Industry will continue to witness the end of the industrial era, an era many of our parents were brought up in and educated through a schooling system that was tasked to provide a compliant student turn employee who was ready to work on the production line. We were taught to keep our heads down, do what we were told and follow the instruction manual. If you did, you would then be rewarded with a handsome pension and a secure source of guaranteed employment.
But we’re seeing the rapid decline in this industrial era of production lines and large organisations monopolising markets. This is all, gradually, coming to an end and at the same time raises questions around the education system, originally created to support such a model of wheeling out compliant workers ready to work on production lines and perhaps not to create future employees accustomed to operate in a globally connected workplace.
Many of us no longer work on actual production lines, but what is the difference between the type of traditional manual labour and sitting in a pod staring at a computer screen all day to carry out the instructions handed to you? So as business models change, shouldn’t education systems?
For many businesses, their existing strategic models have remained as it was in the industrial era i.e. to produce products and services the cheapest as possible, as described in the book, Graceful “Modern society is based on a modern idea: get the work done by replaceable cogs, by individuals programmed to do what they’re told, follow instructions and work cheap. The attraction of this system is evident by how easily ordinary organisations replace ordinary employees”.
In his book “That Used To Be Us“, Thomas Friedman mentions “For decades there has been a struggle between the American economy’s desire to constantly increase productivity and the desire to maintain blue-collar jobs. We watched as more and more machines and cheaper workers replaced American manual laborers. We compensated for this loss of blue-collar jobs by creating white-collar jobs. But how do we compensate for the loss of white-collar jobs, which are increasingly under threat in the hyper-connected world? We do it be inventing new kinds of white-collar jobs. But that requires more start-ups and better education…”
I would also argue the same could be said about the organisations we work in – are they providing and embracing the capacity for employees to think creatively, to test new ideas and innovations, to not be afraid to fail and test out new products and service to appeal to their audience?
So what’s the alternative? A race to the top, described in more detail by Seth Godin – and a major factor in embracing the culture of a race to the top is the internet which has opened the opportunities for everyone, who has a vision and initiative to create their own future. A timely reminder was produced by Seth, entitled Stop Stealing Dreams which is worth a read.
Gone are the days where in order to succeed as a business, you had to have a healthy cash flow and own your own premises for a factory – there are so many examples of industries that have been re-shaped and redefined thanks to the internet and with it individuals that have stepped up and began to take on the big corporations that once drove a particular industry – take the music business.
An industry once driven by a small number of record companies (deliberately setting a high barrier to entry) who dictated the product placement, price and promotion should be given to a music artist. The record companies held the keys to launching the artist or your record to a global audience, it was through the record company the artist’s work would be produced, promoted and price set.
Recently we’ve seen the this market completely reshape – artists have realised that they can engage with their fan base and audience directly through the internet and that there is a not a need for an interim body to dictate what can/can’t be done, take these two examples of redefining the music industry:
Example 1 – Radiohead selling their album where the customer could set the price on what they decided to pay (Interestingly where the customer could have downloaded the record for free, 2 out of 5 downloaders were willing to pay an average of $6 for the album)
Example 2 – Flattening the distribution of music – Traditionally, in order to get music published, distributed and sold was to work with a major music distributor e.g. Universal, Sony, Warner or EMI among many others. In 1997, Derek Sivers founder of CDbaby
CDbaby was created to provide a solution to the thousands of independent musicians who were at the mercy of the large music distribution labels if they wanted to get their music in large chain record stores such as Tower Records. So as a solution, www.cdbaby.com was born and in 2008 Sivers sold the business for $22 million bequeathing the proceeds to a charitable trust for music education.
Both examples are indicators that even in the most traditional of industries can be reshaped, redefined and barriers to entry removed for new entrants to the market. We’re also seeing this over and over again in other industries e.g. book publishing (domino project), further education (explosion of online modules & courses)
CDBaby and the Domino Project are two examples of successful companies defining a new way of creating and launching a business that appeals to a global audience whilst at the same time thinking creatively, differently and meeting the demands of their audience by racing to the top – where the price of their good and services is not the definitive answer to success.
We can see this same culture applied in many different organisations across different sectors e.g. Apple, Threadless and even fast food chain Nathan’s – companies that may be long established but have adapted to change, redefined their product offering and their value and being not afraid of failure in seeking innovation and challenging the status-quo…the same can also be said about us as individuals – not being afraid to fail, to question, to re-create and to seek out new ways and opportunities.