I’ve written a bit about the need for business models that are more flexible than the industrial age corporation. An effort to look at the future of work organisational models has been going on at MIT since the mid-1990’s. in 1999 the team at MIT wrote a manifesto on the changes needed for future work structures. They called for the creation of organisations that are environmentally, socially and personally sustainable.
Thomas Malone, author of the forthcoming book "The Future of Work," has been involved with the Inventing the Organizations of the 21st Century initiative at MIT, and in a recent interview talks about open source as a good busines model for the future, and applauds the success of e-Bay.
Malone also explains that all new work models have resulted from improved communications systems.
We?ï¿½ï¿½Ç¨ï¿½Ñ¢re now in the early days of the third stage ?ï¿½ï¿½Ç¨ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ transitioning from business kingdoms to business democracies. Much more decentralized decision-making is now possible because communication is so cheap. We can afford to have vastly greater numbers of people well-enough informed that they can make a lot more decisions for themselves, decisions that, in the past, were only possible in central offices.
Decentralisation is becoming a fact, but whether it will result in environmentally, socially and personally sustainable organisations, remains to be seen. I guess it’s up to us. I look forward to reading Malone’s new book.
I’m exploring business models in my own work. I have been a full-time employee for most of my working career. Now I run my own consultancy and I am the director of education of a non-profit organisation, the Atlantic Wildlife Institute, which from time to time has opportunities for paid work. I am also affiliated with other individual knowledge workers, and we share in projects that we cannot do alone. The sub-contracting model, which I have also worked under, is much less satisfying ?ï¿½ï¿½Ç¨ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ intellectually and financially. I’m not sure which business model will be best in the long-run, but if I did not work for myself, I would not be able to stay in this town. There are no ?ï¿½ï¿½Ç¨?ï¿½jobs?ï¿½ï¿½Ç¨ï¿½ï¿½ for me here.
Business models come in varying sizes. Rob Paterson explores open source as a potential new business model. He sees the need for a new metaphor to replace the old one of the corporation. For instance:
A corporation that had as its purpose the need to serve its physical community would I suspect be transformed immediately. For instance, what if we had a corporation on PEI whose goal was to supply all Islanders with renewable energy at prices that were competitive or better than fossil fuel? Imagine generations of Islanders working to truly serve our own society?
I’ve been thinking about business and organisational models as I watch our downtown core change. We have about five empty storefronts within a one block radius of the only street light. These are small businesses that have recently been forced to close. When I talk to people in town, the general feeling is that we need more companies to set up business in town. This seems like business planning through wishful thinking – "Let’s have a corporation move in and look after us". People want corporations to move here, because corporations are what they know. No one is saying that we should create a commune, a co-operative, a node, or a network – because these are unknown. There are few models to create these, and fewer still that are recognised by the banks.
So maybe the problem is the corporate model that governments, individuals and corporations take for granted. Corporations have the access to financial capital that is necessary for new ventures. Most individuals do not. The problem may not be the economy, it may be the tools and models we use to make it work. As I have posted before – what if every individual had the rights of the Corporation? Would this help us to create more sustainable and community-friendly business models?
A recent report by the Rand Corporation The 21st Century at Work: Forces Shaping the Future Workforce and Workplace in the United States is available for +300 PDF pages of reading pleasure. In the report, three factors affecting work are discussed ?¢‚Ç¨‚Äú demographic trends, technological advances and globalisation. The US workforce [read Canadian too] will not grow as quickly as it has in the past. Technology will continue to reshape production, jobs and organisations. There is a worldwide marketplace for goods, services and labour.
This is a comprehensive look at forces affecting labour, organisations, the nature of work and technology. This report combines what a lot of other reports have already mentioned and should be a good reference for the next year or two.
Some interesting extracts:
?¢‚Ç¨?ìJust as individualized medicine is envisioned as an outgrowth of biotechnology, individualized learning programs that are optimized for a given person?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢s knowledge base and learning style are expected for the future. Such learning programs will become increasingly sophisticated over time with advances in hardware and software, including artificial intelligence, voice recognition and natural language comprehension.?¢‚Ç¨¬ù
?¢‚Ç¨?ìThese workers and others who increasingly interact in a global marketplace and participate in global work teams will also require the skills needed to collaborate and interact in diverse cultural and linguistic settings (Marquardt and Horvath, 2001). Individuals who can exploit diversity to generate new knowledge about customers, suppliers, products, and services will be more likely to succeed in a competitive global environment.?¢‚Ç¨¬ù
Rob Paterson is preparing a presentation discussing the state of food production on PEI. Doesn’t sound of interest to a learning technologies guy, but Rob is looking at systems and business models. Most businesses fail because they don’t have the right business model.
Rob talks about the need to understand the systems at play, and the changing business models in other sectors. I have just finished a project for the NB learning industry, where I was asked to analyse the current industry and make some recommendations about future efforts. There are many parallels in Rob’s post, which I encourage you to read. Rob cites e-Bay as a succesful business, along with Southwest Airlines, StarBucks, Dell and Wal*Mart. He states that all of these companies started in small towns, of which New Brunswick has many, and that they have created open systems focused on a community of customers.
How could the NB Learning Industry succesfully use this kind of business model? First, connect with small communities, because we understand their needs. Get away from the idea of making the big sale to a multinational corporation. Sell to other rural communities, because your customer support staff will relate to them. Create a sense of community, through open source software (another success), which is what many small organisations are using already. All of our companies are small, so let’s focus on small markets ?ï¿½ï¿½Ç¨ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ lots of them. This doesn’t mean that we sell to small markets so that we can grow and then sell to ?ï¿½ï¿½Ç¨?ï¿½real?ï¿½ï¿½Ç¨ï¿½ï¿½ markets. It means that we stay focused on our core values and strengths, and relate to our markets one conversation at a time. We can become the e-Bay of learning opportunities by creating a real sense of community of small businesses, organisations and countries.
This post from the Shifted Librarian says it all, "We’re drowning in draconian copyright laws – help!"
Peter Levesque, in Democracy & Socioactive Software and Technology discusses the effect of the Internet in connecting an unprecedented number of people, who in turn have created a variety of community-based initiatives, such as open source, open content and more flexible copyright rules, like the Creative Commons.
He continues on the Cluetrain thread that markets are conversations, and these conversation must be genuine. This should mean that corporations have to "get real" in order to connect with their markets, as many communities do. But Levesque goes on to say that communities have not been as successful as corporations in producing certain kinds of societal benefits.
Levesque calls for new leadership for the information revolution. "I suggest that the leaders will be found among the aggressively intelligent citizenry, liberated from many tasks and obligations by technology freely shared; using data, information and knowledge acquired from open source databases, produced from the multiples of billions of dollars of public money invested through research councils, universities, social agencies, and public institutions."
I would suggest that business models that will allow the leadership to prosper will be essential. These potential leaders, from the "aggressively intelligent citizenry", need to be free from corporate non-disclosures or government gag orders, and the most effective business model could be the free agent working within a peer network. As tenure was essential for academic freedom, so an unfettered business model may be necessary for future leaders. If all individuals had the rights of today’s corporations, what kind of societal benefits would ensue?
Thanks to Stephen’s OLDaily for pointing to this.
I’m posting this information on the Edinburgh scenarios, because I believe it is important, and because I cannot find any more information on the results of the scenario building that took place in Edinburgh last month. Does anyone have any more information? I would like to keep the conversation going. The eLearninternational 2004 World Summit… Read more »
A follow-up on e-Bay and how the customer community is making the process of buying & selling online easier. How do you compete with a business model where customers help each other to use a web service? In this case, it’s an RSS feed to keep track of items for sale in your news aggregator. I don’t use e-Bay but I sure like their business model. From Seb.
Lilia has written an excellent paper on knowledge work and weblogs. The main uses she cites for blogging (personal knowledge repositories, learning journals, or networking instruments) are the same reasons that I blog. I find that writing about things that I find interesting or useful online helps me to create my own knowledge repository. With Drupal as a CMS, my repository is also searchable, so I can search my own blog to find something that I posted about open source a few months back. This is the main reason that I amalgamated my other blogs; so I could find stuff. The discipline of writing every day is a form of a learning journal, and is similar to what Stephen Covey calls "sharpening the saw". The more you write, the more skilled you become; I hope 😉
Another point in Lilia’s paper is that knowledge work is "discretionary behavior", in that knowledge workers have to be motivated to do knowledge work. Many companies are tryng to find ways to motivate their knowledge workers. This makes me wonder about Peter Drucker’s comment that the corporation as we know it won’t be around in the next 25 years (Managing in the Next Society, 2002). Perhaps the actual structure of work, especially the Corporation itself, is an obstacle to knowledge work. Instead of tweaking the mechanisms of the corporation, through job redesign or cultural initiatives, we should be re-examining the basic structure of the corporation. It is an industrial age creation, designed to maximize physical capital and may not be optimal for maximizing "knowledge capital".
The network, with its dynamic conversations, is where a lot of knowledge work gets done, and we should be looking at new laws to recognise networks in a similar way that we recognise corporations as legal entities. Is anything like this happening?
One of the first things that Meg Whitman remarked about e-Bay was that ‘It looks like the experience people have with each other helps define your brand.’. The Monitor has an in-depth article on the current CEO of e-Bay, showing how peer-to-peer relationships and a small service fee are some of the keys to the success of this multi-billion dollar company. One more example that there are others on the Cluetrain, who are successful.