It's Our Time - The Next Industrial Revolution


As much as we are forging ahead during this time of significant change, it seems like a good time to give pause and embrace our reflective moods as well. With all of the articles being written on innovation, I thought that a look back through history with an eye toward the future would work for this next post.

The Men Who Built America series has been running on the History Channel over the past month. At the same time, I finished reading Makers: The New Industrial Revolution by Chris Anderson.

What an intensely powerful combination. These two gems are what kicked off the content experience below, which includes our industrial past as well as look at the movement shaping our industrial future.

The Men Who Built America

The American Industrial Revolution

This is an incredible series that features the legendary "captains of American industry" along with the wealth that resulted in successfully bringing innovative ideas to market. These titans include men such as Cornelius Vanderbilt, John D. Rockefeller, JP Morgan, Henry Ford and Andrew Carnegie. 

The Men Who Built America is a powerful account of the interconnectedness of their relationships with each other and the inventors, the wars and rivalries, along with the egos and blind spots left exposed with each new innovation. 

It includes many of those who contributed to much of our country’s growth as well as its setbacks, while leaving us with some valuable lessons learned. The trailer is embedded below.

Please Note: This series has ended on the History Channel, although I do notice episodes being re-run. You can also purchase the DVD or download it online.

The British Industrial Revolution

Depending on your familiarity with in the British Industrial Revolution, the series above, along with Chris Anderson's book (featured below) will certainly tickle your curiosity and leave you hungry for more depth. If that happens, I strongly encourage you to take a look at the videos below from Gregory Clark’s lectures at the University of California, Davis.

After watching The Men Who Built America, I looked for something similar featuring the British Industrial Revolution, but I was unable to find anything. It would be great to see The History Channel create a series based on the content in these three videos,

Even though these are a series of videos simply staged in front of a chalkboard, I think you will find that Professor Clark is able to capture and hold your attention. I loved these videos. He has done an excellent job outlining several interconnected features of the Industrial Revolution along with an explanation of the theories of growth.

Specific to the textiles industry, he also provides an outline with explanations of the great innovations of this time that most often resulted in poverty for the inventors.  


There is a lot to learn from this part of World History. As Professor Clark points out, the following points are worth noting about these innovators,

  • These innovators didn’t have a high degree of engineering in their backgrounds –They were not highly educated in area of their invention.
  • They were tinkerers and small- scale mechanics that had a deep interest in the idea - Even though they didn’t have deep expertise in engineering, they were deeply interested in their idea and its possibility. (And they obviously had a capacity to learn)
  • Those who figured out the production problems succeeded - The inventors would often figure out the right idea, but it took a long time and a lot of capital to bring it to market. Many of them ran out of money.
  • It was a time with a very innovative culture.

The Next Industrial Revolution

The convergence of change that we are currently experiencing throughout the world seems to be catapulting us into the next industrial revolution. We can see this even if we were to focus in on a single area like manufacturing.

Last April, the Economist published an article featuring a special report by Paul Markille titled,  The Third Industrial Revolution, where he writes about the transformation, digitization and future of manufacturing. In it he states,

“Digitization in manufacturing will have a disruptive effect every bit as big as in other industries that have gone digital, such as office equipment, telecoms, photography, music, publishing and films. And the effects will not be confined to large manufacturers; indeed, they will need to watch out because much of what is coming will empower small and medium-sized firms and individual entrepreneurs.”
“Like all revolutions, this one will be disruptive. Digital technology has already rocked the media and retailing industries, just as cotton mills crushed hand looms and the Model T put farriers out of work. Many people will look at the factories of the future and shudder. They will not be full of grimy machines manned by men in oily overalls. Many will be squeaky clean—and almost deserted. Some carmakers already produce twice as many vehicles per employee as they did only a decade or so ago. Most jobs will not be on the factory floor but in the offices nearby, which will be full of designers, engineers, IT specialists, logistics experts, marketing staff and other professionals. The manufacturing jobs of the future will require more skills.

Here is a video where the economist interview the report’s author Paul Markille,

The Maker Movement

Chris Anderson reinforces the belief that this manufacturing transformation will empower small and medium-sized firms and individual entrepreneurs in his new book, Makers: The New Industrial Revolution.

He goes further by describing and advocating for the “Maker Movement,” stressing the importance of being an entrepreneur, not just an inventor.

Here is his description of the Maker Movement,

“In short, the Maker Movement shares three characteristics, all of which, I’d argue, are transformative:
  1. People using digital desktop tools to create designs for new products and prototype them (“digital DIY).
  2. A cultural norm to share those designs and collaborate with others in online communities.
  3. The use of common design file standards that allow anyone, if they desire, to send their designs to commercial manufacturing services to be produced in any number, just as easily as they can fabricate them on their desktop. This radically foreshortens the path from idea to entrepreneurship, just as the Web did in software, information, and content.
Nations have always had their tinkerers and inventors. But the shift to digital changes everything about the ability to get those ideas and inventions produced and sold. Workshops of the world unite!”

 If you are interested in learning more about this movement, the future of manufacturing, the tools and what some individuals and companies are already doing, pick this up. Chris Anderson is a true visionary.


Innovations That Require New Skills

As with all industries experiencing the tectonic shifts taking place, progress does not come without the need to develop the necessary skills and talent required to remain competitive.

The World Economic Forum published a report titled, The Future of Manufacturing: Opportunities to Drive Economic Growth where they write about innovation and the digitization of manufacturing, highlighting talent as our most critical resource,

“An estimated 10 million jobs with manufacturing organizations cannot be filled today due to a growing skills gap. Despite the high unemployment rate in many developed economies, companies are struggling to fill manufacturing jobs with the right talent. And emerging economies cannot fuel their growth without more talent. Access to talent will become more important and more competitive. Today’s skills gap will not close in the near future. Companies and countries that can attract, develop and retain the highest skilled talent – from scientists, researchers and engineers to technicians and skilled production workers – will come out on top. In the race to future prosperity, nothing will matter more than talent.”

The other night, Rock Center did a short piece on American manufacturing where they interviewed a twenty-five year veteran from the Sunny Delight plant who knows that his position is going to be eliminated due to automation and the new skills that are required. During this interview he said,

“Folks need to know that wherever they work, they need to consistently upgrade their skills. What got you here and your prior accomplishments may not necessarily keep you here…Adapt or else.”

And as I listened to him, I thought about what the younger generation was learning in school. And then I remembered a Tweet that I saw a couple weeks earlier that confirmed movement:

Stuck In The Middle? Enter Open Courseware and Learning Communities

There are many professionals and organizations who are in the middle of the “Big Shift” that is transcending all industries.  This is why I am encouraged by the MOOCs like Coursera, which can give people and talent within organizations access and the opportunity to upgrade the skillsets necessary to adapt.  And as we grow, this learning can be shared by creating opportunities for peer to peer learning - in and out of the organization.

In addition to classes online, there are creation spaces, fab labs, social networks dedicated to specific interests, and communities that promote learning popping up every day.  For example, if you do a search on Meet Up you can see this in action with the Maker Movement and several others.

We can learn from our predecessors, while continuing to gain the additional skills necessary to develop breakthrough innovations that could help shape the future. Breaking ground and laying new foundations with supporting infrastructure is not going to be easy. It will certainly take a lot of work, time, talent, collaboration and resourcefulness – especially right now.

It seems clear to me that this is what it is going to take to make the transition and continue to grow – as individuals, as organizations and as a society. It’s our time to innovate and to keep forging head. It’s up to us to take the next step.