The emergence of Talents Networks

by Didier Marlier on Saturday September 17th, 2011

In the true spirit of P.F.E. (Proudly Found Elsewhere), so typical of the Open Source Economy, I borrowed the title (and a lot of the content) of this post to Neil Perkin, one of my colleagues in Gerd Leonhard’s “Futures Agency”. I’d like to thank him for the source of inspiration his article was for me and hopefully will be for many of you.

Neil enthusiastically describes the emergence of Talent Networks and the way these start to organize and work. One of them is a new New-York based advertising agency named “Co”. “The name deliberately evokes their business model of co-creation, collaboration and co-venturing, of a small, agile organizational hub that works with and draws from a list of 40 agencies, businesses and consultancies that are specialists in particular services ranging from digital marketing, to PR, Social Media, Design, technology, gaming, events and media” writes Neil. This to him is symptomatic of a broader trend: the rise of Talent Networks.

The principal causes for that emergence is to be found in the digitization and the recession (which)  have combined to create en environment in which the value of much of what we know is depreciating, and which increasingly requires a culture and a pace of innovation that is consistent with start-ups (…) Corporate down-sizing and technology have combined to create an influx of highly talemted individuals into the market with the ready means to turnthat talent into real value (…) That talent is equipped with cheap, effective, readily available yet potentially transformational (we would call it “disruptive) tools and technologies, and connected to inspiration, to opportunity, and to teach each other like never before (…) It is a world powered by collaboration, supported by increasing numbers of co-working spaces and a whole raft of “unconference” style meet-ups, events and hack days that are both the originator for and catalyst of innovation (…) Networks, whether of individuals or small firms, are naturally extremely efficient. You can select and partner with some of the best talents in the industry. You make use of the talent you need, when you need it. And you don’t have to pay an overhead when you don’t You benefit from a broad talent pool that brings diversity of thinking and ideas, yet is unencumbered by corporate habit or channeled thinking… At this point of the article, I would hope that some of us actively dedicated to innovation would take-off and go reflect upon what this means and how to transform their practices on that base… A company like LEGO did not wait for Neil to write his article: they apply such ideas and principles to their fascinating innovation process!

But Neil goes even one step further and plays his true role of “Business Futurist” by predicting that Organisational value is shifting from protecting knowledge assets, to encouraging knowledge flow. In “We think”, Charles Leadbetter said: “In the past you were what you owned. Now you are what you share”… New models are springing up that follow a philosophy where access trumps ownership. Assets are increasingly about relationships.

There is, however, one critical component missing to that description: What is the “cement” which will ensure that this all is possible. When reading Neil’s paper, two stories, recently shared by friends of mine came to mind. In one, my friend has been a part of a consultancy group based on similar principles as those reported by Neil. To start, there was a lot of enthusiasm from the part of those joining this rebellious bunch, but little by little the joy faded away… The financial and legal owners, were viewed as “more equal than the others” and started to assume that “feeding work” was a sufficient “deal” to keep the members of their community happy and engaged. The limitation of such a system became more and more evident… There was no “emotional ownership” from the team and tehs atr performers, those who easily could find work elsewhere through their talent left, disillusioned. The other example was about a sort of Business School and seemed even closer to the agency described by Neil: their original business model made it that they had very few permanent faculty, for the good reasons mentioned above, ie. Having a permanent access to the best talents, forcing them to continuously re-invent themselves or otherwise become obsolete, and, last but not least, not having to carry the huge burden of expensive faculty salaries. One of the biggest challenge for that institution was to ensure that its faculty wouldn’t feel nor behave like “hired guns”, delivering their course and running away (sometimes with the institution’s clients)… The place was apparently magnificent but as our friend reported, the feeling of community was missing: “Professors” would happily bump into each other but by accident, lots of new creative ideas and promises of co-creation would see the day around a coffee break or a lunch but prematurely die by the end of it, by lack of commitment to a common dream…

So what do “communities” like LEGO, Wikipedia, Linux, or the Mozilla Foundation manage to attract, retain, engage and make vibrant and virtual communities live and support their vision around the world? It isn’t enough to enable it through technology, working from home and other gadgets… It takes something more subtle at the Pathos level:

  • They create a Purpose driven community: People supporting such organizations almost follow a cult (like the scouts, Salvation Army, cults and football teams, nothing new!). They know that their license to operate is intimately linked to a few rules and beliefs around their communities. They engage them on a powerful Purpose and ensure they do not betray them on it.
  • Relational not transactional: In the two failures examples that were reported to me, one thing struck me: in both cases the institutions and their leaders had let drift the dream and purpose into becoming a transaction: You come and deliver, we pay you… This is miles away from the way a company like LEGO treats its several thousands of aficionados. Arsenal Football Club, has decided to offer a free entrance to the game they would choose to the fans that came all the way to Manchester and see the historical humiliation of their team (8-2) by Manchester United this past month… To be relational is to value first of all the relationship and the person. To be transaction is to be focused on the transaction at the basis of our relation… full stop. Guess which one is best at the time of building a vibrant community?

Meg Wheatley summarized this in such an elegant way: “When we insist on obedience, we will never gain it for long, and we only gain it at the cost of what we wanted the most : loyalty, intelligence and responsiveness”

I hope you liked this glimpse of the future offered by Neil Perkin. I certainly did.

A blessed week home in order to prepare for five full weeks of work (with just one day off) straight after… Have a great week all!

Didier

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