By Stephen Flemings
Ultimately, the information age isn't about information. It's about freedom.
There’s a tremendous opportunity right now to bring some dignity back to our places of work. That said, what I'm about to talk about is a pebble on a mountain of an idea, so take this as just a glimpse of something bigger.
There has been a lot of talk about the advent of the “information age.” For the first time since the industrial revolution, we have experienced a real disruptive change in business context. The age of communication is now, but if you pay too much attention to the technology, you'll miss what's really happening.
What's “really happening” is that we now have the chance to work like humans instead of machines. Communication and information's advance is restoring subsidiarity to our brave new world.
The industrial revolution created economies of scale, but within a limited paradigm. We leveraged processes and technology to crank out 1,000,000 widgets every time the big red button was pushed. But what did that do to the work place? Industrialization established a paradigm that equated economies of scale with centralized management.
Now, however, a radical change to the old paradigm is being created. We are on the brink of losing centralized management as well as the centralized work space paradigm because technology has freed up communication and lessened risk. Your people in India are as easy to reach as your people in Texas – or at least they will be soon. Risk of independent decision makers is lower because there are more resources, people, and information available now than ever before. Read Fast Company's article on Generation Flux: goo.gl/N79mN. GM is restructuring their executive training to accommodate the shift from centralized decision making to small team decision making.
Being in sales, I often wonder why I need to sit in a cramped Ikea desk and make calls from a phone with a cord. I could be on the beach making calls, or on a mountain. Is it more “human” to sit on a mountain than in a cubical? I think Chesterton and Lewis would agree that it is. To be clear, I'm not talking about how we are mobile now, and that we can work from home on Tuesday. I'm trying to illustrate that human dignity in the work place may now be better served by technology, and that there is an opportunity to change our ways of thinking to do what we now can to help foster this dignity. The reason I don't work on a mountain is because I haven't made the decision to do so – and I'll admit there has been help from my boss with this decision to date.
The development of communication can introduce more subsidiarity to business thought. Subsidiarity is the idea that decisions are better made where they have immediate effect. The idea is a key because it enables people to make decisions for themselves. Human Dignity demands more than becoming a cog in a wheel. Management style, structure, and systems change the way people think about themselves, as well as their work – see Section II, Part 6 of Laborem Exercens “Man as the Subject of Work”, by Pope John Paul the Great. Practically speaking, the rise of technology enables workers to work independently and take on greater responsibility than ever before. Time tracking apps and online project management platforms allow employees to take control of their time; integrated computer systems give their handlers the chance to multiply their efforts while reducing time behind a desk. Man can firmly grab the reins of his work.
Ultimately, the information age is not about the information. It’s about human dignity and happiness informing how, where, and why we work. I've scratched the surface here, more on this to come.