The Slow Birth of Entreprenocracy: Part III

Digital image of the 1326 Oriel College Charter

Image via Wikipedia

Taking forward the debate on Murray’s End of Management foray in WSJ recently, the new model is, in my view, not exactly Murray’s model.  Instead, it is simply a hybrid of bureaucracy and entrepreneurship. Let’s call it entreprenocracy.

A few weeks ago, I went to a wedding at Oriel College in Oxford, UK. We had a wonderful time and as in all weddings, I eventually had to explain what I do for a living. It was late, so I resorted to the explanation that I was a “persuader”. Needless to say, this prompted more questions. I ended up having to take them through the reality of strategy and public policy as it intersects with many fields but always has as its end game to enact some sort of conceptual change in your constituency and doing so as silently as possible.

In earlier days, when writing my Ph.D on What the Net Can’t do, I described the the process that underlies my own model of society’s work relevant knowledge flow as some type of “convincing” work. The fact that you constantly have to convince someone, your co-workers, your boss, your wife, your kids, your investors, your tax man, your police officer, in order to move on to the next thing in life, improve your lot, and avoid negative consequences of your actions, is actually the most salient characteristic of modern work. In enterprise terms, the new model that is emerging in the 21st century is precisely that, but occurring at all levels of action simultaneously. Even computer systems have to convince each other these days and the best one, the most flexible, wins.

Entrepreneurship is indeed fully dependent on having a persuasive founder, team, board, investor, and first customer. Bureaucracy is dependent on having a rational structure that makes sense to most of its participants, and one capable of organizing actions beyond the whims of individuals. Without sounding too much like the sociologist I once was, I simply put the two terms together and describe it as a new form of organizational governance.

What does entreprenocracy look and feel like? First of all, it is not currently the true and complete description of any organization I know of. All enterprises that survive the 21st century, however, will have entrepenocracy as its dominant logic.

In 1996, my old mentor, Manuel Castells, wrote a trilogy about the Network society. I was at first very fascinated with the concept. In fact, I still am. However, I quickly grew a scepticism towards the Castellsian notions that the network logic had somehow overtaken the former hierarchical and place based logic over a period of a small generation, because of the advances in microelectronics and software in Silicon Valley since the 1970s. The network, while powerful and capable of underpinning numerous innovations in the next decades as well, alone it is not. Rather, it complements and in some cases extends the reach of traditional bases of power, authority. Revenge of the Titans, so to speak. The giants on whose shoulders we stand, refuse to put us down. They start interfering in our affairs.

Leadership from below, the notion that attitude is more important than position in a hierarchy when you try to enact change, is my conceptual contribution to this debate. In my eponymous 2008 book on the subject, I explain how attitude, not position in a hierarchy, will determine whether you get something done or not. What I saw was similar to what Murray sees now. Change. Networks. Failure of top leadership across society. Inefficiencies in large organizations. Now, two years later, I am ready to admit the following: leadership from below is not enough. Leadership from the top is also needed. How? Why? What does that mean? And how is it related to WSJ’s Murray?

First, some formative experiences in my life include working for one of the largest and most complex public bureaucracies on the planet, the European Commission. As part of a 30K workforce from 27 member states, I was able to part take in the grand experiment of power sharing, project based identity and diplomacy that is the EU. Second, I now work for Oracle Corporation, with 105K, among the largest corporations on the planet, and also in its own way a complex bureaucracy. I have also started numerous non-profits, organized myself in action networks and earning absolutely nothing on the pursuit. Finally, early in my career, I ran my own start-up and gave advice to other start-up. In other words, I have experienced the entire value chain of organizational enterprises. What I have learned from this thoroughly multi sector life is the following: while no one size fits all, there are common approaches that work across context. A while back I published best practice advice on e-government in an article called Best practices in eGovernment: – on a knife-edge between success and failure. As I wrote back then, generic success factors exist, and lessons learned for practitioners include:

  • Achieve leadership buy-in
  • Keep technology as simple as possible
  • Get early stakeholder and user involvement
  • Gain momentum
  • Plan for sustainability

The lessons for today’s discussion on the supposed “End of Management” are similar, but there is the need to sharpen the organizational context of innovation:

  • Getting something done is always difficult
  • You cannot do it alone
  • Recruiting believers in what you are trying to do is essential. You cannot skip it regardless how good your idea is, what existing power base you may believe you possess
  • Initially, all initiatives appear to be without structure, but inevitably a structure forms

The theory of organizational ecosystems has tried to explain things like “emergence” in organic terms (see the work of the Society for Organizational Learning, SOL). However, in reality, change in social systems has nothing to do with ecosystems, because humans are infinitely more complex in their motivations than nature as such, although ecosystem could be as useful metaphor a metaphor as anything else, for lack of better ones.

Once entreprenocracy, the fusion of entrepreneurship and bureaucracy has been properly understood….these things will start to happen;

  • folks will be more realistic about organizational change
  • change makers will redouble their efforts to innovate within existing frameworks
  • the value and esteem of incremental innovation will increase
  • energy will be freed up to concentrate on innovation, wherever needed.

How can I say this with certainty? Hasn’t history proven that change is unpredictable? True, but some processes remain the same. The birth of entreprenocracy might be slow, but it is coming.


Beyond MacroWikinomics

World map of the Queen's Dominions at the end ...

Image via Wikipedia

MacroWikinomics, the sequel to the bestselling book Wikinomics is out this week. Should we rejoice? Sadly, no. Sure, the book has raving pre-publication commentary. The topic is cool: the prospect that each and every one of us is changing the world. But unlike the more methodical vision of Bill Drayton’s Ashoka, where “everyone a changemaker” actually refers to taking real actions towards becoming social entrepreneurs in your everyday interactions with your local community, the Tapscott/Williams vision is mostly hyperbole, echoing the cliché that “we need to come together as global citizens”. Just listen to the sound of this phrase at the beginning of the book, taken from the BusinessWeek excerpt of MacroWikinomics:

there is now a historic opportunity to marshal human skill, ingenuity, and intelligence on a mass scale to reevaluate and reposition many of our institutions for the coming decades and for future generations. After all, the potential for new models of collaboration does not end with the production of software, media, entertainment, and culture. Why not open-source government, education, science, the production of energy, and even health care.

what follows is a populist criticism of virtually every institutional framework in existence:

…[M]any of our institutions are stalled, lacking vitality, leadership, and dynamism. It’s like every last ounce of oxygen has been squeezed out, leaving a mess of deflated expectations and chronically underutilized resources.

As FT reviewer Richard Waters writes in his book review of MacroWikinomics, entitled “How the web will save the world”:

The difficulty with books such as MacroWikinomics is that they take interesting phenomena like these, then apply a heavy dose of messianic fervour to produce an absolutist view of the future.

The problem, however, does not lie in messianic fervour. Fervour is exciting, and sometimes warranted, depending on the cause. The issue is the lack of a deeper analysis. You cannot just dismiss all current governments, companies, industries and individuals and say open source collective collaboration through the web will change the world for the better. Where is the evidence? How do you know? What is the better world you are looking for? The problem with most “collective” problems is that each and every one of us has a different view of what the problem is not to mention what the solution would be. This is only one reason why collective innovation runs into problems.

Every decade or so, the visionary discourse of how globalization and technology will change the world seems to gain intensity. Unfortunately, in this case, the visionary talk is cyclical and repetitive. In 1999-2000, the vision every trend watcher was talking about was the “nomadic worker” who would be able to work anywhere, anytime. In my Ph.D, What the Net Can’t Do (2002), I showed through fieldwork that even in such a conspicuous place such as Silicon Valley, nobody really, really believed their own hype or had any plans of acting on it. Venture capitalists told me they would never invest in a company that was further away than a short car ride before lunch. Marketeers and engineers alike admitted they did not themselves use the Internet and its applications the way their advertisements said people would.

In reality, only workers who are willing to accept a rapidly descending status and relevance in the workplace, and who previously have worked up quite a reputation in some relevant sphere, can afford to go off the grid. Even for them, every minute counts. Every minute away from bosses, customers, markets, cities and inspiration, or from friends and family for that matter, takes away from your presence, relevance, and engagement with those who do tend to stay in one place or at least meet up face-to-face on a regular basis. In short, quantity time is still more valuable than quality time. Presence is still more valuable than virtualized co-presence.

In 2010, the visions are even grander. Now, the web will save the world, apparently. Fine, maybe it will, after a while and together with a bunch of interrelated and non related phenomena. However, and regardless, one cannot just assume that most institutional frameworks, indeed anything that is not related to individual expression, lacks legitimacy. The age-old visions of direct democracy share the deficiency that hampers any such vision of change: the lack of awareness of how human motivation works. I do not discount that the web has facilitated and indeed spurred many ongoing experiments in mass collaboration. It is not unlikely that a few of them will change the world as we know it, or at least alter important aspects of our world. However, social change is complex.

First of all, in all honesty, many institutions, governments, and collective actors are alive and well. Sure, there are many things wrong with any given healthcare plan, school or public agency, but the alternative is not so clear. Individualism is great, for sure, but will, arguably, never completely outgrow community. The two seem to build on each other, even complement each other. Society will always fight back.

Or, maybe we should start with something a bit more basic: society exists. When will the visionary, absolutist, determinist, technocrats realize this? Their arguments are quite stunning, really. All in the name of progress. Progress from what? To what? This reminds me about a long standing discussion I have with a dear friend about whether progress actually exists. He claims all of civilization, all advances in societies and markets and capital show progress. On what grounds do people tend to claim progress? What is the measure? For him, of course, with the frame of reference being the “great civilizations” of Greece, Rome, and the British Empire, it is simple. Wealth, art, industry was created and some of it is timeless and important. Well. Yes. However, every time we claim to progress, the counterargument can be made, some (other) people are worse off. So, for instance, the surplus of the colonies created palaces and industry in Europe. Conversely, it set Africa on a path of perennial decline for centuries. Or, as Richard Waters writes:

It would be nice to believe that Tapscott and Williams have history on their side, and that projects such as Linux foretell a world where anyone with an internet connection and an hour to kill will give generously of their cognitive surplus.

The problem is, most people’s cognitive surplus is quite limited, measured and must be applied sparingly to only the most important projects at hand. So, I might get involved in my kids’ school, a charity or two, a local political debate, or in global debates in my field of expertise. But, I will not get involved in everyone’s schools, all charities, all political debates and in global debates across the globe. We are all situated actors with our own bounded, focused frame of mind. We cannot focus everywhere. We cannot spend all of our energies on all good things. We must choose and we do. Daily. Ruthlessly. Most of us do it based on an analysis of what means the most to us. What we care the most about. Most of all, we make the decision based on where we are. Place making is difficult. Only with labour do we make the world our own. And when we do, we celebrate that, try to enjoy it, rather than look elsewhere. Psychologically, that is also the sane attitude. If you walk around trying to engage in anything, anywhere, you are delusional, and most likely, ineffective.

Empowering citizens is a great aim. I believe it can happen. I believe it does happen. It just does not happen all the time, and the web is not the cause of it. And, we need institutions to organize ourselves. Every time a problem is complex, recurring, or demands fair solutions, an institutional arrangement seems a quite fruitful way to go. Also, there is nothing morally wrong with organizing human societies in representative arrangements, governments, bureaucracies, and corporations. This is not to say that checks and balances are not needed and that the web is not useful in this regard.

In 2008, I wrote the book Leadership From Below. I argued that leadership is more about attitude than position. My intention was not to say that formal leadership will disappear or has disappeared. Rather, what I was pointing out is that influencing others demands that you acquire followers, or even better, that you simply channel the energies that are latent in the group you are working with. For instance, you will be more successful at innovation if you work with other people’s ideas, shaping them together rather than always asking people to work on your ideas. This applies almost always, and even if your idea is better. Psychoanalysis has brought forward this insight, although it must have been known to man (and especially women) for centuries. My grandmother knew. My mom, my wife, and my daughter all know this. I merely write about their insight and sometimes discover their plot as an afterthought.

MacroWikinomics is a nice phrase and will likely sell quite well. Its ideas, however, are shallow. There is nothing wrong with collaborative innovation but it is not at all new or completely web related. It would be nice to believe that every problem requires a given amount of resources, say 1, 10, 100 or 1000 man months. But this is not true in practice. A problem can get solved just like that, if an innovative idea comes forward. A team might be astonishingly inefficient or very efficient, depending on what happens in their group process. A huge problem might actually require an enormous amount of energy to resolve, but the exact quantity needed can seldom be determined beforehand.

Arguing against the limitless opportunities of the web sometimes feels like being against fighting climate change, aids, or corruption. In short, it is perceived as being against progress, against the politically correct, against reason itself. However, my cause is not to try to stop positive change. But naïve faith in the impossible: namely the belief that everyone we will change the world for the better simply by taking part in online collaboration surely is also damaging to the intellect, and possibly to society.

Information technology is good for many things. However, whereas IT excels at underpinning efficiency and effectiveness of relatively well framed challenges, its track record in underpinning boundless innovation in any given area is shorter, and less distinguished. We simply do not know enough. Could the web be essential to solving the world’s most pressing problems? Possibly. Could it at least help. Sure, but saying that is so trivial that one does not need to write a book about it.

Instead, what we need is a cognitive framework for what each of us can do where we are, and an awareness about what has been done by those we are surrounded by. The old phrase “on the shoulders of giants” used to mean that we all build on our ancestors. The new phrase might become “on each other’s shoulders”, but I just would not bet on it yet. It is absurd to purport an absolute faith in the wisdom of contemporaries. History shows that societies that do so, only do so at their own peril. Look at the latter parts of the Greek, Roman, British Soviet or US empires. They all became completely paralysed by the obsession with running themselves. They stopped caring about anything outside themselves. Obsessing over their own inventions, they thought themselves invincible. From this perspective, the web might be the last innovation of the West? Who knows?

Mass collaboration by individuals, whether or not they are connected, co-located, know each other or not, has obvious limits related to the inefficiency and psychological complexity of masses. The old crowd psychologists, from Gustave LeBon onwards, were sceptical of the masses. Tapscott and Williams seem overly optimistic. The truth is somewhere in between. The web is a platform, a very efficient platform for innovation. However, it is not a panacea. In itself, it does not solve anything. Only humans do. Sometimes.

The Slow Birth of Entreprenocracy: Part II

Pročitano u 2005. godini

Continuing the debate on Murray’s End of Management foray in WSJ recently, I would say that the true changes brought about by openness have been here all along. Whether we have put them to use depends on the culture. In Norway, an egalitarian country, health informatics is not just something the IT industry tries to push on doctors. The Oslo Innovation Clinic Offers Treatment for Ideas, writes Gaurav Bhalla in a Harvard Business Review guest blog:

The first-of-its-kind Clinic of Innovation at Oslo University Hospital works a lot like an outpatient health clinic, but treats ideas rather than patients. Ideas walk in, are diagnosed, and are treated or referred; some are sent home with a prescription for further development, and an appointment for a follow-up visit.

The underlying solution, developed by the up-and-coming Norwegian IT company Induct, is brilliantly simple. Anybody can submit an idea or a challenge which goes onto their service-based platform that allows companies to easily practice true “open innovation” through the creation of corporate Innovation Communities.

Creating structures that motivate and inspire workers is correctly pointed out by Murray as a contemporary challenge for any corporation. However, knowing how to inspire is a challenge equally huge in the cases of Wikipedia or Linux. When it comes to motivating the next generations of volunteer programmers to contribute to Linux or individual hobbyist online lexicographers to contribute to Wikipedia, this is not easy. A very slim percentage of the online population is actually an online participant or creator in a significant way, the largely self-serving web 2.0 crowd included.

Where Murray excels is in providing a summary of the elements of the “new model” that he feels has to emerge. Truthfully, though, the new model is emerging as we speak even without him. But let’s give him the benefit of the doubt: he has described some valid trends. These are things like fostering entrepreneurial spirit in all work, delegating authority, culling ideas from outside the company, increasing the importance of team work and peer relationships, and making investments in the welfare of workers in their workplace. So far, such initiatives have often boiled down to providing services like food, cleaning, or massage for free or subsidized as part of the work day.

However, clearly, all organizations will constantly need to get more creative in trying to retain their skilled labor force, whether or not they are for profit, not for profit, or part of the new phenomenon Ashoka‘s Bill Drayton has coined, that is, hybrid value chains where profit and non profit is intermeshed.

Murray’s thoughts are interesting but not as carefully worded as they should have been, perhaps. For instance, he ends on the observation that “ The old methods won’t last much longer”. However, calling management a “method” is fine when referring to Peter Drucker‘s version of management science. It is not fine when it applies, as it does, to the practice of managing people as such. I would be willing to bet that need will never go away.

Management is, perhaps, becoming less important, or it at least appears so. Certainly, leadership is becoming more important, that is, if we define management as handling tasks and leadership as handling people. Management, in that view, is purely the aspect of efficient resource allocation, whereas leadership is related to motivating individuals to actually carry out the tasks needed. However, even this simplistic definition of these two terms leaves Murray with conceptual problems. It is actually better to say that management lives on, and leadership challenges increase at the same time.

However, leadership has its own limitations as a concept. The new model Murray talks about would will have to reinvent leadership, too. For instance, the thought that there would be a particular group of people who could provide vision and others who would follow or get inspired by that vision is profoundly shaken and stirred.

In the age of web 2.0., inspiration comes from many places. Yet, the very process of inspiring somebody follows the model aptly described by Seth Godin as “recruiting your tribe”. Whether you work in a corporation, in government, for a non profit, or simply act on something from your own living room as a consumer, a parent, or some other type of social role, you do need to do the very same thing. You need to let your voice be heard, enlist allies, and build some kind of consensus in a relevant social group.

You might need to build momentum with new people on ad hoc basis, or you may need to take into account existing groups and navigate their interests. However, you cannot change anything alone. Not even the internet provides you with that opportunity.

The Slow Birth of Entreprenocracy

Tux, the Linux penguin

Image via Wikipedia

In a recent Wall Street Journal article on The End of Management, Alan Murray claims corporate bureaucracy is becoming obsolete and that managers should act like venture capitalists. Maybe so. But management trends do not necessarily mean that the old mores disappear. The two may integrate. Or, the new trend might be just ephemeral. Very often, things regress towards the mean. Is he running the risk of calling a live phenomenon obsolete? Is he slightly overconfident in the venture capitalist attitude? Yes to both. Here is why.

In the case of management as such, or corporate bureaucracy in particular, lots of things have happened since the phenomena first appeared. Well, we might first want to discuss when it actually did appear. Is Murray talking about the practice of management, which is as old as humans have formed groups and civilizations? Or, is he talking about the post-war formulation of management science and case studies of its practice at western business schools? Although Murray mentions that business guru Peter Drucker has called management “the most important innovation of the 20th century”, and Murray continues to say that management, as a perspective, cannot survive the 21st century, the article is unclear.

The article’s author, Alan Murray, is the WSJ Deputy Managing Editor, and is actually pitching his new book, “The Wall Street Journal Essential Guide to Management“. I sympathize. Books need pitching, even for somebody with WSJ as their speaking platform.

Murray is correct in characterizing contemporary corporations as bureaucracies. This is a point often lost on business pundits who criticize government. Somehow, in their opinion, private sector has the solutions whereas public sector needs to reform their bureaucracies by taking private solutions on board. With Murray’s lens an entirely different picture emerges. Both governments and corporations are bureaucracies. They are both outdated. Bold claim. It makes him sound 20 year younger, but not necessarily right.

Where Murray completely loses the grip is when he starts trying to characterize the new phenomenon he uses as a straw man for the current condition of permanent and constant change:

“Complicated enterprises, like maintaining Wikipedia or building a Linux operating system, now can be accomplished with little or no corporate management structure at all.”, he asserts. Has Murray looked into these two very complex organizational ecosystems? Has he ever contributed to any of them? Does he know anybody who does? His kids? Grandchildren?

In the example of Wikipedia, let’s just remind ourselves that the site has gone through several management upheavals and policy changes. There are now much stricter rules on who gets to post what. All authors are logged and can be retraced by any reader or Wikipedia staff at any time. If you look at how even a fairly simple entry is created, you will find that there are numerous layers of bureaucratic structure involved. There is a main, originating author. There are people who just point out a spelling error here and there. There are people who add significant updates over a long period of time. In short, there is a hierarchy, there is an implicit allocation of authority, and there is respect for these things. I will not go into detail, since Wikipedia’s operation is commonly known for all who know anything about the web, but suffice to say that short of the payroll, Wikipedia is like any other corporate system, and only slightly more nimble. That does not mean I am against it, simply that I refuse to take it as an example of anti-corporate evidence, whatever Jimmy Wales may say.

In the example of the Linux Operating system, I would say, its emergence has been hierarchical from day one. Linus Torvalds towered over its development in the beginning. Yes, he did accept help from others. That is the entire point, and not one lost on corporations either. However, here’s the thing. You cannot simply start changing the Linux kernel without permission from the code owners and overseers. It goes through numerous iterations before changes become permanent. In short, the process is quite complicated, even bureaucratic, some would say.

Instead of a completely new phenomenon that must be understood without reference to the past, what we have in Wikipedia and Linux is two different ways of reproducing the organizational phenomenon Weber over a century aptly characterized as a bureaucracy. He did not set a fixed number, but he was pretty clear that the phenomenon arose with increasing complexity and size. In fact, he wrote volumes to prove this fact and describe its emergence. So, it seems that once a process reaches a certain size, complexity increases, compelling its participants to organize themselves in a more meticulous manner, and introduce hierarchical structures, not necessarily compensated monetarily, but through other symbolic means. In the case of Linux, I might add, the corporate component has only increased in the last decade. For instance, it is commonly known that two thirds of the contribution into the Linux kernel is now done by programmers affiliated and paid by traditional corporations like Dell, IBM, HP, Oracle, Novell, and Nokia.

Wikipedia and Linux are not very similar, but for the purposes of tearing down Murray’s logic, they are similar enough. Both are highly managed, although in loosely coupled ties. Both include financial aspects. Yes, collaboration is also done virtually. Yes, these two enterprises are very different from the legal definition of an enterprise. However, there are a lot of commonalities, many more than Murray sees. Not seeing these and not accounting for them in an analysis of change, is a major oversight. Fine. He has a grander scheme in mind, perhaps? Well, where is it?

Little, if anything, can actually be accomplished without management structure, even in the Internet age. In fact, it is not the management part that has changed, it is the speed with which networked interactions complement and extend existing power structures. Occasionally, technologies will also disrupt hierarchies, or at least alter them, but that is actually a more rare occurrence.


%d bloggers like this: