The Slow Birth of Entreprenocracy: Part III

Digital image of the 1326 Oriel College Charter

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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.

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