Notes on Work

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In a conversation with Alonso Vera a PhD in Machine Intelligence and Head of Computer – Human interaction at NASA Ames in Silicon Valley we came to the idea that there are 3 layers of work.

1. Ideation
2. Analysis
3. Execution

The philosophical dilemmas and robotic challenges currently being grappled with in the creation of the drone ecosystem all occur in what the experts all ‘the last 50 feet’

Technology, almost by definition annihilates time and space to create percieved efficiencies

If you think about ‘work’ as a song, an orchestral composition, there is a start, a middle and the end.  Whether completed by an individual or a group, without all of it’s necessary components it is not effective work.

My observation is that technology & automation is burning our ‘Work Wick’ from the middle out, rather than from at both ends. My belief is that technology will continue to do so until a far smaller pair of wicks remain.


I believe it’s good for our quality of life to burn this wick but I see the work song as a bell curve and there is a point where we are in danger of under-appreciating the value humans bring to our global community of work.

So where will this leave us?

The value of skills is always changing as our environment and supply and demand curves undulate as they consistently do, but with the rise of smart machines I think the space that the ‘being human’ definition occupies is coming into focus, getting scrutinised, and this I believe is a wonderful thing.

The definition, on one hand getting narrowed down, like when Jane Goodall found out that we aren’t the only tool makers, but on the other hand a growing appreciation for the nuanced skills that make our boutique biological make up and human capacity so special.

It is good to work, and in an ideal world everyone will get to operate from a place of saying ‘What is the work that only I can do?’ rather than settling for ‘What can I do?’ or worse still, never being given the opportunity to contribute express anything in accordance with what they have been designed to do.

In our environment in 2016 I believe the value of humans doing ‘Planned & Canned’ work is down and the value of excellent ideation and physical movement is up.

I hope that through we will help explore this with a wider community and help ensure that this good work is paired with stories that matter, in essence, taking the appropriate risks we are designed for. I wrote about ‘Risk’ Here after speaking at Oxford’s Said business school.

Both of the presently valuable types of human work are brought to life beautifully by these 2 experts, Firstly Ido Portal, a real master of movement who I hope to spend some time with, learning from in his movement camps. 

James Altucher, a great thinker and writer talks about the value of ideas nicely here although, it seems, still thinking very nationalistically about the economic benefits.

In the light of machines doing work we used to do I think more credit and focus should be given to our ability to function in novel ways in the ‘Last 50 Feet’

I see the definition of work being ‘A meaningful and tangible contribution to our global community of environment, animals, machines and humans’. This can be executed through a variety of disciplines in the arts and sciences.

Wikipedia describes 2 common understanding on ‘Work as a noun’

Screenshot 2016-03-06 15.37.24

I think that whilst the second definition is important, as in our worlds full of complexity and specialism we do need to have some chips to trade with or give.  I think the true essence of ‘Work’, captured in definition 1 gets too often squashed and pulled out of focus  by our western, capitalistic mindsets.

As irony would have it, one of the most enjoyable songs to dance to within the blues fusion dancing community I am a part of in the UK and CA is Hozier’s beautiful ‘Work Song’

Music Film for NYFA (end of 4 week program) from Jude Abadi on Vimeo.

Here these dancers demonstrate extremely fine motor control, intuitive sensory perception and rapid musical processing, and the appearance of good emotional engagement, extremely difficult for a machine to replicate this act even if it could beat me at chess. Hozier also shows incredible creative powers to create a song which has inspired thousands of dancers around the world to create ontop of their audio platform. These are great examples of type 3 work : physical execution and type 1 work : creative ideation.

I believe the greatest complement of any art’s value is that it serves as a platform for another to make a creative leap from.

On the plane on the way to Phoenix Arizona, where I am writing to you from now. I listened to Eva Cassidy’s final live at blues alley recording for the first time! IT WAS AMAZING! Other than a couple of songs, the album was completely novel to me

Screenshot 2016-03-06 15.45.58and throughout the album there was space for each of the musicians, including Eva to riff, jam and ad-lib something they felt was fitting as a solo in the symphony.

The only way to make the dancing moment more novel, scarce and as humanly hard as possible to replicate as work, would be to respond to live novel music. If you haven’t listened to Eva’s album  it I highly recommend it with a glass of red wine, comfortable chair and lights turned low.

Our capacity to do ‘Good Work’ depends on our ability to engage with agency in our environment and gain awareness of the systems in operation. Some could call this our ‘intelligence’ however I will save that discussion for another time. 🙂

What is commonly agreed is that we have two part to our general intelligence, crystallised and fluid. (google it for more) The issue for humans is that fluid intelligence tends to deteriorate currently at around 40 years old, so we rely on remembering previously learn skills and memories to function in the second half of life,

Shaie’s longitudinal study below casts some light on this life journey.

FullSizeRender 4When you add the fact that machines are burning the middle of our work wick, our planned work, our crystallised intelligence then it begs the question, ‘How do we prepare the next generation for a work of valuable work?’

It seems all roads lead to hacking fluid intelligence to mitigate the losses

Therefore practises like blues dancing to novel music with novel partners keeps active, all parts of what makes us particularly human.

My bet is that dancing switch to live blues music is the among the most Neurostimulating and plasticising activity we can participate in. Effectively a full body neural fireworks display!

So all that said, here is a moment which I imagine and excites me about our future!

Sharing a dance with someone new, to live music in a tree house, designed by machines and built by humans!

This future excites me! I think the more our ever refined appreciation for human capacity comes into focus more of us will experience flourishing more often!

Any questions, or for further unpacking please let me know on

Cheers Dave