Saturday, June 30, 2018

Creative Professions

The Silicon Valley has seen radical changes in how people work. By people, I mean mostly the creative professionals who conceive the products that made the valley famous. Today, these professionals are not as creative as in the past. We are transitioning to the gig economy, where professionals do not have a fixed job but use the internet to find small assignments. The pay is very low, there are no benefits, and the money is all made by the service website owners: all work is purely transaction oriented and in the case of software, when an app breaks, it is simply abandoned.

There are conventional jobs with an employment contract and benefits, but the setting is more that of factory workers doing piecework controlled by the company's GitHub site. The companies do not invest in their workers, which do not learn new technologies and hop to a new employer every couple of years.

The gig economy is different from consulting. Consultants earn approximately twice the salary of a regular employee and make a considerable investment to deepen their expertise.

In the past, an employee was a resource groomed by companies. The new trend is the reason the most creative products now come from outside the Silicon Valley. The new centers for innovation include (from west to east) London, Lausanne, Zurich, Berlin Beijing, Shanghai, Taipei, Seul, Tokyo, …

Before the transition to piecework, a paradigm popular in the Silicon Valley was that of the field dependence of cognitive styles, going back to Herman Witkin in 1962. This paradigm was used to give employees work in which they could excel, form powerful synergistic teams, and also to design user interfaces.

People with a field dependent cognitive style, are driven by an inner motor (god). They think in a global context and tend to think in parallel, making associations. Field-dependent employees often work well in teams, as they tend to be better at interpersonal relationships. When designing user interfaces, approaches that connect different parts of a topic are useful for field-dependent learners. For example, users can discuss what they know about a topic, predict content, or look at and read related material.

People driven by a field-independent cognitive style are driven by an outer motor, for example, the product's user. They are analytical, detail oriented, and tend to think sequentially, drawing inferences. Field-independent workers tend to rely less on managers or colleagues for support. In user interfaces, approaches such as extensive reading and writing, which users can carry out alone, are useful.

Research labs looked for employees that have both a field dependent and a field-independent cognitive style. Such people can envision new theories and can also reduce them to practice by implementing them. Such an activity is called speculative design.

This paradigm can be extended to the pieceworker of today, who is driven by greed (self). It is also useful to extend the idea to other activities, as shown in this diagram:

creative professions and speculative design