Value polarization and transcending job commoditization: Expertise, Relationships, Innovation


Yesterday I released a first version of my Future of Work framework.

I think that a detailed explanation of the outline framework would be a very useful complement to the visual landscape, and I aim to provide that over coming months in a series of blog posts, videos, and other content.

Click on the image to download the full framework.

Today, I thought I would look at the ‘Value Polarization‘ section under Economic Structure.

As I have pointed out for many years, one of the major implications and risks of a hyper-connected world is the polarization of value, in which the gap between the haves and have-nots increases over time.

The forces of Commoditization are inexorable, and the rise of work marketplaces are driving down the price of many kinds of work.

As I often say, in a connected world, unless your skills are world-class, you are a commodity.

However there are three domains in which individuals and organizations can transcend commoditization and push their value creation to the other end of the spectrum, where they can command their price and choose their work.

The three domains are:

EXPERTISE. As more information is available, deep specialist world-class expertise that can be applied to create value for clients is the heart of much global value creation. That expertise must be broad-based, up-to-the-minute, and directly relevant to real-world issues.

RELATIONSHIPS. Expertise in isolation is not useful. The rich sets of relationships that form networks are at the heart of value creation. Those who can connect expertise and facilitate the co-creation of value in relationships will be at the heart of the economy.

INNOVATION. Innovation stems from connecting expertise, ideas, insights, and experience. Those who have original perspectives or can elicit new frames by bringing together diversity can capture and share extraordinary pools of value.

The future is stark. There will be a large and increasing divide between those who have one or more of these core strengths, and those who do not and whose livelihoods are on an ongoing path of commoditization.

  • Anonymous

    This is indeed a useful framework to gain understanding of the new workplace dynamics. To avoid commoditisation an individual has to find a deep inner core of personal worth and merit without being egotistic. Those values I would contend are a personal luxury that should be nurtured, developed and implemented for each individual in the new world of work.

    I say “personal luxury” as I am currently reading “The Luxury Strategy”
    JN Kapferer & V Bastein 2nd edition!
    They have many ways to express the differences between premium and luxury. I believe their work has utility for getting beyond value polarisation in a personal context and reinterpreting that personal context.

    • Thanks Tim it looks interesting. I think luxury is a useful frame for thinking about quite a few different forms of premium value.

  • “Unless your skills are world-class, you are a commodity.” I hear this a lot, and I think, wow, we are headed for major disruption. Can our social contract hold out when we tell 99.8% of people that they are essentially worthless, easily replaceable? How depressing is that? And how long with they hear the this mystical meritocracy is why there are two global classes, one with everything, and the rest with the scraps? Doesn’t this worldview of globalized labor markets turn neighbors into enemies? I cannot see this as a recipe for prosperity or peace. For an economic system to work, it needs to offer positive guiding myths and a concrete hope of stability and prosperity. Otherwise, people will rebel – as they always have.

    • There is a rich debate here. However it is not just a small fraction of people who can be world-class. In a world of increased specialization many of us can be world-class in a narrow domain.

      I have very long said that that the polarization of work and opportunity is the biggest issue we must guard against and try to mitigate. The first step is to recognize it as as reality.

  • The trend over several hundred years has been to remove labour costs from production – but this has increased the work to be done and its value, not decreased it. Power systems led to the industrial revolution and a shift from 75% of the population working the land to just 2-3% today; the semiconductor led to computing and machines that could take over most manual tasks, including whole factories where the only people are maintenance workers; and the web led to new business models where people costs are taken out by exporting work. This will continue with new innovations that remove labour from production, until eventually all production will be free of labour costs except for creativity, which will be the last thing that could be replaced. Goods will be much more sophisticated and much lower cost than they are even today – much of the goods we currently spend our income on could even be free, because we are not paying anyone to produce them.
    I agree that skills are important, but not everyone can be world class. As less income is required to pay for basics the market for design, innovation and craftsmanship will grow rapidly. Most people will earn small amounts from this, but more than enough to buy their additional luxuries. However, I agree that the gap between the richest and poorest will grow – it’s inevitable when there is only a limit to who can be the very best and the scarcest commodity is their time.

    • Thanks for your insights Tom. I don’t think it is inevitable that the polarization of wealth will increase, however there are surely strong forces pushing that way that we must comprehend and respond to.