Preparing for the Conceptual Age – what a concept

We’re in a provincial election right now and many of the candidates are talking about the need for job creation. I think that this is wrong.

Jobs are means but wealth generation is the real end. Jobs are a measurement of wealth generation used in an industrial society, one that produces goods in factories which employ people to do some kind of replicable work. Today, manufacturing and even white-collar information processing jobs are decreasing, while creative knowledge work is increasing. There are not more knowledge workers than industrial employees (yet), but we can look at history and see what happened to farm workers.

Go back 100 years and imagine what a politician would be saying on the issue of work. He might say, “We need to keep our people on the land because farmers are the fabric of our nation” – or words to that effect. This would be true, because, in 1900, “Most people – almost 63% – live on farms, not in cities.” However, in 2001, only 4.5% of Canadians lived on farms, but Canadians can still eat well today; perhaps too well. What happened to all of these farm workers? They took jobs in cities; many of which were higher paying factory jobs.

Today we are are seeing similar decreases in manufacturing and wealth generation moving to the knowledge sector. The term, knowledge worker, was coined by Peter Drucker, but I like David Gurteen’s definition of a knowledge worker best:

Knowledge workers are those people who have taken responsibility for their work lives. They continually strive to understand the world about them and modify their work practices and behaviours to better meet their personal and organisational objectives. No one tells them what to do. They do not take “no” for an answer. They are self motivated.

Knowledge workers don’t need jobs, they need opportunities. More and more knowledge workers can choose where they live, using the Internet to get their work done, so that local economic growth is becoming dependent on the ability to attract knowledge workers. Creating more industrial-style jobs is only a stop-gap measure.

We are changing from an industrial society to a networked knowledge society. Dan Pink, in “A whole new mind” described three forces (Abundance, Asia, Automation) that are pushing us into a society where creators and empathisers will be highly valued in what he calls the “Conceptual Age”.

Abundance has satisfied, and even oversatisfied, the material needs of millions – boosting the significance of beauty and emotion and accelerating individuals’ search for meaning. Asia is now performing large amounts of routine, white collar, L-Directed [left brain] work at significantly lower costs, thereby forcing knowledge workers in the advanced world to master abilities that can’t be shipped overseas. And automation has begun to affect this generation’s white-collar workers in much the same way it did last generation’s blue-collar workers, requiring L-Directed professionals to develop aptitudes that computers can’t do better, faster or cheaper.

So what are our politicians and voters talking about today? Many say that we need jobs and we need to put more money into our school system. Our schools, as they currently exist, are focused on the past. Our children need to be ready for the demands of the Conceptual Age and to take responsibility for themselves. Unfortunately, schools do little to prepare students to be empathetic or creative. They are focused on left brain attributes of logic and process.

This quote, via David Warlick, sums up the problems with our systems:

we have an 18th century form of government depending upon a 19th century industrial model school system to supply a 21st century electorate capable of making the monumental decisions we will face in the coming years.

Please let’s talk about the real issues facing our society and stop focusing on the next 24 hours. Our children deserve better.

9 Responses to “Preparing for the Conceptual Age – what a concept”

  1. Anol

    Harold – nice post. A whole new mind is my current favorite book too. I forcing almost everyone in my office to read the book! :mrgreen:

    A nice discussion on the book at Presentation Zen – check it out!:)

  2. graham watt

    Wonderful post, Harold. In my business, advertising, simple biological
    intuitive creative thinking is replaced with physics-based logic systems, these results then passed on to the poor sot creatives who have become cake decorators. So people who can think, but can’t execute have engendered creatives who can execute but can’t think. Guess which camp the schools are in?!
    Graham Watt
    Still seething in Sackville

  3. Karyn Romeis

    Wow, Graham, so it’s not just in my field (learning design) that this is happening then? I’ve just been working on the most appallingly designed piece of learning you ever saw, but the client thinks the design is done and just wants us to make it pretty. And this is closer to the matter of which camp schools are in than I describe without giving away who the client is (naming and shaming them could lead to me getting panned and canned).

  4. Hal Richman

    One of the core issues with higher education is accountability for results. I was shocked to hear an ex-president of a university state that their training did not need to relate to results since “this is education you know.” Well, this would be interesting with the exception that our tax dollars have funded this gig for decades.

    There has been some interesting work on how to apply “authentic evaluation” to higher education so that in addition to a liberal arts education students can put this all together in the world of work and entrepreneurship when they leave. I saw this on the Chronicle of Higher Education site about 6 months ago but cannot seem to locate.


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