Does the boss buy your time... or your productivity?

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New generation business and marketing guru Seth Godin can be damn uncanny. Last week I spent some time on the livestream reading a section of The Local Economy Revolution Has Arrived that dealt with the mismatch between old style Expert-ness and what today’s world requires. Maybe because I spent so long selling my “expertise” by the hour, and smacking into the limits of that, but Seth’s observations about the mismatch between Industral-era and modern definitions of productivity really hit home. Here’s a taste:

This might be the workplace question of the decade….

Does the boss buy your time or your productivity?

In the pre-industrial age, when we worked from home (“cottage industries”) workers got paid by the piece.

As we moved to factories, it shifted. Many workers preferred a reliable regular paycheck, and owners decided to profit by investing in productivity and keeping the upside. When new machines show up, the workers don’t get paid more, but the boss makes more….

The theory of the firm was based on two key assumptions: That workers needed to be in physical proximity to each other, and that communicating with and measuring outsiders was simply too expensive to scale. For a lot of knowledge work, neither is completely true any more, and so we have to reckon with what the right size of a ‘firm’ even is.

This is a huge question for those of us who work for or manage businesses (welcome back, Della), but it also has profound implications for the future of business and work in our communities. Everything from land use (what’s an office? what’s a home?) to economics (what happens to businesses that were designed to serve office or factory workers away from home?) to fiscal (who does the company pay taxes to?) to the basic definitions of work itself (what’s full time? what’s part time? Why does that even matter?). Do we need new kinds of public places? Does demand for public services go up or down? Where do we need to reroute the garbage trucks and busses? What makes a location desirable for a business — or a worker?

There’s not much here that I think we can take for granted. Fasten your seatbelt.