Chapter 7: Work Changes
Organization: Steven L. Telleen, Ph.D.
The communication explosion resulting from the printing press
eventually led to the Industrial Revolution and dramatic changes in the
way people worked,
the skills they needed and the views they held on what constitutes
and status. The communication explosion resulting from the Internet and
technologies promises to be no less sweeping in its scope. In this
we will revisit concepts introduced in the preceding chapters and
how they might affect our work and work environments in the
Key to understanding these changes is the concept
structuredness and the value we place on structured versus unstructured
and processes. In much, but not all, of the industrial world today, we
a tendency to place value on structured content and processes while we
unstructured content and processes as less important. In a world where
is based on efficient production, and production efficiency is
on breaking work into discrete chunks that can be optimized as linear
this makes sense. But the world already was changing even before the
advent of Intranets. The book The Seven Cultures of Capitalism (if you can find a
provides useful insights into the nature of value and wealth in this
As manufacturing processes became well understood
widely used, the measure of value began to shift. Quality
to replace simple availability of goods as a business
But today, even quality is becoming less of a differentiator,
innovation and personalized service have started to emerge as the value
differentiators in business. A point to note in this trend is that what
constitutes value is shifting from attributes easily supported by
structure to attributes that
require less structure. At the higher levels of business, this has
been true. Business is about conversations and commitments. Both are
processes. Only after the commitments are made do the structured
become important to support meeting those commitments.
The trend toward increased valuation of
processes is true not only in business. In this century the world
science, the evangelist of structured processes and content, also has
to produce work acknowledging the importance, and primacy, of
processes. The writing of Thomas Kuhn, mentioned in Chapter 1, is all
the role of creative, unstructured processes in science. But even
this, Albert Einstein provided numerous quotes along these lines,
his famous, "Imagination is more important than knowledge." This
of Einstein's may be the best overall description of the work changes
current revolution will encourage. Increasingly, business value
come not from production, but from imagining innovative things to
and how to apply what is produced in innovative and personal
A distinction that has been emerging for some time
that of information versus data. It became apparent several decades ago
the context of data was more important than raw data itself. In his
book, The Art of the Long View, Peter Schwartz,
of the Global Business
suggests that even this distinction is not sufficient. He contends that
human mind learns best from stories about possibilities and
rather than from facts, checklists and process descriptions. People
better in novel or adverse situations when they understand the story
is unfolding as opposed to when they follow procedural descriptions, no
how well rehearsed.
The success of Shell Oil over the past few
where Schwartz was involved in strategy development, is a tribute
the value of the unstructured approach in business. The use of scenario
a story-based approach to knowledge, allowed Shell to prepare for
many world events that were unthinkable to their competitors before
they happened: including the fall of OPEC's influence in the price of
oil and the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
The use of scenarios to explore and prepare for
possibilities is becoming a powerful tool. The process helps us
our options and where we may have choices. But the term I am beginning
hear more and more in conversations with business executives and
strategists is not about data, information or even possibilities.
It is the term "meaning." In the world of structure we were concerned
about the correctness of data. In the world of imagination and
innovation we are becoming more concerned with the meaning of
information. In many areas of business, trends and
gestalts are being recognized as more important than the absolute
correctness of any specific data value. The business questions are
shifting from "what do we need to do," and "how do we do
it" to "what do we want to do." In a very real sense, business
strategists are rushing headlong toward
the existential search for meaning, Can the impact on the rest of the
be far behind?
Meaning happens at the intersection of the
and the community. Meaning comes from applying a value system to a
The challenge provides the energy, or driving force, and the value
provides the standard against which we measure the usefulness of
information, approaches or even the importance of the challenge itself.
our value system identifies a challenge as important, and specific
as useful for confronting the challenge, the information is meaningful.
If our value system rejects the challenge or the information, for
whatever reason, it becomes meaningless.
Key to value and meaning is the concept of
of interest. Communities of interest are the strongest forces in
and reinforcing value systems in individuals. They are an important
for understanding and managing many aspects of an intranet (or Internet
Communities of interest are a part of being human. They have evolved
over time with the evolution of information systems discussed in the
first chapter. At one time, an individual was born into a community of
interest, her tribe or local community, and lived in it all her life.
Today, we still are born into our first community of interest, our
But, as we grow older and become independent, most
us have more choice in our potential communities of interest than in
past. Modern transportation and communication allows us to move
affiliate with individuals at much greater distances. But geography
remains a strong factor in maintaining strong, close, communities of
That is, until recently.
The Internet has suddenly made distance and time
less of a factor in maintaining communities of interest and their
structures. Individuals with like interests and values can find each
and reinforce and evolve each other's ideas almost instantaneously,
of their physical location. The same is true on intranets. As more
in an organization become adept at intranet communication, they will
to find each other and form communities of interest that cross today's
and geographic boundaries. In fact, a role that should be developed
consciously in intranet organizations is the role of cross-pollenator,
are responsible both for actively spreading ideas across existing
of interest and stimulating the development of new communities of
We should note that communities of interest are
than virtual work groups, another phenomenon enabled by an intranet.
basic difference is that individuals are assigned to a work group,
they voluntarily belong to a community of interest. Here are some
implications of that difference.
Virtual work groups, particularly effective ones, tend evolve community
This is what is happening during the early phases of team bonding.
unless they become an organizational renegade, they continue to take
direction, gage their effectiveness and gain their rewards from the
- Communities of interest are self-subscribing -
virtual work groups
are mandated or appointed.
- Communities of interest maintain their own
history, statistics, stories - in virtual work groups these are
maintained by the larger organization.
- Neither is bound by physical geography.
- Communities of interest set their own goals
and visions - in virtual
work groups the goals and vision are set by the larger organization.
- Communities of interest generate their own
rules and codes - in virtual work groups internal rules and codes are
heavily influenced by the larger organization.
- Communities of interest enforce their own
rules - in virtual work
groups enforcement is largely carried out by the larger organization.
- Communities of interest maintain their own
reward systems, usually
non-monetary - virtual work groups are rewarded by the larger
often with direct or indirect monetary implications.
Most groups in a larger organization are a hybrid,
on the continuum between an independent community of interest, that has
become alienated from the larger organization, and a completely focused
group, that fails, or provides sterile results. As we move from a
machine, model of organizations to a virtual community model,
how to nurture independent virtual communities and at the same time
them integrated will become increasingly important. This may be the
organizational challenge of the new era.
In his book, Organizing Genius, Warren Bennis identifies at least
roles for managing creative groups that provide some insights into
the new organizations. One is the role of the visionary, the person who
the challenge and its resolution and who spends her time reinforcing
common image. The other is the role of the guardian of the community,
person who negotiates the commitments with other communities and the
While the roles of visionary and guardian are
for community cohesion, there are numerous other roles that are equally
for the effective functioning of the community. A vital role is the
brokering of information. As David Shenk, author of Data Smog says: "Knowledge is power, but an
stream of information is rarely the best route to knowledge."
The brokering of community information generally
accomplished by a collection of agents. Both individuals and
have two distinct information needs: the need to collect information to
current conditions and the need to impart information that will create
desired effect. We will refer to these as sensory agents and action
Current organizational roles, with which we already are familiar, can
classified in this way.
Roles that fall under the sensory agent category
the collection of information, the organization of information and
reactions to the information.
When we go to a government agency to file for a
or certificate, the person who we interact with is an information
agent. The same is true of the person in our companies who
our benefits information, payroll hours, etc. Clerical roles tend to be
information collection roles.
In contrast, the functions we most associate with
are those of an organization agent. They organize the information so it
be found, and act as brokers, assisting those who are not as familiar
the contents or organizational structure to find what is meaningful.
formal librarians are not the only example of this role. Administrative
in an office perform this role as do database administrators. Anyone
spends their time organizing information so it can be found again is
as an organization agent.
Finally, historians, critics and analysts provide
community evaluation of the information. While the community may allow
to participate in this role, most communities have a limited number of
authorities who provide the community-accepted evaluations. There are
ways to become an authority, ranging from being sanctioned by the
leadership, to building a populist reputation and following among the
members. Visionaries, revolutionaries and cult leaders are evaluation
whose value systems differ from the official community
Evaluation agents provide a bridge to the action
because their vision and value systems can stimulate and mold the
of the community.
Action agents translate information into physical
Traditional action-agent roles in organizations tend to be
and sales. Engineering falls somewhere between an evaluation agent and
action agent. There is a point worth noting about how complex systems
and refine their actions. This generally is done through the use of
tension-opposing forces. For example, our muscle tone is a measure of
the balance between different
sets of muscles that pull against each other. The tension created gives
very accurate control over our movements, once we learn how to
the forces. Likewise, most of our hormonal systems have on and off
that balance each other and help us track the daily changes we
We already are aware of some of these tension
in our traditional organizations. The tension between manufacturing and
is one well documented example. In this case, the manufacturing
does not want to get "stuck" with inventory and have to lay-off workers
the future. The sales organization does not want to miss sales and
share because product is not available. The tension between the two,
keeps the organization on an optimal track. Another example is
check and balance system put in place by the U.S. Constitution. Here a
three-way tension system (Congress, the President and the Supreme
Court) was deemed necessary. It is interesting that a fourth agent (a
sensory agent) also is
required to maintain the proper control, that is the free
Action agents are not all outwardly focused.
require action agents to perform infrastructure maintenance and
We see these agents at work everyday both in our companies and our
institutions. They remove waste, move walls, put in and repair roads
communication lines and a myriad of other tasks.
As mentioned above, an infrastructure
role that every large organization should consider, explicitly,
with an intranet, is that of cross-pollenators. I know some companies,
Hewlett-Packard, have a formal organization and role to do just this.
intranet communities of interest begin to develop, these proactive
will become critical to the continuing mix and integration of
They are important organizational catalysts.
When speaking to audiences, I often start with a version of a very old
that is particularly relevant today. In this version of the story, a
comes out of her office building after work on a dark winter evening.
sees one of her colleagues under a street light in the parking lot
searching for something. She approaches him and asks if she can help.
explains that he has lost his car keys and would very much appreciate
set of eyes.
After some time of searching, the woman becomes
that the keys are not there and suggests another strategy. She asks
he last saw his keys, so they could trace the path back to that point.
Recognizing immediately where she is going with this line of
questioning, he replies: "Oh, I know where I lost them. Over there."
And, he points to a dark spot across the parking lot under a
The woman, flabbergasted, says: "If you lost the
over there, why are you looking for them over here?"
To which the man replies: "Because the light's
As absurd as this story sounds, this is the way we
many of our decisions. When justifying intranets, we attempt to use ROI
measures that are well known (under the street light)
because the real value may not be conventional or easily measured. The
same is true of how we pay for and reward individuals and companies for
the "new" value. What we value and how we pay for it are critical
elements in the evolution and survival of organizations in the emerging
Remember, before the industrial revolution (an
of the printing press) value and wealth were viewed very differently
today. Land and gold may still be important, but as Adam Smith pointed
the route to attaining them is through control of the processes. Today
appear to be shifting again. We went from property to means of
with the industrial revolution. We now are moving from means of
to means of knowing as the key value.
At the dawn of the scientific revolution, the
manufacturers (wineries and breweries) wanted to protect their
by hoarding information. Their researchers were not allowed to share
basic research, because it was considered a trade secret. Fortunately,
of these early scientists took a risk and published their key research
pseudonyms in order to advance the whole field more quickly. The most
case is that of a brewery researcher who published under the name
Student. One of his publications, to this day known only as the
t-test, still stands at the base of the scientific method as an elegant
to determine if experimental differences are more likely the result of
chance or of the proposed hypothesis.
This entire book is based on the premise that
and gate keeping information is detrimental to learning, knowledge and
evolution of both individuals and business environments. The incredible
inefficiencies and expenses that the business community at large
put up with in the
early days of computerized information, because our value and wealth
reinforced the hoarding of ideas and their application, is
With the advent of I-net technology, we are
cracks in our traditional value systems and what constitutes wealth.
products and packaging are being replaced, and goods are moving to
status faster than ever before. How to make enough money to support the
development and manufacturing of products is, increasingly, a
mystery. This must be similar to the confusion and sense of
powerlessness faced by the nobility and landed gentry during the early
days of the industrial revolution, as the
basis of value and wealth shifted from land and gold to processes and
It is not information per se that is the
valued commodity. As David Shenk, the previously quoted author of
Data Smog, says: "Information used to be as rare and
as gold. Now it is so inexpensive and plentiful that most of it ends up
remaindered and shredded, as if it is worthless garbage." What is of
are vision and ideas. With the availability of cheap and plentiful
the process of learning and synthesizing is replacing the process of
So how might our value systems change to reward
creation, distribution and use of valuable ideas. Today's value systems
the hoarding of the ideas. From our manufacturing, process, oriented
we believe that if a company's products aren't protected as a monopoly
some period of time, companies would not invest in new knowledge. We as
community agree to pay the monopoly prices to the manufacturing process
for a defined period, as a way to support advancement of the community
But is providing a manufacturing monopoly
only way to compensate people and companies for their ideas? Is it the
way given the information changes going on today? Is it possible to
the generation of ideas and knowledge from the manufacturing processes,
like the manufacturing processes were separated from their tie to land
during the industrial revolution? What if ideas were paid for by how
they were used, rather than how narrowly they were monopolized?
One can speculate on a value system that ascribes
base value to an idea, instantiated as a patentable process or
But the "patent" holder would not have control over who could use the
in product creation and manufacturing. The patent holder would be
the unit price for each unit produced, from everyone who used the
Thus, the way to greatest wealth would be to create ideas, instantiated
processes or products, that are widely shared and used by many
rather than monopolized by one.
In an intranet environment, the same message holds
How do we reward people for sharing knowledge and ideas? How do we
them for learning? It is not only our management structures that have
change. Our value and reward structures also need to be examined.
must look for ways to reward people, both financially and in terms of
for creating and furthering the general knowledge. Moving from means of
production to means of knowing as a base value requires rewarding
people for meaning,
synthesis and discovery along with their ability to continually
the future possibilities.
it mean to people?
Starting with the CEO:
Earlier we discussed the role challenges play in meaning. Of course,
challenges occur at different levels. The mission, or vision, of an
organization provides a common challenge to all the members. By
challenging herself to meet the mission, or obtain the vision, each
member of the organization helps move the organization toward a
coordinated goal. At the same time, specific implementation, and
even strategy, challenges are left to each individual to solve.
Vision and vision statements become critical in a distributed
So how do organizational visions come about? Are
the product of a genius leader? Sometimes. But, genius induced visions
are difficult to sustain, even by the "genius." As pointed out
visionaries are a class of community sensory agent that share a
with analysts, critics and historians. This is a very different view
the common stereotype held by most Anglo-American capitalist
of the independent leader, somehow superior to and removed from the
heroically leading the way to prosperity.
Most successful organizational visions are a
of the unfolding trends and knowledge in the organization, mapped
future scenarios. As change continues to accelerate, it will become
important to view vision as an evolving process rather than a discrete
The biggest failure of most organizational visions today is that when
they are developed, the corporate visionaries don't begin, immediately,
crafting the vision that will replace it.
The role of the chief executive, the person
for articulating the organizational vision, will increasingly become
of a common mirror reflecting the total image back to each part of the
The model needs to shift from decision-maker hero to community
The person, or people, filling this role will need to be adept at
synthesizing the challenges and responses of the organization as a
whole, seeing the implications
and trends, developing thoughtful scenarios and feeding those back to
individual decision makers, not as decisions, but as possible
productive) futures. The future visions provide the value guides that
each individual to make independent decisions that are meaningful to
organization as a whole.
Today many managers view themselves as managing "the process." They
take or set goals, devise a detailed plan of action, then motivate and
monitor their employees actions according to the plan. As we begin the
dawn of the
information age, some managers already are beginning to realize that
management always has been accomplished by managing the knowledge and
the flow of information. As the trend continues we can expect
management to become the business of managers. Managers, in
are a kind of action agent, as described above. They take in the
information and send out effective (action stimulating) information.
managers discover the strong "sensory" power of the intranet, they will
all work to be done there.
The most effective managers, and companies, will
patterns of work that imbed the normal process of doing business
an intranet communication infrastructure. The traditional role of
managers as a sensory agent, storing and forwarding information flowing
management and workers, will be subsumed by the intranet itself. The
role will begin to focus more on the agent functions of analyst/critic
cross-pollenator. Managers roles will, in effect, become the
agents described above.
As managers move out of the sensory agent role, knowledge workers roles
need to shift to handle the new opportunities and challenges of being
directly into the knowledge base. As with managers, many knowledge
will begin to view their role in terms of knowledge brokering
than content output. Helping other knowledge workers find meaningful
for a specific problem will become more important than pre-packaging
notebooks, manuals and summaries that are so common today. It is
possible that this level, more than any other, will involve
the interplay and integration of automated tools and human judgment.
This also will create the biggest challenge for new
A recent newspaper article referred to a Harvard
School, "Management Updates" newsletter that talked about learning
and active versus passive learners. According the information in the
only 10% of today's organizational population are active learners. We
expect the new workplace to demand and be increasingly dependent on
learners. Whether passive learning is a condition of our upbringing,
educational patterns, our organizational pressures or our genetics is
Whatever the case, we can expect increasing tension to build.
From the individual perspective, this may mean a
number of jobs where passive learners can get by. Just as there
many fewer jobs today than in the past for people without a high
(and now college) education, we may see the same displacement of
learners begin to occur. From the organizational perspective we will
pressure to meet some needs by structuring roles to accommodate passive
learners, simply because there are not enough active learners to go
is another reason middle managers will not disappear entirely. One of
functions of a middle manager is to focus energy and knowledge to
passive learners be successful in their jobs. However, the pressure
be there to minimize this type of overhead in organizations, and the
to which it is tolerated will be dependent on how successful we are at
a higher percentage of active learners.
As is implied above, the new knowledge worker
to be more proactive than reactive. They will need to customize more of
own information flow themselves. This means being able to determine
information she needs, knowing how to find it and knowing how to use
agents to scan, screen and track it. This involves both problem solving
and the willingness to take responsibility for and control of the
information used everyday in every task. It also involves continually
readjusting the personal agents to match the changing requirements of
job. These are all attributes of active learners.
Measurements of self worth, also will be
by the new environment. Many of us measure our self worth on the job by
busy we are during the day. When our day is packed from end to end, so
can barely get to everything, we feel worthy. Never mind that what we
our time doing was reactive busy work that had little direct impact on
outcome of the organization. Proactive behavior requires periods of
for re-evaluation and retuning. Those who measure self worth by
will need to re-calibrate to other indicators of success.
Finally, we can expect organizations to struggle
how knowledge workers are measured and compensated for the value they
Good ideas generally come from the interaction of multiple people, even
only one gets the credit. Bennis Organizing Genius gives examples of this, ranging
Michaelangelo to Walt Disney. An intranet, with virtual communities and
collaboration, will likely make measurement and fair compensation for
even more nebulous. We ultimately may arrive at a solution as the agent
described above become better defined and valued. This will only come
Intranets give us the power to manage in new ways. Taking advantage of
opportunities requires shifting our view from managing things to
managing knowledge and information flows. This shift requires us to
look at the entire
organization as a knowledge base, not just the information in
applications and databases. The workplace becomes a complex sharing of
sensory information and localized activities that change the knowledge
base as they happen. The
operational metaphor will shift from one of factory processes and
to one of objects and agents. As the organizational metaphor shifts
machine to organism, control will be viewed in terms of opposing
rather than engineered solutions. People become the key element, not as
machines, but as important repositories of unique knowledge to be
and blended. This leads us to perhaps the most exciting possibility: a
in perspective from the Industrial Revolution as the golden age of
and exploitation of community labor to the Information Revolution as
golden age of community development and nurturing of individual
Original Version: September,
Last Updated: September, 1997
Copyright 1997 - Steven L.