Managing Organizations Democratically?

September 27, 2010

I recently finished reading Jeffrey Pfeffer’s Power: Why Some People Have it–and Others Don’t. I highly recommend it. Pfeffer provides much useful information about leadership and influence building. However, a section toward the end contained the most radical thought I have ever encountered in business literature.

Too frequently to count throughout my career, I have heard the statement: “This isn’t a democracy.” Businesses are not run by consent; they are run by fiat. But is that required?

In a chapter describing the reality of organization politics, Pfeffer postulates: “Maybe… democracy is good not only as a form of government for public entities but also as a way of making better decisions in companies and nonprofits.” What? Running organizations democratically? Ridiculous! Heresy!

This is no touchy-feely book. Pfeffer’s Power is a modern version of Machiavelli’s The Prince filled with examples of those who took or kept power in ways that would not win them any “good citizenship” awards. Nevertheless, Pfeffer cites James Surowiecki’s The Wisdom of Crowds (another book I highly recommend) in suggesting that effectively engaging a broad number of people in decision making will improve an organization.

“There are only two ways to resolve disagreements about what to do and how to do it–through the imposition of hierarchical authority in which the boss gets to make the decision, or through a more political system in which various interests vie for power, with those with the most power affecting the final choices.”

I would love to see the latter in practice. But, I’m not sure I’d buy stock in the company.

What do you think?


Too many books… Too many ways to read them!

September 26, 2010

I was in my local Barnes and Noble this afternoon with my family browsing books and found a table covered with must-have books. I felt a bit guilty about noting the titles in my smartphone to download online later. I do realize that brick-and-mortar bookstores must pay their overhead somehow, and I would hate to lose them, but I really prefer reading on the Kindle or listening via Audible downloads.

These are the books I found:

The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr. Carr is the author of the Harvard Business Review article in 2003, IT Doesn’t Matter, which is worth reading.

I Live in the Future & Here’s How It Works: Why Your World, Work, and Brain Are Being Creatively Disrupted by Nick Bilton.

Then there is Business Model Generation: A Handbook for Visionaries, Game Changers, and Challengers by Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur. This one is going to have to be in print because it seems to demonstrate business strategy development using graphics. Not something they are likely to release in audio or e-book. I should have just purchased it in the store, but waited to read reviews at home before I decided to order it.

Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human by Richard Wrangham argues that cooking food was critical to the evolution of ape to man. Certainly not a business or IT book, but I am fascinated by human evolution and early human culture. This should be a nice compliment to Before the Dawn: Recovering the Lost History of Our Ancestors by Nicholas Wade which I listened to recently.

The book I had to start with today is Open Leadership: How Social Technology Can Transform the Way You Lead by Charlene Li, co-author of Groundswell. I’m not sure what this book is about, but I enjoyed Groundswell so much that I can’t pass this up. I have downloaded  the Audible version of this book, and will start listening to it as I walk the dogs immediately after I finish this blog.

Kindle and Audible allow me to “read” many more books than I could read otherwise. The Kindle goes with me everywhere, and its text-to-speech option allows me to listen to books while I’m driving when that book is not available through an audio format. The Kindle lets me take dozens of books with me without causing a backache, while Audible lets me listen to books on my iPod, Kindle, or computer which lets me get to books while walking dogs or driving.

Have any of you read the books on my list above? Have any other recommendations? Let me know.

Crowdsourcing and Location Based Social Networks

September 17, 2010

Location-based social networking has gained attention since Facebook entered the arena. In addition to Facebook and Foursquare, similar applications include Gowalla, Google Latitude, Yahoo Koprol, and others. All of these services share a focus on connecting friends (e.g., “Looks like Sarah is in the bookstore down the street; let’s go say hi.”) and marketing (e.g., “There is a suit sale in this mall, and I need a new suit.”). While I expect both purposes to continue to dominate location-based social networks, I see a more powerful application.

Imagine that you are a small business owner; while reconciling your end of month finances, you have an accounting issue (i.e., you can’t figure out how to reconcile the checks on your desk with your financial software report). All you need is 30 minutes with an accountant to review your documents and let you know if you have missed something minor. A quick login to a web service indicates that there are five accountants in your immediate area. I’m not talking about accountant offices, but rather live human accountants who might be available for a quick job. You send an invitation to three accountants who are rated highly by other members and agree to pay $75 for a 30-minute consultation.

Susan, one of the accountants, gets an alert regarding your invitation through an application on her smartphone. She is sitting in a coffee shop and welcomes the opportunity to earn some money. She is the first to accept your invitation. Ten minutes later (she finishes her coffee first), Susan walks into your office and introduces herself. You explain your problem, and she reviews your spreadsheets. She makes some recommendations, gets you back on track, and is on her way. Upon rating her service, the agreed upon fee is automatically withdrawn from your account and placed into her account. Susan rates your interaction, and she returns to her free afternoon.

There are clearly a number of issues with the above scenario (how can you trust a random person to look over your finances?) that must be addressed, but I hope you see the potential. This is not limited to small business engagements. This type of effort could also work with a scientist in Florida studying tree growth who needs pictures of specific locations in California, Alaska, and Maine for a research project. In addition, this type of location-based crowdsourcing could be utilized by a political campaign that needs to get a candidate’s supporters to a last-minute rally—the potential is endless.

In the immediate future, location-based services will continue to focus on connecting friends and marketing to them. In the long-term, I hope to see much more.