The Internet is changing the way we organize work. It is shifting the requirement for what we call the ‘schedule push’ and the hierarchical organisation that it implies, and therefore it is removing the type of control that is conventionally used to match resources to tasks, and customer demand to supplies and services. Organisational hierarchies have become too expensive to sustain, and in many cases their style of coordination is simply no longer necessary. The cost complexity of the industrial complex starts to outweigh the benefits and the Internet is making it redundant.
My expectation is that within five years this will have a major impact on the corporate organisation. Jobs will be lost from the hierarchy and the jobs that remain will be very different. Instead of more ERP-supported supply chain management, employees, and eventually customers, will be the project managers of their own work – a concept that I call ‘reality pull’. Big organisations only survive in a dynamic market by redesigning at least the organizational front-office into small autonomous units that can quickly react to volatile customer demand. Small cells can quickly respond to the market, but use the big corporate database and expertise. They can combine the advantages of a big company with the advantages of a small company .
This is where corporate social networking enters the picture. Of course, Twitter and Twitter lookalikes such as Yammer are not only tools. They are concepts. They are open source means to make the world much more transparent in terms of knowledge transfer and finding your pals -who’s your pal? What’s your ability to pool, ally and link? These toolsallow you and me at an even lower price to find our peers and pals, enlarging our ability to pool, ally and link, thereby enhancing our capability to create goal–oriented communities, networked organisations and focused action. Moreover, twitter allows for ‘the real time Internet’, beating search engines by days in terms of quick, real time response capabilities.
P2P banking, like Zopa or smava, may serve as an example for this development towards social companies. An example for the real time internet: for traditional newspapers twitter may serve as a new and cheap alert system for breaking news for their subscribers: just post a tweet. In the Netherlands, noppes.nl may serve as an example of the return of barter, using the LETS as a social currency. It’s all there, mirroring the future as I see it.
What is then the basic shift companies have to make to become a viable 21st century company? My guess is that where cooperation in the 20th century basically is a non-personal top-down, management driven calculation (stemming from‘scientific management’), it will evolve into a bottom-up personal decision. Lean and mean will become lean and meaningful.
The game will be more and more about personal presence and personal branding. Not about the ego driven: ‘I’m special’, but about fostering the ‘I’m unique’ attitude. Not about schedule push mass solutions but about reality pull, personalized solutions appreciating diversity. The non-personal top-down planning and strategy approach will be at least partially replaced by personal and continuous prototyping and ‘perpetual beta’, thereby each of us turning into an action driven entrepreneur of our own talents and forcing us to leave our safe job titles: be willing to experience.
For the ICT domain I expect a shift towards human centered ICT, a class of ICT tools which do not reduce me as an element in an complex system but that allow me to perceive my contribution in a broader context. I expect that ICT tools will come up that allow for presencing as Peter Senge et al. defines it: understanding your action in a broader context.
My guess is that these class future tools will be recursive in architecture. Recursivity means that a subset of the system still contains all functions of the system. Anthropologists define recursivity as one of the main properties of all viable social systems: non-recursive social systems are not viable.
Networked organizations are recursive. Each node has all properties of the whole thing. Network supporting applications like Linkedin are, in principle, recursive as well. ERP systems are not. An ERP user doesn’t get information of the context of his task on the screen: one user doesn’t get and isn’t ment to get the full picture. This fragmentation harms meaning ans will not last very much longer I suppose as it deprives many of us working in such an environment from the feeling to make a difference and to have real significance.
My feeling is that recursivity may also be an architectural principle for the ICT domain in order to provide not only for an mean but. More important, for a meaningful task for those involved.
More and more companies will not be focused on continuity but on flexibility. Many companies will therefore have the character of temporary projects, creatively destructing itself.
I feel corporate social networking facilitates and accelerates this development towards reciprocity and a value-based network-centric attitude. It will force companies to become even more networked and therefore more human centered as this cooperational attitude fiercely reduces business operating cost. Current big companies, the corporates, will probably in the short run evolve into financial holdings, enabling 21st century human centered social companies creating a personal age for its members.
Of course, one of the challenges is to relate this 21st company to the existing arena and not to start a new ‘unrelated’ clan or tribe. The game is about rebalancing various experiences and appreciating and building sustainable diversity.
There is much to learn from the 20th century company as well. There are lots of adventures out there. Find them. Enjoy them. And have fun!
Frans van der Reep is a reflective practitioner – known as researcher, trend watcher, writer, regular speaker, and entrepreneur. He is a Professor at the DutchInhollandUniversity, Senior Strategist at Royal KPN and holds a number of non-executive board memberships both in the non-profit and profit sector. He has written many papers and a number of books on how the Internet impacts our lives and work thereby connecting the various business realms of Strategy, Marketing & Sales, HRM, Finance, Business Process Management and ICT.