There has been a lot of talk lately about the mobile revolution. A shift which is here to stay which will forever change communications, commerce and culture. But most people are wrong about this revolution. Yes, mobile living is here, but it’s not about that piece of technology which lives in our pockets. No, the mobile phone is a symptom, not the cause.
The mobile phone is really an inevitable invention. In both the agrarian and industrial era we became less itinerant as a species. We instead invested our time on farms, then institutions and factories. We built suburbs and shopping centers and structured the largest parts of our working and social lives in tiny geographic clusters. We shifted our living structure from itinerant opportunists (think hunter gatherer) to become sedentary factors of production. Widget living within, and upon the industrial machine. Mind you, the machine was a better option than life before it arrived. It made us richer, smarter, taller, warmer, cooler, healthier and less hungry. But the machine (the industrialized world) has now began to set us free to explore again. Which was the wayit always was prior to this 200 year human anomaly. Industrial systems became so profitable and improved living standards so much, that technology has conspired to bring back mobility. Mobility will be a defining life pattern for humans as we move into the next era of our species. Certainly this is the case with developed economies. The exponential deflationary effect of technological developments has created a new form of mobility in many corners of life. Most of which occurred well before the symptom of the mobile or cell phone emerged.
Let’s consider of these examples:
- How much more mobile is your working life? How many offices, workplaces, co-working hubs, conferences do you attend? How often do you change jobs and commence work in a new suburb, city, state or country?
- How often do you eat out? Our parents went out on special occasions. We now eat out a number of times a week and even go our for breakfast or cross town for the best coffee.
- How often do you catch an Airplane? Something that was once the domain of the rich, is now something we do at the last minute to go see a music festival a thousand miles away. Since 1990 the amount of passenger miles in travel has increased 4 fold, while the average price of a 1 hour flight has more than halved.
- Even Space travel is back! Every billionaire worth his salt has started a private space travel venture as the final frontier is even being democratized.
Compare the above examples to how our parents and grand parents lived.
Our lives are becoming more mobile in every way, because we are no longer tied to the factory or the farm. We are now entering the 2nd phase of human hunting and gathering, but this time we are hunting for information, creativity and culture. All the stuff we lost during the standardization that came with the industrial era.
So when we think about the mobile revolution, we owe it to ourselves as entrepreneurs to consider human movement, and not just a single piece of technology we take with us in our pocket.
Taylorism defined our world for the best part of the past 100 years. Even in marketing realms. During the mass media era, we could use tested methods to go to market with predictable success – so long as we had access to the right resources.
Rapid change and fragmentation is the new normal. While we are half way through planning, someone else will arrive and do it different, cheaper, better and in a way we never quite expected. Both in terms of what they build and how they spread the word.
Our mindset when it comes to startups and business (isn’t everyone in business a startup now?) should be fluid and philosophical. It’s time to drop the template and best practice six sigma bull crap.
It is very hard for a best practice to exist when something has never been done before.
You probably don’t know this but the office is a weird thing that only turned up when factories did. Sure Lawyers and accountants had them, but not in the corporate form they exist in today. The office was an addendum to where stuff got built. It was there by accident, it was there because the tools of the trade (office machinery) had not been democratized to the point where we could own and have them in our home. The strange thing is that, now we can work from home, the large majority of us still don’t. Not because we don’t want to, but mainly because large corporations lack trust.
Many of us would save time and money if they did not exist (both people & corporations)
I think it’s the last industrial relic. It needs to be radically changed, even the name office is wrong. It sounds ‘official’ and full of rules. Sure we do need to work together sometimes – but personally I’d rather do that in some kind of creative collaboration space.
If offices really add that much value, then why do startups never have them? It’s because entrepreneurs know they are expensive to run, out dated and redundant.
If money didn’t exist what would we do differently? Let me first remind us what this would mean.
In this imaginary moneyless it would mean: That we all had enough to eat. That we all had a place to live. That we all have equal access to healthcare and education. That we wouldn’t get paid for our work. That no-one gets paid for the work they do, in dollars at least.
It means that we do in during the day has an entirely different perspective. In this imaginary world it make sense that we choose our line of work carefully. The work itself, becomes the thing that matters.
It turns out that this is also the best approach for a world that does actually have money.
I was interested in reading an article in this weekends Australia Financial Review which was titled ‘What worries the rich?’ – Firstly, who cares? Not me. Not because they are rich, just that it is an irrelevant question. We all have worries, and the worries of a particular demographic are no more important than any other demographic. However, in reading one particular persons comments I was astounded at the irony.
The rich person in question was Bruce Mathieson, who has a net wealth of over $1 billion. He said:
“I’d hate to think that I had a lot of money but my family and everyone around me were unhappy. That would be an absolute disaster.”
For anyone who doesn’t know, Bruce made the majority of his wealth via Poker Machines. Here is a guy who “sells hope, and provides misery” – claiming he’d hate to make anyone unhappy. Is he serious?
Poker machines provide nothing good to society. The only thing that poker machines are good at, is redistributing wealth from the poor to the rich. And governments falsely believe the tax revenue outweighs the cost of the social ills they create.
You might think this is slightly off topic for startup blog. But for me it sent me a clear message about what business is all about. Creating value for all those who participate in the value chain – not one sided value. If the cost of being wealthy, was creating heart ache for people, I’d rather be poor. In addition, I like to think we are entering an age where wealth creation is more often a result of creating value for society, not by tricking people.
I read a great quote today which I thought was worth sharing:
“There is a recognition dawning that the repetitive linear system which controls work and the worker is no longer profitable. Consequently, the presence of the soul is now welcome in the workplace. The soul is welcome because it is the place where the imagination lives.”
What I like about this is the reference to profit, and that linear systematic work isn’t profitable. If I think about every startup I’ve ever been involved with the real profit has come from the excitement and variety of the work. Internal profit rather than financial. And so my soul has been enriched.
It’s not a boring category, industry, startup or company. You’re a boring brand run by boring people.
Exciting is a state of mind, if we have the courage to create, upset or even offend, then we can change our brand or industry forever. In fact, it might even be worth going broke or getting fired for.
Before the Industrial Revolution the average number of hours worked in the western world was less than 6 hours per day. Some say we worked less than two and a half days a week.
I won’t quote what the average number of hours are today, but it’s more for everyone I know personally. I’m certain many people reading this would work in excess of 12 hours on certain days.
So what happened?
We got stooged. The industrial revolution made it possible for a larger segment of the population to work year-round, since this labor was not tied to the season and artificial lighting made it possible to work longer each day. Peasants and farm laborers moved from rural areas to the factories and work times during a year has been significantly higher since then the important innovation of piece labour. That is, the ability to earn income based on output. Think bolts in car doors.
Over time longer hours lead to greater amount of industrial accidents and workplace injuries. Unions formed and laws changed on the factory floor. But, the office was a different place altogether.
Office workers – salary based workers who where historically in management worked for salaries. A fixed wage for a fixed number of hours. My father constantly reminds me that in his day office workers only worked from 9am until 4.30pm. That tradesman and factory workers were the only people who did extra hours. And they did this to make up for the pay discrepancy which was favour of salary workers.
Clearly times have changed. If you are working in a large corporate, cubicle farm, in front of a screen or any place where you don’t get your hands dirty then chances are your are part of the ever growing white collar underclass. Here’s the some of stuff that defines members of the White Collar Underclass:
- A fixed salary with no overtime (factory workers, tradesman, retail staff all have overtime)
- Regularly working beyond the ‘official hours’ including weekends.
- It is expected that you arrive before and leave after your official hours.
- No representation in your industry to protect employment conditions.
- No tax benefits or uniform allowances, because your work clothing doesn’t have a logo on it. Even though it is in real terms a ‘uniform’ and costs you 10 times what hands on workers wear to work.
- Your annual performance review is based on the subjective assessments of your direct manager who may or may not like you.
- You work in a large building full of people who look and act like you do, and no one really knows what anyone else does.
- In an economic downturn, you panic, because you know what you do is essentially expendable.
- Large parts of your day are dealing with procedure, invented by other workers to justify their own existence.
- You look at a screen for large parts of your day, but have restrictions on what information you can bring onto the screen from the outside world.
- You feel as though your rarely use the skills acquired in the formal education you needed to get that job.
- You can work for days, weeks and months without any physical evidence of tangible outputs of what you have done. You don’t make or fix anything real.
If some of the above apply to you, chances are you are part of the white collar underclass. A group of people who have been victimized by efficiency. A group of people who don’t do anything real. Which is why there will be a significant value shift and higher pay going to people (like tradesman) who make stuff. Simple supply and demand. In the past 50 years companies have became so good at what they do, that very few people really do anything, including you. But you are giving so much of your time… you know it, and it eats at your soul.
Startup blog advice: Earn your living. Do something that adds value, not takes up space. Even if it must be done at nights and on weekends. Even if it provides no income. The human soul feeds on real activity, not simple economic existence. Feed your soul in 2010.
It was easy for white collar workers to be smug during the 1980’s. Their blue collar counterparts faced a dire future as hands on jobs increasingly went overseas to low cost labour markets. It even made it possible for information workers to extract larger salaries as the profitability of their organizations soared. The white collar desk jockey rode the wave of efficiency as corporations globalized and consolidated manufacturing.
Life has a funny way of going full circle. And now it’s our turn, the white collar worker. We are also an endangered species in developed markets.
Yep, you and me. We too, will be outsourced. All us accountants, IP Lawyers, Engineers, Computer Programmers (insert university educated profession here).
Don’t believe me? Then consider this: In India each year there are over 300,000 Engineering graduates and over 400,000 IT graduates who will happily work for 10% of what conglomerate X pays you right now. It’s only a matter of time before large corporations, who are usually struggling for top line growth, can get over the emotional barrier of having a large corporate head office and go offshore. The spreadsheet will make that decision for them. But this time the barriers will be lower than when all the call center went overseas because consumers wont even notice. Society wont care either. They are sick of people earning well above average incomes in ivory towers. No one will feel sorry for us.
What to do?
Stop being a factor of production and start organizing them. Stuff gets done, things can be built, and anything which is done at a desk is about to disappear to low cost labour markets. The way information workers can survive is through undertaking entrepreneurial endeavors (corporate & private). Be able to manage complex projects and by managing situations and people, not doing stuff. The age of the entrepreneur is about to become something which is so significant it changes work just like the industrial revolution did.
Startup blog says: Are you ready?
Get ready at Startup School.