Shapers: Reinvent the Way You Work and Change the Future

Shapers: Reinvent the Way You Work and Change the Future

Author: Jonas Altman
Review by: Graham White

If asked, what is the fundamental objective of work, most of us answer in a Mazlow type rhetoric that will very quickly include the goal of happiness which is sometimes hidden in the smokescreen we call “job-satisfaction”. Our lives are organised around trying to be happy. Which we are told makes a lot of sense especially when we look further and read about not only the positive attitude happiness brings but also the business benefits linked to happiness.

However, while most of us have spent a lifetime navigating the minefield of career’s teachers, situation vacant pages, job centres, recruitment consultants and ultimately executive head hunters in our search for happiness and job satisfaction all of this may have been for nought. Looking back I wonder how I would have fared in the employment market if I had presented to my careers teacher the claim of Jonas Altman in his book “Shapers” when he said that happiness is “a crappy career goal” and what the world of work really needs is a “bit of the Shaper Shimmer”.

By now many readers of this review may be thinking this is just another happiness commentary offering up a Dalai Lama style publication designed to entice you to cough up cash, follow a few instructions and suddenly you are happy. However, you could not be more wrong. In these 300+ pages, is a voice joining a small but growing band of influencers who are intent on revolutionising the world of work. Whether you are about to set out into the world of work or seeking a new challenge this book might be exactly what you need. I believe reading “Shapers” has the potential to not only open readers minds to an infinite number of possibilities it also has the potential to set your future compass in a direction you never considered.

Whilst the online bookstore shelves are packed with management books containing the promise of happiness in their titles and the World Wide Web provides over one hundred and seventy million hits on “happiness coaching.” Jonas Altman has produced a book that in my opinion grasps the future by the scruff of its neck and tells it that change is not the enemy, the evolving world of work is simply a fact to be managed and whatever our career aspirations are they must allow us to shape our work and not let our work shape us.

The signs are everywhere as HR departments and recruitment consultants struggle to balance the aspirations of established employers with the expectations of the next generation of leaders and innovators. Whilst Generation Z is desperate to use their skills of curiosity, imagination, creativity, empathy, and courage they are being measured against competence frameworks that are void of any mechanism that can deliver this.

Into this arena comes a publication that I believe has the potential to be a watershed. From a writer whose own career epitomises the very title he gives his book we discover he has worked as a barista, a bartender, a music executive, and a mental health worker. His careers have allowed him to create fashion brands, run a digital agency, launched London’s first lifestyle and technology incubator, and now he advises on culture change to some of the world’s boldest organisations.

In a world where the nature of work is changing rapidly including robotics, automation, and artificial intelligence, and allocated responsibilities are not gently migrating between man and machine they are shifting at an alarming rate, what has traditionally dictated the work of humans versus the work of machines is gone. So, the guidance within this book has real potential to join that small band of voices calling for better ways of working by creating options and alternatives that I believe will instil in readers a desire to become energised and deepened.

It’s not my usual style to spoil the content of a book by revealing the plot however it would be amiss of me not to prepare the readers for a collectania of some of the most thrilling, entertaining and jaw dropping case studies, anecdotes and carefully selected empirical research. As blinding flashes of the obvious I read things such as “imagining obstacles in advance” is not negative thinking and I am at the same time I am still working through that “existential Intelligence” is not linear.  I am sure there may still be those who will want to brand Altman as not being able to keep a job down. However, any quick look at your organisations tenure and turnover figures will tell you the writer of this book is probably a mirror image of the bulk of your new workforce who are all echoing that your future recruitment and retention strategies are unlikely to help if they contain an expectation of a “job for life” and job security has disappeared from your staff expectations.

From the very outset of this publication Altman has you on the edge of your proverbial seat. Whilst we are tempted within the first six pages to try a bit of “shaper shimmer” we are then also presented with a strong and logical structure to the publication. The writer shows the paradox of structure and variety as he explains the book is built on three sections looking at the past the present and the future of work and then almost immediately takes you on a roller coaster ride of experience with learning about things as varied as “Death by Karoshi and  “By By Boss”.

Don’t be tempted to skip over the history of work section, especially if it’s because you think you already know it. I found myself reading this part of the book through twice and the second time turning down more pages than I left. I realised my own thinking about the past was very narrow. As you read through this book don’t expect it to remain in good condition as I am pretty sure you too will be marking section after section that contain treasures that will bury deep in your subconscious. For me, my eyes grew wider and wider as I started to see the golden thread of connections and causations that Altman introduced me too. By example, the impact of growing secularism and diminishing impact of faith-based values presented to me a whole new understanding of the external influences that are changing the face of work.

This book will have many audiences, however I would strongly recommend it reaches the bookshelf of most HR professionals, even if you do not fully sign up to the totally of the concepts the author has produced a collection of information, data and analysis that if you allow it will impact on your organisational people strategy. I am sure it is a given that we all accept the nature of work and the impact of work on our workforces is changing at a speed that needs to be managed and not left to run out of control. However, we must also realise that our workforce expectations and beliefs don’t ask permission to change.

My first reading of this book saw me looking at the vast array of activities the writer has enjoyed in his employment career and thinking its wider audience would include those who want to reset their careers, make a polar change in employment direction or even become self-employed, but I have changed my mind, this book should be read by anyone who simply gets up in the morning and heads into work wanting to feel that they have a purposeful role in their organisation. I started out thinking I knew a few people who had the “shimmer” but the more I read the more I realised that there is no limit to the number of shapers an organisation can have. Altman opens your mind to the possibility of creating a workforce that is allowed to approach their work in their own unique way and become energised by what they do. I don’t underestimate the size of the challenge or the level of culture change needed in even some of the most progressive organisations however, I strongly recommend this book to be read by any who have even the smallest of desires to turn their workforce into a powerhouse and their organisation into future readiness. I finish with words from Altman himself “When we connect with something larger than ourselves, we enjoy the fruits of our labour as well as the journey – the sweat and the struggle. It’s the unyielding commitment to a purpose that gives shapers their shimmer.”