Flexibility and not compromise

Written by Garima Pant | Updated: Jan 4 2010, 00:16am hrs
What were the great ideas of the last century A random list would be as exhaustive as the approaches, but surely the explosive and accelerating power of the information, the so-called digital revolution, is where the emerging technologies are shattering individual, organisational and governmental barriers.

The fibre optic technologies are breaking the boundaries among the companies, allowing small companies to compete with massive ones. Whats really scary is that the experts say it is just a small fraction of the potential communication power of the new technologies that has so far been placed in the hands of customers.

As trustees of societys precious human, material, financial, and informational resources, good ideas hold the key to a better world. If we take a retrospective journey it appears that for most of this century, the tide has been running strongly in favour of the virtues of stability, size, experience and hierarchy. The lifetime contributions of Alfred Sloan, Chester Bernard and Peter Druckers Management by Objectives were so robust that they have gone largely unchallenged and unexamined.

The ideas of solving problems of tomorrows business will not be answered with yesterdays strategies. Many of what todays CEOs grew up believing to be unquestioned assets have become liabilities. Experience may have been the dominant currency of yesteryears.

If we take up the organisational reality as an iceberg, what is visible and tangible about an organisation (structure, systems, policies and strategies), is a part of the total reality. One may, thus, need to visualise organisation in the classical imagery of an iceberg, in which the larger part of the totality (ie culture, unwritten rules, power and politics) is submerged and hidden. In other words, the larger partintellectual capital base of the corporationremains largely hidden from the view of finance wizards and is desperately undermanaged. As a result, our flattened world is dematerialising. Production lines have been replaced by a satellite uplink; experiences are better than possessions.

Once, making cars and computers guaranteed the Wests economic dominance, but now all we have to do is sell ideas. The absurd elements in the quest for a new idea were brilliantly described by Miles Davis as dont play whats there, play whats not there. This is what Akio Morita meant when he said Sonys contrarian company philosophy was doing what others did not. YouTube challenges TV. Internet radio usurps traditional local AM/FM broadcasts. Facebook and MySpace redefine political dialogue. Virtual worlds and augmented reality transform how we live, work and learn.

To my mind, the idea that will make business work in the 21st century would be flexibility and not compromise; agility not stability, scepticism and not certainty. We have to learn and internalise the new rules of the game, where we have to change from: provider to facilitator; size and scale to speed and responsiveness; control by rules and hierarchy to control by vision and shared values; need for certainty to tolerance for ambiguity; organisational rigidity to permanent flexibility; corporate independence to interdependence; reactive to proactive; internal focus to focus on competitive environment; consensus to constructive contention and above all, learning to love turbulence.