I spent the day at an interesting symposium on the Organization of the Future put on by the Boyden Institute and hosted by Steelcase Canada. Attendees included Jon Husband, Bruce Mau and Barbara Moses. The objective of the session was to envision the organization of the future, define the principles it would operate under, and begin to explore what it would take to get there.
Here are some of the elements of the picture that the participants painted:
Sounds good, doesn’t it? But suppose half the organizations of the future were like this and the other half were like most of today’s traditional large organizations, almost the antithesis of the above. Would customers know, and care, to give their business to the New Age organizations that had these qualities, even if it might cost a bit more to do so? Would employees be willing to forgo higher salaries (and much higher salaries if they reached the top echelons of traditional organizations) for the more human, healthy working environment of the New Age organizations sketched above? Would these New Age organizations work together and prefer dealing with each other rather than dealing with more traditional organizations, and would this preference be enough to counter the oligopoly power that small groups of traditional companies, working in collusion to crush new entrants, wield in many industries?
Part of me is cynical, and thinks this is all wishful thinking. If there had been a few CEOs from large corporations present at the symposium, who could have reassured us (or disillusioned us), that might have been helpful. But part of me is also a believer in models, and I really think that if enough organizations were to emerge that exemplified this New Age behaviour, others would follow them, and the traditional model would become intolerable and be discarded, just as the slave-exploiting and robber baron models of industry yielded begrudgingly to better models in the past.
What do you think? Is what we envisioned really the organization of the future, or just a dream of incurable optimists?
Thanks to the organizers of this event. And if you ever have the chance to visit any of the showcase Steelcase facilities, go.