Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes: From Industrial Revolution Work Models To Knowledge Economy Models

stuck in mud

Is your organization stuck in a 20th Century time warp and on the endangered list?

Are its structures, business models and operations using outdated methods resembling a relic of the past? Or are your organizational work processes thriving in today’s increasingly hypercompetitive, fast-paced and interconnected marketplace?

In order to be a successful 21st Century organization, our structures, operations and governance models need to move from managing tasks to managing minds to paraphrase Minds At Work: Managing for Success in the Knowledge Economy authors Stephen J. Gill and David Grebow. We have to shift from managing the daily work of hands to managing minds that learn, grown and dynamically apply new frames of thinking for work. Today, the only true sustainable competitive advantage your organization has is to transition from doing and planning work framed by industrial revolution mindsets to thinking, collaborating and co-creating for a knowledge economy state Gill and Grebow.


Turn and face the strange
Ooh, look out you rock ‘n’ rollers
Turn and face the strange
~ Lyrics from 1973 David Bowie song Changes.

In order for our organizations to thrive in this time of constant change, our committees and work teams must embrace agility. We can’t stay unaltered, impervious to change. We must adapt. And adapting, in and of itself, requires that we must change.

Change Starts With Us

It’s hard to visualize moving from the known to the unknown when embracing change. Taking that first step, steering through changes and maintaining the change journey is even harder.

We can’t fix an organizational challenge with one touch point. We have to embrace change from a holistic ecosystem approach. This requires a new way of thinking and working. And it starts with each of us.

The starting point for what’s worth fighting for is not system change, not change in others around us, but change in ourselves, says education reform leader and author Michael Fullan.

This involves a journey of intention to transformation says change guru and author Julian Stodd. It requires flexible thinking resulting in micro and macro adaptation. That change starts with us as we lead and model agility. Then we must invite and engage the creativity and cognitive functions of others in ways that delivery sustainable results.

Move From Managing Hands To Managing Minds

Gill and Grebow studied companies that claimed to have learning cultures. That’s when they discovered ttwo types of companies with very different management styles.

1. The Managing Hands Company

Gill and Grebow labeled the first type of company as a managing hands company. These companies grew and functioned during the first two Industrial Revolutions. Employees made and managed things by hand, often on factory assembly lines.

Executives and managers of these 19th and 20th century companies focused their time, labor and resources on the efficiency and perfection of products produced by hand. Change was slow and infrequent. Technical skills were simple and usually learned on the job. The work was physical, repetitive and routine. Some employees matured into experts on specific tasks and procedures. Executives and managers explored and invested in sophisticated financial tools, project management programs, company-wide management systems and MBA programs. Training resembled the traditional school lecture with experts demonstrating how to use tools and machines as employees worked with their hands. To succeed, employees needed basic skills, knowledge and an understanding of their role in these industrialized, hierarchical, bureaucratic systems.

2. The Managing Minds Company

Gill and Grebo categorized the second type of company as a managing minds company. These businesses developed and flourished during the digital age as knowledge economy corporations. These 21st century employees pursue and produce work using the cognitive and executive functions of their brain. Company executives, managers—and the employees themselves—expend time, labor and resources focused on what people produce with their minds. Globalization forced these companies to innovate faster and the work constantly changes. Employers view employees as human capital needing ongoing investments to develop and apply authentic collaboration, co-creation and competitive advantages.

Is your organization managing for opportunities, innovation and success or efficiency, tasks and products? How will managing minds benefit your organization?

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