Simon Caulkin wrote in the UK Observer recently that ‘inside every chief exec, there’s a Soviet planner.’
Talking about the credit crunch, Simon writes ‘…with exquisite irony, while central planning had been largely discredited at macroeconomic level, at microeconomic level it remains alive and kicking in organisations…veteran systems thinker Russ Ackoff is not alone in noting that while at the macro level the west is vehemently committed to a market economy, at the micro level almost everyone works in “non-market, centrally planned, hierarchically managed” ones.
Another way of looking at this is to ask, why have a boss if they aren’t going to, well, boss?
Douglas McGregor at MIT Sloan School of Management in the 1960s had something to say on bosses, describing what he termed as Theory X and Theory Y managers – with a foundational difference being about control – with the X managers employing systems of control, and the Y managers employing systems of enablement.
Younger organisations in particular seem to, at least for a while, have that Theory Y vibe. Perhaps this is both understandable and necessary. The point being that, when the undiscovered country of opportunity has first been discovered, there’s plenty of space to roam about free from fear of the competition. But as the paradigm shift evolves, and competition increases, that need for control seems to come back on strong.
These cycles have been going on for as long as there have been economies for them to cycle within, but the Web represents a shift surrounding these cycles which has changed the game, and which is shining a light on management’s approach to control.
Here, the shift is moving away from the large-scale organisation as the main focus of power, toward the individual and networks of individuals sharing, trading, collaborating, and competing for business goals and political beliefs.
Major organisations have a major part to play, but with the Web, we’re all information prosumers now.
If Michel Foucault is right that knowledge equals power, the business and government collectors, processors, producers and distributors of knowledge – organisations as we know them – had better get to grips fast with new balancing of power with the individual.
Is central planning bad? Not necessarily, but a lighter touch is perhaps what’s called for. And while no-one has all the answers, exploring a new set of questions can definitely help.
There are many new questions to be explored – and here are three which might prove useful in the new, people-centric, macroeconomic environment:
What to do in a situation which our experiences haven’t prepared us for?
Chris Yapp on ‘Conceptual Emergencies’
What’s the Web all about?
From WSRI, the Web Science Research Initiative
How does the Web work?
Ryan Tomayko’s on ‘How I explained REST to my wife’