on March 28, 2010 by eldar in Evolutionary Management, Evolutionary Marxism, Knowledge Worker, Comments (0)

Discovery Economy

So far we covered most of the past and the present. Let’s rehearse it:

  • Original primitive societies
  • Slavery – I owe you, so you do what I want.
  • Feudalism – I owe your land, so part of what you produce is mine.
  • Capitalism – I just pay you to work with my tools, so everything you produce belongs to me.
  • Socialism – that “owner” guy appointed me to decide and manage, you still work with somebody else’s tools somebody else’s material and produce somebody else’s product. And I decide how the loot is distributed. Also, I know exactly what I want you to do.
  • Knowledge society – I was appointed by the “owner” guy to manager, but I have no clue what to do. You are professional, it’s your job. I’ll just share the loot with you if you do a good job and I am in the mood.
  • ??? What’s next???

No, really? Most of our conversations stop here, at the knowledge society. Whenever a question arises, wht’s next, I usually give the speech about “We’ll know when we’ll get there.” True enough. But you know what? I suspect some companies are already there…

There… In the…

Discovery Economy.

I’ve got to this conclusion considering management techniques for the software development industry. Being on the cutting edge, it’s no surprise that this industry produced tons of different controversial management techniques. Waterfall, rad, scrum, xp to name just a few… There are proponents of these techniques, there are opponents of them, but in the end everybody’s question is: “Do they work?” And the answer is: “It depends.”

It depends on the project you manage. It may be a project where everybody knows what to do, it’s just a matter of time and effort. That’s pretty much industrial project, where manager kknows what to do and can measure the outcome. Such project are easy to manage.

There are projects that require domain knowledge. There managers often does not know what to do, but the people do. Naturally, it’s harder to manage, but still doable. You get tasks and estimates form the people, you mange, slap then into a Gantt chart, and you are there.

Unfortunately, I see more and more projects where you have to awe your market which each release, and if you don’t… well… your loss. Do you think Palm, Blackberry, Gmail, or iPod/iPhone could have been managed in one of the ways described above? Not a chance. The problem is, to create such product you need a team where not only managers don’t have any idea of what to do, neither does the file and rank. They just have ability to produce it, but not the ability to describe it before they produced it. How do you manage such projects?

To understand the difference, let’s compare it to a fairy tale.

Once there was a prince. He dreamed of a princess locked in the highest room of the highest tower guarded by a fire-breathing dragon… Now, how would he proceed?

In the industrial society, the prince would hire a knight, who goes exactly where prince tells him to go and does exactly what the prince tells him to do. Will it result in a frred princess? Well… that does not work in the fairy tales, not to mention the real life. Neither do industrial socialistic methods in the modern society.

In the knowledge society, the prince would hire a knight, who supposedly knows where to go and what to do. Think Shrek. Yes, it work as long as you have somebody who knows where to go and what to do, details delicately omitted in the “Shrek” movie.

But what if you have no clue even where the castle is? Well, welcome to the discovery economy. Now the prince have to get in the saddle and spend days, weeks, months trying to find at least a clue, where to look for his result. He has to slay irrelevant dragons, converse with ignorant wizards, travel from town to town all over the world collecting pieces of data that will eventually lead him to the princess.

Applying older management techniques to the discovery economy

Clearly, that does not work well for the Far Away Kingdom management and accounting. So, naturally, when faced with failed deliverables, the Far Away Managers come with the management techniques.

Hey, Prince, can you, please, specify your itinerary, every day’s points of departure and arrival, all the dragons, you plan to slay, all the wizards, you plan to converse to and what exact answers do you plan to hear from them??? Yeah, right. If you’d know the answers, why would you need to talk to them in the first place?

Do you see?

More and more companies have to predictably produce outcomes that the world have never seen before. And no existing management techniques work to deliver that.

That’s Discovery Economy.

That’s the economy where every version or a release you have to produce something that will make jaws fall to the floor, and if you don’t – beware!

Granted, if you apply industrial age management techniques, some jaws will fall to the floor… because of yawning. And that’s not what you want. You want an awe…  You want inspire, shock, impress…

You want Google, Prius, iPhone… Can you do that treating your people like a canon meat on early XX century assembly line? I don’t think so.

Ok, it was too long already, so I’ll leave you thinking about what you already read about. Talk to you next time!

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