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11.09.2007

Sorry this is a business

In When change changes your change, Steve Roesler laments being told "this is a business". The comment implies "we're not here to serve you". It frames what happens in people's lives as "unmanageable problems", "excessive cost overruns", "budget problems" or "reduced profits". When people say "this is a business" I hear "this is not a viable network". They're saying "We're still in the 20th century making money, we're not in the 21st century making and feeding connections".

Making a schedule change into a problem is a function of being disconnected from robust interdependencies. Any vast network of resources routinely adapts and assimilates every disturbance to it's equilibrium. When our calendars are online, its network of subscribers knows of changes in our schedules 24/7. When we deliver value both onsite and online, we offer value when we're not around. When we get things done both in meetings and in our minds, we're at work when we're not there. Who can say whether a schedule change is a problem in the context of a functioning network?

Businesses offer lots of excuses to wall themselves off from networks. Corporate propaganda says joining a network:
  • loses control of operations, costs and brand name/story
  • sends a message that we can be overrun or intimidated by external demands
  • leaves a door open to competitive espionage and theft of intellectual property
  • makes us more beholden to networked customers and journalists who can change our reputation at a whim
  • provides a loudspeaker for internal whistle blowers to broadcast every complaint they've got against us
  • hurts the chances of recruiting executive and professional talent with our internal dissensions on display
  • erodes our value proposition, unique attributes and market positioning into commoditized similarities

For these reasons and many more, "this is a business" means keeping things linear and confined. There are firewalls and silos to stay inside of. There are lines of authority to conform to and procedures to execute. There are consequences for stepping out of line, going around someone or finding loopholes in the policies. There are scripts for handling phone calls, policies for handling exceptions and rules for procedural compliance.

Networks are the opposite: non-linear and not confined. Networks may function with routers to redirect linear transmissions through a past of least resistance. Networks support search and find processes that come up with unforeseen options. Networks reconfigure themselves to accommodate changes. They do not go on hold because local resources are tied up. They do not overtax a reliable node and fail to spread the challenge system wide. They get things done by letting the network do its thing.

That's very different from the previous century of asking one person (supervisor, client, HR contact) for accommodation which sets up a sequence of problematic consequences. Corporations are limited in their response capability because they seek to curtail chain reactions, domino effects and the viral spread of memes. If businesses functioned like networks of free lance professionals, redundant capabilities or vastly interdependent resources, a change of schedule would be "no problem". So the problem is not with the an individual's personal schedule changes, but with the way we did business before now.

2 comments:

  1. Steve Roesler11/09/2007 4:53 PM

    Tom,

    Glad you got some added inspiration for such an in-depth post.

    I smiled as I read through it because I was thinking today that the future probably belongs to freelancers and their networks. Can't foresee the elimination of all large entities yet; some simply have to exist for some period of time because of economies of scale.

    Your conclusion shows a lot of insight in its truthful simplicity.

    Keep writing...

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  2. Steve:
    You nailed it last week by characterizing me as a "change aficionado". Your series on change has been giving me a stream of inspirations. I'm glad you appreciated the latest one and the others.

    I agree the large entities will fade away slowly. Besides economies of scale justifying their size, the stock market prefers the tangible metrics that established companies provide to the intangible, emergent, and intrinsic value in networks.

    Thanks for the appreciation. Keep on writing yourself....

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