When labor gets commoditized, like it has over the past few centuries, it generally lifts people out of poverty.* This is good. Filling factories full of working people has a positive effect on local economies for a time. But, this process also has a dark side. Because these types of tasks are inherently mechanical and repetitive it’s far too easy to start treating the human beings that perform them like they are machines.
Humans are not machines and never, ever, will be — but this is the unsustainable, inevitable quotient of the commoditization of labor.
There’s another problem with the industrial phase of work, and this is a talent imbalance. When we use people and their hands to scale work, we end up with a small group of people at the “top” and a great majority at the “bottom.” If not deliberately stated, it is clearly implied that these two groups have different capabilities, and that one is more important than the other.
As a result of this mentality, which has been passed down throughout generation after generation, implicitly and tacitly and subconsciously, we end up with some natural human abilities being completely undervalued and others being overvalued.
The thinkers and influencers and strategists — a group we like to call “leaders” — get raised and elevated (and compensated) beyond their worth.
To begin correcting this problem, I suggest we instead call these folks “architects.”
The doers and creators and makers — a group we like to call “followers” — get demoted and minimized (and their paychecks reflect this, too, of course).
To continue the fix, I suggest we start calling these people “builders.”
We have a talent imbalance.
And it’s perpetuated by our organizational structures.
If we accept that talent theory is generally true,** we must also accept that a hierarchical model of organizational design is fundamentally flawed. Why? Because it only allows one path “up.” People with all sorts of different natural abilities are crammed into one model, which puts all the builders at the “bottom” and architects at the “top.”
I first noticed this conundrum when I got out of college. As many do, I left the university with all sorts of grand plans and desires to leave my mark on humanity and put a dent in the universe in my own unique way. What I quickly discovered was that there was no place for me to do it. My unique talents are in the “architect” category, and entry-level architect positions simply don’t exist. They’re on the “other side” of the builders, which meant that there was no real, practical way for me to do work that was both fulfilling to me and beneficial to the organization I worked for/with.***
Perhaps you’ve experienced a similar situation. (I would love to hear your story in the comments if you’d like to share.)
Besides being ridiculous, outdated, and wrong, this way of organizing is also terribly unproductive.
Architects and builders aren’t in a hierarchy — and this is a big reason why changing our terminology is helpful. No, these workers desperately need each other, otherwise nothing great gets built.
Isn’t it time we fixed the imbalance? Isn’t it time for a new kind of organization?
(If you’re in the LA area, I’ll be talking about how to design a new kind of organization in detail at ASTD on Thurs, July 21. Love to have you join the conversation.)
* For more on this read a book called Sonic Boom: Globalization At Mach Speed.
** Talent theory, by the way, has been rigorously researched and also is fairly self-evident: I am naturally good at some things and naturally bad at others… as are you.
*** I admit I stumbled my way into a few exceptions, which was to work for small companies where I could quickly “rise” into the senior leadership team, where my talents for strategy and big-picture thinking were (at least somewhat) valued. However, this created a whole other set of challenges, because most tribes don’t take incredibly well to the 23-year-old strategist. (If you want to know why most groups can’t do this — and I do mean “can’t,” not “won’t” — read about Stage Three tribes in the book Tribal Leadership.)