Look Forward

I’ve been at a few conferences and meetings lately and some of the discussion has been around innovation and making Atlantic Canada more productive. Much of what I heard centered around yesterday’s problems. One theme was “how can we create more knowledge jobs”, especially in the e-learning sector. I find this backward-looking because I agree with Dan Pink’s premise that the major factors influencing North American work in the next few years can be put into the context of three questions:

  1. Can someone overseas do it cheaper?
  2. Can a computer do it faster?
  3. Am I offering something that satisfies the nonmaterial, transcendent desires of an abundant age?

Pink says that we are moving from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age, and I see this very clearly. In the e-learning marketplace more and more is being outsourced to excellent companies in Asia. We cannot work cheaper than these companies and we should not try. However, most of the jobs that I see being created are in the area of e-learning content production. When it comes to services, such as e-learning development, the value is higher up the stack. High value services are based on unstructured problem solving, while lower valued services are rules based or even modular. When services are commoditized then competition is based on price and Asia will win over North America (so get used to it). Since services are constantly being commoditized, the aim should be to stay ahead of the pack and higher up the stack. We already see this happening with software development.

Therefore, I don’t believe that the e-learning courseware development model will last very long before companies shift production overseas. I doubt that the intructional designer hiring boomlet in New Brunswick will last for long, unless production moves up the stack. This will take Conceptual Age skills.

There are some companies that are focused more on creativity (right brain stuff) and I would bet that these business models will last longer. One of these companies is FatKat Animation in Miramichi. We need to foster more of these creative companies, the schools that help to educate them like NBCCD and more breeding grounds for future artists. This does not mean that we should abandon the digital economy, only that we have to become the creative and conceptual leaders in the world economy or we’ll wind up with a future generation of digital gas jockeys.

This is old stuff in terms of ideas, but I’m getting scared that our government and industry leaders are still too focused on the Information Age and don’t see the upheaval coming with the Conceptual Age. Once more Marshall McLuhan was correct when he said that, “We look at the present through a rear-view mirror. We march backwards into the future.”

6 Responses to “Look Forward”

  1. Anonymous

    eLearning in New BrunswickDidn’t a bunch of eLearning companies close last year in New Brunswick?

    I think the trend you are talking about is already upon us. The eLearning industry switched from a growth industry to a commodity industry just about one year ago.

    The problem is that technologies come and go so fast, that to stay ahead of the curve means you must keep sending your clients to cheaper producer and always be pushing the next thing. You must not produce so much as learn all the time about new things.

    I’m afraid it might become as difficult as competing with Asia, because, frankly, you may be able to charge more, but you spend so much in learning and training yourself that you have a huge overhead to your services.

    What is needed, what we are all waiting for, is a new paradigm. We can’t keep doing business the way we used to. The pace at which we go will destroy our families (late nights anyone).

    What is needed is to get this outsourcing thing under control. You simply can’t keep sending work oversea and hope to maintain your salary and have a decent life. It won’t work: the trends are accelerating all the time and we devote already too much of our time for work. The rubber band is stretched as far as it will go.

    Daniel Lemire

  2. Anonymous

    I don’t remember many companies closing last year. The previous years were worse though. We’re currently seeing some amalgamation (Provinent purchased LearnStream) and a new & growing company in Fredericton – PulseLearning.

    You’re right that “we can’t keep doing business the way we used to”. I view that as the critical issue because I haven’t heard much discussion from government or industry about the need for new business models. It’s more of the same old (and proven obsolete) DotCom models for technology and service development. That’s why I’m pessimistic about the long term economic viability of the regional industry.

    Probably the most innovative business model in our area is from Ensemble Collaboration.

  3. Harold

    Update on the NB learning industry:

    Vitesse Learning bought Provinent, and has now filed for bankruptcy protection (2007).

    Ensemble Collaboration closed its doors in 2006.

    PulseLearning is still in business in Fredericton.

  4. Ben Watson

    Ensemble Collaboration was sold to Global Mentoring in 2006 who is adding the collaboration code to their solution.


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