Several months ago I wrote about Seth Godin’s free book that talked about education in the US. I challenged everyone to download it and take the hour or so needed to read it and share it with friends, teachers and others who are concerned about this issue. I think what Seth is talking about goes much broader than just reforming education and it has some powerful lessons for those of us in business as well. It was a must read and now it is a must watch!
Seth has provided a video recap for those who didn’t have the time to read the book that is now available on his website. Please take 17 minutes of your life and watch this video and then take some more time to think it over. It really can change the way you think about everything you do at work. Note that if you didn’t get a chance to read the book it is still available for free on the same website.
I love the way Seth talks about the education system being a throwback to a time when there was a need to train people to work in the factories and really make the industrial revolution work. The stress on compliance, order and lack of creativity rings so true. The idea of having world class lectures that kids watch in the evening and then do their homework in school where they can get individualized attention is brilliant. Finally the concept of factory workers doing just what is needed to get paid versus the artist who works constantly without consideration of pay is also very interesting.
Think of how these concepts play out in our industry and in most business places today. We still expect people to come to the office between 8-5 just like when everyone worked in factories. People sit at their desks and turn out work just like in the factories. Even though more and more work is being done using the computer and over the phone there still needs to be this requirement that those calling each other be in the same building at the same time. Think about how things would change if you were only required to be at the office three afternoons a week and during that time there would be no phone calls or email work allowed. All time would be spent meeting face-to-face and collaborating with others. The rest of the week would be spent meeting with customers, doing email, making phone calls and project work where it was most productive, most likely at home.
We constantly struggle with the innovation thing in our industry and yet we put so much emphasis on compliance. I am talking about compliance well beyond what is demanded by outside regulatory bodies. The way we write business plans, provide monthly updates, use PowerPoint, act at meetings, dress at work, do performance reviews and quite frankly almost everything else is tightly controlled. Workers act much more like factory workers than they do artists. Those leaders that like control and have a foreman mentality love it when everyone falls in line, meets deadlines and acts just like them. The dilemma is that the business no longer needs factory workers but rather change agents who have the ability to think well beyond the status quo.
There is an old Harry Chapin song that tells about a parent going to their child’s first parent-teacher meeting. The teacher says your child marches to the beat of a different drummer but don’t worry we will have them in line by the end of the year. To me that is one of the saddest lyrics ever written perhaps because it is so true. You see to really understand the factory worker versus artist concept, Seth Godin says you have to understand that factory workers are trained that way so that they could easily be replaced. The factory job can be done by anyone and individual skills play no part on a factory line. There is no personal or business upside when everyone works the same. Think about what this means for your career and your work life. How can you change things? More importantly think about how this must change for your children and others coming after us.