Thursday, July 1, 2010

The myth of autonomy debunked, what about the myth of initiative?

photo by r8r
We've all been conditioned into believing that only a small percentage of all people are able to work autonomously. The machine/control paradigm of management is founded in this belief. In order to make people productive apparently you need to tell them what to do and how to do it.

Classical hierarchical organizations work that way. The executive sets up goals and directions, managers translate them into concrete directives and actions and pass them to their employees. Employees execute these orders. The employee is seen as a mechanical piece, part of a complex mechanical system. The machine metaphor is clearly apparent here. He/she needs to execute the given tasks within the imposed constraints. Yes, there is feedback going from the employee to the manager, and up to the executive, but there is very little autonomy.

It turns out that human organizations behave quite differently from mechanical automata, especially when creativity is the goal of the game. First, an organization needs to win the cooperation of it's members. A mechanical piece has no consciousness, no free will. You put it into its place within the system and it turns the way it is supposed to. A human being has the choice to do a great job, or a crappy job. In order to gain the full cooperation, organizations must satisfy for the individual some fundamental psychological and material needs. The individual needs to perceive that his/her contribution is important, that he/she is part of something bigger-a form of spirituality. The individual needs to perceive that he/she is respected, valued, appreciated. The individual must also believe that his/her contribution is justly rewarded, etc. etc. Second, it is now well understood that the working environment and all the psychological needs of the individual affect creativity in a major way. Even if you gain the full cooperation of your employees, you are still not sure that the creative juices are flowing to the optimal capacity.

Google understood all this! Among all the successful companies, their employees have the greatest autonomy. On Google's campus you find cafes, bars, swimming pools, game rooms, parks, you name it. You can take your laptop and work from the swimming pool, and your boss is not going to be there to pass you the sunscreen. Google understood that they can get more from their employees if they only emphasize on the job that has to get done, and let the employee decide how to do it. And it works! The myth of autonomy was debunked.

But there is another myth. We are told that the great majority of us have no initiative. If we are not given directions we don't know what to do. We might be autonomous, i.e. able to organize ourselves once we know what has to be done, but the majority of us are apparently incapable of setting goals and directions. What about Linux? Who tells developers which directions they should take? This myth is about to be debunked as well.

I am not advocating that all human beings are autonomous and show initiative. But what is the real percentage? The opposition to my argument brings up statistics, scientific studies made on our actual society, showing only a very small percentage of driven individuals with initiative. But wait a second! There is something scientifically wrong here, the method could be good, but the conclusions are false. The logic used is flawed. We are talking about what us humans are capable of, about our potential, we are NOT describing our actual society. We've seen that before. A scientific study on black slaves on a plantation in South Carolina USA, at the beginning of the century, would most probably reveal that the majority of these individuals were submissive and dependent. Can we conclude that it is in the nature of a black person to be submissive and dependent? Of course NOT! We know that humans are malleable. Put a child into slavery and he/she will adopt a slave mentality. It is a matter of adaptation! You don't comply you die! It is about adaptation, it is a force rather than a weakness. This shows the capacity of all humans to thrive in harsh situations. But once slavery was abolished these same people rapidly acquired the skills to live in society. They become teachers, business man, scientists, doctors, and even presidents.

Our actual system has made us dependent! Our masters only need us to produce, not to be autonomous, not to show too much initiative. We have bee conditioned into being docile and dependent. The scientific data describing individuals only describe the actual system, NOT the our potential.

What is the percentage of autonomous individuals with initiative, potentially speaking, within a culture of freedom and self-determination? If YOU are not a such person you may want be become one, YOU CAN. 

By AllOfUs

Social assets

The global economical and financial crisis is NOT generated by scarcity. It's not like the entire planet became unfertile, unable to sustain our civilization. There are enough resources to feed the entire world population, even by classical means. But our technology, if put to good use, can dramatically increase the capacity of our ecosystem, and make it even possible to start the colonization of the outer space. The current economical crisis is an anthropogenic "mechanical" problem. The needs are there, the resources are there, the knowledge is there, the means are there, but the classical mechanism of production and distribution is broken. We've lost our ability to work together constructively, for the benefit of all. Our institutions are corrupt, rotten.

Despite all the rhetoric coming out from the G8 and G20 meetings, we are not out of the woods yet. Some influential economists predict a double dip. What is the way out? Do we need to patch up our failed system, letting the same individuals who brought us on the verge of destruction in charge of it? Perhaps we need to think of creating new alternatives.

When you cannot bring your products to the people in need because the classical channels are broken what do you do? Do you stop production and close shop? What about the people on the other side, waiting for the necessities you can surely produce? You need to find alternative ways to feed the hungry market. I am not talking about abusive consumption here. We are in trouble, most of the people on this planet are struggling to stay alive. We need to create alternative institutions, new ones, more efficient ones that use effectively the new technology, adapted to the new reality.

Your social assets become the most important assets! Alone you cannot establish new ways of production and new channels of distribution. You need to team up with people who think like you, and who find themselves in the same situation, they have a product, a market, but no effective means to reach it. You capacity to organize large scale collaborations have became vital.

Communicate, collaborate, coordinate, you have the tools!

See more on the Discovery Network concept.

By AllOfUs

Monday, June 28, 2010

Outsourcing and innovation

Somebody on LinkedIn asked if innovation will be outsourced.

In some sense, outsourcing is decentralization of production, but not quite so... because in some cases, General Motors for example, you get one large entity, GM, surrounded by a constellation of suppliers, which are entirely dependent on GM, who in turn calls the shots. Outsourcing was made possible by the increased level of coordination, and by the sophisticated logistical tools we have at our disposal. Technology made it possible. Its success demonstrates that production is more efficient, more flexible, more reliable, if it is organized on a broad base of well-coordinated small and specialized entities. Does the production network need to be centralized? If there is good coordination among these entities centralization is not necessary. In other words, in today's world enhanced with the new technology it is not necessary to have a strong center of command and control, like GM for example, to have a stable network capable of innovation, production and large scale distribution. Both structures can coexist, and many variants in between, and they will compete to impose their hegemony during this transition from the old economy to the new. In the end, I believe that big verticals will fall by shedding weight, outsourcing, and finally by morphing and dissolving into decentralized super-networks.  

Outsourcing means externalizing highly formal processes. Processes that can be specified and controlled very well. People now are asking the question, can innovation also be externalized? I just think this is the WRONG question to ask, because I think the "box" paradigm is obsolete. Future organizations that will drive innovation will not look like a box, but rather like a gravitational system, therefore there is no sense in talking about internal and external.

If you want to know weather India will play a role in innovation in the future, my answer is YES. Is innovation coming to India the way outsourcing came? My answer is NO. In the near future innovation will happen within (semi-) open collaborative networks - see the Discovery Network concept. Open networks are far more creative than boxes, if there are effective processes in place. Because of that, and because of the very effective tools of communication, collaboration, and coordination we have at our disposal,  (semi-) open collaborative networks will drive innovation, and they will drag within them highly specialized units of production and distribution, prototyping units, manufacturing units, marketing units, etc. The old classical boxes, the companies, will be surpassed in creativity, and starved on resources. So don't wait for a big company to pay you in India to innovate, rather take initiative and join these collaborative networks just emerging, capable of putting an idea on the market, being limited only by coordination, using the redundancy and under-capacity already existing in our economy.

By AllOfUs