I remember reading Jeremy Rifkin’s The End of Work at the end of the nineties and feeling excited. Rifkin proclaimed that the arrival of a long-dreamed for utopia was near: that people would not need to work anymore*. But so far, we have successfully resisted coming anywhere close to this dream. Perhaps, because we lack a shared vision to do so. But mostly, I think, because of fear. The mechanisms that Rifkin claimed would free us from work are upon us and we are terrified.
Instead of embracing the possibilities, we are trying to figure out how to solve this great big problem for ourselves and our organizations. It doesn’t help that we are surrounded by messages of how inadequate we are and how we are doing it wrong (I’m sorry to be guilty of sending such messages myself); and diverse experts are all saying different things (or so it seems) and that only they can solve our problems.
When we look only at problems, we see only pieces. When we fix pieces, other pieces will break. When we are trying to solve problems, we are trying to get rid of something, but what we need is to create something new.
Let’s be honest, we love problems. We are great at seeing things that are not right. We love the negativity of problems while hating the problems themselves and wishing them to be gone. We do feel great when we have managed to get rid of one. And we are always surprised that new ones pop up immediately. They keep us busy and get us through the day (and sometimes keep us awake at night), and we have a vague feeling that that can’t be all there is to it.
In the past two centuries, we have been trained that organizations need to become efficient. We had no choice but use people to do this. Now we can leave this to the machines and to the software that controls them. Their job is to be efficient in what we have already defined as the best process for the time-being. Of course, this is not new. We have been finding ways to be more efficient at our work since we first started making tools. But now it looks as if it will be possible for computers to take over most of what humans have been needed for in the past.
And a new fear pops up: Humans won’t be needed anymore! Frightening despite the dream that people would someday be able to spend all their time…