I spent my formative years enjoying the genius writing of Douglas Adams. DNA, as he was known, was a superb writer, environmentalist, technologist and atheist who was taken from the world far too soon. Adams penned such masterpieces as The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, The Meaning of Liff and Last Chance to See. He also wrote the Dirk Gently series, in which the main character, Dirk bills himself as a "holistic detective" who makes use of "the fundamental interconnectedness of all things."
I've been thinking about the fundamental interconnectedness of things lately, in relation to a couple of articles that were shared on LinkedIn this morning. The first was shared by Herald tech editor Chris Keall, and was a Harvard Business Review article suggesting that the current trend around creating a "nice culture" within the workplace is actually a thin veneer under which lies a truth of fear and dysfunction. Happy days.
The thrust of the article was that actual decisions get made not in the warm embrace of buzzword-filled feel-good meetings but rather in more blunt and, dare we say, honest settings. Basically, that "nice" is inauthentic.
The second article was shared by Avi Golan, a tech industry insider, who actually lived in New Zealand for a time while he filled the role of chief digital officer for Air New Zealand. Golan has recently moved from Silicon Valley back to his native Israel and is working for a tech startup. His LinkedIn profile proudly screams that said startup has raised almost a quarter of a billion dollars in funding and is currently hiring top talent.
Interestingly, Golan's post bemoaned the fact that in Israel (and in other places) tech salaries have risen astronomically and people are being paid huge sums and being offered massive employment benefits. The irony here wasn't lost on many who read Golan's post.
Dirk Gently would have a field day here. it doesn't take Gently's heightened perception to realise that these things are interconnected and we can't solve one thing in isolation without dealing with the whole.
Let's think about the component parts here.
We live in a time of almost record low-interest rates. Low-interest rates mean that cash pours from the usual yield investments (fixed interest, bonds etc) into more speculative and higher returning classes. In plain English, when interest rates are low, investments in startups get super frothy.
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Investment funds literally have people throwing money at them. In New Zealand alone, recent statistics suggest that the last 12 months have seen as much money invested in venture capital funds as had been invested since venture investing in New Zealand began, some 20 years ago.
In the face of a productive sector that is rapidly being externalised to low-cost economies, first-world countries are rushing as quickly as possible to backfill this hole with technology-fueled enterprises. Every country seemingly wants to be the next Silicon Valley and this means that those with technology skills of whatever flavour are in high demand.
Employees have far more power than they ever did before (in general, I know life is still bleak for many people). Whereas in the past employees would simply do what they are told, we now live in a more enlightened age where employee autonomy, an employee's right to advocate for themselves (or for their particular viewpoint) and heightened sensitivity about diversity and inclusion mean that workplaces and the people within them are increasingly sensitive about what they say to and about people.
What happens when we think of these four factors (not to mention the millions of other data points I've not detailed) not as isolated occurrences, but rather interconnected factors? We see a situation where employees are comfortable being more demanding. Where employers, in a mad rush for talent, will acquiesce to these demands. Where companies, awash in the cash thrown to them by investors, can pay whatever price for talent, and where increasing levels of investment cash are, in turn, being thrown at the funds. We see a societal construct that encourages (or demands) diversity and inclusion and the support for every individual's particular penchant. And yet we have the arguably conflicting demand for absolute execution as every opportunity is filled by literally dozens of competitors all vying for the single crown of success.
It's enough to make someone grow another head and find the nearest bar to order a couple of Pan Galactic Gargle Blasters.
- Ben Kepes is a Christchurch-based investor and entrepreneur.