Frank Cottle [00:00:29] Josh. Welcome to the future. Work podcast. It’s really great to have you here today. I’m excited for our conversation. I know that you and I ran into each other years ago, I guess it was when you were at the Harvard Innovation Lab. And so it’s great to rekindle our experience together. And I know you’ve got a ton to bring to our audience today. And I want to start out asking a question, really about web three. How do you think web three and AI technologies are really going to impact the way we work or are impacting it already the way we work?
Josh Drean [00:01:09] Yeah, that’s a great question, Frank, and thanks again for having me on the show. It’s so great to be reconnected with you and just love the podcast and love what you’re working on. Web three is a very interesting subject, I think, as we what is web three? Let’s give it what is web Three? And that is an interesting thing to define. What people put under the umbrella of web Three is any disruptive technologies that are going to change the way that we work. And so when we talk about AI, when we talk about NFTs and decentralization and what it means to put something on the blockchain, all of these are a web three technology, technically. And the idea of web three is that we are moving from a web two version of the Internet into the Semantic Web or Web Three, which is a little bit more about having 3D interactions and being able to live in immersive worlds digitally. So it’s definitely an upgrade from the Internet that we have today where we go to coffee shops and sit in front of our computers. And it’s great because we get to chat in these ways, but there will be a point where we get to do this quote, unquote, in person with our digital avatars in a Web Three environment.
Frank Cottle [00:02:30] Well, I’ve always thought that the next true advance is sort of a Star Trek beam me up, Scotty approach is that we really should be working and looking towards web three as looking at a live holographic mode as opposed to an avatar mode. I mean, you can imagine my avatar would look like really strange and I just refuse to do that. I don’t want to be a cartoon character, but I do want to live and work in an immersive world. I think that’s where we are going. And if web two is flat. Web three is three dimensional, if you will, keeping it really simple for a lot of people. Do you think we’ll actually be able to migrate quickly enough into a more realistic, less cartoonish, less avatarish way of working in web Three than is what we see mostly today?
Josh Drean [00:03:36] Yeah, I mean, that’s a great question and I get a lot of comments in my work since I work primarily in the corporate space with large corporations and CEOs and individuals who are interested in work particularly. And when they see the metaverse or when they see these virtual worlds, to them it looks like a video game, it’s cartoony. Say like the next time I see an avatar dancing in front of me, I’m going to freak out because I don’t want or need that. What I need is an ability to be productive in an immersive environment. Do we have the tools to run business and to address the piece of speed? The metaverse is kind know. We hate the buzword at this point. We say the word know. Is there a new word coming? I know that Apple is very big on calling it spatial computing, but regardless of what we call it, there is already companies who are in the metaverse who are being productive. They are holding team meetings, they are working remotely, which unlocks a lot of potential within their workforce. And there are the younger generation coming into the workforce who likes the video games, they like the cartoony stuff. And so I think it’s finding a balance between productivity and fulfillment really is what it comes down to.
Frank Cottle [00:05:05] I think we are addressing the first native digital generation with Gen Z, truly native digital generation with Gen Z and their comfort in all aspects of immersive technology or just technology in general. In my generation it’s a you can’t live with it, can’t live without it. In their generation it’s like is there anything else? And so you’ve got this new generation coming up which will certainly change things, especially as that generation becomes decision makers and technologies continue to evolve. I’m just curious as to the impact, which is really the thing. How will this impact? Are we going to see more productivity or is things just going to be different? Are we going to give us more capacity to cross borders so that work is everywhere, anywhere, all the time without really thinking about it? Or is this going to be more constraining because you have to be in this meta place, if you will. And by the way, whenever you say metaverse, I get this horrible image of a cartoonish there’s dancing zuckerberg.
Josh Drean [00:06:26] We all do, Frank, we all have that horrific image plaguing our nightmares and you bring up a really great point. I am overly concerned about the next generation hitting the workforce, which at this point they are hitting the workforce and in the next five years they will make up 46% of the workforce and I just don’t think that we are ready. I spent a lot of time consulting in the HR space and what it looks like to recruit traditional employment models, how we are pushing towards productivity. All of this model is outdated. It might have served us at one point, but the younger generation grew up in a completely different environment. They don’t want the corporate dream. They don’t want to climb the corporate ladder. What they really want is to do fulfilling and meaningful work.
Frank Cottle [00:07:16] I’m going to stop you there for a second. I’m going to stop you there for a second because I think that your perspective is very us. I’ll really confine it us centric. Because if I were to make that same statement of in China, number one, they wouldn’t laugh, because they don’t. But they would look at each other with confusion. What do you mean we don’t want to be progressing? What do you mean we don’t want to be climbing? What do you mean we don’t want to work towards this accomplishment goal. We want to know that whole world which population wise, or even in India, when we look at things on a global basis, their gen z is very different from the gen z here in the US. Or possibly in northern Europe and the UK. Very different.
Josh Drean [00:08:11] I would say that there’s a lot that goes into that, right there’s the political climate there’s, the overall arching architecture of the way that the country is structured and run. What I’m referring to is the globalization of the talent of anything. When you look at what kids want to be like, ask any kid, sure, you can ask them in China, you can ask them in India, you can ask them in the United States. What do you want to be when you grow up? There used to be a time where it was very vocationally based. I want to be a firefighter. I want to be a national or not. I want to be a cowboy.
Frank Cottle [00:08:45] I want to be a cowboy.
Josh Drean [00:08:48] Hey, you know what? Like Josh Drean, right? I would love to be a cowboy and live that life. When you ask kids in today’s world, and I used to be a youth motivational speaker. I traveled the country doing assembly programs in middle schools and high schools. And I would ask kids this question. A majority of them want to be a YouTuber. They want to be an influencer. It’s because they have seen these individuals, these gamers who are streaming on Twitch, who are on YouTube, making content on whatever subject that inspires them and it brings them joy. There’s an emotion there. And so what I’m highlighting is that the way that we hire and the way that we train employees today is very vocationally based, it’s very task based, and the younger generation sees that, and they don’t want it because it’s driving particularly towards productivity without any room for fulfillment. Like, am I doing what I love or am I just working to get a paycheck? And these are the questions that we’re asking.
Frank Cottle [00:09:50] Isn’t productivity though, the entire purpose of work, if not of our lives on this planet, to be productive so that we can create and give, sustain ourselves and our own families but also give to others? Isn’t that require productivity?
Josh Drean [00:10:13] I hear you say that, Frank. And I say that is a very antiquated view of the world of work. And the reason why I say that.
Frank Cottle [00:10:21] Is I’m not saying just the world of work, I’m just saying.
Josh Drean [00:10:28] Capitalism is designed for productivity. Right? You can make the argument that the only reason that the system or an organization exists is to drive shareholder value. And there are a lot of young frontline employees who are starting to question that model. Like why do I have to work for 30 years before I can be in that position? Or who am I working for? Or what is the cause that we’re rallying behind? And I think post pandemic we are seeing this movement of individuals who are really starting to question the whole concept of work life balance. Like do I really have to spend 8 hours of my day driving towards some productive goal for someone else or am I spending it in meaningful and fulfilling ways? Video games, for example, are a great example. Video games primarily started out as fun. It’s just a fulfilling way for you to get together with your friends or to achieve goals, sure. But it since has shifted drastically to now. There are major influencers. There are esports teams that are creating value, real value, and that can be called productivity, essentially like productivity. Are we talking about dollars and cents or are we talking about true value for a group of individuals that come in?
Frank Cottle [00:11:44] You could talk about that dollars and cents issue. You could change that from video games giving you satisfaction to philanthropy.
Josh Drean [00:11:55] Yeah.
Frank Cottle [00:11:58] When you say be productive on behalf of yourself, your family and others and you say shareholders I always think stakeholders, not shareholders because it involves everybody in an organization. And you do have to have rewards beyond a paycheck. You have to find satisfaction. But I think that’s partially the job of the employer. But it’s also in great part the job of the job seeker to have the courage to figure out you’re an independent person, you work for yourself, you’ve created a structure that gives you satisfaction and that was hard. It was challenging for you, I’m sure, because I know the path that you’ve taken. Don’t we all have that obligation to ourselves to not just look at others, to create an environment for us to have a satisfactory work life balance but to seek it ourselves and then create that? And maybe that’s what you’re talking about. I think that’s a personal obligation.
Josh Drean [00:13:16] I think you’re touching on it, Frank. I think you’re touching on exactly. The issue here is that traditionally we have relied on corporations to design an environment for us or to have a culture for us to be a part of. HR talks all day, every day about employee experience design. How are we designing experiences that employees love? And the ownership of that typically falls on a centralized decision making organization like a corporate entity. When you are an employee coming into that organization, what power do you actually have or where do you actually fall? Are you actually a stakeholder is what I’m asking. At the end of the day, people.
Frank Cottle [00:14:03] Are proving today that they are. Let’s look at the phenomena of the great resignation as a phenomena of people that said, you’re not doing it right, I’m out of here. Those companies that didn’t do it right stand a chance of failing or at least stuttering for quite a while and then you have dictates from on high in various corporations, even Elon Musk bringing in the morality of working remotely versus working on a centralized basis. And people think, you know what, I’m just not going to do it. So people are voting with their feet or they’re voting with a threat to the corporate wallet in a lot of cases on this required work design in some respects. And I think work experience design is critical. I completely agree with you there, but isn’t there we say the decisions are made on a centralized basis at a higher level, but aren’t those decisions, don’t they have to weigh in all of the pressures, if you will, from the other side, whatever that is, if it’s a we they environment?
Josh Drean [00:15:25] Yeah, I mean, I definitely see the power dynamic shifting very often, honestly throughout the pandemic with the great resignation, with this return to work, return to office movement that is kind of this influx of corporate organizations reclaiming their power and employees being in this economic downturn who are struggling to pay for groceries with inflation. And so you see kind of the integral power dynamics shifting. At one point, employees had a lot of options to find jobs anywhere. Now it seems like they don’t have a lot of options. That seems to be shifting back in the favor of the employee. And I am just of the opinion that it will continue to shift towards the employee. Just like we saw the customer experience revolution where when you have many options of whatever you could buy, the experience matters and companies become obsessed with that experience. Even if you were able to, quote unquote, force your workforce back to the office, there’s going to be a moment down the road where you have to confront the relationship that you’ve built. And a lot of companies are still one sided. It’s I’m the corporation, I set the rules, I make the decisions you implement. That’s what we’re paying you to do. Work is not a contract though. It is a relationship. And if we’re not focusing on relationships then we’re not building the culture that is mutually beneficial.
Frank Cottle [00:16:55] Got it. Okay. No, I can buy into that. The challenges are always finding balance, which is the word that we try to use in everything we do corporately is where are the balance points on it. And when you talk about work design, we talked earlier about technology in work design. How is work design experience taking into consideration the metaverse or whatever new technologies that are applied or is it focused on different experiential issues that the employees might have?
Josh Drean [00:17:38] Yeah, great question. So how does this tie in? Right, because I’m all about employee experience design. I don’t think it’s going to work in the long term for two reasons. The first is I don’t think companies are interested enough or are willing to put up the money to design experiences that matter for employees. And second, I think that these technologies are emerging faster than we ever thought, especially AI that is going to continue to disrupt the work model and change the workforce ecosystem. We’re already seeing that with the gig economy right now. The gig economy is huge and it’s just because a lot of employees are like, well, I want to do my own thing, I want to work on a project to project basis. I want to be able to have the flexibility that I want. And a lot of organizations actually appreciate contract work because it’s cheaper than a full time employee and a lot of times things get done faster and with more agility.
Frank Cottle [00:18:31] Well, I think that’s the word that drives people to contracts is flexibility or agility. More so than cost. Because in today’s world, any company, whether it’s a startup or a megacorp, has to have flexibility to survive because of all these changes. And a lot of times that comes from having a certain portion of your workflow force on a contract basis. Certainly we see that in real estate right now. How many large corporates have not hundreds of thousands, if not millions of square feet of empty office space that they’re tied into for years that sits on their balance sheet as debt which limits their ability to raise capital at a cost that makes sense. That inflexibility of the real estate model is a good example of something that is just damning to many corporations right now and contract remote, et cetera. Crossing borders when you’re doing contract and remote as well is part of a necessary solution to get that underutilized asset off the balance sheet.
Josh Drean [00:19:48] Yeah, and I think you’re making a really good point. Essentially it is that what worked back in. You are in the co working space and you’ve done a lot of this, have actual physical real estate, which is the whole market is different from when it was in the feel like employment. We are still kind of running off of this antiquated method where we are putting out a job description. We are asking for resumes, we are looking at transcripts and we hire based off of the very specific skills that you can bring to the table and you complete task by task what you are required at an organization instead of unlocking your full creativity and productivity and fulfillment in the workplace. And so it is argued, it’s something that I argue, that decentralization and a Web Three model will offer a better form of work where people can have greater ownership over the work that they do. They have greater agency to make decisions based on what they feel is best, based on what they’re seeing within a project. And they have that flexibility that they want to work when, where and for whoever they want in the world.
Frank Cottle [00:21:04] Wouldn’t that be nice?
Josh Drean [00:21:07] Do you believe that that is, that we can achieve?
Frank Cottle [00:21:13] I won’t say an ambitious goal. I think it’s a laudable goal, a goal that we all should have. I’ve always believed that anybody well, in our company, as an example, we have people working from all over the world and we don’t care who they are, where they are, so long as they’re the best. And I’m the antithesis of someone like Jamie Dimon who says, oh, we have to bring everybody back to office so we can preserve our culture. I’m saying, dude, you didn’t have a effing culture to begin with. If you have to do that, that if you can’t create a culture of independence and loyalty based on all of the balancing issues by being doing good for your team as opposed to just using your team, then you’ve done a poor job to begin with. So I think there’s a lot there to consider overall.
Josh Drean [00:22:10] Yeah, I think one thing that you said is the I don’t care where they work for as long as they are the best. And it’s important to know exactly where is the best, where is the top talent today, what are they doing and how are they wanting, how are they preferring to work? Guarantee you the best is not looking for a job in a traditional sense. They are the ones who are crushing it on Allwork.Space or doing.
Frank Cottle [00:22:37]
We just put out a job description ourselves and the best candidate happened to be a young lady that we never would have sought out. But she’s just incredible. We’re headquartered in Las Vegas and she’s in Nairobi, and she was the best and she’s phenomenal. Just amazing. So if you seek out the best without borders, without any constraints whatsoever, you can put together an amazing team. When you talk about design experience, one of our new positions is a manager of AI integrations. That’s a new position in our company and it’s a single position today, but it’s an individual who purposefully studies each job profile that we have in our company, looks at those profiles of what are people doing, and then seeks out an AI tool to help them do it better, faster and more efficiently. So I think this is a new way of creating a work design experience for our people, is to say, how can we make them more productive without forcing more hours or more pressures or this or that, but by identifying and utilizing tools to do so. And we’re finding great adaptation and great acceptance. Everybody’s embracing this with no fear of AI as a replacement, because they say, no, I’m more productive, I get more done, there’s less pressure. And it comes from being an early adapter of technology, which we as a company are.
Josh Drean [00:24:30] And I want to highlight what you’re saying here, Frank, which is refreshing to hear, is that you’re using AI to augment human potential, which is, I think, exactly the approach. What you said is that we are hiring this individual to find ways to use AI to improve the human function at work. Whereas there are companies out there who are taking a different approach. They’re trying to find out ways that they can cut down on their human capital costs. And that is a model of replacing humans with AI, because AI can do it better.
Frank Cottle [00:25:06] In business, you can never save yourself to success. You have to grow yourself to success. And you grow through giving good people good tools in a solid environment and really serving your customers well, of course. But you can never say, oh, we saved some overhead, so we’re going to be that much more successful. Because usually companies pocket that or distribute that money instead of reinvest that money. Yeah, and that’s a short term, silly, dumb process, actually, in my view.
Josh Drean [00:25:44] I agree. And AI is a powerful tool that will help, again, ten x an individual’s productivity. It will allow us to do a lot more with a lot less. And so I think if you have a mentality of AI that it’s here to replace us or that’s going to completely disrupt everything and we need to change everything, I don’t think that is a winning strategy. A winning strategy of using AI is recognizing where our strengths are and how AI can take it to the next level. That’s what’s important, that’s powerful about these new technologies.
Frank Cottle [00:26:19] Do you think that AI contributes to decentralized work or centralized work even? Will we even have centralized work in the future?
Josh Drean [00:26:32] It’s a great question. Will Centralization even exist in the future? And I personally don’t think so. I think that decentralization provides better communication, faster, an ability to work on projects with individuals who are hyper focused, hyper motivated, hyper trained and skilled in their specific capabilities and leveraging AI, being able to have more transparency and trust by having everything saved on the blockchain. There’s a lot of ways that decentralization is just going to make workforce ecosystems that much more powerful.
Frank Cottle [00:27:13] Well, everybody identifies a lot of people identify blockchain with cryptocurrency. They don’t really think of it as an other data management tool necessarily. And how do you think that blockchain technology will advance decentralized work as opposed to be merely a secured repository of data that people can access overall?
Josh Drean [00:27:43] Yeah, I mean a perfect example in my mind is that Web Three is going to be a gig economy on steroids. We’re going to have like, look at these gig economy platforms, freelancer platforms like Allwork.Space and Fiver. The way it works today is you get on the platform and you say you have a specific amount of skills and capabilities, all self reported, by the way, and you chase after projects. And over time, if you do a great job and kind of grind it out, you can start making more money and people will start giving you great reviews to the point where you can be a top 3% at the organization, doing a great job, freelancing and loving your life. But the grind is difficult. Web Three will make it so much more easy because we will be able to verify our skills on the blockchain. We don’t have to just trust that they know what they’re doing, we know exactly what they’re doing. And AI will help us match specific individuals with specific projects that are perfect for them, not only because they have the capabilities, but because they have a specific schedule that they’re running on and they have specific individuals that work well with them. And now it’s almost like you pull up an app just like Uber, you hit, I’m working. You can go in there and you can collaborate and you can work on these projects async and you can generate value on your own time when you best see fit. And I guarantee that there’s going to be a way for people to unlock more fulfilling experiences when they are working for themselves, when they are generating that value and they get to keep it a little bit better. So is that utopian? No. Is it far away off? No, but it is not quite here today.
Frank Cottle [00:29:29] I don’t know whether that’s utopian or dystopian you think you could swing that pendulum either way, depending on how you look at it. Because what you’ve just described, which is an idealized work environment, also requires I’ll go back to Jamie Dimon as an example and take his position on this. It requires an extremely strong corporate culture with an amazing capacity for communications up and down the line, both directions, to keep everybody working in sync.
Josh Drean [00:30:07] There is no line in a decentralized world. Right. That’s the glory of this flat dow or decentralized autonomous organization. And it actually brings back something that you said earlier. Does each employee have a responsibility to build company culture or at least have their part in the culture which they.
Frank Cottle [00:30:27] Have to be aware of in the first place and have a foundation for in the first place, or your company culture becomes somewhat chaotic. It’s an anarchistic culture, if you will.
Josh Drean [00:30:44] Well, and the big problem that a lot of individuals are having is like, back in the day, it was all about culture fit. How do we find the right culture fit at our organization in a decentralized version of work that doesn’t exist? Because everyone does recognize that they own their own culture or their own contribution. Because their little mini sliver of the team is a part of the overall culture of the Dow, and it’s their personal brand. So there’s much more ownership over our own brands and the way that we show up in the world in a system like this.
Frank Cottle [00:31:25] We can talk around in circles on this for days, I think, but where do you see this all tying together? We all look at a calendar and say, oh, by 2050 we’re going to be net zero on climate change and by 2030, we’re going to do this, by 2025, we’re going to do that. In the gap in the predictable future, which I would say is between 2025 and 2030. How do you see us migrating as a global workforce? Not as a US workforce, not just as a gen z element to it, but as a total workforce? Because I’m seeing a lot of companies hiring for experience as opposed to for energy right now, so they’ll hire someone in my age group as opposed to someone in a gen z age group based on experience as opposed to just energy. So how do you see this whole thing going together in a cohesive manner? Or will it be cohesive at all?
Josh Drean [00:32:29] Yeah, I mean, it’s a great question and I think you’re much more generous with the time frame than I am. Like 2025 to 2030, I feel like I can’t even predict six to twelve months out because of the way that things are shifting.
Frank Cottle [00:32:42] Oh, well, come over, I’ve got the crystal ball for that, so come to my place.
Josh Drean [00:32:46] But I do want to say that for me, the bottom line is that employees are not happy in traditional roles. The data is very clear. Gallup’s Global Workforce Trends Report has for decades shown disengagement as an all time low. And we are just seeing a disengaged workforce that doesn’t want to work in traditional ways. And that is a problem that needs to be addressed. And there are a lot of companies out there that are addressing it in their own ways, whether it’s culture, whether it’s employee experience, design. I don’t think that corporations are going to be the ones driving the change. It’s the employees, it’s the contributors, it’s the individuals who see their value and want to own their value and do more with that value in the world. They’re going to find web, three models of work that make sense for them, that pay how they want, that allow them to have the lifestyle that they want. There’s much less control on the way that they work and that’s going to be extremely attractive. Not. Only to the younger generation, to the bulk of workers today. When that happens, amen to employee experience, design, because we need to be ready for the relationship to shift if we can’t come to the table as a corporation.
Frank Cottle [00:34:03] Well, it’s funny. I’ll give you one last challenge here. When you say employees are not happy, I’m going to expand that and say, are people happy in general when we say employees need to find work that is more satisfying to them or they don’t want work that is unsatisfying to them, I will challenge and say, do they even want to work at all? Basically, have we swung so far to where the utopian is? I really don’t do anything at all and I just get a check and I hang out on the beach, which gets pretty boring. I’ve done that once and it gets pretty boring after a while. It doesn’t matter what beach, they all get boring after a while. Has our pendulum generationally or ambitiously swung to that direction, at least in our Western societies, to where there is nothing that will satisfy them?
Josh Drean [00:35:19]
I think you make a good point. I guess I’ll kind of throw my hat in the ring a little bit here and say that nobody likes work. Right. Are they happy in general? The very strong argument that they are not? I don’t think that sitting around and being idle is ideal. I still feel like that is a model that was handed to us of like, yeah, go vacation and sit because you’re so tired. Once we’ve sat and we’ve rested, people still want to be fulfilled. They want to generate value. And I see a younger generation say, hey, if we’re sitting on the beach, we might as well make videos and put it up on TikTok and start building a community and selling merch. And now all of a sudden your vacation turns into an actual business. That’s what we’re seeing with the younger generation is that they’re turning towards other means of value generation, content creation and productivity. At the end of the day, you’re.
Frank Cottle [00:36:15] Edging into productive digital nomadism, which is a whole different topic and I’d love to play that one with you someday because that’s starting what you start edging towards in that regard. Well, Josh, we’ve run out of time and I really want to thank you. It’s great getting together with you again after so many years, fascinated at the work that you’re doing and the whole concept of work experience design and how it does make a difference with a lot of companies. If someone needed to get a hold of you, how would they do so?
Josh Drean [00:36:55] Yeah, I’m highly active on my socials at Josh Drean. That’s LinkedIn and TikTok and Instagram and YouTube. I would love to start a conversation there. Definitely stay in tune with all of the content that we’re generating and the community that we’re building. We’re also at the Work Three Institute that’s work three me. If you want to learn a little bit more about the work that we’re doing to help marry web three technologies with workforce strategies. Lots of really cool and exciting things there.
Frank Cottle [00:37:22] I think you’ve got a new book coming up as well, don’t you?
Josh Drean [00:37:25] We do. Harvard Business Review press to be published next year. It is entitled employment is dead. How? Web three technologies will shift the way.
Frank Cottle [00:37:33] That we there you go. Well, then, everybody, if you think employment is dead, you need to read Josh’s book and he’ll convince you of it. Or you can talk to me that says, employment is the greatest thing on Earth. Or I’m rising from the dead. Or maybe I’m a zombie. Who knows? You can’t kill this old guy. So, Josh, thank you very much. Appreciate your input. It’s great and I look forward to more.
Josh Drean [00:37:59] Frank, it’s a pleasure. Thank you so much.
Frank Cottle [00:38:01] Take care.