Technology is the great emancipator. With it we can do things ourselves that we needed others to do for us before.
Of course, the examples are endless. As we approach tax season, just think how many people do their own taxes online with TurboTax or other online programs when before they needed an accountant to do it for them. Similarly, it was common to have secretaries supporting various office tasks and now we pretty much have all become our own desktop publishers and office productivity mavens. I remember having a graphics department years ago for creating presentations and a research department for investigating issues, events, people, and causes, now with all the productivity tools and the Internet, it’s all at our fingertips.
Wired Magazine, February 2010 in an article called “Atoms Are The New Bits” by Chris Anderson states that “the Internet democratized publishing, broadcasting, and communications, and the consequence was a massive increase in the range of participation and participants in everything digital.”
With technology, we are free to help ourselves. We are independent, self-sufficient, and that’s typically how we like it. And not only are we able to do for ourselves, but the barriers to entrance for entrepreneurs and small companies have come way down.
The author states: “In the age of democratized industry, every garage is a potential micro-factory, every citizen a potential entrepreneur.” Similarly, Cory Doctorow wrote in The Makers that “The days of General Electric, and General Mills, and General Motors are over. The money on the table…can be discovered and exploited by smart, creative people.”
We all know how Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs, working out of a garage building computers, started Apple. Similarly, how Michael Dell started operations out of his dorm room. Nowadays, we see more and more people going out on their own as contract workers and as teleworkers, not tied to particular companies or work locations. They have been freed by technology to work for whom they want and where they want.
At the extreme and in certain cases, there is a perception that “working with a company often imposes higher transaction costs then running a project online…Companies are full of bureaucracy, procedures, and approval processes, a structure designed to defend the integrity of the organization...[instead] the new industrial organizational model [is] 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.”
While I do not believe that companies will be disadvantaged for large and complex projects like building a bridge or designing a new commercial airline, there is no doubt that technology is changing not only what we can do ourselves, but also how and when we associate ourselves with others. We can do work for ourselves or for others practically on the fly. We can communicate immediately and over long distances with ease. We can form relationships on social networks for specific tasks or as desired and then reorient for the next. There is a new flexibility brought about by a do it yourself culture facilitated with simple, affordable, and readily available technology, and this DIY phenomenon is only going to increase and accelerate as the technology advances further and further.
Some important implications are as follows:
- One, we need to constantly look for cost-savings in the organization and at home from the new technologies that we are bringing online enabling us to do more ourselves—there are cost offsets for the support we needed before and no longer require.
- Secondly, we need to encourage our employees to take advantage of the new technologies, to learn them, and use them to their utmost and not to fear them.
- Thirdly, the next generation of workers is going to demand more flexibility, empowerment, and continued work-life balance based on their increasing ability to go it alone, if necessary.
- Finally, new technologies that are user-centric—easy to use and useful—will outperform technologies that are overly complex and not intuitive; the new normal is do it yourself and technologies that don’t simply enable that will be finished.