April 27, 2005
a loose conferderation of skunk works
The cartoon above, "A Loose Confederation" is one of my faves I've done over the last year or so. The thing is, I never quite understand why that is. I just like it.
I'm no business or software expert, so pardon me if this sounds a bit naive, but...
Let's just imagine big business moved away from a hierarchy model, what Doc Searls calls an "Egology", into what Jon Husband calls a "Wirearchy".
How would that affect business software? How would a company like SAP survive?
I have no idea, to be honest. Software isn't my game at all. I'm hoping Hamish will help me answer this one. Maybe Doc Searls as well. Or Mary Hodder. Or Euan Semple.
[NOTE TO SELF:] The Hughtrain is getting a bit long in the tooth. It needs a rewrite.
[BONUS LINK:] Mary Hodder kvetches about the panel format in Paris over the weekend.
1. Ditch the panels.
2. One leader per room.. moderating an active discussion by everyone in the room by, asking questions and interacting.
3. IF we do panels, any time there are more people lined up at the mic, than are on the panel, the panel and the people at the mic have to switch places.
Please note, I do appreciate all the work that goes in to making a conference like this, and thank the people who put it on. But they are doing a format we all have done for a long time. And we need a change. This doesn't work, and it needs to stop.
I sent her the following e-mail:
I hear what you're saying about panels, though I think they provide a good enough focus/locus... Some of my best moments were the impromptu, like going off outside and having a cigarette and striking up a conversation...
I would say the luncheon the day before was the highlight of my trip. A confab of eight or so. And there were one or two stolen moments I shall remember for a while.
I hear what Mary's saying, certainly, but I've not been to many of these things, so it was still all new and fun for me. I sort of looked at the panels much like the Sun, with all these interesting little planets orbiting around. The aforementioned luncheon being a good example of a "planet". But so was sharing a cigarette with Alistair Shrimpton
or Nev Hobson.
Or meeting Sig Rinde.
I think the panel's job is to keep the planets revolving in place around it. Anything else (e.g. mind-blowing insights coming down off the stage etc) is just a bonus.
Posted by hugh macleod at April 27, 2005 6:20 PM
Depends on the panel, I'd say - there's "discussing blogs" and there's "construction of neural networks", which are very different areas with very different audiences (and some overlap, to be sure).
Certainly, the entire point of conferences and cons isn't to be had at Ground Zero - it's in the blast radius.
I don't go to comic conventions because comic book fans are no fun for me to talk to. I go to computer/hacker conventions because geeks, by and large, are an absolute blast to get drunk with. The panels are communually understood to be a means of nursing the hangover.
I only smoke so that I can hang out outside with the really cool people who only smoke because we all just need an _excuse_ to get out...
Hmmm... What box can't you think outside of, without a drag on a fag, as the Brits would say?
I like the comic. To me it speaks of how things "really are". People working independently, privately, and soubtly secretly with others doing the same and all connected by some common but really absurdly crazy purpose. I think politics, the internet, professional sports, and to some degree life are all shining examples.
/puts on work hat/
Software tends to be built for function and then tailored to organization. Organizations have need for the function regardless of how they are organized. Scale of the subunits may be the biggest concern to vendors if the units become independent buisnesses.
SAP would probably co-exist, as big business will take a while to admit that the illusion of control given by the all-singing, all-dancing monolithic software is just that. 'Wirearchy' software skunkworks BETWEEN trading partners/collaborators would probably work like skunkworks do internally - off the radar.
Longer term the 'sub-rosa' systems will give the real value, but any premature unveiling of them will probably result in them being killed off.
The whole concept of Web Services was being able to find that little piece of functionality you need anywhere on the 'net, and hook it up with other little pieces of software elsewhere on the 'net, until you had a system almost by magic. The main reason it hasn't happened yet - business doesn't trust random software off the 'net, and is scared of losing intellectual property if they put stuff out there themselves.
Re: Software, as more people embrace the open-source model for corporate software, I think we'll see a lot of new and interesting organizational approaches around that.
OSS is no magic bullet, but it does solve a lot of typical problems like vendor lock-in and over-reliance on specific people on your staff. So far the OSS community isn't really gunning for the likes of SAP, and it's unlikely they really could given how much these companies will pay to keep their contracts (and how many Pointy-Haired Bosses are still, well, the bosses).
I expect that eventually a lot of the big players will move to some sort of semi-open model themselves in order to counter the "threat" of OSS. But I think the leaders in this are likely to be corporations, or even industries, that accept the cost and just make some great, useful, open software for themselves. There are some areas where you don't want your competitors to have what you have, but most corporate software would be better if it were open and the development burden/responsibility shared.
And that, if it happens, will force a whole lot of organizational innovation around it. Or new bureaucracy...
Just off the top of my head. E&OE. Good links.
> How would that affect business software? How would a company like SAP survive?
Easy to support Figure 1 w/ control-oriented software but not Figure 2 -- that is supported by email/chat/Wiki/blogs/phone/F2F/etc.
Some people say SAP-like software is intented to get rid of the gray links in Figure 2[the emergent conversations] but, the more complex and unpredictable the process the less it can be designed ahead of time!
Maybe it should be a "loose conherderation of skunks" as opposed to a "loose conferderation"
So as opposed to the standard mgt consulting game of "herding cats", we could get involved in "herding skunks", which is probably more appropriate to whatever forms of organizations grow out of or into "wirearchy" ...
... since that less-than-hierarchical confederation of loosely-linked knowledge slaves is just as likely as not to be at home on a couch, using a blog, wearing pyjamas, forgetting to shower, eating old stale food in the refrigerator whilst running around spraying everyone else with wild, random thoughts ?