Monday, November 22, 2004
Jakob Nielsen isn't exactly thinking small today in an Alertbox column that declares the end of the industrial revolution and uncannily describes a more decentralized work process (i.e., what you're probably already doing).
You rarely read a more sweeping statement than this: "The switch from centralization to decentralization goes to the heart of the human experience. And because the switch will drive up quality, it will tend to be a force for good." But I tend to agree with Nielsen.
Those who refuse to drop old memes become bewildered by today's subtle economic changes. Those who already work productively in the new realm welcome those changes, as 'system' potentially makes a more comfortable peace with the 'lifeworlds' of the privileged members of knowledge classes.
Notions of flexible specialization aren't new, of course, as the ample literature on "the looming threat of post-Fordism" will attest. As much by accident (but in large part thanks to educational and other opportunities) as anything else, many of us have gained more control over our work lives than ever. (That doesn't help the person pushing a mop for the same real wage as twenty years ago, of course. Get an education, kids.)
My generation -- formerly called "slackers" -- often defined its aspirations in terms of what it didn't want. It didn't want to offer its loyalty to centralized corporate systems that offered none of the same in return. It didn't want to dress a certain way, or move to a certain place, just because a "job carrot" was dangled. It believed in a multitude of narratives (and channels, and tastes), and shied away from grand narratives. It believed that merit, not image, should determine one's pay packet (in that, we were of course hopelessly naive).
As it turns out, the obstinate, sometimes almost pre-industrial work habits of today's overeducated, disloyal middle classes are quite suitable for the emerging economic order. As it turns out, the generation of knowledge workers who are flexible enough to pursue goals on a project basis or in a variety of different team formats have turned out to be drivers of unprecedented productivity gains. The majority of those who lose steady "jobs" through offshoring will ultimately benefit if they can revamp their work styles so they're always moving towards high-output goals as part of a multitude of different project teams.
In declaring the industrial revolution over (finally!!!), Nielsen has hit the nail right on the head. He even reminds us that search marketing is part of the picture of serving niche markets on short notice.
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