Plentiful work we enjoy – is The Digital Renaissance of Work upon us?

9 October 2014 by

In the run-up to the launch of my new book “The Digital Renaissance of Work”, the first chapter, titled “Plentiful work we enjoy – a first in human history”, is now available as a free PDF. Through an account of two contrasting experiences in San Francisco cabs, this article shows how the new work ethic proposed in the book chapter is beginning to take hold in this digital age.

Digital-Renaissance of Work book cover

October 28th marks the launch of The Digital Renaissance of Work: Delivering digital workplaces fit for the future, my latest book, co-authored with Elizabeth Marsh.

In advance of the book’s official release, you can download Chapter 1 for free as a sample PDF.

Downtown San Francisco, a warm September evening. After a frustrating 15 minutes standing on a busy street corner, eagerly peering up and down both streets, raising my arm in vain, dashed hopes, finally I climb into a Yellow Cab, headed for Russian Hill.

The traditional taxi experience at its worst

Who is the driver? As I get in he seems a nice enough guy, but no sooner than the door has slammed shut we are careering at breakneck speed through the congested streets, my stomach lurching, and me wondering whether I will actually make it to my attractive, leafy destination.

I suppose I could have asked him to slow down but his driving was so manic I thought this might just wind him up even more. No matter, though, as any form of conversation was awkward due to the plastic panel between us. So, I hung on tight, shut my eyes and hoped I would arrive in one piece. Fortunately I did and, as I went to pay, the driver barked that he “would prefer cash” (even though he took cards), so I obliged, using up the few dollars in my pocket and throwing in a rather too large tip. “How much do you tip in the US anyway?” I wondered… “And exactly why am I tipping him, since he’s just risked both our lives on a thoroughly unpleasant journey?”

With that, he sped away. I had been just another anonymous fare to him and he a rather rude guy who’d (slightly against the odds) got me from point A to point B.

A digitally-enabled more human taxi experience

Fast forward to the end of a thoroughly enjoyable meal with colleagues, and our host ordered three cars to take us back to our respective hotels, this time using UBER. This socially enabled peer-to-peer service was new to me, but it seems that anyone with a decent car can become a driver and spend some or all their working or spare time ferrying people around the city.

As we cruised smoothly along in his super-clean, comfortable car, I learned that our driver, Gustavo, was actually a Chilean cook in a Mission district (a neighborhood of San Francisco) restaurant, but supplements his income by driving for UBER in his spare time in order to save up for his dream of one day opening his own restaurant. During the short journey, Gustavo offered us bottles of water gratis and the whole thing felt more like a ride with a friend. He drove well and seemed in no rush, putting our comfort top of his list.

When we reached the destination, we said goodbye, smiling at the lovely nature of our little encounter. No cash required, not even a card; all the financials had happened via the app when the car was booked – and all at an agreed fare, which was incidentally about 40% cheaper than a Yellow Cab. And no stressing over a tip either. Afterwards, we rated Gustavo on the UBER site, raising his ratings (a crucial element in the UBER set-up) and maybe he also rated my colleague who had booked the car.

The Digital Renaissance of Work in action

I recount this story not to dive deeply into the dynamics of the car- and ride-sharing industry in California but it did strike me that this was an example of the Digital Renaissance of Work in action. The chapter released here is titled “Plentiful work we enjoy – a first in human history” and the contrast of Gustavo with our Yellow Cab driver is a perfect example of this.

The soulless, anonymous experience in the Yellow Cab is a product of the industrial age. The driver has no vested interest in his passengers; there is no real meaningful interaction, so he can drive as he wishes without any consequence. As passengers we are equally powerless to affect his reputation unless he breaches some code (which no one knows anyway) or legality – and who can be bothered?

Gustavo, on the other hand, chooses how he interweaves his culinary schedule with spells collecting and transporting passengers as it suits him on a day-to day basis. He knows that his digital reputation is essential to his capacity to earn extra money as a driver, and we as passengers also want to do the right thing so that we are not downgraded by UBER, which could result in other drivers declining to collect us in the future.

UBER is properly a “Digital Renaissance” experience as it is:

  • liberating (for both driver and passenger)
  • highly digital (the tech enables what would have been impossible before)
  • human-centred (the money is dealt with electronically, meaning any conversation does not have to be transactional and can quickly become more like that between friends)
  • accountable (both parties have digital reputations to protect through the rating system).

This is an example of digital technology creating a more human, connected experience.

Of course, UBER is not without its faults. There have been instances of not taking appropriate responsibility for “driver issues”; unfairly dismissing drivers based on poor ratings (when, say, the passenger was drunk); and for taking too high a cut of the fare. But these are inevitable teething troubles in such a radical new service.

A new work ethic of freedom, powered by digital tools

The new work ethic for the digital age is about freedom. It is not that everyone who works has suddenly arrived in a liberated utopia, but that the overriding characteristic of work in the digital age is about greater levels of flexibility, influence and knowledge, irrespective of how we work.

And in the digital age, this is as true for Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever, who can access what he needs, when he needs it, through using mobile digital devices of his choice (selected because he likes them), as it is for the logistics and delivery guys working on their Lynx brand, equipped with powerful portable tech that scans and connects, enabling them to perform their work better in different ways. No matter how “manual” their jobs might still be in essence, these guys are no longer just “pairs of hands”, having been transformed into connected, empowered workers with knowledge.

Gustavo loved hearing about our new book and, as we pulled up outside our hotel, he was planning to pre-order it from Amazon. Meanwhile, presumably, anonymous Yellow Cabman was left moaning about how UBER and the other ride-sharing apps like LYFT have caused his industry to decline by 30% in no time at all.

Download Chapter 1 for free

Chapter 1 - The Digital Renaissance of WorkOn October 28th we will officially launch the new book co-authored by Paul Miller, CEO and Founder of DWG, and Elizabeth Marsh, DWG Director of Research, The Digital Renaissance of Work: Delivering digital workplaces fit for the future.

Chapter 1 of the book is titled “Plentiful work we enjoy – a first in human history”. In advance of the book’s official release you can download Chapter 1 for free as a simple PDF.

Categorised in: Digital workplace

Paul Miller

Paul Miller is CEO and Founder of the Digital Workplace Group (DWG), rated by the Financial Times in 2020, 2021 and 2022 as one of the UK’s leading management consultancies in digital transformation. He is a business and social entrepreneur. His latest book is ‘Nature of Work – The new Story of Work for a Living Age’ (co-authored with Shimrit Janes). His previous book, ‘The Digital Renaissance of Work: Delivering digital workplaces fit for the future’ (co-authored with Elizabeth Marsh), was shortlisted for the Management Book of the Year 2016 Award. Paul’s previous book, ‘The Digital Workplace: How technology is liberating work’, helped to popularize and explain the term “digital workplace”. Paul has given many inspirational talks on the digital future of work, for audiences at Microsoft, IKEA, Google, Accenture, Harvard Business Review, Cisco, European Commission, IMF, Adobe and Oxford University.

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