People as Interchangeable Parts

by jchannell

In the past, tools and machined parts were custom made. One of a kind. Unique. When something broke, or needed replacing, a one off replacement for that unique situation was sourced. You carriage or wheels we likely to be different then you neighbour’s.

Then came the industrial revolution, large scale manufacturing, and assembly lines. A factory could now turn out widgets, or carriage wheels in amazing amounts, and every one could be made exactly alike. Your carriage wheels were now the same as your neighbors, or very similar.

Next arose our current state of affairs, large corporations, systems and franchises. The focus is on low variance, and repeatable experiences. McDonald’s and Wal-Mart may be the best examples of this system to date. A McDonald’s hamburger, and customer experience will be very similar in New York, Chicago, or even Paris. This is by design. Odds are you will never have a great or terrible experience. The system is the key. People are plugged into a narrowly defined job, to do it efficiently, and predictably, People are now the interchangeable parts on the system, If a person “breaks down”, or “wears out, ” a similar “part” is quickly sourced and placed in the same position, playing the exact same role.

The flaw in the system of using people as interchangeable parts is inherent human design, namely, our humanity. People often feel like “just a number” or a “cog in the wheel,” in large systems or organizations. Justly so! The modern corporation is designed specifically for YOU to be replaceable at a moment’s notice. With all the corruption, the demise of Detroit and GM, loss of job security, pensions, and layoffs, unrest in the workforce is afoot. The paradigms are shifting. The idea of working for a single company for your career, and retiring with a gold watch and a pension is dead. WE are now in charge of our retirement also. The government has made promises in one era to be kept in another. Those promises are as empty as grasping for the wind.

The next paradigm is interchangable workplaces and locations. Remote work agreements are becoming more prevalent, as the “cloud” that often makes place irrelevant. One can take customer calls or do CAD designs on the beach as well as the corner office. Workers will have a more personal resume, and will look more like a contract worker, than employees for a single corporation. The workforce will become more mobile, and instead of people being interchangeable, the companies they will work for will become the interchangeable ones. The Flip is coming. Are you ready?

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