It would be futile to argue that “cutting-edge” is not a popular term. Like it or not, it’s used (when used properly) to describe just about anything new or innovative.

Cutting-edge, and its sibling term, leading-edge, both evolved into English idioms but are grounded in literal meaning. In 1825, a cutting-edge was the sharpest blade of a farming plow, or simply the sharp edge of a knife. The initial meaning of leading-edge was the forward edge of the blade of a ship’s propeller that cut through the water.

As the world’s technologies moved from ships and farming implements, these terms managed to describe these new technologies while still remaining true (somewhat) to their original, literal meanings. Leading-edge began to describe the wings of an airplane and, by 1945, the “upswing of an electrical pulse.”

However, by 1964 (some would argue the 1950s or even the mid-1800s) and the beginning of the modern technological boom (computers to cell phones, smartphones, and so on) both terms had virtually lost sight of their original meanings and adopted the definition “At the forefront or most advanced stage of development; highly innovative or pioneering.”

Again, some argue the public-relations landscape is so littered with these phrases that the definition should be further defined to “describing some sort of technological advance or artistic achievement that is different than anything that came before it.”

I might argue the addition of ideological to that of technological and artistic. Take, for instance, the gig economy.

The gig economy is described as “part of a shifting cultural and business environment,” propelled by digitization (software reducing the time it takes to perform some tasks, as well as replacing some types of work entirely), increased financial pressures on businesses to reduce costs, and the entrance of the Millennial generation, a generation that is said to put a higher premium on work-life balance than previous generations, into the workforce.

Add connectivity, or in this case, the want and ability of a workforce to complete its work from anywhere, and you have the synergy necessary to make the gig economy viable. In fact, a study by Intuit predicts that by 2020, 40% of American workers will be independent contractors.

In a gig economy, businesses save resources on benefits and office space and “have the ability to contract with experts for specific projects who might be too high-priced to maintain on staff.” From the perspective of the workforce, a gig economy can improve work-life balance over what is possible in most jobs.

As Leah Picket describes in “The Data Boom,” the idea is already being seen in the manufacturing sector, driving “mega-successful businesses like Uber and AirBnB—and now, 600 manufacturing companies and counting.” Read all about it, and check out, “Cutting Edge Hardness Testing,” all in this month’s Quality.

Enjoy and thanks for reading!