Future of organisations

Rob Paterson blogs a great article from Fortune: Will Every Company be like Ebay? It reports on a panel seesion at Aspen, and it’s thought provoking. Read the whole thing but here are some bits that stand out for me.

Vivek Paul (CEO of Indian software firm Wipro) said:

The transaction cost reduction has also enabled more efficient markets. eBay is a classic example. These extremely dynamic markets can in some sense govern themselves. So it is no longer a matter of your trying to figure out what the market wants as much as staying on top of this runaway horse… What’s going to end up happening is that even the brightest, most charismatic and dynamic individual will not be able to tell everybody what to do.

I like that metaphor, which seems a more realistic one than conveyed in conventional organisation thinking.

Jonathan Schwartz (president of Sun Microsystems) added this thought, which will please bloggers:

If you’re no longer allowed to have private discussions of material issues, then at some point we’re all going to have to use a blog as a means of communicating and of managing. That changes the role of the senior executive. You’re not just a guy making decisions all day long; you’re now a part of the ecosystem in a community

That’s pretty interesting and a big challenge for some managers, because great blogs – to me, anyway – are not secretive but exposing.

Tom Malone (author of The Future of Work) talked about eBay having over 40 million users, with over 400,000 people making their living on it. He commented

Is that a company, or is it a town, or what? eBay is a community of 41-plus million people and Meg is like the mayor.

eBay CEO Meg Whitman added

I play two roles in eBay. One is sort of an elected political role of the marketplace. The marketplace is very democratized and self-organizing. It is the R&D lab. We have a phrase regarding the marketplace: “Enable, don’t direct.” But the company itself is not as democratized.

Whitman’s caveat is interesting too; this is not a black-and-white transition. And for every democratised company, there may be dozens of others, lower down the food chain living out a tight-margined form of command-and-control drudgery.

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