What will the 21st Century organizations aspire to?
I know that my phone and my credit card are spying on me. I am certain that this is not a good thing, and yet I choose not to think about it as I continue to live my ordinary life, occasionally wondering if we’ll all eventually have to turn to the Amish in the post-apocalypse as the last remaining community of people who actually know how to do anything.
But as businesses and a society, we really do need to examine the contents of our pockets and make some decisions. Our technology, if not our instincts, are enabling us to connect and monitor each other, ourselves and the world around us. Business needs are driving us to seek out new models for growth and efficiency, and our humanity is driving us to find more ways to ensure prosperity for individuals and communities — it's an awesome thing.
But it's going to be complicated. Perhaps I have read too much sci fi, too much 20th century Orwellian angst-lit. We know the next generation of organization (and society) is going to be super connected. We want this to be so. We want this to democratize and meritocritize, we want to leverage the true capabilities and aspirations of the work force. We want organizations to be more "unified" — but what kind of "unified" do we want? What will it look like? Is it all rainbows and unicorns?
Back in 2009 David Armano was trying to express his theory of social business, and among other things he had this notion of “Hive Mind.” It was clear that a) David was onto something — but even he was not really sure what, b) that he was a brilliant illustrator and c) that “Hive Mind” creeped me out. My imagination drew an ugly Borg-like picture. A totalitarian construct. I’m sure that’s not what David meant. So what do we mean?
If we must now reject the “well-oiled machine” metaphor for business, it would be handy to have something to replace it with. Machines, no matter how well-oiled, are incapable of the agility and complexity business needs to thrive. Further, people are not cogs in machines, and why would we want to be?
So the mechanistic model fails both the business and the humanity test. We are individuals and communities of staggering complexity — how will we use that to achieve what is currently beyond our grasp or imagination? What is the metaphor of the 21st century, humanistic, connected, buzzing (but not seething) organization?
We will choose — with intention or without. If we are building a world of possibilities, we want the better ones to prevail. We will have a hand in what dominates, and so we have to recognize and prepare our choices. There will be ambiguity. This article on Disney’s idyllic, planned community — asks if its “Cool or Creepy?” This will be increasingly difficult to answer in many contexts.
Organizational Design for Century 21 - More than One Metaphor
In the last couple hundred years, business and government have been dominated by hierarchical, command and control structures — though there have been some other models. Family models, some decentralized models (the "bad guys" have taught us some things about decentralized control) — but hierarchies are so ingrained in our society as to be barely questioned.
Now we have “Valve” — a purely self-directed organization (that I still need to understand better). We had the “Occupy” movement and Crisis Commons, Wikipedia, and of course Arab spring — and perhaps one enduring organizational theme of the future will be purely emergent organizations.
But other than Valve, none of these has an ongoing, durable organization designed to deliver value in a sustained way — a way that can bring economic prosperity to its members. I do not quite believe yet that the Valve model will dominate, though I hope that model will become better understood and more frequently used. Leadership and vision will play an enduring role, and leadership that can activate the potential of other people will dominate organizations of the next epoch.
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