Ok so here is my big idea for the week. It’s a long post but I think it’s good work.
Economists would group the people at a company into three categories: Top management, middle management and workers. Think of a CEO of a Fortune 500 company. This person is ultimately responsible for the companies’ successes and failures. They have an executive assistant don’t they? Also there are some upper level managers. Each of those managers are responsible for other people but carry out the directives of those above them.
So when you look at the people in an organization, I would instead divide them up into just two categories:
- Creators: These are the people who actually come up with great ideas. Many of them are larger than they can do by themselves so they need help.
- Implementors: These are the people who help the creators do things. They can be assembly line workers, secretaries, IT people, or phone center people.
This division seems to apply to any human organizational structure. In government, there is a leader and then lots of management and then the low level workers. A worker in the DMV isn’t going to make any decisions are they? They just follow policy set from on high. As our President once famously said “It’s above my pay grade”. This follows the principles of Scientific Management created by Fredrick Taylor where you have management and workers. In this model workers are forbidden to make decisions. If you want a demonstration of this principle, just call customer service at a large company. Even so, since many managers have no creative freedom either, my theory goes outside that.
So how does the Internet change this? The main role of the Internet is to enable flexible communications. This means that managers can direct more numbers of workers and workers can be directed more directly by the creative types. This can be both good and bad.
Any organization has what is called a decision loop. It is the process for a problem to be identified, and then solved. Some organizations are very fast at this and some are slow. In the past this has been determined largely by the size of the company but that is changing. A worker can send an email to upper management when something urgent needs fixing but even so, most pre Internet companies aren’t organized to handle this.
This ability for upper management to collect data on their workers has created a tendency for micromanagement. You can even see this in the Army where Generals in Washington DC are giving orders to small units in Afghanistan. What this is doing is cutting out many levels of middle management. Therefore you are replacing many middle level jobs with technology. This helps explain the lack of job creation in the private sector today.
Who gets empowered?
Back to SpaceX. Elon Musk is a special guy. From his Wikipedia entry:
“Musk bought his first computer at age 10 and taught himself how to program; by the age of 12 he sold his first commercial software for about $500, a space game called Blastar.”
This is a obviously very self motivated, creative person. His whole life he has been creating things. Now with SpaceX he needs help to make this ideas come to life, but with the Internet he needs a lot fewer people than in the past. SpaceX has about 1800 employees total. So far in the last 10 years they have developed at least five rocket engines, three rockets, and a recoverable space capsule which will eventually be used for crew. Even so, it’s still the direct creation and idea of one person. The people who work for him are his tools.
One of the comments I kept seeing on the nasaspaceflight.com forums was people saying they want to apply to work at SpaceX! When you watch the people involved, they look like regular people. They could be your neighbor and they are doing amazing things. College age people can look at them and say “I could do that too!”. That is the creative spark talking. What people forget is that we are born very creative. It is then schooled out of us because if there is only one right answer then you don’t need to be very creative.
I have said many times that the Internet’s primary influence is to empower individuals. But when I look at SpaceX I realized that was incomplete. I will now amend that statement. The Internet’s primary influence is to empower creative individuals.
Application to Education
And so at long last we turn our attention to Education. I have been saying for a while now that the public education system is inevitably doomed in it’s current form. Now I understand a little bit more why.
As you look around at public education ask yourself who are the people free to be creative? Since the Department of Education was created in the 1970s the answer has been increasingly the bureaucrats at the Federal level. NCLB, RTT, and Common Core Standards are tools being used at the national level to tie the hands of teachers. Everyone down the hierarchy is being increasingly constrained and their creativity is being stifled. An increasing reliance on standardized tests is only making the problem worse. Teachers have become information presenters.
As the system becomes more ossified, it becomes slower and slower to respond to challenges. Since the funding is indirect from the people it serves, it is further isolated from systemic changes in society. Even so, those changes will come.
The changes will come from the creative ones in our society. They have been empowered more than any other time in history and this empowerment is growing. It used to take a newspaper to move public opinion. Now it just takes someone with a YouTube video, or a blog, or a Tweet. The Internet levels the playing field to a large extent. Creative people love solving problem. Elon Musk wants to go to Mars so he built a rocket. Technology enables him to do this much cheaper than ever before. With 3d printing, manufacturing will get still easier and cheaper. How long before somebody designs their own shoes on their computer and then prints them out? Not long I think.
Now these creative people, empowered by the Internet, are turning their attention to a creating a new way to learn. For example, Sebastian Thrun left Stanford University to create his own online learning company. He’s a creative type but 20 years ago he would have been stuck at the university as a worker. Now his creativity has been unleashed outside the system.
The question teachers have to ask themselves is are you a worker or a creative type? If you are a worker, you will be replaces by technology eventually. If you are creative, you will be empowered to touch the lives of students more than you can imagine, but outside of the current system.
The question students and parents have to ask themselves is are they being prepared to be creative by public education? If not, are there alternatives?
So in conclusion the Internet is very disruptive to old top-down organizations, and very empowering to creative individuals.