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Revolutions…

I enjoy a good debate about the 21st century workforce.  Companies like mine invest great time and money trying to create an environment that “motivates” employees.  Stand-up desks; pool tables; cafes on every floor; you name it.  I know other companies that are even more flamboyant with office accoutrements.

Young workers want to “revolutionize” work processes.  New leaders “revolutionize” what old leaders had in place.  After all, it’s the Information Revolution now.  “Knowledge workers” are keen on changing things:

A knowledge worker is someone whose job entails having really interesting conversations at work. 

Rick Levine

Exactly what is the Information Revolution about?  “Information”; “Revolution”; change for the sake of change; being “interesting”; keeping employees “engaged” (aka “entertained”)?

My sources may be unreliable, but their information is fascinating. 

Unknown Sage

I’d like to believe there is more to our companies and our leaders than that.  I mean, we proclaim America is the “greatest industrialized country in the world”, true?  Of course, our trade imbalance with China and our massive budget deficits might just indicate we are better at proclamations than production.  But I digress.

I know we are long past the era of our Industrial Revolution.  The thing is I like to study history; learn from what went well (and what didn’t); apply such lessons learned to get better today at what I already do best.

During our Industrial Revolution we endeavored to perfect the technique of studying what went well (and what didn’t) in order to perfect our ingenuity and productivity.  One example of such was time-motion studies.  According to Wikipedia:

A time and motion study (or time-motion study) is a business efficiency technique combining the Time Study work of Frederick Winslow Taylor with the Motion Study work of Frank and Lillian Gilbreth… It is a major part of scientific management (Taylorism). After its first introduction, time study developed in the direction of establishing standard times, while motion study evolved into a technique for improving work methods. The two techniques became integrated and refined into a widely accepted method applicable to the improvement and upgrading of work systems. This integrated approach to work system improvement is known as methods engineering…

Way back then, we even learned about how over-study unleashed the “Department of Unintended Consequences”.  Returning to Wikipedia:

The Hawthorne effect… is a type of reactivity in which individuals modify an aspect of their behavior in response to their awareness of being observed.  The original research at the Hawthorne Works in Cicero, Illinois, on lighting changes and work structure changes such as working hours and break times was originally interpreted by Elton Mayo and others to mean that paying attention to overall worker needs would improve productivity. Later interpretations such as that done by Landsberger suggested that the novelty of being research subjects and the increased attention from such could lead to temporary increases in workers’ productivity.

I worry about today’s Information Revolution.  Is the increased attention leading to temporary productivity increases?  I know today’s workforce loves “flexibility”; “interesting work”; “variety”; etc.  But will we remain “productive”?

Two hundred years ago, the Industrial Revolution centralized the workforce.  The Information Revolution will reverse the process eventually sending half or more of us back home, either to work or to draw unemployment. 

Don Peppers

In the sales profession we often refer to that fictitious company making those fictitious products known as widgets.  But if we had to build a factory and hire employees to produce that widget, would the knowledge workers be able to from home?

GAP

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