Searching for Strategy

Strategy is nothing more–and nothing less–than a succinct expression of where an organization is already going.

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Beyond Leadership From Below

I recently spoke to a group of Product Marketing students at KU Leuven, the famous and ancient university in Belgium. Despite my warnings that they were taller, smarter, and funnier than me and that there was no reason to think that I should give them advice, rather the reverse, they actually listened to me for almost an hour.

The Leader Who Had No Title

Cover of "The Leader Who Had No Title: A ...

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Since I wrote Leadership From Below in 2008, there has been a steady flow of management books about bottom-up leadership. In The Leader Who Had No Title (2010), speaker Robin Sharma has put together a modern fable on success in business and in life. There are no revolutionary insights in this book, but its speaks to the frustrated, overworked American, which seems to be in the majority. Sharma also avoids being too patronizing. Instead of the traditional format he chooses a narrative form, which incidentally, means that instead of offering any kind of evidence, we are asked to trust the experience of the author indirectly.

We follow Blake, an uninspired worker who is presented with the chance to meet four somewhat unlikely leadership teachers in one day, a maid who is deeply passionate about her job, a surfer and skier who says to lean in on the steep slopes, seek out and face danger head on,  a former CEO now passionate about gardening who explains that business is all about relationships, and a shoe shiner who says you need to be a great person to be a great leader. All are lessons that ring true in the postmodern leadership scene where results only come if you balance your pursuits so that life and work mesh together.

The message might still be a bit radical for most people, although those who have thought about life and death more than once might agree at times:

All those things we believed were so important, things like titles, net worth and social position turn out to be so very unimportant.

As I predicted several years ago, it seems like the Zen of everyday life is becoming key to the western man and woman’s quest to reinvent reality.

But does that mean that hierarchies are going away? Or, does it mean that making a contribution as a team leader, a manager, a VP or a CEO does not matter anymore? Far from it, in my opinion.  The Forbes book reviewer and himself a leadership expert, SangeethVarghese, has it wrong, though, in dismissing the book in Everyone must be a leader. So What?:

Sharma seems to confuse leadership with mere exemplary work. He depicts leadership as a matter not of heading a team or directing change but simply of focusing on excellence in the work you do.

Rather, leadership from below, which is more an attitude to life regardless of your various roles, becomes important even as hierarchies matter. So, both Sangeeth and Robin are right: whatever you do, only take the lead if you mean it.

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.

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.

TO BE CONTINUED

Cultivating Leadership

ASCII to Binary encoding of the word "Wik...

Image via Wikipedia

– The leadership I want to explore here has nothing to do with position or authority; it is about influence and responsibility, it’s about leadership from below or from within, writes Patrick Bridgeman, in a new article on Cultivating Leadership in this Fall’s Positive Life.  Bridgeman is Editor of Positive Life, an Irish publication which aim to deliver uplifting, informative articles and information designed to enhance the quality of readers’ lives.  He continues:

I want to equate leadership not with being in charge but rather with the ability to inspire initiative and new thinking in those around us. At the core of this approach is the capacity to navigate new paths, build teams and broker between different points of view…

Sounds good to me! Although, I would not say that there is a contradiction between being in charge and being perceived to be in charge, nor between inspiring and actually being responsible for inspiring others.

The important thing is to maintain one’s grounding and facilitate other people’s growth, whilst still being able to focus your activity on the targets you have set for yourself and others.

So, what we need is a fusion between position based and place based authority, which is very different from believing the world is now unleashing an unbound process of wiki leadership as advocated by MacroWikinomics.  More about that later.

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