Primates are social animals, and humans doubly so. At least in Western Culture, we have it in our minds that the bottleneck in competition is always production. But sometimes the product isn’t only what we hold in our hands at the end of the day. Sometimes, what we’re making is just as much a social interaction or a social link, something intangible.
From manufacturing robots to call centers, we see a range of jobs moving out of reach of Americans. The competition for these jobs keeps increasing, and not only is more education required to get a foot in the door, but more specific and specialized education is often required.
Manufacturing jobs have, to a large extent, moved overseas from the U.S., and/or are being replaced with mechanized methods. These methods refer not only to robots that do repetitive physical work (traditionally “lower class“) but also to computer programs that do repetitive mental work (traditionally “middle class“). Both of these types of jobs are being displaced, leading to a reduction in the overall number of jobs available in America.
Yet this movement of jobs covers a more important shift as we move into the Information Economy. With the rise in productivity in Western Culture, having workers who are efficient in producing traditional products is of less and less importance. What is rising in importance is the production of the new “true” product. This new product is not physical, but informational. We can see this every day if we just look around.
Products in the Information Economy
In the information economy, what is key is not “quality” in the older sense of a “good” product, but “informational” quality. Branding and good reputation is more important than having the “better” product in some “blind taste test” sense. Whether that product is actually better is no longer the key matter.
Because branding is further becoming more important than the actual product, representing a brand well is more important than improving the brand. Having employees stay “on message” is more important than having a good product. Purity of the message is the primary product, and the quality of the “actual” product only needs to be kept up to customer standards.
Sometimes “getting along” is more important than performing your job well, especially for entry-level positions. What is actually happening is a redefinition of “performing the job well” to bring it in line with the Information Economy. Even for the most menial of jobs, social factors and the ability to promote group harmony are of increasing importance. Looking and acting “the part” have risen in importance.
Perhaps outside of a few specific areas (possibly including medicine, car repair, and computer programming), the primary concern is no longer “the product” in any physical sense, but instead is an informational product: brand, experience, and buzz.
We used to complain about how advertisements were unrealistic, but in the information economy, every moment on the job, and sometimes off, is an ad. We now create our own “personal brands,” packaging and selling our sense of self.
On this note, we find that one of the most important “products” that we can bring to the table in an interview is either a lack of personal identity, or an identity that is easily meshed with others. While social skills have always had a role in career success, the Information Economy requires a new set of social skills. And more than ever, these are the skills that drive our careers forward.