In the United States we have a public holiday to honor the life, lessons and leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King, perhaps the most significant leader in the U.S. Civil Rights movement. I was a child when Dr. King and others were leading the movement toward greater equality and we are the beneficiary of his and others sacrifices. While its easy to point out the gaps that still exist in society, it is hard to imagine what life would be like in the U.S. without his and others work.
The future of any nation rests in the relationships that exist between its people. Likewise, the future of an organization rests on those same people to people relationships across associates, customers, suppliers, partners, etc. Historically those relationships have been defined along rather narrow lines. Customers purchased products, companies marketed to customers, companies sought the ‘best’ price from suppliers, staff functions — like IT — supported sales and line operations. With all this change going on its time to consider changing the nature of the organization.,
The rigid rules that define clear roles between people within an organization are breaking down. The lines between B2B and B2C are smearing. Functional hierarchies are giving way to ad hoc teams. Everyone is demanding greater transparency, visibility and accountability for themselves, the companies they work with, the governments that administer the political system. Technology plays a big role in this transformation, not just by reducing friction, cost, communications and access, but also by rendering previously capital intensive/exclusive operations and tools available to anyone, anywhere for an increasingly broad set of purposes.
Traditional organizations are finding these changes difficult to embrace and incorporate into established thinking, planning and management. The desire for greater individual independence, recognition, rewards and responsibilities flies in the face of traditional top down leadership. Technology in the hands of the old guard gives the means for greater direct oversight, comparison and control. As individual associates we are more inspections,detections, neglections and all kinds of stuff than ever before. An article in the January issue of Wired observes technology’s role in this transformation. It seems that middle managers, the real victims of automation, may not have been all bad.
Dr.King called for an America and World that lived up to the proposition that we are all created equal and should be judged based on the quality of our character. Those are two principles that future organizations and future applications of technology need to consider. So today while we celebrate the accomplishments of a great american, an individdual who has defined and changed the course of our future, we should also consider how we will shape our future society, polity, workplace and home.