The Industrial Revolution, Renaissance 2.0 … And You

For many years I paid my rent by producing fund-raising videos for hospitals. I had several clients who kept using the phrase “patient-centered care.” For example, they would say, “Our new cancer care facility is built on a model of ‘patient-centered care.’”

Now I will freely admit I am not the brightest bulb in the universe, but even I knew enough not to open my yap and say, “Well, just out of curiosity, what the heck was your care centered on previously?”

But just in case YOU’re curious, allow me to step in and answer that question for you: previously, the care was centered on . . . the system. In the old system, you (the patient) would get your x-ray on 49th Street, then you would drive four miles to get your chemotherapy, and then you would wait three weeks to see a doctor on the other side of town, as that was the most efficient setup for the health care system. The patients were expected to accommodate the system. Patient-centered (rather than system-centered) care, obvious though its advantages may seem, is a relatively new idea.

This traditional deference to “the system” is not limited to healthcare. The public school “system” is another example where the system is more important than the people in it . . . unless, of course, you can afford the tuition to a private school, where they treat you like a unique human being.

This systems-vs.-individuals conflict is as old as the human race, but in 1890 or so, the Industrial Revolution – that is, when steam-powered machinery was added to the workplace – was a radical shift. It removed the usual constraints on the system/machine side. Our human side never had a chance to keep up, and we have been off-balance ever since.

But now that the Digital Revolution is here, and we are so involved in doing “knowledge work,” the management axioms of industrial ideology are no longer up to the task. Industrial ideology no longer applies to “the world of work.” In a “knowledge worker” economy, does anyone really believe that creativity starts at 9 am, runs consistently for eight hours, then shuts off at 5 pm? Does anyone really believe that overworked and fatigued people are more productive than well-rested ones? Industrial ideology blindly assumes yes. Common sense knows otherwise.

You are no longer a generic “human resource,” defined by your role in the factory. There is now far more value in your being a unique human being, and the system has become a “resource” that now has to adjust . . . to you.

This adjustment will not be easy. Like most revolutions, the Industrial Revolution earnestly sought to eradicate any competing ideologies, and it did a great job. If you doubt me, for just one example, look at what has happened to “the arts” over the past 100 years. Notice how stark and plain the buildings have become. Look at how the visual arts have become abstract and angular, how pop music has become a mechanized computerized beat, and how hip-hop dance has become robotic. We don’t sing along with each other, nor do most people know how to “connect” on a social dance floor.

In terms of creativity and interpersonal connection, the Industrial Era was a sort of machine-driven dark age, where much of what makes us human, i.e., our unique flaws, our limitations, our differences, our imperfections, and our natural rhythms, were shamed and suppressed. We now need to reverse course. Unfortunately, those who are still mired in Industrial ideology are looking for a fix using the old system. They seek a “replacement part,” in the form of a faster or more efficient machine called a “process.” They are missing the point, and the boat.

The fixes to the challenges of today are not yet another “system” in the form of a list of instructions. It lies in a complete change in consciousness, in greater perception and acceptance of who we are. We are seeing this change manifesting in bits and pieces: the Andon Cord in the Toyota Factories, the “agile” approach to software development, “Results Only Work Environments,” Peter Drucker asking “Who is your customer?”, McLuhan’s Global Village, The New Rules of Marketing and PR, and yes, the radical notion of “patient-centered care.” It just hasn’t quite yet coalesced into broad collective mainstream thought.

Like Da Vinci and Michelangelo re-discovering the long-buried art of the classical period, it is time for us to rediscover what we had before the coal-fired dark ages came upon us. It is time to go forward into our artistic past, and re-establish what once was. It is time to rediscover your unique artistic sensibilities where work and management are concerned. No more defaulting to acceleration, no more numbing up, no more pride in being impaired by sleep deprivation, no more trying to conform, no more pride in emulating the machines. No more deus ex machina. This is Renaissance 2.0, and it’s coming right at you.

About the Author: Justin Locke contributes an artistic perspective to discussions of management philosophy. This article is a preview of his upcoming book, Renaissance 2.0: The Artistic Revolution in Your Life and Work. Follow him on Twitter and visit his website at

photo credit: Gigi Ibrahim via photopin cc