Institutions follow

Charles Green got me thinking with this post:

Ideas lead technology. Technology leads organizations. Organizations lead institutions. Then ideology brings up the rear, lagging all the rest—that’s when things really get set in concrete.

Put more succinctly:

  1. Ideas
  2. Technology
  3. Organizations
  4. Institutions
  5. Ideology

When we look at the past century of business, the progress has been:

  1. Taylorism
  2. Mass Production
  3. Corporations
  4. Business Schools
  5. Management Theory

I am fairly positive that the industrial era based on cheap energy (oil) is coming to an end. At the same time the Internet has changed the way we work, learn and most importantly, converse. Combine ridiculously easy group-forming with energy scarcity and you get the demise of command & control and mass production & distribution.

We’re now at the stage where we have some new ideas for work (wirearchy, natural enterprises, workplace democracy) and some new technologies (social media, nano-bio-techno-cogno). The next step in this evolution is the new organization. Remember that business schools only followed after the mass production model had been proven. Therefore we cannot expect leadership from our institutions until we have proven a new organizational model. It’s time to get to work.

5 Responses to “Institutions follow”

  1. Virginia Yonkers

    And my current interaction with business schools is that they are actively holding on (tooth and nail) to the old organizational structures. Businesses need to stop looking to the business schools for the new structures.

  2. Dave Ferguson

    I truly value research–a determined and objective effort to figure out what works, and why. In theory, academic institutions are the ideal places for research to happen.

    In practice, I’m not sure that’s true. There’s merit to the case-study approach, for example, but when B-school folks are still studying the L’Eggs case, long after L’Eggs stopped using the plastic-egg packaging, you have to figure there’s a certain lack of institutional curiosity.

    Any institution, any organization, even one as loose as Wikipedia, spend some of its energy on negotiation, structure, and so on. (That’s why the Wikipedia talk pages are probably ten times the size of the actual articles.) Institutions as they grow end up with more and more of that infra-connectivity. It allows them to (occasionally) apply tremendous force, like mass production; but it also burdens them with history and precedent. Those aren’t unmitigated drawbacks, but they’re not unmixed blessings, either.


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