Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Are corporations dead?

I recently watched again Clay Shirky's excellent presentation on cognitive surplus (which I strongly recommend you to watch).

After some days of absorbing the information in this presentation an idea, or question, has formed in my mind; are corporations dead? Is the age of corporations over? Perhaps groups of engaged individuals will, in the future, achieve more than large organizations ever can. Perhaps we are heading for a future of small companies and voluntary groups. Is large scale capitalism on the decline? Is the growth of Open Source the first indication of this shift?

What will the world look like without large corporations?

Why senior management will never "get" agile...

When I'm discussing "agile" or "management 3.0" etc with colleagues someone inevitably voices their frustration that, despite these ideas having been around for decades, senior managers still don't "get" agile values. And this apparent lack of understanding can indeed be extremely frustrating. However, I am of the opinion that it is somehow inevitable, and here's why...

Senior managers live in a hierarchy and as such they have "risen through the ranks" to get to their current position. Their world view is that they have achieved this higher status and larger salary due to their abilities and experience; that they are somehow in possession of some higher level or better quality of "talent". 

However, research tells us that this is not so. Agile and non-tayloristic management values are built on decades of evidence that it is team performance that is crucial, not individual performance. Team maturity models show us that the performance of teams increases with time (up to some limits). We have many maturity models but all have in common that mature teams out perform new ones. New research in collective or group intelligence gives us a hint as to why this is so. Group IQ seems dependent upon the average EQ of a group and the equality of the groups communication patterns. While I know of no research testing the relationship between these two I think it is reasonable to assume that mature teams are more open and vulnerable which will raise their internal EQ scores, and that they communicate more openly and equally. If I am correct these two effects will lead to an increase in Group IQ over time as the team matures, thus explaining the observed performance increase. It will also explain why problem teams (which in my experience almost inevitably suffer from communication problems) will inevitably perform poorly, regardless of the talented individuals in the teams.

So, how does this relate to senior managers? In order for them to understand and accept this view they must also come to understand that their own success is a product of the environments they were in as much as it is their own abilities. They must also accept that they are not necessarily especially talented. There are few individuals that can easily make this leap given that it involves them giving up their positive self image for a more complex explanation. Who wants to admit that they may not be as talented as they thought they were?

For this reason I believe that most of todays senior managers will not "convert" and will in fact struggle against the adoption of agile values within their workplace.