Man has always been intensely – and fluidly – social. That’s why social technologies are so successful in transforming the way we work today.
Even our ancestors, the apes, are highly social, with all members of each tribe having daily face-to-face, casual communication. But as man’s ambitions grew, there rose the need to align and marshal human beings to accomplish large, audacious feats, such as building a pyramid or fighting a way across a continent.
The raw muscle power of tens of thousands of people had to be coordinated. A mechanistic top-down organisation structure was required. The same still held true when, centuries later, human brain power had to be harnessed in a raw, basic way: for example, some 12,000 people worked at Bletchley Park during World War II to break the German codes. Thus, time and again, mechanistic organisations stepped in to fill the gap when the sheer challenge of human ambition overwhelmed what technology alone could deliver to the individual.
Yet the march of technology continues, and by enabling the individual as never before, it continues to challenge the raison d’être of the conventional hierarchical enterprise. CAD and 3D printing allows a designer to go from idea to physical part all on her own. Inexpensive music production software allows a single musician to produce a rich musical piece. A small online store with powerful analytics can segment a market better than any army of consultants and can then seamlessly proceed to target and tailor offers for each individual consumer. Systems that recognise faces, voices, gestures and emotions are set to immensely leverage each human security asset. Cars can drive themselves, planes can fly themselves. Somewhat disturbingly, drones can seek out targets and destroy them quite autonomously.
In this technology revolution, the extensive vertical filigreed hierarchies of the enterprise are anachronisms. Collaboration within the enterprise is still very valuable, but it is less about top-down dictates for alignment and more about virtual fluid tribes that stir up innovation and creativity. We must go from the mechanistic view of the enterprise that harnesses people to a humanistic view of the enterprise that enables people. The game changer of this decade for the enterprise is not the ERP, it is Yammer.
Like capitalism, this social flux is imperfect and chaotic. It’s just the best option there is. The enterprise is dead. Long live the enterprise!
This article was originally posted in the summer edition of OnWindows magazine.