What companies own is now almost worthless. Labor is winning.

Take a close look at what has happened in the last few months and at OpenAI, in the last few days.

The Hollywood writers and actors went on strike, and the entertainment industry companies were forced to yield to their demands. Because without writers or actors, there is no entertainment. Movie theaters, streaming services, and TV channels turned out to be of very little value without a constant stream of entertainment created by ingenious and creative human beings.

The big three automakers settled their strike with the United Auto Workers, yielding to demands to increase pay and give workers more leverage against plant closings. Because without people to build the cars and run the production lines, there are no cars to sell. All the factories and robots and supply chains turned out to be of very little value without skilled workers to keep the plant running.

And just in the last few days, the board at OpenAI, creator of the groundbreaking AI tool ChatGPT, cashiered its CEO Sam Altman. After that his cofounder quit, Microsoft agreed to bring Sam Altman and his cofounder on board, and more than 600 of 700 OpenAI employees signed a letter insisting that the board resign, and indicating that they might follow Altman to Microsoft.

You own nothing

There is no such thing as “control” any more. For companies that run on intellectual property and growth — that is, for the most valuable and important companies in the world — the talent is the key asset. Without their people, Disney, GM, and OpenAI are dead shells.

Economically, the power has shifted from capital to labor. Labor — people — creates innovation. Labor is essential to growth. Labor serves customers. And with the current state of the economy, labor can walk out the door at any moment and get another position somewhere more interesting or more lucrative, or where they’re allowed to work at home if they want.

It doesn’t matter how many stores or factories or patents you have. You’re at labor’s mercy.

What does this mean?

Inspiring people is not a luxury, it is essential. Without inspiration, there is no reason for workers to apply themselves.

Leadership means creating a common sense of purpose, a culture that reinforces that goal, and jobs that are enjoyable and enable advancement. It’s not about ping-pong tables and free drinks. It’s about engaging people’s desire to make things better together.

Workers don’t want it easy. They don’t want to be bored. They want to work hard to contribute to something worth doing. That is management’s job.

If you think you can replace the creativity of people with AI, well, take a look at the two key words in that sentence, “creativity” and “AI.” What AI creates is boring. It is practically defined by the absence of creativity.

Corporations and other organizations will go on. AI will do a lot of the drudge work. But creative, innovative workers will continue to have the upper hand.

Deal with it.

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