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by André Klein February 12, 2011
The Rise and Fall of the Product Mindset: From Assembly Lines to the Service Age
In this article I want to share with you an idea that has been occupying me for a few days. Obviously, there’s much more to be said about this than can fit into one article. So we’ll have to do some serious time-jumping, here. Ready? Let’s roll!
There used to be a time, where the bulk of work for human beings was to be found in agriculture.
This drastically changed with the invention of the steam engine. At the center of the Industrialization Age we both the Worker and the Machine, forever drilled into our collective imagination by movies like Metropolis and Communist propaganda posters.
Contrary to the Farmer, the Worker does not work according to Nature and its Seasons.
The Worker works according to Machines and Schedules.
Machines that could run around the clock. Machines that didn’t need a vacation or a lunch-break.
It was the Age of Efficiency. The owners of factories were counting the numbers far away from the choking smokestacks. Orders were filed. Products delivered. When there was a problem with a machine, it was fixed. If it couldn’t be fixed, it was replaced. Each cogwheel a number. Each worker another spare part. Fixed or replaced. Fixed or replaced. The softness of limbs being a huge disadvantage next to the steam-powered giants, accidents happened daily. So they were factored into the equation.
Man and Machine worked side by side at the Assembly Line.
This was the beginning of Mass Production.
Production processes were still dangerous, dirty and needed a lot of manpower.
The end-consumer didn’t mind, if the price was right. But the bulk of people were not yet consumers, in our modern sense.
Nowadays, most processes in factories can be done by “intelligent” machines without any human intervention. Systems are monitoring themselves, reacting to changes to ensure that the wheels of the Assembly Lines keep spinning and the products or part of products keep piling up at the end.
So, all the people that used to work in factories, what are they doing now?
The answer is simple: Consuming products mass-produced by machines.
But, wait a second. How do people make a living in consumer societies?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the three most common job in America in 2010 were:
1. Retail Sales People
Both of them have absolutely nothing to do with producing products. Instead they deal with selling products to the consumer.
In the same way modern machines replaced the Metropolis working man, Internet commerce is slowly replacing retail sales people and cashiers.
We have reached the end of the development of the product mindset. The number of people innovating a new product are limited. So are those owning automated factories or doing advertisement campaigns, marketing, etc.
Don’t be surprised if unemployment rates keep rising. It’s not because you didn’t invest enough money in your education or because the government has to supply more jobs.
Product-related jobs are simply disappearing.
And they aren’t coming back. The evolution of technology will ensure that.
Instead, the future of employment lies in service.
People will eventually have to adapt to the fact that in order to make a living, they have to be willing to serve.
A very interesting example in this regard are companies like Facebook or Google. They are both centered around a service. Also, they are both brands, which can be understood as a sublimated, immaterial form of “product”.
There’s lots of criticism against them, for a number of reasons. Yet, their survival will depend on keeping the balance between operating like a brand/product or a service.
If they care more for their investors than they care for their users, they will be replaced by something else.
The same is true for governments, organizations and self-employed individuals.
The product age is gone. Enter, the Service Age.