Productivity, however, is exactly the wrong thing...

...to care about in the new economy.

To measure efficiency you need a uniform output. But uniform output is becoming rarer in an economy that emphasizes smaller production runs, total customization, personalized "feelgoods" and creative innovation. Less and less is uniform.

And machines have taken over the uniform. They love tedious and measurable work. Constant upgrades enable them to churn out more per hour. So the only ones who should worry about their own productivity are those made of ball bearings and rubber hoses. And, in fact, the one area of the current economy that does show a rise in productivity has been the U.S. and Japanese manufacturing sectors, which have seen an approximately 3% to 5% annual increase throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s. This is exactly where you want to find productivity. Each worker, by supervising machinery and tools, produces more rivets, more batteries, more shoes, and more items per person-hour. Efficiencies are for robots.

Opportunities, on the other hand, are for humans. Opportunities demand flexibility, exploration, guesswork, curiosity, and many other qualities humans excel at. By its recursive nature, a network breeds opportunities, and incidentally, jobs for humans.



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This is a blog version of a book of mine first published in 1998. I am re-issuing it (two posts per week) unaltered on its 10th anniversary. Comments welcomed. More details here.
-- KK