Desperate Times Call for Fluid Measures
Account executives. Bullshit bosses. A CRM system that is from a bygone era. A ten-year office lease. WTF?
Business models and ways of organizing predicated on a world that no longer exists are rapidly falling by the wayside. Legacy corporations scramble to become responsive while upstarts destruct and disrupt as a modus operandi.
The command and control ways of hierarchical structures have been and outsmarted and outmaneuvered by digitization. In a world of information abundance, it’s now the duty of any company worth its salt to efficiently gather, process, and act upon data. This is the new 21st-century organization as an engine for learning.
Smart or Stupid?
Unlike cities that become smarter as they expand, businesses become stupider as they scale. But ZARA is one type of business that breaks all the rules, sacrificing efficiency in order to gain agility.
It’s precisely why the shopping giant sits pretty as the world’s biggest fashion retailer. When a shopper rejects an item, sales staff make diagrams and take notes on ways they could improve the product. With (and with nearly 7,000 stores), trends naturally begin to emerge.
To accommodate for emerging trends, factories reserve up to 85% of their capacity to deal with these in-season adjustments. What takes their competitors 9 months, Zara slips to the shop floor in just three.
In most organizations, the work that produces value for customers is carried out by teams, and increasingly, by flexible teams. The pace of change and the fluidity of most work structures means that it’s not really about creating effective teams anymore, but instead about leading effective ‘teaming’.
In her book Teaming, Harvard professor Amy Edmondson explains that an organisation really thrives (or fails to thrive) depending on how its teams perform. Effective teams need clear goals, well-defined tasks, the right skills and experience at hand, sufficient resources, and access to support. But they also need to be fluid.
Fluid teamwork is on the rise in many industries. Edmond- son explains that this is, ‘Because the work–be it patient care, product development, customized software, or strategic decision-making–increasingly presents complicated interdepen- dencies that have to be managed on the fly.’ Due to the short-lived nature of teams today, the talent market looks a lot more like the world of professional sports.
Companies typically deliver value to their customers in small teams because they can adapt faster this way. Effective teaming, then, is really the knack for collaborating in fluid groupings. It’s an emergent strategy and an essential competitive edge for shapers to be able to learn and execute on the go.
A New Frontier
Jack du Rose is the Co-founder of Colony — a platform designed that makes work more open by being built on blockchain. Du Rose struck upon the idea out of frustration with his previous experience of running a luxury jewelry business and having constant issues with external workers. He explains:
”We did all of the design and product development in house, and the manufacturing was distributed to people all over the world. And that was a project management nightmare .”
The solution to the nightmare rested with making the workforce self-organizing. Tapping the resources of latent talent and contingent markets could help create value on several fronts:
Externally —through an on-demand workforce that lives outside the formal company walls. The business scale elastically to meet skills requirements on the go.
Internally—through robust employee engagement. Talent is not hired to simply checkboxes on a job posting, but are empowered to harness their individual and creating creativity, and help push the corporate innovation agenda.
Globally— through a decentralized system — value exchange is enabled and distributed by the network. If this sounds a bit out there, that’s because it is — but it’s also exactly how bitcoin and many pioneering companies like Enspiral operate.
Du Rose explains that for members of Colony:
“Arbitrary work can be proof of work..rather than working around a company that is telling them what to do — they’re telling one another what to do — they’re coordinating and they’re sharing the fruits of their collaborative labour in a trustlesss fashion. Trustless meaning they don’t need to trust one another because the rules of engagement are enshrined within the blockchain smart contracts rather than enforced by the by-laws of a company.”
Collaborative approaches to production are a natural human tendency. Freelancers flex their muscles with Amazon Mechanical Turk, educators with Udemy, corporates with P&G’s Connect + Develop, researchers with NineSigma, social innovators with OpenIDEO, creatives with Hit Record,, entrepreneurs with Kickstarter, and anyone with the inclination and time on their hands, with Wikipedia. Whatever your poison, whether for pleasure or pay, there’s likely a match just for you in the platform economy.
Rather than them being a user, the individual becomes a stakeholder of these systems. Applications are now being built on top of blockchain architectures. Du Rose hammers the point home:
This is the next wave. It’s how we will see organisations and technologies being created — and that is where the next wave of employment, and value creation, and …work — for want of a better word — will come from.”
Are You Ready?
Companies that trust their people create safe spaces for experimentation, collaboration, and innovation. But they also unlock the fluid ways of working that were dormant in so many workers and institutions. Work has cracked open and shifted towards an experience than a physical place.
The workplace is now a state of mind.
To remain indispensable in the new economy, workers will increasingly need to know how to spend their time wisely. At The Ready, they’ve been preparing for this for a while now (hence the name). They help their clients reconfigure meetings, recharge their people to make their best contribution, reinvent the organization's operating system and reimagine where, when, and how work gets done. More firms, startups, coaches, facilitators, and even therapists are helping to usher in this new world of work.
We may not know what the future holds but we’ree no longer too busy to notice that there’s no more business as usual. Letting things flow is the only way to go.