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The Curious is not Imperative Part II – The Cog Syndrome

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Read part I here.

The Curious is not Imperative Part II

I confess that I’m amazed when I meet hard-working, smart people who are completely clueless about how their industry works, how their tools work…

Seth Godin

People, Processes, and Tools

The deep down daily operations part of a business involves People, following/executing Processes with the right Tools.  Even in some white-collar jobs, it still comes down to this.

Best Practices.  Follow the process.  Execution excellence.  Millions of employees have heard all this.

The Cog Syndrome

But what does it lead to?  The Cog Syndrome.

Here’s how it works.  A company hires a bunch of smart people with the big operational picture.  They take the big picture and turn it into process to minute detail including metrics to measure performance.  They buy or develop tools to enable the processes.  Then they put together training materials.  The work of the smart people is done; sometimes they go away as they are no longer needed.

The next step is to hire people to use the tools to execute the process.

Here’s the trick.  Since you hired the really smart people – people who see the whole picture – and these folks have decomposed the operational processes into neat chunks NOW you can hire, well, let’s say, not-so-smart and no-so-expensive people to actually do the work.

Life is a stage and we all have a part to play.

The challenge is that these folks become cogs in a giant machine.  Since you didn’t hire for curiosity and you didn’t hire for knowledge of the business or the industry what you now have is cogs.  And my experience has been that these cogs generally don’t even know what the machine does.  They just know their part.  The more highly specialized the cog the better that particular piece runs.  But, on the other hand, the more highly specialized the cog brings along with it a lack of peripheral vision as to how functional logical units of the giant business machine works.

It’s job de-skilling. As long as the process is documented anyone who can follow instructions should be able to perform the process and run the operational part of the business – no matter what the business is.

Or so the logic goes.

People as capital equipment

It’s almost as if these folks are capital equipment that just happens to be made out of chemicals rather than metal.

Once the smart people go away – those that see the big picture – the great cog machine seems to run on its own without a conscience understanding of what it’s doing, how it could be done any better, and even if it still makes sense to do it given the ever-changing business context.

I have had too many experiences of this.  Companies have de-skilled their workforce to the point that few people at the company understand how the whole business operates.

The Take

Maybe that’s the new reality.  Adapt the business to the mass of those who lack curiosity and can simply become an unconscious low-cost highly specialized cog in a giant machine.  Software tools, workflow, and automation help this along.  People feed data into the giant business machine and distribute the output.  The logic, workflow, analysis has been codified into grand software systems created by elite troops of industry experts and consultants of all types.

And, if that’s what businesses require of the 99% then that’s what the educational system will produce.

Read More

Do we want management consultants messing with higher education?

Traditional education creates compliant factory workers?
Read Stop Stealing Dreams for a view of education for the 21st century

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Written by frrl

October 11, 2012 at 7:38 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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