Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Trust the revolution - from industrial to informational, a new age of reckoning.

Again, you can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something - your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.
                                                                                            -- Steve Jobs.

Frank Sonnenberg recently wrote on the Triple Pundit:

[O]ur ability to successfully weather [a] transition [between the industrial age to an information age] will determine our competitive position in the world market, which will, in turn, affect generations to come.

The first time I heard anyone mention the phrase “information age” I wasn't thinking about sustainable practices or an information driven ‘revolution.” I was more worried about playing online chess and chatting with someone I did not know from Wisconsin.

I guess if the industrial progress led to a paradigm shift in our way of thinking production, society, and consumption, there is no reason to doubt that an informational progress leading to a paradigm shift would not include the same things. After all, new information helps us rethink production in terms of scarcity; it helps us redefine society in ways we could’ve only imagine; and new information has led us to discover the impact we make with our cheap cars and easy credit.

Today, we are in a scramble to discover what twitter and facebook can do with a Arab Spring; we eagerly await citizen reporting to reveal the latest corporate irresponsibility; average citizens like me can sit comfortably in front of a computer or dabbing away on an iPad to learn the news about our water scarcity, soil erosion, and the latest in sustainable innovation in some remote village in China. These are the things I took for granted growing up in the information age, but the process of realizing the impacts of this information revolution is still new to me.

So when Mr. Sonnenberg asked “Are We Using Yesterday’s Weapons to Fight Today’s Wars?” I was intrigued.

I wanted to know what are the weapons of yesterday—from the industrial revolution—and what are we equipped with today—from the information revolution—and what kind of war are we fighting?

The Industrial Age:

The industrial age brought us capital-intensive processes that explored our natural resources, utilized rapid assembly production methods and hierarchical management orders, and tapped unprecedented media marketing avenues by radio waves. This is the world I grew up and this is the world of nostalgia I often reminisce: Saturday morning cartoons intertwined with ads for the latest transformer toys.

The industrial age is like a blind giant working the battlefield with nothing more than a hammer and a wrench: where trees needed be brought down, brute force was adequate; where the process needed improved, he wrenched along in controlled steps until a satisfactory answer were achieved; none of his actions were brought into the broader context—nothing he did mattered to the giant next to him, they are in competition and the world is still too big to worry about the limiting capacities. Wars waged and people died. Children cried and adults turned a blind eye.

The Information Age: 

Then the information age transformed the way we see the world and how we interacted. Media was slowly replaced by self-motivated reporting and credible sources slowly drowned in the new age of gossip and tabloids. People got smarter and recognized the trickery and fought back with their own passions and demanded to know and to change.The news industry is in a state of flux right now, but I have no doubt it will reemerge as a new moral compass once it sorts out a sustaining business mode. IN essence, we will have to decide if we want to support a trusted news source in the information revolution--that is yet to be determined.

The information age is demanding our societies to be knowledge intensive; it is asking us to educate our children not only in vocational skills but also in philosophies that gave meaning to the passion we so carried and to be able to sensibly digest the information we are presented. The information age also demanded for an educated workforce to bypass traditional process design and redistribute process improvement methods to those who would care. This was when I became acutely aware of Six Sigma and thought to learn its place in this new age of information, process thinking, and holistic imaginations.

It is also at this critical juncture of informational revolution that we saw social media marketing push the limits of scarcity even further. It seems that not only had the informational transformations brought us new insights, but also new ways to enhance and strengthen our old industrial thinking.People are buying more, buying more frequently, and buying more useless things--from the Internet.

More people are buying because of the end-game of an industrial revolution; technology made it possible for even farmer’s daughter to know the latest trends from Paris Hilton, social media and Amazon made it possible for every church boy to buy and own his very own customer satisfaction.

Companies are pulling consumption trends rather than pushing trends, but we see the consumers fall short, so far, the kind of socially responsible trends we need to sustain our global growth. We are the ones letting companies pull the irresponsible nature out of us. We have no one to blame but for our own irresponsibilities. We thus arrive at our sustainability crisis, we see ourselves short of becoming what is possible, and the world demanded answers. We see socially, and technologically, organized groups come together to topple regimes, large corporations, and demanded change. We are changing, fighting a war with ourselves, with our past transgressions. 

It seems the war we are waging is a remnants of an industrial revolution at odds with the demands of an informational emergence. Sonnenberg claims that the “critical success factors of the Information Age are intangibles” and argues that “you cannot use yesterday’s measurements of physical inventory to gauge the results of trust, creativity or a passionate workforce.” Sonnenberg, it seems rightly, places the battlefront on the measure of “empowerment,” on building “camaraderie, trust, and lasting relationships.” It seems the informational revolution is about people’s strength, not so much about the planet’s carrying capacity. We have seen the planet’s carrying capacity and no one in their sensible mind can question the limit of that anymore—well at least not the ones who are focused on progress anyway.

Sonnenberg argues that empowering the workforce, encouraging risk and discouraging fear, eliminating waste and improving business processes, communicating in an open and honest manner, building trust among employees and consumers, nurturing long-term relationships with suppliers and clients, working hard to develop an impeccable reputation, and unifying your organization around a mission and shared values “are likely to be among the key determinants of success in this new age.”

These are what some refers to as “soft” issues—soft because it’s either not effective management practices and do not enhance results or because these things are difficult to quantify and measure and thus make management uncomfortable and uneasy. But as we have seen in this recently enlightened information revolution, these soft issues, such as “trust,” is precisely what is driving profit, growth, and innovation.

I don’t know how many times a day I hear people tell me that they want to be a social innovator or programmer encoding virtue and moral guidelines into a existing productive infrastructure. Dig a little deeper, I find these social innovator wannabes are really information architects, generating new ways of processing information in the larger context to facilitate process improvement, reshape feedback loops to improve competition in the information age. Sonnenberg notes: if businesses are to thrive in the global marketplace, they must be able to outshine the competition in critical areas such as . . . measuring the critical success factors of the Information Age in such things as trust.

So as information becomes more accessible, trust becomes more important to suppliers, producers, consumers, etc., we see the war between industrial age and the new information age waged in the front of a new emerging consciousness—a self-driven consciousness that asks tough question and demand justifiable answers. On this new battlefield we see the emergence of a new society that is more distributed to the people, less concentrated on production but more focused on responsible and sustainable growth.

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