When I first started working for Corporations I assumed that people at high levels were in charge of meticulously planning out everything. If something seemed wrong, wasn't working properly, causing client dissastifation, then these all-knowing 'corporate masters' must be aware of it, and and there was intent behind it. Applying this kind of logic to large corporations created a conspiricist sort of thinking in me. I worked in a highly specialized area of customer service for a large car manufacturer years ago, and after several months working there came to the conclusion that there must have been a reason we weren't being provided with the information we needed to do our job and keep our customers happy; the reason was that the company only maintained this particular 'specialized section' of their business as a Tax Write-Off and for public relations purposes, and had no real interest in the division at all. Far from being the liasons between the customers and the company we were intended to be 'the wall' keeping the customer from the company; we were there to deflect any communication of dissastifaction with empty customer service rhetoric. If we knew what was really going on, we wouldn't have been able to serve this purpose well.
This kind of conspiricist thinking comes easy to me, and up until the last couple of years I've applied it to pretty much everything: politics, the media, UFOs, you know, the normal areas people develop conspiracy theories about, but I'm slowly beginning to lose faith in it. A lot of this has to do with the fact that as I've climbed the corporate ladder, I've seen first hand that things that I had always assumed to be part of a grand scheme were usually just accidental corrollaries of decisions by individuals, and not a lot of thought was put into the changes and decisions before there implemented. The thought comes afterword, when things screw up.
I've also found that if you look at all the sections of a corporation independantly, it seems like the whole thing shouldn't work, I mean, how can something work if you don't have some conscious over-arching plan, no cohesive vision? But it does work, even without the planning, and I've getting the growing feeling that what's at work is actually a collective intelligence- the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, to resort to a cliche.(The Ayn Rand Fan inside me is rolling over in its grave.)
But, of course, my theory is nothing new, and is apparently already being taken advantage of by Corporations, as detailed in his Red Herring articleby Future Now blogger AskPang (although, taking advantage of this would require a over-arching plan, so I somewhat dubiousof this assertation)
There are a couple of notions of collective intelligence. One version, which you can find in the business section of your local bookstore, crystallizes the idea that (through some mysterious process) groups of people come to know things that their individual members do not. The saying "All of us is smarter than each of us" captures this idea nicely; so does former Hewlett-Packard CEO Lew Platt's lament, "If only HP knew what HP knows." This collective intelligence is what sets really brilliant teams apart from merely good ones. (In some ways, it's a more sophisticated version of tacit knowledge, knowledge that we can acquire and pass on, but which eludes description and formalization.) Consequently, collective intelligence is the philosopher's stone of modern management: Bookshelves groan with advice about how to create the conditions that allow it to arise and thrive within companies, and be harnessed later by them.
Along the same lines, I was reading the Guardian Commentary section this morning and came across this article by Susan Greenfield about creativity:
Given that, at least for me, creativity comes from silence, space, the right kind of one-on-one dialogue, and being away from the press of the bustling working environment, it is hard to think how we might turn that work environment into a place conducive to having ideas.
I find brainstorming, where there is more than one other person, counterproductive. It becomes a social challenge to get a word in edgeways, and listening to others starts to take up time and social rules take over. This is one of many reasons why working in committee, for me, is not very edifying.
I agree with this to a degree, although, I think that it is possible to be collectively creative. A comittee is not a good example of this, perhaps, because it is usually a meeting of individuals with seperate agendas trying to come to some kind of compromise, and everyone very much stays in their place. Taking a chance, risking the possibility that you might make yourself look bad, is unlikely to happen. It's about drawing a circle around your self and staying in that little circle, and not tramping rudely into smebody else's space. And, as I learned early in art school, being creative is about being willing to make a fool of yourself, and crossing boundaries.
Comic Jams, group improv, even certain internet message boards are some examples of collective creativity that works. The first thing you need is trust, and it's this element that I think is probably missing from a lot of corporate collectivism, to use what some people may consider to be an oxymoron. It's this thinking that has lead me to the conclusion that a top-down "I lead you follow" organizational structure for businesses is not the only way to go.
But the UN style 'everyone has a say' comittee approach won't necessarily be the way to go either (The Ayn Rand Fan inside me sighs with relief). Personally, I think we're in the initial stages of a big shake up to all the organizational systems we've become accustomed to, and I'm looking forward to it, though have no idea what the end result will be. Perhaps it will look something like the techology derived hive mind that is described by these writers.