as you can, until your memories vanish into the foggy cloud of babyhood. For me, that means late 1974 foggily, late 1975 practically.

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Brain Rules by John Medina

If you read only two books about the brain, Medina’s Brain Rules should probably be your second one (thanks Kapsio, for the recommendation), after Oliver Sacks’ The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat. If you’ve been reading this blog for more than a few months, you might remember a post I did nearly a year ago called The Broken Brain Books. Let me repeat the quote from Steven Johnson’s Mind Wide Open that I used to start that post:

…while it is interesting to find out [the] exact addresses [of brain functions], that information is ultimately unsatisfying. Call it the “neuromap fallacy.” If neuroscience turns out to be mostly good at telling us the location of the “food craving center” or the “jealousy” center,” then it will be of limited relevance to ordinary people seeking a new kind of self-awareness — because learning where jealousy lives in your head doesn’t make you understand the emotion any more clearly. Those neuromaps will be of great interest to scientists of course, and doctors. But to the layperson, they will be little more than trivia.

By this critique (which I wholeheartedly agree with), most ‘brain’ books are a big waste of trees. Medina, thankfully, avoids this trap, and doesn’t even mention fMRIs till fairly late into the book, and when he does, he steps away lightly from pointless fMRI-pornography. That leaves us with 12 brain rules, each of which gets a chapter. The chapter on short-term memory for instance, is titled “repeat to remember.” Well Duh! you might say. Fortunately, there are deeper insights buried within. Despite appearances, the book isn’t an exercise in providing unnecessary proofs for folk-tautologies.

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Future-of-Work Mini-X-Prizes at

The easiest way to predict the future, as Alan Kay said, is to invent it. Some friends of mine, over at a stealth design/innovation startup called WilsonCoLab, decided to start a site dedicated exclusively to this task at, which beta-launched today with a neat contest (seriously flattering to have a word you coined taken this seriously!). Cool logo, eh?

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Is There a Cloudworker Culture?

When one of my regular readers IM’ed me, “I hope you write about cloudworker culture next,” I almost panicked. All I had in my head at the time was a dark three-word post: “there isn’t one,” accompanying a sort of desperately humorous image: Alberto Giacometti’s famous sculpture Chariot, holding a Starbucks coffee cup and a Blackberry at her hip. The original sculpture suggests a sort of sombre existential loneliness. Add Starbucks and the Blackberry, and the gravitas of the original degenerates to an anxious farce. A tragic farce, because the figure is still lonely. My modest photoshop skills turned out to be up to the task, so here is the mashed-up image I started with, in my head.

Mashup elements courtesy MOMA, Starbucks and RIM

Cloudworker by Rao (2008); Mashup elements courtesy MOMA, Starbucks and RIM

Immersed in the farcical post-existential loneliness of the Cloud, the cloudworker’s cultural life just might be no more than an impoverished buzz of emoticons. The highlights of his cultural life might be fleeting, unsatisfying encounters with co-cloudworker strangers whose gaze he holds for a second longer than necessary at Starbucks, but does not engage. A condition worse than that of Chuck Palahniuk’s hero in Fight Club, who at least found connection and community by beating other men to a pulp.

If the Giacometti sculpture is too high-brow for you, consider a more popular literary image: Mark Twain’s unforgettable King and Duke characters in Huckleberry Finn, drifting down the Mississippi. Rulers of a Micro-Balkan virtual kingdom on a raft. Farce once again.

But then I figured I was being too dark, and did come up with a bunch of ideas that suggest that a cloudworker culture is emerging. I figured I’d let you ponder the question for yourself before sharing my answer.

So what do you think? Is there a cloudworker culture, or are all us cloudworkers doomed to the socially and culturally empty life suggested by my art mashup?

Cloudworker Economics

I started my exploration of the changing nature of careers with a micro-level view of its archetypal figure, the cloudworker. In this second part in the series, let’s take a look at how the cloudworker fits within the economy. The main argument of this article is that the dominant distinction in labor economics, unemployed vs. employed, is slowly getting displaced by a more fundamental one: default vs. exceptional career paths. Think of it as an emerging long tail in the space of career “design patterns” where there are a huge number of sui generis career (and lifestyle) designs. My contention is that this new watershed is primarily being created by technological forces, not economic, demographic or cultural ones, and that this has important consequences. So within my model, the cloudworker is primarily characterized by a technology-enabled my-size-fits-me career. The economic antithesis of the cloudworker is the organization man. Both organization man and cloudworker will co-exist in the future, but the latter, until recently characterized only by negative definition (“not an organization man”) will drive the economy. Here is a picture of where the notion of cloudworker fits, among related conceptual models. The x-axis represents level of dependence on technology for economic production, and the y-axis represents the degree to which the worker is tethered, financially, to a single institution. In this map, ‘cloudworker’ differs from others in being a technology-dependent definition.

Cloudworkers on the My Size Fits Me Map

Cloudworkers on the My Size Fits Me Map

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The Cloudworker’s Creed

In which we offer up a lyrically-hyperlinked (and determinedly purple) paean to the Future of Work. Even as economic storm clouds gather, a grimly pragmatic worker archetype is floating in on that other sort of cloud, which just came off beta status. Advance apologies to readers on a low-fat diet. Sometimes I just want to cook adjective-loaded long sentences.

The telecommuter is dead; meet the cloudworker (I made up the term for a contest). Commuting being an artifact of the work-life style of the Organization Man, the term telecommuter absolutely deserves to be retired in favor of one that captures the richness of what is actually going on. The cloudworker is the prototypical information worker of tomorrow. He overachieves or coasts remotely, collaborates or backstabs virtually, and delivers his gold or garbage to a shifting long-tail micro-market defined only by his own talents or lack thereof. The cloudworker manages personal microbrand equity and network social capital rather than a career. Over a lifetime, through recessions and bubbles, he navigates fluidly back and forth between traditional paycheck employment, slash-work and full, untethered-to-health-insurance free agency.



To paraphrase William Gibson, the cloudworker is already here; he is just unevenly distributed in the workforce.

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