Is your boss a Luddite?

Once upon a time in England, during Industrial Revolution era, a weaver called Ned Ludd was found idling in weaving mill. For which he was whipped by owner of the mill. As a revenge, Ned Ludd broke two stocking frames in anger. Anger was more towards stocking frames than being whipped.


Industrial revolution era replaced craftsmen with machines. Only option before craftsman was either starve or become workman in factories. Workman’s job was unskilled; anyone with little training could do it. Craftsmen had acquired skills through practice and decades of knowledge management.Story of Ned Ludd inspired other workers and they started attacking factories and breaking frames. They started calling themselves Luddites.

British Parliament then was dominated by landlords and industrialists, who could not tolerate Luddites and in 1812 they passed an act- Frames Breaking Act. As per act breaking frames would result in offender getting capital punishment!

Over period of time, those who opposed progress were labelled as “Luddites”. They range from “Computerisation Luddites” like bank unions who opposed computerisation of banks to “Retail Luddites” who oppose entry of Retail MNCs in India to Industrialists who formed “Bombay Club” in 90s to oppose liberalisation of Indian economy. So Luddites may not necessarily be workers, even industrialists can be Luddites.

early luddite

Luddites always have fear of redundancy. They fear that knowledge they have gained over a period of time may become outdated due to change and they will lose source of livelihood. Their response to change is slow. What they fear most is disruptive change/innovation.


Charles Fine, professor at MIT, argues that each industry has its own evolutionary life cycle, which he calls as “Clock speed”- measured by the rate at which it introduces new products, processes, and organizational structures. Some industries like mining have low clock speed while other like Internet services, personal computers, and multimedia entertainment have breakneck speed.

No industry is immune to disruptive innovation. Cars replaced horse carriages, smart phones replaced computers and cameras, while within cameras digital photographs replaced chemical film rolls.

In field of HR, many industrial relations and administration managers from low clock speed industries like automobile and chemicals that get into HR function of high clock speed industries like IT and Telecom may lack agility to adjust to speed of change. Many end up becoming Luddites.They will keep opposing automation, employee diversity (for them biological clock of woman is more important than her talent), investment in training etc. They will always try to go back into their comfort zone i.e. dealing with workers, administration of canteen etc.

Analyse if your boss is a Luddite, if so, find a new one!

luddite boss


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