Are You a Spare Part?

Spare parts

The current view of the world of work is still organized around a “spare parts” mindset.

We treat people as spare parts, constantly looking for a new one when things don't go the way we hope and forecast.  We have the models and we have the people. The focus on having the right people on the bus is distracting us from seeing the whole picture we want to build.

We're solving the wrong problem.

To succeed in the 21st Century, we are called to face and solve problems of increasing complexity. New competitive pressure we had not anticipated, easier solutions and friendlier services may take our business models by surprise and force drastic cost reductions at a time when we might need to build in new ways instead.


Moving from one feed to another, shiny object from shiny object, shifting from one need to another, constantly looking for new ideas, tips and tricks to become more efficient in search of that magic pill that will take us on top of the world squanders our cognitive abilities. 

Five ways, four steps, three reasons, two tips, one trick ponies hoping to become unicorns, chasing hope and hype, both of which we might be able to sell fast enough to exit.

But learning by bullet point is risky. Simplifying only helps deconstruct information that is obvious, and not develop knowledge we can turn into usable data. For that we need to construct. To interact with complex concepts and the complexity of our environment, we need second order thinking, which then forms the basis of our knowledge.

Studying for the test

One story caught me eye the other day about a teacher's experiment.

David Guterson, a high school teacher, and a homeschooling father of four, questions the validity of standard test-taking in school, which is meant to measure the quantity and quality of a student’s learning during a certain period of time.

My reaction was the test format needs revisiting —from multiple choice to essay. Create, don't repeat. When we study for the test, we miss developing our own thesis about a topic. Because the danger is that we think of what is not required as not mattering.

But  it does matter, or we find ourselves unprepared to solve the complex problems we come across in business and life.

Spare parts and work

The 20th Century view of the world was to educate for and fill job roles based upon a set of narrowly defined criteria. Something like describe and find a nut, a bolt, or a hammer, then look for the right pegs to fit in the openings.

We need new metaphors and a new language to describe people in relationship to business models. People are an asset because we can trade relationships, and not because they are the “spare parts” we were looking for today. When we put the word “asset” with “people” this is typically what we mean.

Yet we would be pressed not to object to a “spare parts” view of work in the knowledge economy.

Organizations still identify, assess, recruit, and manage by spare parts. It's lazy and not appropriate for the complexity, and beauty, of 21st Century business.


Return depends on investment. Individuals who can assess, attract, and manage a company's knowledge and competence do so by developing, designing, and growing it to yield compounding effects. That's not done by filling a requisition, it's a process of uncovering opportunity.

Are we making the right investments or are we still thinking in terms of spare parts?


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