Reinventing management for a new age
The Xpragmatic View #152
September 10, 2010
by Marc Buyens, Xpragma
Today's enterprises are increasingly facing challenges of rapid change, hyper-competition and complexity. Old methods and structures can no longer support the agility that is needed. Time for a radical management makeover?
Earlier this week, we joined the Management Innovation eXchange (MIX).
As is mentioned on the MIX website,
The Management Innovation eXchange (MIX) is an open innovation project aimed at reinventing management for the 21st century. The premise: while "modern" management is one of humankind's most important inventions, it is now a mature technology that must be reinvented for a new age.
So in May 2008, a group of 35 management thinkers and executives got together at a 2-day conference and was asked to address the following two questions:
First, what is it about the way large organizations are structured, managed and led that most impairs their capacity to adapt, innovate, and engage, and limits the value they add to society?
And second, given that, what bold goals would you set for 21st century management innovators?
The outcome of their thinking resulted in the MIX manifesto that now is the basis for further discussion, experimentation and thinking.
Since all of this is closely aligned with our own thinking about organisational change, joining was a logical step. We still have to explore the contents of the site, so our first impression is essentially the result of reading the MIX manifesto and some related texts.
In general, we can only agree with what is written in the manifesto. These are challenging concepts if we really want to make them a reality, but they are indeed the things that we need to achieve if we want to "reinvent management for the 21st century".
Still, we fear that there are a couple of things that the MIX manifesto is not (or not enough) taking into account.
Need and ability
A first concern that we have is that the MIX manifesto seems to assume that our future "context" will be largely an extension of what we experience today. We mean by that: facing similar business challenges such as rapid change, hyper-competition, complexity, global organisations, etc., which suggests that we still see rapid growth, strong technological progress, increased consumption, etc. In essence: the same as today, done in a better way, more human, more social.
Now, one of these weird ideas of us is that this might not be possible.
Let us explain.
We are old enough to have lived a time when we had no car, no television, no Internet, no mobile phone. Cars did exist but were still a privilege of the richer few. Television started briefly after we were born.
As we grew up, overall economic conditions improved and gradually, we became owner of all that stuff. We didn't get rich, but there was a reasonable balance between what we wanted to have and what we could afford buying.
When we started our career, 30+ years ago, it still was possible to buy a house and pay the mortgage, having only a single income. With emancipation, more and more families became two-income families, which has become more or less the default situation today.
However, for the Millennials starting their career today and even assuming a dual income, finding the balance between their "needs" and their ability to pay for these needs is quite a bit more challenging than it was for us. Apparently, along the years, the creation of new needs in our society has outpaced the growth of the incomes. At least, for the average citizen.
Now, such unbalance is becoming a growing problem, causing increased emotional conflict and financial risk, as many had to experience recently. So, what does this mean for the future? Can we simply assume that we will find ways to continue financing our growing consumption needs or do we have to settle for a more "humble" future, which of course will translate into a completely different business environment?
A second concern that we have is that the MIX manifesto seems to assume that the Internet and the associated approaches such as Web 2.0 can provide a basis underlying the management of these increasingly complex business environments:
On the Web, we observe amazing feats of management that require little or no management oversight. We find complex organizations that thrive with little or no organizational structure. This raises the hope that, with a little imagination, it may finally be possible to overcome the troublesome trade-offs that have bedevilled management theorists and practitioners since the pyramids were built.
Yes, there is hope. It is the same kind of hope and expectation that we see in the Enterprise 2.0 space. It is hope that builds on our dream of the "wisdom of crowds".
And of course, there is also proof. We all know the success of Wikipedia, the open source development of Linux and the viral growth of networks such as Facebook, Twitter and other LinkedIns.
However, we must not forget that most of these fantastic examples of collaboration occur in a not-for-profit context. Only a few of them, such as Innocentive, are for-profit initiatives. However, their dependency on social dynamics is completely different than in the "normal" social networks.
We often hear: "Look at all that effort that these individuals are putting into Wikipedia, without even being paid for it!"
That's the wrong statement. These individual are putting all that effort into Wikipedia BECAUSE they are not paid for it, because their engagement builds on other values and beliefs; values and beliefs that would be ruined if they were paid for it.
For quite some time, we are both participant in and observer of social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. This is of course a limited and biased view on social networking reality. Still, what we see is clear enough. As long as participation is not-for-profit, exchanging stories, photos, video, etc. with friends and family, communities thrive. However, as soon as these networks are used in a business oriented context, different behaviour emerges. Sharing becomes selling, building brand, building reputation, gaming the system.
We still might want to think that the social networking dynamics will eventually settle for the right balance, identifying the "best" individuals, our so-called meritocracy. However, we seriously doubt it. There are just too many things that make that we will not settle for the "right" balance. Too many of the requirements for our "wisdom of crowds" are not fulfilled in social networks.
First, there is no participation equality. For various reasons, people will have very different abilities for access to and participation in such networks. In addition, their specific personality will determine their way of participating. Both will impact the influence they can have in the network.
Second, while these networks give us nearly unlimited potential for contacts, Dunbar's number will also play here. People will have tendency clustering around a smaller group of, mostly like-minded contacts, largely reconfirming their own beliefs and avoiding the voices of the dissenters.
Some of these issues will be less important in an enterprise context. Still, it remains an open question whether, in our vision of the future enterprise as some kind of federation of empowered individuals, we will be able to avoid all of them.
What do you think?
About Marc Buyens
Marc Buyens is analyst, management consultant and owner of Xpragma. He started Xpragma in 1999 after a 20+ years career in the IT sector. Today, he provides advice, training and mentoring services focusing on the intersection of technological evolution, organisational change and business strategy: a messy world of unfulfilled promises.
comments powered by Disqus