In September 1989, GE Chairman Jack Welch flew to Bangalore, India for a breakfast meeting with an Indian delegation that included Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi. The purpose of his trip was to sell airplane engines and medical equipment to India, but the meeting took an interesting twist along the way.
Rather than buying what GE has to sell, the Prime Minister Gandhi proposed that GE buy software from India. After looking at the amazingly low labor costs, Welch decided instead to outsource portions of its business starting with Bangalore’s first call center. This short meeting led to an outsourcing revolution that would dramatically transform both the Indian and U.S. economies.
We are now on the verge of another business transformation, but this time workers are not being replaced by low cost labor in other countries. Rather, they are being replaced by machines.
Science fiction writers have led us to believe that humanoid robots, with all the nuanced skills and talents of humans would be walking among us today. But rather than some Stepford Wife-like creation appearing at our door and telling us they were taking our jobs, the true job-stealing culprits have been far more subtle, appearing under the guise of automation, without any clear relationship between the machines and the people they’re replacing.
Hidden inside this menacing movement to display labor is a far more complicated shifting of social order. What appears on the outside to be little more than executives with blinders chasing higher profits may instead be mankind’s biggest opportunity.
Over the past few weeks I’ve been sketching out ideas on how to think about redirecting the energies of mankind. Here are some thoughts on how this may unfold.