At Telefonica’s start-up accelerator WAYRA in London (think minimalist yet bold – tres chic), alumnus Bruce Daisley, head of Twitter Europe, took on the role of lead speaker at the latest York Alumni Association network event. His chosen topic: culture, technology and the changing world of work. In support were veteran video-game designer Charles Cecil, and the effervescent alumna Ainslie Harris, who has recently taken up a senior managerial role at TalkTalk.
Despite that potentially intimidating word “technology” in the title, Bruce’s speech addressed everyone in the audience; anyone who has worked an office could relate to his accessible speech. For many it was just great to meet someone from their own university who has become a titan in their field and possibly take home a lesson or two.
Before Bruce came introductions from Charles and Ainslie. Charles, who is a visiting lecturer at the University’s Theatre, Film and Television Department, championed York’s burgeoning reputation within the digital world as the city enjoys its new title as a UNESCO city of media arts. Ainslie went on to detail her own journey through the technology business since graduation from York. Then it was onto the main act.
The main act
Bruce is clearly interested in the world around him. He began with a selection of videos, all from Twitter, that emphasised the way social media is revolutionizing our society and culture. “One of the first big events that occurred when I started working for Twitter was an earthquake in San Francisco. What amazed me was the pace with which this information was being passed around. Literally, information was being transported to people quicker than the earthquake. Faster than the force of nature.”
Tweets from ex-Liverpool manager Brendan Rodger’s sacking to the 5p bag charge were all examples of a “potential untapped potency”, a new way of looking at news and information that aggregates and digests stories at unparalleled speeds.
Moving away from Twitter briefly, Bruce explored the concepts behind Daniel H. Pink’s book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, championing its motivational message that, within the world of work, “millennials are stylised as gears for all this change”.
Bruce’s focus on people over technology can be seen as emblematic of the way modern tech firms are starting to think. Bruce references Yahoo, who are currently trying to rebuild their company culture. “They have prohibited working at home. It’s just so counteractive to producing that vital team ethic. It should be about creating this sense of collaboration and connection within.”
Real world examples
Netflix and Google both have written constitutions which all employees abide by, by setting the culture of their respective workplaces: “Google’s ‘Don’t Be Evil’ moral code has attracted derision and parody, but no one within Google can doubt it as an incredible motivator.”
Online clothing retailer Zappos who have developed an almost “cult-like inclusive sense of work culture” will offer every new employee a $5,000 dollar cheque to leave at the end of their first week. “The notion is complete investment in the company. What is more attractive to the employee: money or losing face?”
He mentions a 2003 study undertaken at MIT, which showed that people work harder when offered more money but only when applied to menial, physical tasks. However, “as soon as the tasks became cerebral, the motivation of money has the opposite effect.”
Driving cultural change
Drive proffers three components human motivation: “Autonomy”, “Mastery” and “Purpose”. “Autonomy” highlights the adverse effect that complete supervision can have on a workers motivation and determination. Google undertake a “Hack Week” every year that encourages every Google employee’s autonomy and creativity. “Mastery” meanwhile relates to our innate desire to get better at things, while “Purpose” – “the single most important component for tech firms” – is about companies sharing a core objective among every single one of its employees.
A member of the audience brought up a nice example of Bruce’s final point, regaling the rest of the alumni with a story about John F. Kennedy’s visit to NASA back in 1962. According to the story, Kennedy interrupted his tour, walked over to a janitor, introduced himself and then asked him what he was doing. “Well, Mr. President,” the janitor said, “I’m helping put a man on the moon.”