Are you talent or labour? The difference may be very important. According to a recent article in the New York Times, talent is getting into a position to be able to push capitalism around, but not labour.
Talent is extracting more of the pie and getting richer. The gulf grows between talent — the high-earning, differentiated workers — and labor, those widget makers who support them.
In the NYT article, Roger Martin, author of “Fixing the Game: Bubbles, Crashes and What Capitalism Can Learn from the NFL“, talks about basic labour getting automated and outsourced, a popular theme on this blog.
Through the 1970s, owners moved jobs to Sun Belt right-to-work states. They automated, outsourced and worked to diminish the power of unions. When Ronald Reagan crushed the air traffic controllers’ union in 1981, it was a clear signal: labor had finally been forced to capitulate entirely.
If you want to be valued (and paid) in the network era, then you need to do work with high task variety, requiring continuous informal learning, and based on mostly implicit (tacit) knowledge that cannot be easily codified or shared. This is how talent gets respect from capital. Talent is not easily replaceable.
We’ve been lulled into the notion that information processing is knowledge work. For instance, we generally assume that all lawyers are knowledge workers (it seems they are not). I like Gary Hamel’s definition of the Creative Economy, where the traditional (industrial) employee traits of Intellect, Diligence & Obedience are becoming commodities (going to the lowest bidder). This Creative Economy requires more independent workers (like musical productions) with traits that cannot be commoditized: Initiative; Creativity; Passion. So “knowledge workers” had best ensure that 1) they have more Task Variety than Standardized Work and 2) they are valued for skills that cannot be turned into commodities.
This may be the post-capitalist era, but it will only be good to those that have talent. Our education systems have to ‘up their game’ to get each person to develop his or her unique talent. Being able to fill a job is not enough, even if it is an honest day’s labour. The capitalist system is designed to screw labour. But it’s more difficult to screw talent. If we want to help people, we need to help each person become Talent. That means emphasizing creativity, complex problem-solving, and innovation. For those of us in the learning, training, education, or human development business, we are doing a major disservice to society if we are merely preparing labour to be used by capital. OD/HR practices like performance management and competency modelling may just be hindering talent and reinforcing the capital/labour divide.
Update: Joachim Stroh has, once again, created a nice graphic to complement this post.