Don’t cross the river if you can’t swim the tide

Don’t try denying livin’ on the other side……America, Don’t Cross The River


Great band. Not just about a Horse with No Name. Incidentally, I’d always wondered why an American band that made original music, writing it, playing it, singing it, would call themselves America. And it was only recently I found out that they were all children of US servicemen stationed in the UK, and it all made sense.

Reading The Man In the Doorway’s recent post, and reading Steven Johnson’s article in Time (see previous post), got me thinking again.

You “organise” within a firm to achieve a small number of things:

  • to prioritise the allocation of resources towards achieving some agreed goals
  • to handle conflicts within matrices
  • to deal with issues escalated up a hierarchy
  • to monitor and review progress against plan
  • to refine the allocation process as a result of feedback
  • to refine the allocation process as a result of new stimuli

When you do this 19th century “organising”, one of the things you rely on is the flow of uncorrupted information. Fundamentally what you are doing is making decisions on a plethora of things because of your position in the hierarchy.

Which is fine when it works. Time for an uncommercial break, “a word from our sponsor”.

Ten of my favourite Drucker short quotes:

  • Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things
  • It’s more important to do the right thing than to do things right
  • Whenever you see a successful business, someone once made a courageous decision.
  • So much of what we call management consists in making it difficult for people to work.
  • We now accept the fact that learning is a lifelong process of keeping abreast of change. And the most pressing task is to teach people how to learn
  • In all recorded history there has not been one economist who has had to worry about where the next meal would come from
  • There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.
  • The most serious mistakes are not being made as a result of wrong answers. The truly dangerous thing is asking the wrong question
  • No executive has ever suffered because his subordinates were strong and effective.
  • Business has only two functions – marketing and innovation

Leadership and learning. Two things that don’t happen too well in hierarchies.

Ok, we’re back. Where were we? Oh yes, Malc’s post on magical numbers. In my comment I pointed people at George Miller’s famous paper, always worth a read, which you can find here.

And with that at the back of my mind, I was reading Steven Johnson’s blog, and a few more scales dropped from my eyes.

I spoke before of organisational hierarchies being up-down and networks being sideways and Conway’s Law and the implications for social software.

And until today I didn’t really get one thing.

When people complain to me or criticise blogs and wikis and IM, the usual reason they complain is because they don’t like the “non-work” element in such things. And my usual response has been that I’m not prepared to control or tabulate watercooler, restroom or coffeeshop conversations either.

I just didn’t realise they don’t like those things either. The people who object to social software actually object to social anything at work. Except under their control.

Don’t try denyin’ livin’ on the other side.

Let me know what you think

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