January 27, 2013
Industrial-era thinking consists of cultural metaphors that have guided the development of firms and societies for the past 100 years. These habitual mindsets act as intellectual and emotional standards for determining what is the right way to think and what are the right things to do.
Lately I have had a series of conversations with a group of leaders of global high-tech companies. It became very clear during my conversations that their vocabulary reflected a new way of thinking about work. The executives emphasized that the key to success in the new digital economy is likely to be a new position for knowledge professionals and a wide social acceptance of more sustainable values.
These people represented a very different set of standards from those the mainstream thinking portrays.
We still think according to a mindset, in which capital is the key resource and the investor is the ultimate boss. Accordingly, the modeling approach we still use in corporate governance is the principal-agent model, in which managers are viewed as agents of the shareholders, the principals. It is a chain of authority that leads to the knowledge worker only at the end of the chain.
But once acquired, knowledge and skills that are specialized to a given enterprise are assets that are at risk in the very same way that financial assets are at risk. If one can’t continue for some reason, the value of context-specific knowledge and competencies may be much lower somewhere else. Human capital then follows very much the same logic as financial capital and should be treated accordingly.
There is, however, one major difference. Human capital is by definition always linked, social and contextual.
The capabilities of the members of a team are worth more together than when applied alone. With context-specific human capital, the productivity of a particular individual depends not just on being part of a community, but on being part of a particular group engaged in a particular task.
The contextual and social aspects of business matter much more than we have understood.
The ten principles of digital work, the new standards, that the leaders acknowledged:
- informed free choice, rather than compliance, is the basis for decisions
- active participation, rather than passively accepting instructions, is the basis of growth and development
- work activities are carried out within a framework of personal responsibility and goals for self-direction rather than direction from outside
- activities are carried out in a transparent way with the goal of distributing the cognitive load of work rather than work being based on reductionist principles and social isolation
- one is responsible for one’s own actions rather than being responsible to someone else
- a worker is engaging in complex, responsive activities with others in contrast with engaging in closed repetitions of the same activity
- the network, rather than offices or organizational hierarchies, is the main architecture of work
- productivity is a result of creative learning rather than doing more of the same. Increasing the quality and speed of learning matter more than increasing the quantitative output of work
- knowledge work can be understood as investments of human capital following the same logic we have used to understand financial investments. Workers should share the responsibilities and possible upsides that used to belong only to the investors of financial capital.
- knowledge work is about interdependent people in interaction. Intelligence, competence and learning are not any more about the attributes and qualities of individuals but about the attributes and quality of interaction
The impact of technology on industrial jobs.
Filed in Digital work, New work
Tags: Architecture of work, business, Communication patterns, Digital work, Human capital, Interactive value creation, Internet, Knowledge work, Network, Peter Drucker, Ronald Coase, science, Self-organizing, Social business, technology, Transaction costs
January 8, 2013
Corporations as we know them arose around 150 years ago. They were modelled on the most successful organization of the time – the army. The army was then, out of necessity, based on a familiar management model: a few well-trained people at the top commanded a very large number of unskilled people, the “employees”, who were drilled in a few repetitive motions.
This organizational model reached its peak around the time of the Second World War. By that time it had become clear that the command and control organization was rapidly becoming outdated, even for the needs of the army. It was actually in the military that the transformation towards the knowledge worker paradigm first began. Contrary to mainstream thinking, there are examples of armed forces developing furthest from being based on command and control to being based on knowledge and responsibility.
Just as industrial society became a society of corporations, it developed into a society of employers and employees. These were two different ways to explain the same phenomenon. An employee is by definition somebody who is dependent on access to an organization, access to an employer.
Many people still think that one can only work if there is an organization – a “machine” to operate.
Corporate ICT systems are the machines of today. They are too often used in essentially the same way as machines were used in factories. Machine operators in the factory did as they were told. The machine dictated not only what to do but how to do things. The worker was dependent on the machine and served the machine.
To become a social business and to improve the productivity of work will require very different thinking and big changes to ICT-systems, management, and even, the structure of society. In knowledge work the “machines” necessarily have to serve the workers. It is the knowledge workers who decide what to do next and how to do it.
Economic theory and industrial management practice see workers as a cost. A social business, wanting to increase productivity, has to consider knowledge workers as a capital asset. There is a huge difference. Costs need to be reduced, but assets need to be made to grow.
Our present system of industrial management creates systemic inefficiency in knowledge-based work. It can only be removed if the knowledge worker’s role includes a more active responsibility leading to responsive, agile practices. This cannot be achieved unless our mental constructs and the societal structure of work changes radically.
We should ask whether the current social construct of employers and employees is inevitable for some reason, or whether it is a social artefact that is over 100 years old, and should be redesigned.
The change would mean that employees/knowledge workers would explicitly bear the entrepreneurial responsibility for the success or failure of the company, as they do anyway in the end, and, additionally, benefit from any possible upside, just as shareholders do.
From the point of view of corporate governance, it would mean that companies should be run in the interests of workers, as much as in the interests of their owners. That’s what the change from command and control to knowledge and responsibility really means.
And that’s what is needed to become a social business.
September 20, 2012
All of us have at some point in our lives experienced performance appraisals where we as individuals were evaluated. This approach to judgment was the same in school and at work: individuals separated from other individuals.
As a result of recent developments in psychology and sociology, we are now leaving behind the preoccupation with the autonomous individual and beginning to appreciate the importance of relational processes and interdependence. The way we perceive organizations is changing accordingly. Rather than an organization being though of as an imposed structure of separate, autonomous functions, today’s organization arises from the interactions of individuals who need to come together. An organization is a continuous process of organizing.
This shift in the way we see organizations changes the way we perceive competitive advantages. The new competitive edge comes from openness and interactive capacity: the ability to participate and connect, as and when needed.
Live organizations and open, live information
Similarly produced products with the same product features are used by different customers in different ways. Just because a product is a commodity doesn’t mean that customers can’t be diverse in their needs and the way they use the product.
Companies used to have no mechanisms for connecting with the end users in order to understand and influence this. Social media and mobile technologies are now changing this.
Organizations are creative, responsive processes of communication. All creative, responsive processes have the capacity to constantly self-organize and re-organize. Change is not a problem or anomaly. Solutions are always temporary and contextual.
In this view, it is information that is the energy of organizing. Or, as Gregory Bateson wrote, “information is a difference, which makes a difference”. When we see information as a power plant that has the ability to organize and change the organization, we realize the power of openness. When information is transparent to everybody, people can organize effectively around changes and differences, around customers, products and new technologies.
When information is transparent, different people see different things and new interdependencies are created, thus changing the organization. The easier the access that people have to one another and to (different) information is, the more possibilities there are. What we have still not understood is that people need to have access to information streams that no one could predict they would want to know about. Even they themselves did not know they needed it – before they needed it. Thus information architectures can never be fully planned in advance.
Engagement and participation
No one person or function can meet today’s challenges alone. We need a community of people who willingly participate and provide their insights to address increasingly interdependent issues. Collaboration is necessary because one person no longer has the answer. Answers reside in the interaction, between all of us.
Therefore the challenges of today are engagement and reducing the transaction costs of participation. Widening the circle of involvement means expanding who gets to participate, comment and contribute. It is about inviting and including relevant, new and different voices.
The unfortunate misunderstanding is that engaging people requires managers to let go. As managers contemplate widening the circle of involvement they sometimes believe that it means to have less ability to provide input based on their knowledge and experience. Paradoxically, engaging more people requires more from managers than the current management paradigm.
Instead of being responsible for identifying both the problem and the solution, they are now responsible for identifying the problem and identifying the other people whose voices need to be heard. Who else needs to be here? How do I invite people who do not report to me? How do I invite customers and other people from outside our organization?
Success today is increasingly the result of skilful management of participation: who is included and who is not. Who is needlessly excluded from the information streams and the subsequent interaction?
A common misunderstanding is that productivity will suffer if larger numbers of people are involved. The new social platforms and interaction technologies have dramatically reduced the cost of communication and participation. Temporary, flash communities can be formed to solve a problem or to tackle an opportunity more easily, more cheaply and faster than ever before – if there is openness and people are invited and if people want to engage. It is about distributing the intellectual tasks at hand and integrating the contributions of many resulting in creative learning.
Creative learning is the new productivity. In creative, interactive work, productivity cannot be measured in quantitative terms or as a difference between input and output, but as the speed and quality of learning.
The management task is not to understand people better, but to understand better what happens, and can happen between people. Our world is co-created in relations.
Filed in Interactive, iterative value creation, New work, Social Web / Social Media
Tags: Architecture of work, Communication patterns, Complexity, flash communities, Interactive value creation, Kenneth Gergen, Ralph Stacey, Ronald Coase, Self-organizing, Social business, Transaction costs, Yochai Benkler
June 3, 2012
The division of labor reduced organizational effort and the cost of work in factory production. The division of labor also increased the quality of work through specialization. This led managers to focus on the efficiency of activities that were separated from other activities. Organizational design was seen as the planning and execution of a collection of independent, but connected jobs forming the workflow system.
Connections were based on top-down command-and-control and horizontal, sequential processes. In both cases the action of one part was meant to set off the action of another. Interaction was understood as one-way signals, a system of senders and receivers, a system of causes and effects.
In the cause-and-effect model of communication a thought arising within one individual is translated into words, which are then transmitted to another individual. At the receiving end, the words translate into the same thought, if the formulation of the words and the transmission of those words are good enough.
Physical tasks could be broken up in a reductionist way. Bigger tasks could be divided by assigning people to different, smaller and fairly independent parts of the whole. For intellectual tasks, it is not possible to find independent parts because intellectual tasks are by default linked and interdependent, creating a totally different work environment. In this new work, communication is not talking about work, but work is communication between people. This is why a social business follows a very different model of causality.
In this model of complex causality, communication takes the form of a gesture made by an individual that evokes a response from someone else. The meaning can only be known in the gesture and response together. If I smile at you and you respond with a smile, the meaning is friendly, but if you respond with a cold stare, the meaning may be contempt. Gestures and responses cannot be separated but constitute one act. Neither side can independently choose the meaning of the words or control the conversation. Thus you can never control communication.
The cause-and-effect model of management presumes, accordingly, that leadership potential resides within an individual person, who is the cause. From a social business standpoint the individualistic view is fundamentally misleading. One cannot be inspiring or energizing alone. These qualities are co-created in an active process of mutual recognition. An inspiring person is only inspiring by virtue of others who treat her this way. A good decision is only good if there are agreeable people around. Mutually recognizing and mutually supporting relationships are the sources of progress. Actions always emerge in a network of relationships – in co-action instead of cause and effect.
Any higher-value activity involves complementary and parallel contributions from more than one person or one team. Instead of division of labor and the vertical/horizontal communication design, the managerial focus should now be in synchronous co-action and enriching interaction. Communication does not represent things in the world. It brings people and things into being.
Social businesses are about interdependent people working in complex interaction
Filed in Complexity, Digital work, Interactive, iterative value creation, New work
Tags: Complexity, Emergence, Esa Saarinen, George Herbert Mead, Hegel, Interactive value creation, Kenneth Gergen, Management, Marcial Losada, Organizing, Participation, Relational view, Self-organizing, Social business
May 6, 2012
The way in which companies organize themselves and define their internal boundaries has essentially been determined by the way in which communication between people is planned and transfer of information is designed. The classic hierarchical structure was based on the assumption that a manager or worker could have rich interaction and exchange of information only with a limited number of predetermined people. A narrowing of interaction always marked operational boundaries. Thus you did not want people to cross functional silos. This was the infamous trade-off between richness and reach.
An increasing number of companies trying to become social businesses are now becoming aware of the technical barriers and structural bottlenecks that hinder or totally prevent cooperation that is not planned in advance.
It is time to rethink. Rather than thinking of organization as an imposed structure, plan or design, organization arises from the interactions of interdependent individuals who need to come together.
The accumulating failures of attempts at organizational agility can be traced to the fundamental but mistaken assumption that organizations are structures that guide and, as a consequence, limit interaction. An organization as a structure is a seventeenth century notion from a time when philosophers began to describe the universe as a giant piece of clockwork. Our beliefs in prediction and organizational design originate from these same ideas.
A different ideal is emerging today. We want to be agile and resilient and we want to learn effectively and fast. The tension of our time is that we want our firms to be flexible and creative but we only know how to treat them as systems of boxes (or network nodes, where the shapes are round instead of square), with a fixed number of lines between them.
It is time to change the way we think about organizations. It is not about hierarchies vs. networks, but about a much deeper change. Organizations are creative, responsive processes and emergent patterns in time. All creative, responsive processes have the capacity to constantly self-organize and re-organize all the time. Change is not a problem or anomaly. Change is the organizing input rather than the typical managerial re-design process. All solutions are always temporary.
Gregory Bateson wrote: “information is a difference which makes a difference”. Information is the energy of organizing. When information is transparent to everybody, people can organize effectively around changes and differences, around customers, new technologies and competitors.
What we have still not understood is that people need to have access to information that no one could predict they would want to know. Even they themselves did not know they needed it – before they needed it. Thus an organization can never be fully planned in advance. When information is transparent, different people see different things and new interdependencies are created, thus changing the organization. The context matters more than ever. The easier the access that people have to one another and to (different) information is, the more possibilities there are.
We seek organization, but organization is a continuous process, not a structure.
Thank you Ken Gergen for a great evening and great conversations
Filed in Digital work, Interactive, iterative value creation, New work
Tags: Agile, Architecture of work, Communication patterns, Complexity, Emergence, gregory bateson, Interactive value creation, Kenneth Gergen, Organizing, Resilient, Ronald Coase, Self-organizing, Social business
February 25, 2012
The change towards the creative economy has major implications for the nature of what we have called assets. In the industrial age, the assets were physical resources, plant and equipment. Most of the resources were traded in markets and could thus be valued. Taking care of the value of an organization could be understood as managing physical assets and resources.
Now knowledge and people are seen as the major assets. But since neither of them are efficiently traded in markets, their value cannot easily be measured. Neither can knowledge be understood as an asset that can be managed like a physical asset. This is what many people within the Knowledge Management community learned the hard way. Knowledge is not a thing! Thus it cannot be stored, measured or shared.
From a more modern point of view, knowledge creation is understood as an active process of communication between people. Knowledge cannot be stored but is constantly constructed and re-constructed in interaction. Knowledge cannot be shared but arises in action. Knowledge is the process of relating.
The assumption was that learning and knowledge management involve processes that transmit content. This notion derived from the information theory/model of communication developed by Claude Shannon and Warren Weaver. Their theory created a sender-receiver model of communication according to which person A sends a signal (message/content) to person B, who receives it and then perhaps sends a responding feedback signal back to A. From this perspective, learning and knowledge creation are processes that resemble transmission or the sharing of content. This is why schools and other educational institutions still look the way they do.
But Shannon & Weaver’s concept was meant to be purely technical. They were interested in whether a byte sent was a byte received in a technical sense. They said nothing about the meaning of the bytes. For a human being a message can evoke a very wide range of associations and interpretations depending on the experience and emotional state of the individual. One person’s interpretation is never quite the same as another person’s interpretation. There is no linear causality in the world of human beings.
If learning was understood from a more modern relational perspective it would resemble a process of many voices interacting at the same time. In this way, each comes to know the context in which the other makes meaning. The progression of B’s understanding of A’s story also constitutes a change to A’s story – creating new meaning, learning, for both.
Social media are most meaningful when giving voice to multiple perspectives, making it possible to seek out, recognize and respect differences as different but equal.
All stories continue, meaning that learning takes place, as participants create a more shared understanding of what the other means. Knowledge which used to be regarded as existing independently in people and things – becomes viewed as co-constructed in communication.
Communication does not represent things in the world. It brings people and things into being in constantly surprising ways.
Supportive, energizing and enabling patterns of interaction are the most important “assets” of a modern organization. That is what should be nurtured and taken care of. Communication either accelerates and opens up possibilities or slows down and limits what would be possible. Communication either creates value or creates waste. Communication either creates energy and inspiration or demeans and demotivates.
Information theory is not only unhelpful but harmful, when trying to understand communication between human beings. Communication is not about sharing information but a process of formation.
Thank you Karl-Erik Sveiby and Doug Griffin. What a great meeting!
Filed in Interactive, iterative value creation, New work, Social Web / Social Media
Tags: action knowledge, Communication patterns, Complexity, Doug Griffin, Emergence, George Herbert Mead, Hegel, Human capital, Interactive value creation, Iterative work, Kenneth Gergen, Knowledge management, physical assets, relational perspective, Self-organizing, Social Web / Social Media, Stuart Kauffman
February 23, 2012
The nature of the relationship between customers and firms has changed dramatically. For over a hundred years, companies have assumed that consumers are an undifferentiated mass. Lately, we have moved through different degrees of market segmentation. Today, we have reached a point where the latest interaction technologies are creating an entirely new dynamic between the firm and the people we used to call consumers. Tomorrow firms will compete in making unique customer experiences possible.
The traditional approach was that the firm created value and then exchanged it with its customers. This firm-centric view of value creation is now being replaced by customers’ contextual experiences and co-created value. Value is created in interaction, but outside the corporate firewall. Even if a company is dealing with a very, very large number of customers, the firm must focus on one customer at a time.
We are in a world in which value is determined by co-created experiences – all a bit alike but all a bit different.
During the still (mentally) prevailing industrial era, most firms were vertically integrated. It was only around twenty-something years ago that firms started to source components from outside, from suppliers on a large scale. Today it is natural to rely on global supply chains. This is because the business goal is to access the most competent, knowledgeable sources and paradoxically, at the same time the lowest-cost producers. Access to resources and resource allocation is today by default multi-vendor, crowdsourced and global.
The changing relationships with customers and vendors are the main drivers behind the new ecosystems for communication and participation.
These trends also explain the situation we are in at the moment. The network is the architecture of work. People need to communicate and participate in order to invite contributions and to co-create unique experiences. It is about the relational view. It is not necessary to own the contributing parties. Capacity to connect and cooperate is what is needed. Cooperation is the new competition.
The world we live in today is in many ways the polar opposite of what we have been used to. The management challenge in the era of social media is to invite and combine the contributions of many in order to participate with one (at a time).
Thank you C K
Filed in Complexity, Interactive, iterative value creation, New work, Social Web / Social Media
Tags: Agile, C K Prahalad, Crowdsourcing, generic product, global supply chains, Human capital, interaction technologies, Interactive value creation, Internet, Iterative work, market segmentation, Participation, Self-organizing, Social business, Social Network, Social Web / Social Media, Transaction costs
February 19, 2012
Gregory Bateson argued that humankind’s fall from grace began through separations such as separating the self from the other, separating thought from emotion, separating the sacred from the secular and separating the subject from the object.
Today, there is new thinking that is based on the very latest findings in the sciences of complexity and sociology. These new approaches define a participative, relational perspective: we should speak about subjects interacting with others in the co-evolution of a jointly constructed reality.
In mainstream thinking, managers are understood as the prime originators of what happens in their businesses. The central concern is how the manager/subject gets the follower/object to act in ways that reflect the manager’s perspective. Management continues to see relationships in terms of influence and manipulation. The manager’s perspective is taken for granted in terms of what the facts are, and what is true or false. Employees are treated as instruments. They are less active and less knowledgeable although they can be sources of information for the manager.
In identifying management with science, two concepts were imported, which we now take so much for granted that we hardly notice them. There is the assumption of the autonomous, rational individual which corresponds with the atomistic view of society and the objectification of nature. The second concept that is imported into management is that of the objective observer who identifies causality and tests hypotheses like visions and goals based on these identifications. The objective observer is detached from the phenomena being studied. When this idea is imported into theories of organization, the manager is the objective observer who is supposed to act upon rationally formulated hypotheses about organizational success.
These assumptions have created the still prevailing subject-object understanding of organizational relationships. When a person is understood as a knowing individual she is being viewed as a subject, distinct from others, the objects. Relations are considered from the point of view of the subject and are instrumental in nature.
The social business/relational perspective to management views life and knowing from a different point of view: knowledge is socially constructed. Knowledge is not stuff accumulated and stored by individuals. Contextual interpretation takes the place of the objective fact. When knowledge and truth are viewed as social and temporary then constructions of what we call understanding or knowledge are always a part of what is going on.
Whether the social process is called leadership, management, networking, or communication, knowing is an ongoing process of relating. Social media best produce connectedness and interdependence as processes that construct collective authority and responsibility. Social media are most meaningful when giving voice to multiple perspectives, making it possible to seek out, recognize and respect differences as different but equal. Accordingly, reality in science is no longer viewed as a singular fact of nature but as multiple and socially constructed as David Weinberger writes in his newest book: “Too Big to Know”.
In a relational model identity is constructed from being in relationships, being connected, as contrasted with the mainstream view of identity through separation. Knowledge of self and the other thus becomes viewed as co-constructed.
The relational view sees networking and social media as conversational processes of meaning making. Here, people who network may be regarded as seeking to understand the meanings of the others’ contributions. To do so, they would have to give up the assumption that they and others necessarily mean the same thing by the same terms or expressions. A manager, when networking, would be asking questions that invite others to make explicit what is usually left tacit. In the end it is a process of movement of thought on the basis of multiple perspectives.
For Bateson and many others, re-engagement is essential for recovering wisdom and long-term vitality. This requires re-connecting with participative ways of knowing, with others as part of the self.
Thank you Gregory Bateson, Doug Griffin, Ralph Stacey, Kenneth Gergen, David Weinberger and Katri Saarikivi
Filed in Interactive, iterative value creation, New work, Social Web / Social Media
Tags: Activity streams, Communication patterns, Complexity, David Weinberger, Doug Griffin, Emergence, George Herbert Mead, gregory bateson, Hegel, Kenneth Gergen, leadership management, Ralph Stacey, Self-organizing, Social business, Social Media Strategy, Social Network, Social Web / Social Media
January 29, 2012
When we think about business structures, many of us picture an organizational chart or the layout of an office building. A structure often refers to the physical arrangement of things, the parts making the whole. What we have missed so far is an understanding of the business structures that can foster faster learning and help us work better with information. Conventional structures don’t address knowledge-related challenges as effectively as they do problems of measuring input and output or accountability.
What social media have helped us to do is to link and coordinate unconnected activities or initiatives addressing a similar information domain. There have also been great successes in diagnosing recurring business problems whose root causes cross unit boundaries. We know that the problems we face today are too complex to be managed by one person or one unit. It requires more than one brain, one point of view, to solve them.
Sharing a practice or sharing an information domain requires regular interaction. Work is interaction and the new business structures should be built on interdependence and communication.
Almost all business communities started among people who worked at the same place or lived nearby. But co-location is not necessary any more. The Internet has changed that. Interdependent people forming a community can be distributed over wide areas. What then allows people to work together is not the choice of a specific form of communication, face-to-face as opposed to email or social platforms, but the existence of a shared practice, a common set of situations. What lies at the core of those situations is the need for different perspectives requiring interaction.
When you design for live interaction, you cannot dictate it. You cannot design it in the traditional sense of specifying a structure or a process and then implementing it. As many have experienced, communities seldom grow beyond the group that initiated the conversation, because they fail to attract enough participants. Many business communities also fall apart soon after their launch because they don’t have the energy to sustain themselves.
Communities, unlike business units need to continuously invite the interaction that makes them alive.
Community design is closer to iterative learning than traditional organizational design. Live communities reflect and redesign themselves throughout their life cycle. The design should always start with very light structures and very few elements.
What is also different is that good community architecture invites many kinds of participation. We used to think that we should encourage all the community members to participate equally. Now we know that a large portion of the network members are and should be peripheral. In a traditional meeting we would consider this type of participation half-hearted, but in a network a large portion of the members are always peripheral and rarely contribute. Because the boundaries of a live community are always fluid, even those on the outer edges can become involved for a time as the focus shifts to their area of particular interest.
Because conversations and communities need to be alive to create value, we need an approach to management that appreciates passion, relationships and voluntary participation. Rather than focusing on accountability, community design should concentrate on energizing, enriching participation.
The new structures and new designs are about communities continuously organizing themselves around shared information, shared interests and shared practices. Business is about doing meaningful things with meaningful people in a meaningful way.
More: “Lead like the great conductors“
Filed in Design, Digital work, Interactive, iterative value creation, New work, Social Web / Social Media
Tags: Agile, Architecture of work, Communication patterns, conventional structures, cross unit, David Weinberger, Digital work, Emergence, Esa Saarinen, information domain, Interactive value creation, Internet, Iterative work, Knowledge management, live interaction, Network, Organizing, Participation, Self-organizing, Social business, unit boundaries
December 31, 2011
I have recently heard people say: “I have a great job.”; “I love what I am doing here.”; “He did it in a beautiful way.”; “I work in lovely surroundings.”; “I work with nice people.” Conventional analysis of organizations is dominated by a rational tradition that ignores aesthetics, yet life is pervaded with beauty as these people proved.
Aesthetic considerations can sometimes be of decisive importance. Apple products and the Nokia N9 attract people the same way that the theory of Einstein attracts scientists – by virtue of their sheer elegance.
Organizations are social constructs. They are nothing but constructs to which people are drawn in pursuit of some purpose. Healthy organizations are a concept of relationships to which people are drawn by beauty, values and meaning, along with the freedom to pursue them cooperatively. Healthy organizations enable more than constrain.
Unhealthy organizations are a concept of relationships into which people are forced by birth, necessity or manipulation. Unhealthy organizations constrain more than they enable.
The concept of the social organization has intensified the debate as to whether competition or cooperation should rule in business. But competition and cooperation are not mutually contradictory. In the new design of work they don’t have opposite meanings. They need to be complementary. In every aspect of a healthy life we paradoxically do both at the same time. No successful social endeavor has existed without combining the two.
But sometimes things have not worked out.
The idea of cooperation went mad in socialism leading to an unhealthy and false pursuit of equality and left us with centralized, totalitarian governments enslaving their own citizens. Competition has also gone mad in many capitalist countries, which has led to mindless self-interest and left us now to cope with the results of the irresponsible abuse of people and natural resources.
We need new thinking beyond the old dichotomy: The political left lacks any convincing narrative in the post-socialist world. The right tells a story in which greed is the dominant human motivation and markets actually mean gambling.
The Internet era has proven that we are capable of working together competitively/cooperatively and building social communities that some time ago many would have dismissed as impossible dreams. Thus we don’t yet have a good idea of what cannot be done by connected people working together in new ways. Changes in existing organizations and the evolution of new ones will have characteristics in common. Just as natural systems like the human body are not vertical hierarchies with each part superior to another in ascending linear order, neither will organizations of the future be structured that way. This is not to say that all present industrial organizations are doomed but the models we use to describe the world around us are.
We need a new vocabulary beyond the models of industrial production and separatist, mechanistic concepts of a corporation.
The emerging organizations cannot be portrayed in two dimensions on a traditional organizational chart. They are closer to the networked organization of neurons in the brain. Yet, even these dimensions are not enough without the aesthetic dimension of doing a beautiful work.
The next challenge is to design a beautiful business.
Happy, Beautiful New Year!
Thank you Dee Hock and Thomas Kuhn.