Welcome To The Machine

A corporation exists to ‘maximize its shareholder value’. Yes, there are other reasons – but all fall away quickly under any scrutiny. Why? Because if I invest money I want a return. If I can get a better return somewhere else – that is where my money will move to.

Yes – I might like that the corporation is producing a cool widget or delivering a wonderful service that is aligned with my belief system – but if I can get a better return for my cash then my money will move.

Corporations are also Task Driven. They take an input … labor, materials, money, etc …. and run it through their ‘machine’  to deliver a product or service that is sold into a market place. The difference between the sales price and the cost to produce is profit. Yes, there are lots of accounting and legal shenanigans that make it sound more complicated. But at the end of the day … that’s it.

Which makes a good corporation a very well oiled machine. And the well oiled corporate machine has specific parts that interact in a very structured way, in an orderly fashion … no (ideally) variation.

Originally most of those tasks were completed by people.

In fact, people are employed to do all the necessary tasks until the corporation can do that task better, faster, cheaper by some other mechanism. Sometimes those tasks can be done better / faster / cheaper by other people – we call that outsourcing and/or offshoring – and increasingly problematically – move out expensive skilled older people and replace with less skilled – but can definitely ‘do the task’ younger people.

Sometimes those tasks can be done better / faster / cheaper by machines  – we call that automation. That automation, which used to be things like a  people-aided machine ( e.g. tractor) or non-people-aided machine ( eg, automatic assembly lines). Today it is more likely to be an algorithm, AI, Machine Learning …..  but it is always to the cause of better / faster / cheaper.

To maximize shareholder value … the corporation is constantly seeking to increase revenue and decrease costs. Holding a candle to a corporation’s accounts, and you will find that people tend to be the largest line item of cost on the books.

So the effort is focussed on reducing that … why focus on a line item that is only 5% of your costs, when you can focus on a line item that is 75% of your costs? And so bit by bit, year by year, month by month, those costs are being whittled away … faster and faster and faster ….

When there is a threat to corporate survival, the wagons are circled, the defense playbook comes out, lies (because there is no other word) are told to ‘protect the institutions’. Think Big Tobacco. Think US Healthcare. Think Oil companies and Global Warming. At a single business level, think Theranos. Think Opioid crisis, the Sacker family and Purdue. No cover-up is too big … but will come back to haunt the perpetrators.

Which brings me to this aspect of the Future of Work. I used to think I was being a cynic. Now I am not so sure. The truth about the future of work, corporations, capitalism is being hidden.

Corporations want their workforce to believe that they have their best interests at heart, so they employ people into positions to tell us … no – to sell us their story. To promote the things that they think we’re all seeking.

People seek to join organizations that ‘respect people’. Are ‘cause-driven’. Are doing good and it is inspirational to hear managers in corporations talk about employee satisfaction, leadership, work-life balance, workplace engagement and and and ….  but how do you do that for people employed as cogs in the machine. Because, make no mistake, that is what we are.

and … rest assured, as soon as possible your very costly body, brain and talent will be removed as soon as they have worked out how to do that.

Surprised? It has been going on for a loooong time.

Welcome my son, welcome to the machine

Where have you been?

It’s alright we know where you’ve been

You’ve been in the pipeline, filling in time …


John Philpin
John Philpin
JOHN'S career spans 30 years, 2 continents, and organizations as diverse as Oracle, Citibank and GE. A Mathematics graduate, John moved to California in 1990. He helps technology companies create, develop and deliver their story for fund raising, market development and influencer programs. He also works with businesses to ensure they understand, and are ready, for the ever accelerating changes that technology is bringing to their industry. John is a co-founder of Expert Alumni and gleXnet and long before futurists and industry watchers were writing about the impending challenges that industries were going to be facing, they predicted a perfect storm of issues like skills gap, declining work forces, the gig economy, people trained to do work no longer needed, demographic shifts, economic and social change, market upheaval and rapidly changing ways of doing work. From the beginning they have promoted the idea that massive change was coming to how organizations should think about their workforce, with a singular focus on simplifying the interface between people and their work. Understanding the challenges ahead of the curve, the solution was built to arrive at a better understanding of the greatest restraint to business operations - competence, not capital. gleXnet provides unparalleled insights into an organizations people and operations by flipping the problem from the perspective of people, not the business.

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