Have you been industrially-denatured?
In recent years, I took a mini-tour of Latin America, where I delivered a series of keynotes on how organisations are going to have to raise their service game in the post-industrial age.
It is a peculiar feeling presenting to a gathering of leaders whose country is in economic freefall. And uplifting to speak to leaders who are on course for economic greatness.
But what was common to both extremes, was the warmth of the people. There was a sense of humanity that I feel we have lost in the developed world. They had time to speak. They were highly engaged, and they had a refined sense of what is important in life.
In contrast, in the West we are in a rush, perhaps too focused on funding our lifestyle than actually having a life. I am of course generalising. There is a spectrum of both in respect of developed countries and the people within them. But in broad terms, the Latin American people I met on this visit, and in past visits, gravitate strongly towards the humanity-end of the spectrum.
I asked myself where along the way did we in the developed world lose our humanity. And it occurred to me that the problem stems from our economic model. The developed nations were quick to wholeheartedly embrace the industrial revolution. People converged on the cities, where they could find work in the factories and enjoy an improved economic condition.
Industrial work required a new kind of thinking. A new diminished type of thinking. The sort of thinking required when you are expressly not supposed to make your own decisions or be creative. Because in the industrial model, you are a cog in the machine. And wilful cogs are problematic.
In support of this, governments needed to industrialise the production of workers. So schools gravitated towards producing cogs. The chief deliverables of the education system were compliance, and a mind free from curiosity, but susceptible to authority. The new educational model was in fact a factory for dehumanising young citizens, because that is what the industrial machine required.
Over time, stripped of our humanity, obedient, compliant, desocialised (“no talking on the factory line”) and hungry for money, we developed a social model that was in cahoots with the education system. Parents would scold their children if they deviated from the ‘seen but not heard’ school of parenting.
On the face of it, parental pressure appeared well intended. Despite the underlying tone of ‘fit in’, the exhortations were to be successful, ie climb the career ladder (“and make us proud”). In fact, the pressure to be successful from parents, school and our bosses had the, perhaps intended, consequence of making us fear failure. Programmed risk avoidance made us ultra-conservative. Again, reinforcing the compliance mantra, so critical to the industrial model.
So, broadly speaking, that is where we are in the developed world. Thankfully some people have eschewed this model. The Beatles and Lady Gaga are examples. There are others, but they are exceptions, rather than the norm. And this is the problem.
Whilst Latin America is no stranger to the Industrial model, the majority of its people have not been industrially sheep-dipped. Agriculture is still a substantial employer. One might consider the avoidance of being personally industrialised, as one of the few perks of abject poverty. I am not suggesting the favelas / ‘projects’ are a preferred social structure. But these people live by their wits, are highly creative, and recognise the importance of relationships, both familial and, in many cases, gang-based.
In my view, these people represent an economic oil-field. They are unsullied by the industrial process. They are fully functioning humans, operating in less than ideal conditions. Economies that have not denatured their workforce, with the ‘correct’ educational and enterprise policies, have the opportunity to turn their people into strong economic assets. But unlike the people in industrialised countries, they will be highly self-actualised and passionate. They will understand that work is the means and not the end.
I believe this is an opportunity for all developing nations. In time, it will become a serious problem for the developed ‘zombie economies’. However, developed nations, too, can adopt policies that shut down the educational machine, and rebuild it to reflect the new demands of the post-industrial world, where creativity, passion and humanity are valued assets.
But it raises a question as to what we do, with the millions of people that have been ‘industrially mutilated’. Well it depends on the extent of the damage. For many, no amount of coaxing or training will save them. They are too locked into the ‘learned helplessness’ process model to change. It reminds me of the baby pig that was tied to a pole as a piglet. Each day, it would move in a circle whose radius was determined by the rope. In mid-adulthood, even though the rope had long since withered, it continued in the same continuous orbit. A prisoner in a cell with an open door.
But for those that do want to be rescued, governments should provide policies around rehabilitation. Not unlike the process of rescuing someone from a religious cult.
This is in fact an opportunity for everyone. Though developing nations have an advantage. Whilst the developed nations are handicapped, they can set the wheels in motion. Though it might take a generation or two to ‘breed out’ the industrial-condition.
As individuals, the first step is to realise that we are mindlessly walking in circles. The second step is to leave the cage.