April 25th & 26th
287 Kent Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11211
Abstract Submission Deadline: January 19th
What does it mean that digital technologies are increasingly a part of...
William McKnight, president 3M, 1948
The McKnight Principles are astonishingly contemporary, embodying the laissez-faire principles that animate the cooperative, fast-and-loose organization that I believe will dominate in the postnormal future.
As I wrote the other day,
The coming cooperative organization is scary, because it places ambiguity and uncertainty at the center of organization dynamics. It is based on not knowing exactly what to do, in a world increasingly difficult to read. It values experimentation over execution, places agility above process, and puts learning ahead of knowing. It asks more questions than it can answer, and it may not even know how to answer them.
Sol Lipman, Bob Gurwin
The obsessive fixation on productivity that seems to dominate social tools in the business context can be ramped down by balancing the utility of coordinating cowork with the aspirational side of cooperation.
We are doing our work as an outgrowth of our deepest drives: to find meaning and purpose through mastery of our craft and connection with those we respect. The files and tasks and comment threads are artifacts, props, like the backdrops and fake swords at the opera, or the punctuation marks in a great work of fiction. The experience is what matters, not the gizmos.
Yes, Sol is right. We need to embrace — or actually create — a new form of community, one that is undergirded by our propensity for cooperation, and social tools that move past the rigidity and inflexibility of 20th Century ‘collaboration’. We need cooperative tools, where human connection and Maslow’s transpersonal — putting the safety, strivings, and happiness of others first — is placed at the center of our ethos. As Maslow said,
The fully developed (and very fortunate) human being working under the best conditions tends to be motivated by values which transcend himself.
This is the identity that I think Sol is talking about.
Adam Smith, 1766
Richard Sennett, Together
Matt McAlister makes a distinction between leading and managing in this examination of Chinese motorcycle supply chain dynamics:
Matt McAlister, Leadership lessons from China
John Seely Brown and John Hagel examine how a network of motorcycle parts assemblers in China break traditional centralized management tactics to optimize for innovation in a paper called “Innovation blowback: Disruptive management practices from Asia.”
In the Chinese city Chongquing a supplier-driven network of parts developers work together under the loose guidance of their customers rather than under the orders of assemply-line management:
In contrast to more traditional, top-down approaches, the assemblers succeed not by preparing detailed design drawings of components and subsystems for their suppliers but by defining only a product’s key modules in rough design blueprints and specifying broad performance parameters, such as weight and size. The suppliers take collective responsibility for the detailed design of components and subsystems. Since they are free to improvise within broad limits, they have rapidly cut their costs and improved the quality of their products.
As a manager, when you define what is to be done and how it is to be done, then you are setting the exact expectation of what is to be delivered. There is no room for exceeding expectations, only for failing to meet expectations. Your best-case scenario is that you will get what you asked for.
Peter Miller, The Smart Swarm
Jeremiah Owyang is onto something when he recently suggested that workers should change their mindset about work, and consider themselves instead as a ‘company of one’:
Mindset: Your Boss Is Really Your Client, Jeremiah Owyang
[…] the way that companies should re-think management is that all employees are self-empowered, and like their own business owner. I believe that everyone is their own CEO of one, they are responsible for their own strategy, knowledge, education, marketing, and building their own information strategies.
Why wouldn’t management have this mindset? If you’re willing to invest your time and money on hiring the best, you should treat them as the experts they are. Of course this doesn’t come without proper definition of defining the success criteria, putting ongoing training in place and setting up a performance tracking program.
And such a set-up doesn’t magically pop into existence when a single worker in some company attempts this mental transition. A lot of things have to happen for this to come together, and so the worker adopting this mindset doesn’t get fired.
Ultimately, discussions like this pivot on the degree to which individuals are autonomous. Some example scenarios:
If each of us becomes a company of one, doesn’t the company have to create a fundamental architecture based on supporting companies-of-one? How much autonomy, competition, and apparent chaos can the architecture allow?
I have written and spoken a great deal recently about the differences between cooperation and collaboration:
Stowe Boyd, The Architecture Of Cooperation
The now old architecture of work was based on process-centric, collaborative work: I mean that all the people involved in some business process — for example, new customer acquisition for a consumer products company — would work exclusively on that process, and everyone’s work was defined by the process. In principle, each member of the consumer acquisition team would spend 100% of their time on that process, and all the members would be co-located (in cubicles or offices) so that the process could be as efficient as possible. Considerations of what would be best for the individual would be deemed irrelevant. Collaboration was the byword, and web tools were designed around symmetrical projects, where members derive their rights by being ‘invited’ — assigned — to project-based work contexts.
The new architecture of work is now emerging, after decades of transition. White collar work became knowledge work which has now become creative work. The transition from process to networks is not just a recasting, not just a different style of communication. The work is styled as information sharing through social relationships, and where ‘following’ takes the place of ‘invitation’. People coordinate efforts, but work on a wide variety of activities, which are not necessarily co-aligned with others’ work, and which are not necessarily even known in a general way. A new degree of privacy and autonomy animates cooperative work, in comparison to collaborative work. Individuals cooperating hand off information or take on tasks in a fashion that is like businesses cooperating: they see the benefit in cooperating, and don’t have to share a common core set of strategic goals to do so: they don’t need the alignment of goals that defines old style business employment.
This transition from collaborative work to cooperative work will require a systemic relaxation of work norms, management preconceptions, and individual motivations, and especially the primacy of collaboration. Cooperation is about the freedom to not collaborate, as well, to avoid the overhead involved when people have to hammer out agreements about a shared collective vision intended to persist for some strategic length of time.
I will be writing a great deal more about this in the coming months, and — drum roll — I will be making an announcement later this week that is directly in line with these issues.
TEDxMidAtlantic 2011 - Stowe Boyd - An Architecture for Cooperation (by TEDxTalks)
The mic is too close too my mouth — I wish someone had done something about that — but the message of this presentation is still important.