The Lightbulb and Social Business


Can you spot the difference between the two photos?

There are probably quite a few you can identify, but the thing I want to highlight is the use of electric light in the second, modern factory example.

Its interesting to reflect on this and the perceived hype around social business and how different experiences point to the need for practical and pragmatic use cases. The main argument is that we need to integrate social tools into existing workflow.

Back in the early phase of the industrial revolution, factories were messy, dark places because the physical work environment was built around the constraints of their belt and pulley driven mechanised systems. There was no prior model of employment to set expectations on the impact on the workers themselves either!

So, my question:

Was it the lightbulb that revolutionised the industrial workplace or electricity?

My observations:

  • At the moment I get the impression we are focused on the lightbulb. The social media activitists are crying, “Install lightbulbs!” Its no surprise we will expect confused reactions and failure.
  • If that’s the case then you need to be pragmatic. However, don’t ignore the lesson that the electric lightbulb had a broader impact than just lighting the shopfloor – can you leverage that instead?
  • Finally, retro fitting electricity had less of an impact (and take up) than on the businesses that converted entirely to electricity – but this didn’t happen all at once across industry, because it wasn’t economic.

BTW This isn’t the first time I’ve blogged about this historical comparison, but for a quick overview of the broader impact of the electric light see this micro-site from the Smithsonian.

Image Credits: Colt’s armory complex – East armory workers CC-BY-NC-SA and Seagate Wuxi China Factory Tour CC-BY.