Lessons From History.

The Evolution to Self-directed, Customer-based Teams

Sometimes it's easier to understand where you are if you know where you've been. This first chapter takes a quick look back to the industrial revolution to put today’s working environment in perspective.

Someone once told me, "The important thing about education is what you remember after you’ve forgotten the facts."

As a boy growing up in the South, I committed to memory the significant names, dates and places that shaped U.S. history. While I've long since forgotten most of the specific facts I regurgitated during pop quizzes and exams, what I do remember – the processes, the changes and human movements forward – have helped me understand larger issues affecting societal change.

For instance, Eli Whitney's breakthrough invention of the cotton gin might be regarded as the flash point for the Industrial Revolution. The year that Eli made history with his invention has faded from my memory. However, I am aware of the significant amount of stress the Industrial Revolution caused, driving a wedge between people in the agricultural regions in the South and the industrial regions to the North.

That stress resulted in the outbreak of the Civil War, one of the most devastating internal national conflicts in all of history. The North was further along the industrialized trail and not as dependent on slave labor to fuel its economic growth. So, the North moved more quickly to abolish slavery. The South, meanwhile, without the same resources, clung desperately to the only way of life it knew. In the final analysis, the Civil War was not just about slavery. It was about adjusting to sweeping changes in the economics of a nation – changes that were forced upon it by technological advances.

The Industrial Revolution set up myriad other societal tensions such as child labor and violent strikes. Some of these problems were solved by third-party collective bargaining in the 1930s.

Then, in the 1960s, the "Great Society" brought national attention to race, sex and age discrimination.

Fast forward to the present and we see tremendous stress resulting from the current Information Revolution, which is taking place at the dawn of the Communications Age. This stress hasn't caused an overt war, as in the past. Rather, today’s stress is a silent struggle for freedom as we attempt to break away from the schedules and ways of life that were developed for the manufacturing-driven Industrial Age.

Life in the later years of the industrially driven economy was organized in five, eight-hour workdays per week, with two weeks of vacation and one-income households with stay-at-home spouses. This outdated model is no longer relevant.

The essence of this book is to show a new way for service organizations, and the people within them, not just to cope – but to thrive – in the Communications Age.