The industrial model revolutionized the world, but it’s out of touch with modern realities, and it fails individual workers and businesses. What will replace it? Bestselling author Seth Godin offers his vision of a more humane approach in his latest book, The Song of Significance: A New Manifesto for Teams. In conversation with Erik Fisher, host of the Beyond The To-Do List podcast, Godin explains that the industrial model stresses constant optimization of productivity, but that will have less value in the age of AI. Now, he says, the world of work should turn to a new model where work is meaningful and individuals grow by shaping their own unique contributions.
- The industrial model that focuses on optimizing productivity does not work anymore.
- You can become irreplaceable by offering unique work that AI or abundant cheap labor cannot offer.
- Adopt a new approach to work: the song of significance, which values responsibility, meaning, agency and dignity.
The industrial model that focuses on optimizing productivity does not work anymore.
The current way of working focuses on a constant race to improve productivity. It measures human output the way it measures what a machine in a factory can produce.
“If we’ve been paying attention, work isn’t working.” (Erik Fisher)
Over the last century, this industrial model changed many aspects of people’s lives for the better. But it’s not the only approach to your work or your company that you can adopt. More and more people are becoming aware that this model doesn’t serve them well amid the pressures of contemporary business.
You can become irreplaceable by offering unique work that AI or abundant cheap labor cannot offer.
Employees who adhere to the industrial model and focus on increasing their output will face competition from freelancers who do the same work, only cheaper and faster. Moreover, each person’s productivity has a limit, an area where AI will eventually beat humankind.
“The things that are going to make an organization valuable aren’t necessarily things that are easy to measure…” (Seth Godin)
Under the song of significance model, you work your own way, “as an irreproducible valuable entity,” like artists who earn fame for their personal, original style. After all, “Miles Davis did not play covers. Miles Davis played Miles Davis.” Traditional productivity metrics won’t apply to you anymore. When you have agency and can make choices about what you do, and when you bring your unique touch to your work, AI can’t replace you.
Traditional industrial metrics don’t serve the modern realities of businesses; in fact, they can lure companies to prioritize things that don’t lead to their success. In contrast, the song of significance doesn’t dwell on time spent or tangible output. Instead, it encourages people to bring their “human quality” to their work.
“With chat GPT and outsourcing and everything else, the stopwatch is coming for everyone. So what are you gonna do about it? You can either become a cheaper, faster version of a computer, or you can become a human, and those are the only two choices.” (Seth Godin)
With the advent of new technologies, various sectors of business have experienced sudden disruptions and consequent transformations. For example, Uber completely changed the taxi industry. As other disruptions occur, the song of significance can help you find the personal agency to stay ahead, instead of being pushed aside.
Adopt a new approach to work: the Song of Significance, which values responsibility, meaning, agency and dignity.
Society has moved through the “song of increase,” the push to produce more, as described in Jacqueline Freeman’s book of that name. She explains that bees make honey not for the sake of production, but to sustain the hive. Society also has passed through the “song of safety,” the quest to gain a sense of security by accumulating possessions. The song of significance is, instead, a quest for meaning, individual agency and personal dignity. It brings a new quality to work: “Kokoro,” a Japanese term for the feeling of “heart, of presence, of reality, of mattering.” It satisfies people’s yearning for work with purpose, a quest the industrial model cannot fulfill.
“So if we’re gonna keep track of how many words per day we wrote and posted, I got news for you, I got a piece of software here that can write a hundred times more words than you per day. [That’s a] bad proxy, not helpful.” (Seth Godin)
The song of significance takes a different approach to teamwork in which team members support and correct one another – explaining the work instead of criticizing the worker – and people in higher positions are leaders, not managers issuing commands. Workers establish mutual trust, avoid unproductive meetings and work together to deliver results.
Team members take responsibility for their personal and professional growth and improvement. While avoiding exhausting stress, they take on a degree of deliberate “tension” – like the energy that comes from the snapback of a stretched rubber band – with the objective of becoming more skilled. They assume the challenge of proactively developing unique abilities.
“What we yearn for is significance, to do work that matters, to do something we thought we couldn’t do, to be treated with respect, to be part of something.” (Seth Godin)
In a larger perspective, the modern era is the most abundant time humanity has ever experienced,the right time to bring meaning to work and embrace the significance of your song. As Godin says, “I’m not measuring how many people know who I am. I’m measuring how many lives did I manage to make a difference in.”
About the Podcast
Erik Fisher is a host of the Beyond The To-Do List podcast which focuses on productivity. Seth Godin is a business blogger and the author of numerous business books, including his newest, The Song of Significance: A New Manifesto for Teams, plus Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?; This is Marketing: You Can’t Be Seen Until You Learn to See; Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us; Permission Marketing: Turning Strangers Into Friends and Friends into Customers; and more.