Innovating our way out of the industrial era

I have frequently said that simple and complicated work is getting automated and outsourced and that the real value in the networked enterprise is in complex (creative) work. Standardized work, that can be done by many, is low value in the network era. See my posts on Job Automation or Exception Handling for further reading.

 Bob Cringely clearly shows how this works in information technology.

Toward the top end of IT the value of individual contributors becomes extreme. There are many IT organizations where certain critical functions are dependent on a single worker. These are complex or arcane tasks being done by unique individuals. You know the type. Every organization needs more of them and it is easy to justify looking wherever — even overseas — to find more.  It’s at this level where the commodity argument breaks down.

The bad news is that routine, standardized work has increasingly lower value. The good news is that almost every person has the capacity to do more complex and creative work. We have been designed as learning organisms. Our main constraints are our artificial structures, especially our schooling systems. Much as we no longer need the majority of the population to grow crops, we no longer need a large workforce of widget makers or data processers. However, we have an infinite demand for creative products and services.

As Cringely concludes:

So we have a standoff. Corporate America has, for the most part, chosen a poor path when it comes to IT labor issues, but CEOs aren’t into soul-searching and nobody can turn back the clock. Labor, in turn, longs for a fantasy of their own — the good old days.

The only answer that makes any sense is innovation — a word that neither side uses properly, ever.

The only way out of this mess is to innovate ourselves into a better future.

Between organizations, innovation can start by increasing connections, as it is obvious there are few connections between labour leaders and CEO’s.  Inside organizations, innovation can be facilitated through narration, transparency and power-sharing. That’s how we can start to get ourselves out of this wicked problem of work in the 21st century.

2 Responses to “Innovating our way out of the industrial era”

  1. Andrew Friar

    Great article. I hope you don’t mind if I reference this and pass it onto others.

    It’s interesting for a number of reasons and a range of audiences. From those being outsourced and struggling to understand what to do, through to the CEO’s and organisations smart enough or not that need such an idea to re-enforce current actions or start finding the right people.


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