In their book, Brafman and Beckstrom compare the obedient, centrally organized and hierarchical Aztecs and Mayas to the rebellious, purpose led and decentralized Apache tribes, in their capacity to deal with totally new and unexpected “competition” coming out of nowhere (to the Spanish readers, I don’t mean that Spain is “nowhere”;). Whereas the first were rapidly defeated by the conquistadores, the later never were and resisted to “white men” for more than three hundred years. The first believed into leader dependent organizations, the others in intelligence led tribes.
Today, conquistadores also come out of unexpected places, they were nowhere on our competitive radar or belonged to sectors that were traditionally not competing with ours (therefore the word attributed to Nokia’s CEO, Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo of “Convergent Economy”). Our businesses are now requested to choose between continuing to go “the Maya/Aztec path” or to have the courage to explore the “Apache Strategy”. One of our biggest challenges is the “Corporate technology in the hands of citizens” as Jonathan MacDonald calls it, meaning that simple inventors have at their disposal technological means once only available to “Deep Pockets organizations”.
On top of this, Internet and the Open Source movement provide us with the unique challenge to design “Intelligent Organizations”. They have radically shifted one of the oldest underlying assumptions of business: the scarcity of information. When information was rare and issued through very few “controlled” channels, guessing faster and better than your competitors was vital. However, some points raised in the provocative clip “Did you know?” caught my interest (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5puwLp6myXw):
- The top 10 in-demand jobs in 2010 did not exist in 2004. Consequence: we currently should be preparing students for jobs and technologies which… don’t exist yet
- There were 31 billion searches (!!!) on Google every month in 2008, up from 2.7 billion in 2006. How and where could we find the answers before?
- It is estimated that one week’s worth of the New-York Times contains more information than a person was likely to come across in a lifetime in the XIIXth century
- The amount of new technical information is doubling every year, meaning that for students engaged in a four years technical curriculum, half of what they learned in their first year of studies will be outdated by their third year of study
Skeptics will say this is mere exaggeration, but this is challenging conventional wisdom about the near future. Even if just some of this turned out to be correct, guessing the future wouldn’t be the name of the game anymore but preparing our organizations and people for whatever kind of future would! Preparing ourselves for the future will mean a profound change in the way we “strategize” and enable our organizations to do so.
So why not start creating truly “intelligent organizations” where all employees would be aware of the company’s strategic intent and would be given the time to understand it at their level and internalize what it means? Such employees would stop leaving their brains at home on Monday to claim it back on Friday night. They would feel truly part of the body that impacts the course of their organization.
This is the type of discussions I recently had, not with a bunch of weird folks working for a wild software firm but with very responsible, not to say otherwise conservative leaders in three large multinationals from the chemical sector!
So what does “Creating an intelligent organization” mean?
- Co-creating clarity, meaning and ownership of the strategic intent at all levels of the company will ensure that people think, explore, listen and are interested by the company’s future. At barbecues, during hockey or football games, in informal conversations with colleagues, friends, family or foreigners, they will constantly weigh the impact of what they hear and learn on the company’s strategy.
- It will not be sufficient to develop our people in understanding the business they are in (some years ago we started to do that by working with several “business artists” able to draw allegories of companies business models which were then explained through engagement workshops by the executives), it will also be fundamental to ensure that the pyramidal, hierarchical (“seniority=superiority”) and procedure driven organizations be transformed into far more organic ensembles (we will touch this in the next post).
- Leadership will have to evolve drastically as well. Looking back, I feel bad and guilty for sometimes having run wonderful, forward thinking, state of the art engagement processes but failed to recognize that, should the leadership style of leaders not evolve from directive micro-management, distant and protective and punishing of mistakes, the whole effort would amount to short term morale raising edutainment but not much more. We, leaders must adapt our style to the new intelligent organizations they wish to design and that, as we know is probably our biggest personal challenge…
Luckily at home in Villars next week where a series of conference calls should not prevent me from a bit of powder snow skiing… Have a great week all Didier
 O. Brafman & R. Beckstrom (2006) The Starfish and the Spider (Penguin Books)