I came across an insightful blog post of JP Rangaswami about The Maker Generation in the Enterprise, and it’s a good driver for my end of year musing.
A very popular dinner discussion topic with friends and fellow knowledge workers is Meetings. There seems to be a wide consensus that the majority of meetings in the enterprise are useless, yet so far I did not witness any effect of these bitchings. JP describes this extremely well : “layers of people who excel at meetings, who know how to game the process of meetings; the agendas and minutes and presentations and whatnot. Which then leads to the creation of a class of signal boosters, who summarise meetings and fight over who can carry the signal to the next level within the organisation, who slow work down by constantly asking questions designed to boost their signal-booster reputations…”.
I think that this is really a symptom of the failure of the enterprise to adapt to the demographic change. There’s much talk and writing about the shift in the workforce, with Boomers poping out and Millennial filling up the core. Boomers and to a lesser extent X’ers were educated on strictly individual work, where sharing and collaboration were limited and mostly employed for the advancement of one’s own objectives. It should not come as a surprise then that in the workplace, the prevailing work structure is individual focused hierarchy and linear workflows, and the boldest move towards a more collaborative structure was the introduction of matrix management.
But for people who grew up into ad-hoc situational groups and relationships, with almost infinite choices of what to do that make cherry-picking a standard practice, the old-style well defined task-delegation practices and models are irrelevant. Our schools shifted from individual frontal lecture seating to round table group-work and creativity, yet in the typical large enterprise the closest thing to that is a meeting table – debating delegated tasks and status, where conformism and in-line contribution are the best practice.
One of the enterprises that is well adapted to the demographic change is Google, which in a sense reflects very well the modern school induced work practices. I remember someone telling that at Google, when a work group is too large to feed on a single pizza, it is broken up into smaller groups. Those groups are largely empowered, self-regulated and autonomous about how they work, and yet compete with each other fiercely and bring out the best from both individuals and groups.
While longer established enterprises will take more time to adapt, the introduction of social technologies into the enterprise is a key enabler. In my experience, a major (if not the main) obstacle to productive collaboration was employee resistance to information sharing. Similarly, all the attempts to develop smarter systems that embed human knowledge failed, because individuals were not motivated to share their information.
That should not be the case for the Facebook and Twitter generations, quite to the contrary. Sharing is a motivation and even a requirement. Enterprises should jump on the occasion and enable internal information sharing by all means, starting with social technologies and then integrating these into smart systems. Some immediate benefits for the enterprise would include “who knows” rather than “who’s who” directories, revealing “dark holes” of information into the open, persistent and accessible content, continuous knowledge growth, and unlocking of hidden opportunities.
So here’s my suggestion for a new year resolution – practice what we preach as educators, and help to enable the enterprise for the coming generations.