A pattern language of post-industrial work

by eskokilpi

At the core of the post-industrial era is the idea that people should design for themselves. This principle applies also our value creating entities. This may sound radical but comes from the observation that most of the value on global scale is not created by firms but by people. People, then, should learn to be better designers. When designing something we always rely on certain patterns. We are in the midst of a shift from the industrial pattern of supply and demand to social, interactive patterns.

The customer is now seen as being directly and actively involved in the key moments of value creation as opposed to passively consuming value. There are profound implications that result from this change of thinking. Products and services are not reproducible as such any more. Solutions are by default contextual, but they can be starting points for someone else to create value. Creative, connected learning is at the core of the post-industrial business.

The most important principle is to build the organization around three design patterns: (1) Relations, (2) Network effects and (3) Solving problems /Asking questions.


Cultural homogenization is a theme of our time. It is apparent in fashion, food, music, and many services with a unified user experience. Everything is made to be basically the same everywhere. According to some psychologists, the desire for this sameness arises from anxiety about differences. This is one of the reasons why Gregory Bateson argued that the history of our time can be perceived as the history of malfunctioning relationships. More homogenization leads to more anxiety (when experiencing differences) which leads to more homogenization and the “differences that make a difference”, as Bateson put it, are lost.

Human behavior is learned in relations. Our brains are wired to notice and imitate others. Computational social science has proved that behavior can be caught like a disease merely by being exposed to other people. Learning and also non-learning can be found in communication. It is not that people are intelligent and then socially aware. Social intelligence is not a separate type of intelligence. All intelligence emerges from the efforts of the community.

To succeed you need relationships and interaction. When customers are identified as individuals in different use contexts, the sales process is really a joint process of solving problems. You and your customer necessarily then become cooperators. You are together trying to solve the customer’s problem in a way that both satisfies the customer and ensures a profit for you.

The industrial make-and-sell model required expert skills. The decisive thing was your individual knowledge. Today you work more from your network than your skills. The decisive thing is your relations. The new structures and new designs are about communities continuously organizing themselves around shared contexts, meaning shared interests and shared practices. The focus of industrial management was on the division of labor and the design of vertical/horizontal communication channels. The focus should now be on cooperation and emergent interaction based on transparency, interdependence and responsiveness.

The really big objective of the digital transformation is to reconfigure agency in a way that brings relationships into the center. Success today is increasingly a result of skillful participation: it is about how we are present and how we communicate. Through new technologies, applications and ubiquitous connectivity, we have totally new opportunities for participation and communication — potentially changing the way we work together.

Network effects

The new platforms can be a valuable, shared resource making value creation possible through organizing and simplifying participation. Sociologists have called such shared resources public goods. A private good is one that the owners can exclude others from using. Private was valuable and public without much value during the era of scarcity economics. This is now changing in a dramatic way, creating the intellectual confusion we are in the midst of today. The physical commons were, and still often are, over-exploited but the new commons follow a different logic. The more they are used, the more valuable they are for each participant.

The ongoing vogue of business design transforms asset-based firms to network-based platforms. The effects of Moore’s law on the growth of the ICT industry and computing are well known. A lesser-known but potentially more weighty law is starting to replace Moore’s law in strategic influence. Metcalfe’s law is named after Bob Metcalfe, the inventor of the Ethernet. The law states that the cost of a network expands linearly with increases in the size of the network, but the value of the network increases exponentially. When this is combined with Moore’s law, we are in a world where at the same time as the value of the network goes up with its size the average costs of technology are falling. This is one of the most important business drivers today.

The implication is that there is an ever-widening gap between network-economy companies and those driven by traditional asset leverage models. The industrial economy was based on supply-side economies of scale inside the corporation. The new focus is outside, in demand-side network economies.

The most important model is a network structure where the value of all interactions is raised by all interactions; where every interaction benefits from the total number of interactions. These are the new network businesses. In practice this means that digital services can attain the level of customer reach and network size, required to capture almost any market, even as the size of the company stays relatively small. This is why network-economy based start-ups have such a huge advantage over asset leverage based incumbents. The key understanding is that it is now the customers or members of the network who create value, not the network owner. The customer will be transformed from being an audience to an actor.

The central aggregator of enterprise value will no longer be a value chain. The Internet is a viable model for making sense of the value creating constellations of tomorrow. Perhaps the next evolutionary step in the life of the firms is a transformation from platforms to open commons with shared protocols. Perhaps Bitcoin/Blockchain is going to be part of the new stack, the TCP/IP of business.

Solving problems /Asking questions

Success in life has been seen governed by two concepts: skills and effort; how bright you are and how hard you work. Recently, researchers have claimed that there is a third and decisive concept. It is the practice of lifelong curiosity: “knowing what to do when you don’t know what to do” as Piaget put it.

The collective intelligence of our societies depends on the tools that augment human intelligence. We should welcome the fact that people today are smarter in large measure because they have invented and use smarter tools. Making tools is what human beings have always done. The interactions between tools and human minds are so complex that it is very hard to try to draw a line between humans and technology. Neither is it a zero-sum game where the human brain is losing to technological intelligence, but as technology changes, people and what people do, are necessarily changed.

Work starts from problems and learning starts from questions. Work is creating value and learning is creating knowledge. Both work and learning require the same things: interaction and engagement. With the help of modern tools, we can create ways for very large numbers of people to become learners. But learning itself has changed, it is not first acquiring skills and then utilizing those skills at work. Post-industrial work is learning. It is figuring out how to solve a particular problem and then scaling up the solution in a reflective and iterative way — both with technology and with other people.

The new design patterns create new opportunities. It is not about having a fixed job role as an employee or having tasks given to you as a contractor. The most inspiring and energizing future of work may be in solving problems and spotting opportunities in creative interaction with your customers.