Last week, I was attending my third Techonomy conference.
Techonomy explores “the role of technology in business and social progress.”
I love the word “progress.”
It has that gentle flavor of positivism; in the direction of better. I am more and more convinced that we don’t need innovation; we need progress.
How is progress reflected in a modern company? What does a 21st century company look like? Or maybe we should start thinking about what a 22nd century company would look like. (22nd century indeed: somebody born in 2012 will only be 88 years old in 2100. If Ray Kurzweil’s predictions are realized, it will be a piece of cake by then.)
People might grow older, but companies will die younger.
John Hagel proves with the Shift Index that the firm performance (based on Return on Assets) has declined systemically over the last 50 years.
Most companies don’t last longer than 40 years. Most of today’s companies will not exist in 2100.
The question is: What are the characteristics of sustainable companies?
Here is a list of some memes I’ve come across in recent months: the Adaptable Company, the Decentralized Company, the Sharing Company, the Participating Company, the Collaborative Company, the Connected Company, the Connecting Company, the Coherent Enterprise, the Elastic Company, the Human Company, the Learning Company, the Living Company. I could go on.
I propose that there are at least seven characteristics that will be typical in the 22ndcentury company:
1. Peer-to-Peer Networks
Decentralized organizations with peer-to-peer networks of highly skilled knowledge workers will best create and sustain knowledge flows and enable employees to self-organize. The jury is still out on whether knowledge workers will most often be hyper-specialists or hyper-generalists, but the successful company of the future will behave as a living organism where peers organize themselves in “cells.”
In The Connected Company (Amazon Associates Link) Dave Gray calls such organizations “pods”: Hyper-connected cells building relations with other cells based on a common principles, a common set of values, a common pattern language.
2. Architects of Serendipity
Being an architect of serendipity is about creating connections and providing opportunities for collisions between nodes in a network that learn from the collisions and continually adapt. The collisions are not random. Instead, this is designed serendipity, which might sound like an oxymoron.
Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, the shoe company acquired by Amazon last year, is setting the scene for architected serendipity with his Downtownproject.
Instead of venturing in yet another luxury corporate campus with everything on-site from shops, restaurants, doctors, and central idea-incubation, Hsieh sees the value in integrating the Las Vegas fabric to catalyze collisions. He is investing about $350 million in local startups, small businesses, education, arts, culture, and residential and commercial real estate.
This campus of the future
starts to look more and more
like a complex living organism
Forget the old alliteration, the 4 P’s and 5 C’s of Kottler and Drucker. The C’s of this new era are those of hyper-connected learning organizations: Curated content, Community, Culture of openness, Collaboration, Creativity and optimism, Co-Learning, Co-Working, Co-Creation, Collisions, Connections.
3. Empowered Radicals Instigating a Corporate Spring
Some call them Corporate Catalysts, Catalyst Peers, or Corporate Rebels. Steve Johnson described these instigators in his excellent new book Future Perfect: The Case For Progress in the Networked Age (Amazon Associates Link):
“the most striking thing about these new activists and entrepreneurs was the personal chord that reverberated in me when I listened to them talk about their projects and collaborations—and their vision of the progress that would come from all that work.”
In September, I wrote a blog post called Companies Are Movements of Greatness. Catalyst peers in our organizations instigate these movements, whether these organizations are hierarchies or peer-to-peer networks.
The point is we have to unleash the energy of these “positive deviants.” I joined with a group of enthusiasts around the globe to put together a Corporate Rebels Manifesto. It’s all about a common set of principles, a pattern language for helping our companies succeed in the Hyper-Connected economy. It’s about creating a new global practice for value creation. It’s about progress.
4. Empowered Platforms
Amazon, Google, Apple, and Facebook are celebrated for their platform approach, exposing their core functionality through application program interfaces (APIs) so that other players in their networks–customers, partners, developers–can create new value on top of their platform.
We are only at the beginning of this trend, which will encompass all trade and commerce supply chains. In the end, I believe a wide variety of entities, including people, businesses, devices, and programs will have their own clouds and APIs.
What should come next in this evolution is an interoperability among clouds, a layer of services, protocols, and standards that let a Cambrian Explosion of Everything share data in real time, securely and with the appropriate governance and trust.
Every company may have to carve out
a role as a platform player
5. Empowered and participative customers
Doc Searls has written extensively about The Intention Economy (Amazon Associated Link) and customers taking back control of their data. Many organizations have implemented Open Innovation techniques, calling upon the intelligence in their networks to discover and develop new ideas.
The motto “We know more than me” applies the principles of Crowdsourcing. Barclays Bank recently launched BarclayCardRing, a crowdsourced credit card that empowers customers with highly transparent services and shares the program’s profits and losses and monthly financial statistics. In simple language, the data explain how the program is performing. Customers become producers, in partnership with the companies that serve them.
6. Deeply Digital and Human
It’s been almost 20 years since Techonomist Nicholas Negroponte wrote Being Digital.
We now swim in a sea of data and the sea level, so to speak, is rising rapidly. Billions of connected people, far more billions of sensors, and trillions of transactions now add up to create unimaginable amounts of information. This new environment will require extraordinary adaptability: It is as if we are a species from dry land that has to learn to live in the ocean.
The digital age environment requires a new design for companies, which presents both threats and opportunities. Companies will be disintermediated, will see the erosion of their market share as new entrants muscle in, and technology companies will threaten the position of incumbents in more and more industries, threatening profitability.
But there are also opportunities: sources of rich information are multiplying, and more information is being digitized all the time. Every business is becoming a digital business.
However, the potential benefits of the explosion in number of nodes and the volume of data is being squandered due to low levels of trust, concerns about security, and barriers to monetization. That’s why my employer, SWIFT, has launched a project called the “Digital Asset Grid.” The Grid is a research initiated by Innotribe, SWIFT’s Innovation initiative for collaborative innovation.
With the Grid, Innotribe proposesa new infrastructure for banks to provide a platform for secure peer-to-peer data sharing between trusted people, business, and devices.
7. Diverse Contribution and Leadingship in the Social Era
My initial post on Techonomy only included six ways organizations can survive. Nilofer Merchant kindly drew my attention to the diversity aspect. What follows is an edited version of an e-mail she sent me:
We are all talking about thriving, being more deeply connected in community and thus allowing our organizations to be more adaptive. And my question is… is this system of change more about the same or about something fundamentally shifted in who is allowed to contribute.
I hope our future economy is also about including the people who are unseen today. Those who are right in front of us, creating value but then ignored when it comes to be included as leaders, or thinkers to shape the future. No one does this out of bad intent, but out of blindness. Few people will realize that while Hagel and Kelly and Gray etc are mentioned, many well-respected best-selling women management thinkers were not. Our thriving systems HAVE to be open enough to include those that are currently blocked out.
And we will be surprised by what we create. I remember the story of Fold It. The original inventors of that “game” imagined Phd students more like them than not would be the ones creating value. But in the end, it was a woman who was an admin during the day and the best protein folder at night. If the system had first vetted, she would have been screened out, but when all the rules are evened out… she contributed valuable stuff because she could. (http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2012/04/just_how_powerful_are_you.html).
Blindness shifts when we start to be more conscious. In stead of perpetuating talking about the change, we have to embodying the change.
Nilofer stroke a cord.
Her new book “11 Rules for Creating Value in the #SocialEra” (Amazon Associates link) indeed offers new rules for creating value, leading, and innovating in our rapidly changing world. These social era rules are both provocative and grounded in reality—they cover thorny challenges like forsaking hierarchy and control for collaboration; getting the most out of all talent; allowing your customers to become co-creators in your organization; inspiring employees through purpose in a world where money alone no longer wields power; and soliciting community investment in an idea so that it can take hold and grow.
The Industrial Era and the Information Age are over
and their governing rule are passé
Leading in the Social Era requires a rethink and re-imagination of what can be.
During the same period, I discovered Rune Kvist Olsen in the following YouTube video (1 hour video, you need to be present to fully appreciate the message from Rune)
There is also the excellent article “Leading-Ship: reshaping relationships at work” His thinking blew me away in rethinking leadership into “leadingship”. It cuts deep in what motivates people. There is also an associated slide deck here http://goo.gl/Ds1Qd . Rune challenges big time all our preconceptions about leaders and followers. I feel deeply inspired by it.
I really enjoyed the 2012 edition of Techonomy. The conference convenes discussions among leaders focusing on the implications of technology change. Kevin Kelly put technology “in charge” in his seminal work What Technology Wants (Amazon Associates Link) challenging the notion that humans control the direction of technology. I look at it more and more as a form of symbiosis.
It happens that I met Kevin Kelly face-to-face later that week at Defrag 2012, where he delivered an awesome talk on “The Emerging Technological Superorganism” but that is the subject for a future blog.
The Internet – with it’s built-in peer-to-peer network architecture – made new forms of peer-to-peer collaboration possible. The creative energy unleashed by the edges of our network represent a transformative change and challenge in how we organize our intelligences in a mix of peer-to-peer intensities, supplemented with some structured “companies” that orchestrate some of the overarching memes in our society.
The rules have changed. To quote Robert Safian (Editor-in-Chief, Fast Company) in his Oct 15 blog post “The Secrets of Generation Flux”:
“Business today is nothing if not as paradoxical. We require efficiency and openness, thrift and mind-blowing ambition, nimbleness and a workplace that fosters creativity. Organizational systems based on the Newtonian model are not equipped for these dualities.”