Making It…Making the life and livelihood that we choose.
Breakdown… When the previous ways of Making It no longer work.
Breakthrough…When new ways of creating a life and livelihood emerge, often in totally unexpected ways.
Two enthusiastic, tech savvy millennials cornered me last weekend, immediately after my talk on “The Future of Making It — Making the Life and Livelihood that we Choose.” They wanted to share their fears and concerns for the future and they were happy to see someone recognizing the career dilemmas they face…
No, you’re not crazy for going independent. Chasing a job you don’t really want, to work for people you may not like, doing work that may hold no meaning for you, for an industry that might change radically…that’s crazy.
What’s at stake in the automation-prediction game. “Intelligent agents” is what we called them, once upon a time, these programs that would perform tasks for us without our telling them. And that sounded great! An agent works for you, right? But now those software bots have joined up with hardware robots, drones, and autonomous vehicles. And if a new report from the Forrester research outfit is right, they might be putting us out of work (The Guardian). Forrester says that, “by 2021, a disruptive tidal wave will begin”: Robots will already have eliminated 6 percent of U.S. jobs — starting with customer service reps and taxi and truck drivers — and more will quickly follow. If true, it’s a grim prognosis: We don’t have nearly enough public resources in place to retrain that volume of unemployed workers or to give them a safety net. But wait! Here’s another report, this one from Goldman Sachs (Bloomberg), that says not to worry: We’ve survived similar industrial transitions before, and they will open all kinds of new opportunities for those who know where to look. We just need the government and other public institutions to manage the transition in a smart way. That’s when you might take a look at our deadlocked Congress and trivialized presidential election — and wince.
Big Ag keeps getting bigger. Bayer’s $56 billion buyout of Monsanto, if approved by regulators, will further consolidate the hold of a handful of agro-chemical industrial giants on the world’s food supply, writes Brad Plumer in Vox. Monsanto holds a big slice of the global seed market, but its trademark Roundup-Ready GMO crops are already losing ground, as bugs gain resistance to the pesticide. The BigCos engaged in this frantic mating dance — not just Bayer/Monsanto but Dow/Dupont, Syngenta/ChemChina and others — are all betting that the bigger they are, the better they’ll be able to influence governments and regulators in their favor. They might be right. But global consolidation only deepens the industry’s commitment to the path of mammoth monoculture, even if that hasn’t worked so well for Monsanto’s pesticide-resistant crops. If we hope for sustainable diversity in our food supply, we may need a little more of it in the companies that support our farmers, too.
Management by algorithm. It’s not just the gig-economy platforms that are using code to apply factory-style productivity principles and redefine the nature of employment. Software to manage shifts and boost sales is fast spreading to the retail and service economies (The Financial Times) and turning the lives of workers there upside down. In one sense, this trend is simply the rebirth of the stopwatch-driven “scientific management” techniques that Frederick Taylor introduced a century ago, when “Taylorism” became synonymous with a kind of dehumanizing focus on productivity metrics. In another, it represents an entirely new way of approaching the relationship between employer and worker: less committed on both sides, more fluid, continuously tweaked. If we manage this change thoughtfully and sensitively, it has the potential to make businesses way more efficient and give employees much more freedom. But if we blow it, we could be in for an era of labor-management strife like we haven’t seen since — well, since the era of Taylorism.
The perfect company, piece by piece. In a new series, Quartz sets out to find companies that have aced specific aspects of their businesses. WordPress maker Automattic, for example, makes a fully distributed organization work by regularly swapping new tools into its communications kit. Japan’s MUJI tackles sustainability through nuts-and-bolts thinking rather than flashy do-gooder campaigns. Online furniture merchant Wayfair rethinks customer service by hiring millennials with a passion for gaming who are good at problem-solving, then giving them the power to authorize returns or take other quick steps to resolve issues. You can’t cut and paste these exceptional parts into any kind of “perfect” whole, of course. But there’s plenty to learn from each patch of the quilt.