There is a lot of mental infrastructure from the Industrial Revolution still laying around.
And most of that infrastructure can be seen on display in organizations:
Employees who are at the bottom of an organizational chart, believing that they are the foundation on which the organization rests, yet feeling as though they are treated as basement dwellers.
Managers and supervisors who are squeezed in the middle, believing that they are the glue that keeps the top of the organization from flying away, and keeps the bottom of the organization in line. Yet the reality is that they are asked to care about something that they did not initially build, and asked to give positive lip service to ideas that they know will have a low chance of success.
Upper management and executives who are at the top of the organizational chart, believing that they deserve the status that they have. And that preserving that status is the only thing that matters. Yet feeling as though they are in a constant battle with forces (i.e. governmental regulations, organizational ennui, etc.) that the people in the organizational chart below them could never possibly understand.
Work matters in the 21st century, because of two reasons:
The first reason is that as the jobs that used be done by humans migrate more and more toward the computer, the mobile phone, and to whatever hardware innovation comes next (probably the cloud, virtual reality, and A.I.) the only question worth answering is: Can a computer do your job?
When the “yes” answers to that question outstrip the “no” answers, the Industrial Revolution based infrastructure of our assumptions, ideas, and even opinions, about work will change. If they don’t, if we bitterly cling to past notions, continually hag-ridden by reimagining a past to which we cannot return, we will fail to take advantage of the positive parts of our remaining mental maps for a future we cannot fully predict.
The second reason is that as individuals and companies become human centered rather than technology centered, the only things that matter are the Long Tail, emotional intelligence, leadership ability, courage, and resilience. Organizations of the past century said that those traits weren’t that important in light of where your job was placed on an organizational chart. But that is no longer true.
The work that matters will be that which values these traits above all else. And there are some fields (the human services most of all) that are poised to take advantage of this shift in what is valuable in the future, from what was valued in the past.
The infrastructure that needs to be torn down the most is in the minds of employees, managers, executives and others.
The true tragedy is that the demolition work is plentiful, but the workers are few.