Yes, look it up as it is rapidly impacting us all. A timely example is Imogen Heap’s recently announced Mycelia project (here) in which she wants to sidestep middlemen like iTunes and Spotify:

Aside from enabling faster, direct payments for artists, Heap wants to create a free platform where musicians have control over the data created by their songs as they circulate among fans and other musicians, including the song’s credits, terms of usage dictated by the artist, where the song is played and when, and any transactions. This information is tracked using blockchain technology, a method of recording digital transactions first used for Bitcoin.

I am/was a professional engineer for most of my adult life and I enjoyed the bit of prestige and good remuneration that came with earning my engineering degree and completing a four-year apprenticeship and rigorous exams needed to obtain my engineering license. Like other professions, engineers controlled access to the knowledge and the right to use that knowledge for my clients.

But the engineering profession is quickly becoming disintermediated – knocked out of the loop by open access to information/knowledge by the Internet and automation of the numerous “routine” sub-steps required to do engineering projects. Just as TurboTax and TaxAct have pushed many human tax preparers out of business, engineering software – CAD, CAM, BIM, etc., much of it free on the Internet, makes the engineering “body of knowledge” available to lay users who can effectively use them to good ends.

Disintermediation occurs when the buyer of your services begins to think that your fee is higher than the value of your services. It is as simple as that. The buyer can be your client or your boss.

Although I am no longer a practicing professional engineer, I have a new profession that I love – teaching. Sadly, in some respects, it too is being disintermediated.

I first ran into disintermediation in the teaching arena while I was working on my Ph.D. Our nursing school was embarking on what is now called flipped classrooms – videotaping instructors’ lectures and making them available through the college’s learning management system. Intuitively, many of the instructors saw their grip on and control of their hard-won knowledge being loosened, and they balked. But the administrators persisted and the thing was done. Students eventually found that watching the video lectures at a time of their choosing, and as often as they wanted, was cool. And even the balky professors began to see that what is now known as blended classrooms was beneficial to the students. And, as long as the college controlled access to their video lectures and was willing to pay them their traditional salaries, things would be OK.

But things were not OK for long. Administrators noticed that some instructors’ video lectures were much better than others, so they began to require the “good” lectures be used in all instructors’ classes. And in some cases, the in-class portion of the courses could be effectively managed by lower-cost instructors – the dreaded adjuncts.

And so the death spiral of disintermediation in the teaching profession began. Today, students no longer have to actually go to physical classrooms at all to get their degree. They can complete their education completely online in many career fields. Further, with the rise of the Open movement, high-quality teaching materials are readily available online (here). One can even “attend” lectures from world-class professors at Harvard, MIT and other ivy-league schools. Large education companies like Pearson are producing software that duplicates or improves on things instructors used to have to do. My favorite example is Pearson’s MyLab series in which students can access the “Help me solve this” tool which is in some ways better than one-on-one human tutoring. Combining that with learning analytics that track how often a student accesses the material, the problems she is struggling with, the types of mistakes she makes, and which supporting material is helping her the most, and I can see the need for my services diminishing.

Moreover, many employers now are not requiring job applicants to have a degree from a traditional college (here). Instead, they want to see artifacts that prove you can do the tasks they need you to do. Students can get those artifacts by participating in MOOCs or other low cost training outside of traditional higher education.

Teaching professionals have not yet been totally disintermediated, but the writing is on the wall. We have to adapt, and adapt quickly. We, too, must learn new skills – different ways of communicating, mastery of data, embrace new technology, diversification, and, above all, flexibility and agility.

For some additional thoughts:
Donald Clark Plan B

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