Peak stuff has led to a new problem: Choice
As Henry Ford famously quipped about the Model T, an early assembly line success: Customers can have any color as long as it's black. Industrial processes built for uniformity, not choices. Optimized manufacturing organizations know how to make products efficiently, but they may not know what to make. That's an entirely different kind of problem, which is less about repeatable industrial scale and more about customer choice.
Customers today have more choices than ever. As we have evolved from a craft era, where you were lucky to have a shirt, through an industrial era, when everyone gets a shirt, we are faced with a new problem: A closet full of shirts. Too many shirts doesn’t lead to more shirts, but deciding which one to buy or wear, shirt editing, and curation. Overabundance may lead to more fundamental questions about product ownership, storage, use, life cycle, and disposal.
Technology innovation and globalization has flattened business categories. Just ask the local retailer about Walmart, the local record store about Apple Music, or the local bookstore about Amazon. Some of these categories may have been low-hanging fruit, ripe for change with more advanced distribution approaches.
With more fundamental changes on the way, seemingly impervious industries will be vulnerable. It’s not just local retailers, now it’s hotels, car services, and offices that are subject to new business models. Increasing segments of the economy will feel the impact of globalization and digital transformation.
The gifts of the industrial era were processes for achieving scale and optimization. These competencies remain vital, but these older problems are understood. The new problem, customer choice, will necessitate new organizational changes.
Business school itself is a kind of industrial idea. Business management as a discipline stemmed from assembly line thinking and led to a kind of industrial, centralized command-and-control. In an era of TED Talks, Khan Academy and the explosion of online learning, even the idea of a few years of graduate school being sufficient to become a leader throughout your career seems dated. Still, many organizations are structured in ways that resemble industrial factories. While much has changed in 100 years, let alone the last decade, many organizations rely on principles from a previous era.