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Saturday, August 21, 2010

Organizational Intelligence after Drucker

@roundtrip via @gagan_s discusses whether Enterprise 2.0 counts as a technological phenomenon (which Greg calls the Technarian position) or a social phenomenon (which Greg calls the Proletarian position).

Greg offers a third position, which he names Druckerian after Peter Drucker, nominating Drucker and Doug Engelbart as the patron saints of Enterprise 2.0. He quotes Drucker's vision

"The purpose of an organization is to enable ordinary humans beings to do extraordinary things." Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices. Chapter 28, The Spirit of Performance, p. 361 (1974)

and suggests that

" ... although both technology and broad bottom-up participation are necessary to achieve the Druckerian vision, neither element alone is sufficient to achieve the noble end of re-engineering how ordinary people work together to achieve the ends of enterprises they choose to affiliate with".

In other words, neither purely technical nor purely social, but sociotechnical. (Many people think of a socio-technical system as a composite system, containing some social subsystems and some technical subsystems. This is a simplification, which can sometimes be dangerously misleading. I tend to see sociotechnical systems as a quasi-fractal decomposition, in which all the subsystems are themselves sociotechnical.)

Twenty years ago, Takehito Matsuda defined organizational intelligence as "the interactive-aggregative complex of human intelligence and artificial intelligence in an organization". In other words, the intelligence is neither located solely in people (human intelligence, group intelligence), nor in software and other technical artefacts, but is an holistic (and indivisible) property of the organization regarded as a sociotechnical system.

(There are some important implications of this, which I need to come back to.)

Greg talks about "the noble end of re-engineering how ordinary people work together". I may be reading too much into this, but I am uncomfortable with the connotations of such words as "noble" and "ordinary", especially in a post that also contains the word "proletarian", because it makes it sound as if re-engineering is something done by the ruling classes to the working classes.

Instead of seeing Drucker's vision of the organization as something that can be engineered, we should instead see it as self-referential. The most extraordinary thing that "ordinary human beings" can do in an organization is to enact this extraordinary and yet vital purpose for themselves. As Steve Hodgkinson says, "Think like a gardener, not an engineer" (via @ITSinsider).

(Politics aside, there are some fairly fundamental questions about leadership and change here, which I need to come back to.)


  1. Great post, Richard. And very timely for me as I'm reading Clay Shirky's latest, "Cognitive Surplus."

    In that book, Shirky basically says that the social media technology we have today enables people to organize and act in a way that just wasn't possible before, and that they are taking advantage of that opportunity. Though he hasn't used the term "Enterprise 2.0" yet, it is a logical extension of his discussion.

    That is a vast over-simplification, but the overall argument fits well with the quote you give, that "neither element alone is sufficient."

  2. Thanks Brett. I haven't seen Shirky's new book yet - it has had an effusive review in the Guardian and a rather waspish review in the Telegraph - so I look forward to seeing what you make of it.

    In terms of the title "Cognitive Surplus", I guess this is a social networking version of the old wives' tale that we all have far more brain cells than we actually use. Does Shirky provide any practical manifesto for mobilizing this surplus, or does he merely tell us for the umpteenth time how wonderful Wikipedia is?

    To paraphrase the Communist manifesto (which you can now download onto your iPad, as I learn from @ITSinsider),

    "The Internet ... has created more massive and more colossal knowledge than have all preceding generations together. ... What earlier century had even a presentiment that such productive forces slumbered in the lap of social labor?"

    See Wikipedia on Surplus Value.

  3. Richard -- Thank you for the kind words and thoughtful analysis!

    With respect to "noble" and "ordinary" references in the Enterprise 2.0 Schism post you quote, I didn't intend any class reference with "noble" and the "ordinary" was intended to echo the "ordinary" in the admiring sense of the Drucker quote. The tongue in cheek tone comparing Enterprise 2.0 and theological debates was intentional (mea culpa).

    Doug Engelbart started his work in 1964 with a clear moral purpose - to improve the ability of people to address complex and critical problems (see quotes in Doug Engelbart 85th Birthday). For me that purpose combined with Doug's kind, generous but determined nature make him very admirable person as well a great engineer and inventor.

    I see Drucker as a thoughtful advocate for leadership and change that values and empowers individuals because that's what's right and that's what's best for the success of the organization. Drucker said:

    At a 1934 Cambridge seminar by John Maynard Keynes, "I suddenly realized that Keynes and all the brilliant economic students in the room were interested in the behavior of commodities, while I was interested in the behavior of people." Peter Drucker, The Ecological Vision, p. 75-76, (1993)

    I believe Drucker would agree with the maxim "Think like a gardener, not an engineer" as a management philosophy.

    It's likely he'd also argue that someone with organizational engineering and architectural skills might be needed to build a big garden (an organization that delivers complex products such as an aircraft, or services such as a health care system that works).

    It's the organization - not the people - that's architected and engineered allow ordinary people to do extraordinary things that they could not accomplish alone.

    See Drucker on Schumpeter and Keynes from post I wrote on Drucker's Centenary.

  4. Richard,

    The main thesis of the book is that for the better part of the 20th century, as the amount of free time available to people increased, the opportunities for these individuals to do something "good" with this free time were limited. More importantly, the ability to come together as groups to make good collective use of the collective free time was essentially non-existent. The emergence of the web made it much easier for individuals to be "creators" instead of just "consumers", and the emergence of social media has made it much much easier - and cheaper - for individuals to come together and make collective good use of all that free time.

    Although most workers don't have a lot of "free time" at work, more and more - the knowledge workers - have increased control over how they use the time that they have. I see Enterprise 2.0 as having the same potential within the work environment that Shirky says Web 2.0 (social media) has had for individuals within organizations. More specifically, if workers are provided the right tools to connect and - more importantly - are given permission to use those tools, Enterprise 2.0 has the potential to fundamentally change how the organization "thinks".

    In the book, Shirky breaks the organization of sharing activities into 4 basic forms: Personal, Communal, Public, and Civil. With a little thought, I think these can be translated into an organizationally specific set of forms. But that is an activity for another day.

  5. My comment "...Web 2.0 (social media) has had for individuals within organizations" should read "...outside work."