Rebels on the edges

At the end of the nineteenth century, mechanization changed the economy, the workforce, and society. Many countries, especially the United States and Great Britain, shifted from an agricultural to an industrial economy. Human muscle was replaced by machines. Farm workers left their fields and migrated to the factories.

Today we are a witnessing a similar shift, as human information processing is being drastically surpassed by integrated technology systems. This has been called the second economy. I frequently discuss the implications of work automation on what is becoming a post-job economy. Consider that about 35% of existing jobs have a 85% or greater chance of being automated. The challenge we face is how to distribute wealth when capital accrues to the few and there is no need to hire as much labour to run that capital. Industrial powerhouse General Motors still employs over 200,000 people, but who knows how long that will last. In comparison, computer hardware maker, and iTunes master, Apple has about 80,000 employees, while the search/advertising giant Google has 46,000. It seems that the more intangible the goods and services, the fewer people are required.

I mentioned the creative economy in a recent post and given the growth of this second economy, and fewer jobs produced in the current economy, we need to seriously reconsider how value, wealth, and economic independence can be achieved. The key is creativity. “Identifying the new” will be a critical skill. The creative economy will be led by people testing the limits of all fields of endeavour. This will be fueled by big (and distributed) data, in conjunction with networked people. Innovation will be so essential that it may no longer be discussed. Innovation and creativity will be the new literacies.

This is scary because most of our schools and other institutions do not foster innovation and creativity. I think many people will be left on the sidelines of the creative economy until we develop support systems that can help people tap their innate abilities that were ignored for much of the past century. Machines have already replaced most physical labour. Networked computer systems will continue to rapidly replace human thinking for logical and analytical processes.What is left is creativity. The demand for innovative ideas (like new business models) and creative ideas (like games and movies) is probably infinite. However, at this time, the supply is still limited. Platforms that can leverage collective creativity may be a way to get people into the new economy. Some existing organizations, like corporations or universities, could help, but they must significantly restructure.

Céline Schillinger, says that companies must cultivate their rebels in order to remain relevant to their workers, while staying competitive in their arenas. These rebels can let them see beyond the organization’s walls. Rebellious people are essential for a new economy that no longer requires the diligence and obedience now provided by networked computers. The rebel spirit is the competitive advantage for innovation and creativity. Most organizations do everything possible to extinguish it, but rebels can help cycle more quickly through increasingly shorter stages of competitive advantage. The new economy’s equivalent of the industrial assembly line will likely be some system that celebrates rebels. This will be an epochal shift in management thinking.

Rawn Shah once told me that knowledge is evolving faster than can be codified in formal systems and is depreciating in value over time. This pretty well sums up the situation. Humans have the ability to deal with some very complex things, yet too often our societal and organizational barriers block us from using our abilities. In the new economy, it’s not what you know, but what you do with what you can learn, that will be valued. It will take rebels on the edges to do this.

“I want to stand as close to the edge as I can without going over; on the edge you find things you can’t see from the center.” – Kurt Vonnegut.


11 Responses to “Rebels on the edges”

  1. Tarik Taman

    Harold, I’ve never lived on the edge like the marvelous Kurt Vonnegut, and I think most organizations would find it difficult. Do you think in the future organizations will employ (full time or otherwise) rebels on the edge whose job it is to scout the edges and send back reports to steer strategy? I believe they probably will but whether the organization will take action is another question…

    • Harold

      I think there may be future organizations that are only comprised of rebels on the edges, and who outsource all the internal machinations.

  2. Tarik Taman

    I hadn’t thought of that but it makes sense, in the future some organizations’ value will be all about their thinking with the tangible products of their thinking outsourced.

    • Harold

      That is pretty well what many manufacturers have done. “Designed in the USA” does not mean it was built there.


Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)