Leaders into the mid-‘90s were mainly old-school task managers trained on a military model, who knew everything there was to know about their industry – or so they thought. In that world, tradition was king.
It has taken over 20 years to bust the military model and embrace new ways of organizing workers and work, thanks primarily to the arrival of the Internet and the Millennial generation in the workplace. And yet the majority of businesses, governments and institutions still cling to the old model, pushing their people unceasingly to do more with less in a downward spiral of profitability and productivity. Add to that load frustrated owners and management, not to mention staff who simply do what they are told.
On the other side of the equation, many consumers and a large segment of society have grown apathetic. We accept perversely long lead times, higher prices for what we want/need (known colloquially as custom or bespoke) and projects that run unfailingly over budget and behind schedule. That’s just the way it is we tell ourselves.
Nonsense. How come I can order something online from Amazon at a competitive price and have it delivered the next day (same day in some markets)? Or, a piece of millwork in any size, shape and finish from some suppliers who will have it manufactured in two weeks?
We know better – way better – is possible. But, like the businesses, governments and institutions clutching to the old ways, many of us hang on to our outdated expectations.
You wonder how real change can take hold in such a deeply entrenched and co-dependant society. And yet for all that, change creeps in. Too slowly for my liking and too fast for the likes of some. No matter, change does happen.
Most of that change, of course, is technology enabled. (You’d think we’d be used to this by now. The printing press was a technological intervention some 500 years ago. It just wasn’t called “tech.”) And yet, what’s the first objection when technology is introduced into an antiquated system? There go the jobs!
It is true, a sea-change is underway when it comes to work. We’ll never see those high-paying, steady, reliable jobs of yesteryear return. But let’s face it, if a technology or artificial intelligence can replace what a human does, then it likely wasn’t work that challenged our creativity, brilliance and abilities in the first place.
The fact is, we have a serious shortage of skilled technology workers. In the trades, only one skilled person for every four tradespeople who retire is entering the workforce. In other words, do we really have a choice but to adapt to change? Think about it. If we can’t ramp up technology fast enough in many sectors of the economy we’ll find ourselves paying even higher prices, waiting even longer for the things we need and seeing frustrating results.
That’s the big picture, long-term view of the job equation. It’s also in the future. Which means for some, there’s no need to fret just yet. Why stew this week, or on this project? We wouldn’t wait to purchase a fire extinguisher until the building is on fire – would we?
The problem we must deal with now is the age-old resistance to introducing new technologies. It’s time to let go of lame one-sided reasoning, like the loss of jobs argument that gets trotted out time and time again.
I’ve been reading about companies in cabinet-making, furniture-manufacturing and construction, to name a few sectors, that have invested in new technologies and taken the time to learn how to apply and leverage those technologies. Universally, their stories sound like this:
We’re winning more work (up to five-fold, in some cases), delivering a higher quality product, in as much as 50% less time, more profitably, with a smaller team/shop, but we are finding that our front office has expanded significantly to accommodate our integration of the new technologies.
Read: new job creation.
These re-invented companies are engaging their staff on unprecedented levels in terms of creativity and innovation.
Is there a message here? Yes. It’s grab technology by the orbs and embrace it. It’s human nature to innovate, and to implement change. We’ve got problems to solve and things to manufacture that the old sweat shop ways can’t possibly keep up with. They were never meant to.
In fact, if you’re a fan of convention, consider this: technology has always made it possible for humans to do things that are fresh, bold and different.
Let’s join forces, and find out what that is.