The Job – the worst thing that ever happened to you – Deskilling!

Everyone wants a job today – but they are not coming back – for when no REAL skills are required, you can be replaced by a machine, a computer or a person who is happy to earn 1/4 of your pay. The job demands deskilling – that is why the job needs managers. This period is ending. This is why.

We all worry about getting or losing a job. When we meet people, they ask us what we do and we give them a job description. When we apply for jobs, we get all fussed about the “skills” we need. When we have a job, we have to be managed and so have bosses. Politicians all talk about getting more jobs. School is all about getting jobs.

But the “Job” as we know it is a 19th century idea. In America very few people as a percentage of the population had job before 1905.

Here is a core idea, especially as we all fuss about skills etc. The whole purpose of a Job is to DESKILL people. What do I mean?

1924 Model T Assembly Line

This picture is the key. Before Henry Ford, making a car was an artisanal activity. Really skilled people created each car. With the production line, tools and algorithms were used to enable the owner to use unskilled people. Yes each person could get good at assembly but that is like saying that because I am good at putting Ikea furniture together that I am a cabinet maker. The men who made the Stanley Steamer could make anything. They had the metal working and engineering skills to be artisans.

This process of DESKILLING has taken place in all parts of ur lives.


Today we can all offer our friends and family an excellent meal. Many of us are Foodies. But in reality, most people today cannot cook. They can assemble but not cook. They have no deeper skills.


Yes it takes a certain amount of skill to do this. Chances are if the tractor breaks, it has to go to the shop. But think of the skill behind this!


The plowing is only a fraction of the skill. Farmers in the day knew what was really going on. Today agribusiness is no different from a production line. It’s all external process and algorithms. It’s Ikea.

It’s the same with white collar work. Sales people are all scripted. All core processes are scripted. There is no room to think or create outside the very narrow range allowed in the Chicken Box each of us live in. We are all working at Highland Park.

So all the skill aspects of the “job” are in effect about knowing how to follow Ikea instructions. They are “assembly” and obedience skills.

What is not wanted are people who really are engineers, or farmers or cooks. The assembly line has no room for thinking outside the proscribed process.

This is why when so many people lose their jobs, they are lost. They are lost because they have no real skills. Anyone can put an Ikea desk together which is why your job can be outsourced or replaced with a machine. Your only chance is to find another “assembly” line that still needs what you can do.

Today that will never happen.

This too is why the Manager is a dying breed too. Managers are in reality factory assembly line foremen who job it is to meet the quota and the rules of the process. Theirs is not the job to think of new ways of doing things. Their job is to keep it all moving and the sheep from straying. But with fewer sheep, who needs the manager?

Again the biggest farce of all are all the managerial skills that are in demand. All those managers that are truly innovative get asked to leave. What is demanded is to be able to keep control.

The skill that managers need to rise, is not to have results, but to be expert politicians. Anyone who has been an outstanding manager who has constantly delivered results knows that this means little compared with others who climb over them.

This system was OK when it really was Highland Park. Then all of this was in the open and accepted as such. People also got paid well. Now all of this is obscured behind a touchy feely facade. On the surface we are all one big happy family. We need your ideas. Innovation is what it is all about. We are all going to cooperate. We are all leaders. This will be bottom up.

And worst of all, it doesn’t work anymore. Highland Park revolutionized how things were done in the world. This process worked very well for a long time. But it doesn’t work for any one now, not even the owners.

Later in the series I will talk about leaving the idea of the job behind. Of what true skills mean and how they protect us. Of how to look for work instead of a job.

Bu in my next piece I will talk about the central business process for the traditional organization. The process that any executive has to master. The key to success for you if you wish to climb what is left of the greasy pole. The main barrier against all forms of cooperation and why 2.0 will fail in most organizations. The Budget!

Your Traditional Company has only ONE core process – the Budget. You are just part of the expenses and all the guff about our people is propaganda.

Many look forward to the day when technology will enable their organization to become a real 2.0 place that draws on the full energy and knowledge of all who work there. Don’t hold your breath! There is a process that is in the way that all ignore. But it is the central implementation barrier.

Many years ago after the post war election that brought in the Labour Government in England, a new Labour MP was in a bar at the house of Commons with Nye Bevan, a very experienced Labour MP and Minister. The newbie noticed that several Labour Members were drinking with several Tories and both were having a good time. Shocked, he said “The’re fraternizing with the enemy!”. Bevan smiled and said, ‘The’re not the enemy. The’re the Opposition. You sit next to the enemy.”

We all go on and on in organizational life about the “competition”. But we all know really that the real enemy are those bastards in the other department or division.

Let’s get straight here. Here is the fractal. The sole purpose institutions is to get bigger and to accrue more financial resources in its direct control. The sole purpose of its subsidiary departments and divisions is to do the same. To imagine any other purpose is to be recklessly naive. Institutions do not exist to serve any external purpose. They exist to look after their own interests. The same is true for their parts.

All is reduced to money. So the only game in town is the budget.

At the centre of all job grading for executives, is the budget. The man with the biggest budget (I use the term man deliberately) gets the most points and is the King of the game. All executives know this. It matters not that the work that you do may have a bigger impact, budget trumps all.

Hence the silos. Hence the fact that every organization in the world will tell you that communications is their biggest challenge. They will tell you how they hope for more cooperation. But the truth is that because all are locked in a life and death struggle to get more from the budget, cooperation is impossible. For the foolish and naive executive to play the game any differently, I plead guilty here, means only that you lose and so do your people.

So to share resources is to dilute your budget. To reduce waste is to dilute your budget. To be more effective is to dilute your budget. To be more innovative is to dilute your budget. See!

True innovation becomes impossible too. Why? Because of the ROI issue. You are the ex big winner of the Trucks Division at say GM. You have a huge budget and you still are making out like a bandit back in the day. The discussion at the board is like this. Bright Board Member “Surely we all agree that soon gas prices will rise and our truck line will be vulnerable?” Senior Board Member “Yes but look at the ROI we have on this our largest investment. If we start to shift into smaller vehicles, our ROI will go down. We will not be able to bear the drop in ROI (under his breath – you idiot)”

Why did companies like BP or Shell not make the shift into renewables? Lots of talk. But when push came to shove all this was window dressing. Why? Because they cannot make the returns in the new that they make in a mature business like oil. It’s all about the budget lock in effect. The big shuts out the small, so the new cannot grow in a mature organization. If by any chance it does, the big will do its best to close it down. The Innovator’s Dilemma! The people at the top are not stupid – they are locked in by the budget.

So what does this mean?

  • No executive who wants to climb will change the job grading system – who wants to be accountable for impact when a much simpler task of getting more budget is the alternative
  • All the talk of innovation attacks the power holders of the mature parts that have the largest budgets – so rest assured it’s all bullshit
  • All the talk of cooperation attacks the power holders ……
  • All the talk of customer service being #1 attacks the main power holders….
  • All the talk of beating the competition attacks the main power holders….

So what do big organizations do then to keep power if they don’t in fact do any of the things that we are all taught at school that we are meant to do and that is the public discourse inside the organizations?

They seek to get bigger. Size matters. And when they are really big, such as banks that are too big to fail, they use budget to rig the larger playing field.

So the main work of very large organizations for profit and non profit, is to influence their  field. So for schools, it’s not about the kids, it’s about the teachers. In health it is not about our health it is about big pharma. In defense it is not about our men and women in harms way, it is about big defense.

It is the same game all the way up – it is “Turtles” all the way up.

  • In your department, you game the system to get and to keep more budget – your adversary is the other department in the division
  • In your division…
  • In your SBU…
  • In your organization…
  • In your sector….

So, where are we? I think that we are living a lie.


We thought that jobs were good and that our organizations were designed to compete. I certainly thought that and I was a SVP HR for a very large bank.

But we can now look behind the green curtain and see the reality. We have seen that the purpose of a job is to deskill people. We can see that all the core business process that business school teaches us to pay attention to, are subsidiary to the budget.

What this means is that nearly all the ideas that are baked into HR help make organizations grow into unresponsive dinosaurs. You get GM as a result.

So can GM be reformed? Or must we look at a new model?

5 thoughts on “The Job – the worst thing that ever happened to you – Deskilling!

  1. Been thinking about some similar issues, Rob. I think that this whole idea of size is also tied to a very old school belief in vertical integration:

    “Like the cell, companies eventually hit a roadblock when they use size to compete and create value. Bureaucracy, sluggishness, rigidity, risk aversion, and a preoccupation with internal affairs are just some of the problems associated with this strategy, and they point to a new direction – the direction of radical connectedness.

    For today’s startups, the richness of connection technologies, and the easy-to-connect with partnerships they enable, mean that there’s all kinds of work they just don’t have to do. Why worry about doing it all, when partners can pick up pieces of the value chain that aren’t really your thing? Why vertically integrate, when you can network?”


    This doesn’t get to the deeper issue you are honing in on in this post, of course, which is the preoccupation with ROI and money as an end in itself rather than a means to an end.

  2. Pingback: The End of the Job

  3. Pingback: The Independent Worker Series

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s