Free-agents and enlightened despots

A recent NYT article on The Auteur vs. The Committee compares Apple and Google, describing Steve Jobs as an “auteur”:

Two years ago, the technology blogger John Gruber presented a talk, “The Auteur Theory of Design,” at the Macworld Expo. Mr. Gruber suggested how filmmaking could be a helpful model in guiding creative collaboration in other realms, like software.

The auteur, a film director who both has a distinctive vision for a work and exercises creative control, works with many other creative people. “What the director is doing, nonstop, from the beginning of signing on until the movie is done, is making decisions,” Mr. Gruber said. “And just simply making decisions, one after another, can be a form of art.”

As I wrote in 2004 – I’ve heard and discussed the film crew metaphor many times over the past five or so years. It makes sense that in order to address the constantly changing market needs that a more flexible work organization is necessary. The film production crew model seems viable, but the dark side, according to Gautam, is that the producer gets the lion’s share of the profits, and the superstars command the enormous fees, while the average worker just survives. I think that a more cooperative model, like the independent productions, where more of the workers share in the risk and the profit, is more sustainable. This is becoming evident as the barriers to production are coming down – such as lower-priced digital editing suites.

I agree that innovation needs diversity and the film-making model enables this by re-forming the team for each production while keeping the singular vision with one producer/director. I see the future of “net work” is in rapidly forming new teams who work under the vision of a Director. The model is kept dynamic by enabling these teams to quickly disperse and be re-created in new forms. An automatic exit strategy is baked into the business model, ensuring constant destruction of the old model and enabling evolution in successive group-forming.

The more free-thinkers and independent learners that an organization has, the more resilient it will be in times of change. Add this to a constantly evolving organizational model and it might let us keep up with life in perpetual Beta. The key for a successful work organization will be balancing diversity with singular focus. Countries that have a social safety net may be more successful with this, as free-agents will have more control in selecting what “enlightened despot” they wish to work with next and not be pressured to just take any gig. Shifting to a new work model will require systemic changes in education, employment laws, social security and many other areas, but I have little doubt that the older model of indentured servitude has outlived its usefulness.

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