Co-designing with Peter Cheese, Chief Executive of CIPD.
Peter Cheese, Chief Executive of the CIPD, visited University of Southampton on Thursday 9th March 2017. His host was Stefan Cantore, Director of Enterprise at Southampton Business School, along with the BSc Business Management co-design community, including students and staff.
We were fortunate to be joined by Peter for the full afternoon, including discussion and meetings with several groups of students, a lecture to 150 of our first year students on the Key skills for Business module, and an evening lecture given to regional CIPD members.
Peter kicked off the midday meeting with some background about his own career, and his special interests in the future of work. He talked about what an exciting time it is to think about the changing forces in the business world, and introduced the CIPD’s initiative The Future of Work is Human.
In my role as programme lead for BSc Business Management I introduced the idea of education Co-design and gave a small taste of how we approach this at Southampton. I talked about how we have explored approaches such as partnership, co-creation, co-production, but settled on ‘design’ as our main idea. For us, design is a human-centred approach to making things, and as Co-designers in education we do not make products or creative artefacts as such, but we are in the business of making meaning, making purpose, sense making. We feel this way of thinking about business is extremely important today given that services represent 80% of the economy, and growing.
Making some meaning
I then facilitated a mini design exercise in ‘meaning making’, to get us working together with Peter to explore what Co-design means for us, by asking two questions: what is co-design?, and what if co-design? We used a few balloons as our canvass to record ideas from conversations in pairs.
I then built on the is and if by thinking about the analogy of river banks. For this I drew on the recent work of anthropologist Tim Ingold in the Life of Lines. Ingold talks about the experience of being human as not a clear process of moving ‘between’; that is, from firm ground to firm ground orientated by ‘our’ goals; life is more like a process of moving ‘in-between’, and firm ground is rarely what we have – or even want.
Living as lines: the ‘between’
I argue this is a major principle of Co-design, and has implications for business and organisations of all kinds. Initiatives such as The Future of Work is Human are being set up to respond to futurist visions of a world of work overrun by machines and artificial intelligence. In this looming world, what will there be left for humans to do? The CIPD, as a body representing people who manage people, has an interest in finding something for us to do. This is a process of meaning-making and therefore something design has much to say about.
Living as lines: the ‘In-between’
Anthropologists and historians of humankind, such as Ingold and the author Yuval Harari, have a lot to contribute to debates about humanity – where we come from and where might we be going. But what do they have to say about education and business?
In Harari’s recent book Homo Dues: a brief history of tomorrow, he talks about two types of abilities that human beings have demonstrated for centuries – physical and cognitive. Since the Industrial Revolution machines have gradually out-competed people in physical abilities, and now with the digital revolution AI is moving into cognitive analytical abilities. According to Harari, no-one knows what the job market will be like in twenty or thirty years. Most people feel that technology will determine or at least shape the workplace of the future, but there are many possible directions. So, working backwards, we have no idea what to teach children at school, and the same could be argued for business school students.
I ended my brief talk about ‘lines’ with an image of boundaries. We all live within boundaries, we create our own boundaries, and we try to cross boundaries. As well as life being about the process of line-making, it is also a process of boundary-making (and breaking). We can see this all around us in our personal lives, in our work organizations, and especially in politics. Boundaries are necessary and pervasive in business – they provide security, resource concentration, and specialization – but they are also constraining in the form of trade barriers, communication silos, and fragmented professional identities. These are pertinent to contemporary higher education, as I argued recently in The Times Higher. And Co-design is founded on the exploration of boundaries, the “co-“meaning working across (and/or in-between) boundaries.
Peter gave some stimulating responses to the discussion.
First, he made the point that we can’t do away with boundaries and organizational structures all together, such as hierarchy. Business won’t work in an anarchist mode. But we can “push back” the boundaries to empower more people. This suggests a more permeable and fluid boundary-making process, and fits well with the dynamics of Co-design. This also fits with a comment Stefan made during the discussion about the importance of ‘ing’, we need to think about organising, purposing, and perhaps, boundarying. The biggest danger for us in viewing business organizations of the future is using outdated or fixed categories. But in the context of organizations Peter’s view is that there needs to be a core and a periphery to the community, and this is also what we are finding as we scale up Co-design in higher education.
Second, on the boundary between organisations and their service users (i.e. consumers, or students in the case of education) Peter introduced the idea of the prosumer. This is term coined by futurist Alvin Toffler in his 1980 book The Third Wave  – a combination of producer and consumer to describe how the two categories are being blurred along a spectrum. The term is not widely used today in business or education but it is highly relevant to services and the digital economy. And after doing a bit of digging around I discovered that the influential social scientist George Ritzer is currently trying to bring the concept of prosumption more strongly into debates about the contemporary economy. Think of products and services such as flat-pack furniture or social media: where does the producer end and the consumer begin? I have spent many hours thinking and debating about whether, and in what ways, university students are ‘consumers’ in contemporary fee-paying degree programmes, but I have not until now thought about this in terms of prosumption. I think this is a useful direction to explore, and it chimes well with ideas related to Co-design, such as Mike Neary’s idea of Students as Producers.
Co-design in action
After our kick off meeting, we moved to another room for lunch where we were joined by a mix of first and second year student from the business school Co-design community. We were also pleased to be joined by Gill Rider (Chair of Council for the University and past President of CIPD) and Martin Broad, Head of Southampton Business School. Zak Rakrouki, editor of the Business Co-design blog for 2016/17 kicked off the session with some background to the Co-design group with case study examples and recent achievements. This led into an engaging conversation, with the students sharing their own stories and experiences. Peter suggested to the group that curiosity and active participation in organizations are essential traits and habits for future success. He asked the students to consider how they will respond if future employers are not willing to share power and designing their own organizations. This was another good discussion and gave the Co-design members much to think about.
After lunch we then moved into a new room to reflect on the discussion. The conversation moved into the area of digital technology and online identities. Peter suggested that making sense of our personal data on the Web is one of the big questions for future employees when applying for jobs and managing careers. It was a good way to round off the afternoon of Co-design meaning-making and gave us some things to consider for further development. How can the Co-design community help business organizations to think through scenarios for the future of a digital workplace? We are well placed to do this at Southampton with our combination of expertise in business and organization, computer and web science, and education.
Peter was then whisked off to give his lecture, first to students and then to the regional CIPD. It is clear we have lots of shared interests and ideas with Peter and the CIPD. We see his visit as a start of a fruitful conversation about the future of work and lifelong learning.