Chris Anderson, the editor of Wired, has a very good article in his magazine on the desktop manufacturing revolution. It's definitely worth the read and is complimentary with thinking being done on this blog re: resilient communities. What was more interesting to me about the article, and perhaps to you, is the idea that this technology will help reshape work in new positive ways. Here's the claim:
Thus the new industrial organizational model. It’s built around small pieces, loosely joined. Companies are small, virtual, and informal. Most participants are not employees. They form and re-form on the fly, driven by ability and need rather than affiliation and obligation. It doesn’t matter who the best people work for; if the project is interesting enough, the best people will find it.
This type of organizational model isn't new (although it may be for manufacturing). It's currently sweeping the economy (an estimated 30% of the workforce are already temps), and we have copious insight into the effects of this transition. It has resulted in:
- The elimination of benefits. A complete shift of risk to individuals. Costs are rising fast (often many, many times the rate of core inflation) and one slip puts you into bankruptcy.
- Record levels of job dissatisfaction (waiting for the next great project never happens on your schedule).
- Stagnation or a steady erosion of income at best (many see an immediate drop in income or long periods of unemployment between gigs with a shift to temporary status) due to pressure from off-shoring and automation.
In short, it's a disaster that's sweeping the economy. That being said, work is moving to a just in time model and it is not going back:
- It works. Virtual teams that use just in time labor can build things faster, better, and less expensively (by an order of magnitude) than traditional competitors (my personal experience building and operating virtual companies for a decade now, confirms this).
- Barriers are falling. The need form a corporation with long term contracts (to reduce information discovery costs -- Ronald Coase) is diminishing due to the availability of better tools, data, and connectivity. Further most work is software mediated/managed info manipulation now, so telecommuting etc. makes it easy to form a virtual team for any project.
- Pressure is growing. The global economic and financial system is heavily financing the shift to temp work to capture the arbitrage in labor costs (globally) and reduce the bargaining power of individual workers. This is inexorable since there is a huge profit (the aggregate of the delta between US/Euro incomes and Chinese/Indian) to be made.
Unfortunately, for everyone caught in this shift, help isn't on the way from the usual suspects. So, it's up to us to develop a solution that preserves the productivity, speed, and flexibility of the just in time work model, but mitigates the deleterious impact.
I have some ideas on this, what are yours?