Regarding Henry

Henry Ford was one of the great industrial revolutionaries. Twenty-first century prosperity is largely down to the production-line efficiencies pioneered by Ford and his peers, fine-tuning the separation of labour to the point that almost everything can be produced as a commodity. We wouldn’t have the modern middle class without him.

So why would Caroline Robinson have a problem with that? Simply put, she reckons the mantra of doing more with less isn’t the answer to every problem. “The systems in place for decision-making in society are still based on the old Henry Ford production line model,” she tells Gena Tuffery on page 60, “very rationalist and always searching for the quickest, cheapest option. We aspire to the notion of sustainability, but how can we achieve this when we’re using a system that contradicts it?”

Economies of scale are a wonderful thing, if your mission in life is to make more stuff. But increasingly that’s not what consumers want; they want products and services that have some meaning, with less waste and without exploitation. This leads to some short-term absurdities, like electric utilities spending their marketing budget urging us to use less of their product, but over time the new relationship between companies and their customers will settle into something more meaningful.

On the surface, this might seem to bode well for New Zealand. Many Kiwis have long resisted specialisation of their own labour: we pride ourselves on being able to turn our talents to most things (see our stories on Fabel and Charlie Ash on page 40). But of course no-one is suggesting ditching the production line; instead, it’s the way we research, design, market and sometimes manufacture our goods and services.

So what Robinson is doing does point the way to the future. She’s trying to build a more direct relationship with the people who will benefit from her work, and a better way of collaborating with colleagues and partners. It’s a theme that several writers return to in this issue, and it’s a change that Generation C intuitively. Crack this problem and you have something more valuable than mean efficiency.

Matt Cooney

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