Sally Helgesen, cited in Forbes as the world’s premier expert on female leadership and a speaker at this year’s International Leadership Week (Nov 16-19), 'Leadership Everywhere – we are all leaders now’, discusses how home-working, facilitated by digital technology, has reversed the balance of power from capital to people.
In 1993, Peter Drucker published ‘Post-Capitalist Society’. It has extraordinary lessons for leaders today, as we seek to emerge from the confusion, pain and jarring disruption of 2020.
What did Drucker mean, then, by ‘post-capitalist society’? And why did he use that phrase to describe what is more often called post-industrial society?
Drucker was referring to the fact that capitalism became ascendant as the primary means of production through a scale and complexity requiring significant capital investment. Capital had by far the greatest value in the chain of production – so it grew expensive, while labour became relatively cheap. As a result, the primary means of production, industrial machinery, had to be centralised in factories and, later, offices. Which in turn meant that most people could no longer work from home.
Those two factors combined to vest primary power in those who either provided the capital for an enterprise, or were hired to exercise it as proxies – otherwise known as management. But Drucker foresaw that the economics of digital technology would reverse this basic logic. The digital tools that have made such a transformative impact in the past 20 years are vastly more dependent upon human knowledge and creativity than upon raw materials or heavy machinery.
As Drucker presciently noted, those tools began to reverse the balance of power between people and capital, since people began to own the primary means of production – which is lodged in their heads.
That’s what distinguishes the knowledge economy. It’s the reason why a new idea can quickly make 100 years of thoughtful and intensive capital development obsolete overnight. It is also the reason why we now view leadership as something that should be distributed throughout organisations, rather than the sole prerogative of those at the top.
In 2020, this dynamic assumed fresh relevance as individuals around the globe had to spend months working from home, and as organisations adapted to this new reality. It’s fortunate that technology has reached a point where it permits this – and that the trend towards working from home was already well under way.
So, what will it mean going forward that the primary means of production will be engaged within people’s homes – the places where they were housed before the Industrial Revolution?
And what will it mean that we will be mostly working on what, over the last 200 years, has been recognised as female turf; the sphere where women exercise their authority and skills – that is, the home?
In short, the post-capitalist society that Drucker foretold almost 30 years ago is now suddenly, and with force, upon us. Its consequences will reshape our organisations, and our lives, for the next century.
Book your FREE place to hear Sally Helgesen speak at International Leadership Week on ‘Post-capitalist society and the knowledge economy’ exploring how the home-working revolution will fundamentally affect our lives and organisations.