Monday, October 03, 2005

Arc of the Organization

Cory Doctorow has been posting the first few chapters of his new novella, Themepunks, on The premise of the novella presents some very interesting thoughts on what could happen as large, "legacy" organizations start to find new ways to survive. In the book, Kodak and Duracell merge into Kodacell.
Capitalism is eating itself. The market works, and when it works, it commodifies or obsoletes everything. That's not to say that there's no money out there to be had, but the money won't come from a single, monolithic product line. The days of companies with names like 'General Electric' and 'General Mills' and 'General Motors' are over. The money on the table is like krill: a billion little entrepreneurial opportunities that can be discovered and exploited by smart, creative people.

Instead of selling off the pieces and going home, the new owners end the production of the companies products and become an incubator of sorts. Using the physical plant, infrastructure, and relationships of the larger organization, they enable small entrepreneurial ideas to come to market. Think of it as a mix of microlending, small-time venture capital, and contract manufacturing.
We will explore and exhaust the realm of commercial opportunities, and seek constantly to refine our tactics to mine those opportunities, and the krill will strain through our mighty maw and fill our hungry belly. This company isn't a company anymore: this company is a network, an approach, a sensibility.
from Themepunks, Chapter 1 by Cory Doctorow, September 12, 2005

After several years swimming in the pool of corporate life, I'm amazed at how much of our lives are spent trying to control things. Peter has rightly extolled us to let go, and we are trying to. Think of how difficult it is to do this for yourself, then extrapolate that out to an organization of 10,000 people. Maybe we can then see how crazy it must feel to the vast majority of organizations and institutions.
"I'll tell you, there's a downside to living in this age of wonders: we are moving too fast and outstripping the ability of our institutions to keep pace with the changes in the world."
from Themepunks, Chapter 1 by Cory Doctorow, September 12, 2005

I shudder to think what will happen if we don't find a way to remake large organizations before more limber and hungry ones siphoned away demand for their goods and services. Utilizing the infrastructure as throughput for others seems as good an idea as any I've heard.

Looking for some idea of changing organizations a few years ago, I stumbled on the Newfield Network and CIIS. Both teach "transformational learning" to address people's lack of meaning in work and encourage leadership in the community. The New Age bent and impressive expense waved me off during that lean time.

The cluetrain manifesto echoed some of these principles with a more practical, less mystical overlay.

Diving back to the corporate world rekindled my examination of the strange methods, hierarchies, and communications. Seeing cluetrain's promise of conversation playing out now with the new developments in technology, I'm hopeful to see that we see some movement in the larger organizations.

GE's Ecomagination and BP have both been touting their refocusing in the mass media. It's easy to dismiss their messages as corporate PR bunk, but I prefer to accept them, albeit skeptically, for the time being. At some level (subconscious, perhaps?), corporate executives must have some clue that the hierarchical organization is fast becoming a relic.

The new organization will be that conversation from cluetrain - at some level, in some way we can't yet visualize. As Doctorow reflects these ideas back in Themepunks, he's trying to tell corporate citizens not to be afraid, but to help your company embrace what's happening before obsolescence claims it.

1 comment:

Austin said...

This echoes some stuff I've been reading from Tom Peters and in the April issue of the Harvard Business Review.

That HBR article is actually really good, discussing (in seperate articles), how to evolve your work style (i.e. your leadership style), as well as another article on using analogy to solve problems in spaces where you have no grounding.

I'll see if I can't dig up links and specific titles. The whole issue was really good.