What the Singer Sewing Machine has taught us

125 years ago, the Singer Sewing Machine was the most complicated consumer product on the market.

Each part had to be hand-crafted by an expert in order for each part to fit correctly. It was painstaking slow to replace a single piece.

That all changed with Henry Ford’s Assembly Line and Fredrick Taylor’s Scientific Management.

As the culture moved towards standardization, eventually corporations figured out that they can save a buck by hiring the lowest skilled workers, creating a system of interchangeable parts and interchangeable people.

(Marx predicted this would be a problem for anyone who didn’t own the means of production.)

So, where does this leave us?

It turns out the market is shifting again. The work that is most valuable is the work that can’t be written down into a simple set of instructions. What’s valued isn’t digging the ditch you are told to dig but the emotional labour of doing work that might fail. What’s valuable is putting on a show, doing work that creates change.

The market now values highly skilled work again. That’s a problem if you are doing work that can be easily duplicated.

The answer then is to become the Linchpin of your organization. To do the work that others are afraid to do. To make big promises, and yes, keeping them.

I can’t tell you how to become a Linchpin. That’s the point. There is no map, no step-by-step set of instructions to become the person we can’t live without. But what I can tell you is that we’ve been highly skilled craftsman before. It’s in our history. So, we can do it again.