One often hears that Finnish working life is in the midst of a structural change. But what does that really mean? One interpretation is that Finland is moving or has moved away from the era of mass production and entered the post-industrial age.
In this sense, a structural change of working life would require, above all, a change in the ways of thinking inherited from the industrial age as well as the creation of new approaches to growth, productivity and meaning of work.
Esko Kilpi, a leading expert in creative knowledge work and digital work environments, has compiled the results of his long-term research and the views of key authorities on the possibilities offered by the emerging new era in the book Perspectives on new work: exploring emerging conceptualizations.
Below, Kilpi offers a summary of some of the book’s key points and conclusions.
Whereas the industrial age was about making products, the post-industrial era is about making customers, changing the focus from solutions to problems. Post-industrial work is often a joint problem-solving process with a customer. The thin and asymmetric job markets between employers and employees are becoming richer: between customers and people who help to define and solve their problems. Relations are becoming more symmetric.
The industrial model used individual assessment as a yardstick, with work seen as a role or a task assigned to each person. But as the issues to be resolved are constantly increasing in complexity, thinking together and making use of technological intelligence are necessities. Work is interaction between interdependent people.
Repetitive processing jobs were eliminated from factories years ago and were replaced by automation. The same thing is now happening with office work. The problem does not lie in humans or their capabilities, but rather in the fact that knowledge-intensive work is still planned and managed using industrial mindsets. Repetitive, process-type work is “algorithmic” and thus very easy to automate.
Creative knowledge work creates value primarily through context-specific interaction and creative learning. The word “productivity” should today be spelled “learning”.
Ideally, technological intelligence increases the value of work regardless of who we are or what we do. The goal should be augmentation of human capability.
Because technology is rapidly evolving and its cost is dropping dramatically, we are living in an age of unprecedented democratisation of opportunity. What was previously only possible for big players is now also possible for small ones.
Organisations based on more traditional industrial approaches are encountering increasingly tougher competition from new players, whose business models take full advantage of the new reality.
The industrial organisation was the right solution in a time of high transaction costs. In a situation where co-ordination and communication costs are close to zero, new players using platform economy business models have a major competitive edge.
New significant phenomena are also discussed in the book, including the following.
(1) The algorithmic economy, which on one hand automates and, on the other, augments work performed by people.
(2) The platform economy, which creates new network-based growth models and multi-sided, network markets.
(3) The new entrepreneurship, which creates small-scale, but global, service businesses.
The key question is how a conventional industrial company can make use of internet-based networks and platforms. How can innovative digital work methods be learned? What kind of technological innovations best support customer value, productivity and new growth? We are entering a time where all companies are, to some extent, software companies and technological intelligence is incorporated in all products.
Why a book?
What kind of role does such a conventional user interface (i.e. a book) then play in a paradigm shift that emphasises the enormous significance of digitisation? I have many times been told “no one reads books anymore”.
We have become accustomed to looking for information on the internet, where the information is unlimited and search results form an ever expanding, fast-paced and open-ended story.
A book, on the other hand, is a clearly defined and specific distillation, created from the authors’ collective expertise. I believe that books will continue to play a very special role in creating knowledge. Fast-paced activity is good and needed, provided that it is accompanied by the occasional moment of quiet, calm and contemplation. We need time to reflect as well as to compare our own thoughts to authors’ views.
I hope that this book will enable movement of thought, which will ideally result in further interaction and practical steps related to the themes of new work.
The paradigm shift between industrial work and the emerging world of work is, in many respects, still in its infancy. Even though the ideal of creative knowledge work might not be suitable for all situations, the competitiveness of Finland and many other countries depends on how we succeed in this makeover of societies and businesses.
Sitra Studies 114: Perspectives on new work: Exploring emerging conceptualizations, Esko Kilpi (ed.), August, 2016