Bureacracy Termites: Blogs, Wiki's, and Information Markets

Despite much talk about new organization forms, and networks, most profit making organizations have more in common with the Roman Army than any new form of self organized, self directed network of value.  Many organizations I visit have traditional bureaucratic mechanisms for command and control, and you hear executives recite ancient verities like, "What gets measured gets managed" and "Ideas are easy; execution is hard" and "Great implementation is more important that great strategy".  There are many reasons that I think these observations are, at best, half right, but that is a topic for another day.  I suggest that most large organizations are gigantic bureaucracies -- with rules and roles, and often successful ones at that.  They don't call themselves bureaucracies for that French word went out of fashion well before the proponents of Freedom Fries began their Franco-phobia.  Yet, most organizations look a lot like the traditional "M-form" hierarchy which was pioneered by DuPont, Sears, and GM, as the brilliant business historian Al Chandler pointed out so long ago. Yet, it strikes me that there are at least three inoculations executives can administer to their organizations to make them more immune to bad bureaucratic processes and, perhaps, unleash the value of self organization.  First, Wiki's help organizations codify and arrange knowledge in an efficient manner.  See my blog on Where's Your Wiki, and Andy McAfee's article on Enterprise 2.0 in Sloan Management Review.  If you are trying to share an empirical reality -- Wiki's are your friend. 

In prediction, the idea of information markets can help unleash the knowledge of people in your organization that are "edge capable".  John Hagel and John Seeley Brown have been articulate in their explanation as to why new innovations can and should come from the edge of your organization.  I have also written about why an idea market is less risky than capital budgeting in picking new innovations to back.  As others have noted, information markets like the Iowa Electronic Markets are more accurate than polls.  Markets are great at prediction.

Lastly, the notion of internal blogs as a means to share voices internal to the organization is cheap, self correcting (for lousy or infrequent blogs die out of their own accord) and shares vital information within the firm -- sometimes social, sometimes technical -- often useful.

This half a six pack, of wiki's, information markets, and blogs are simple, powerful things that even the most bureaucratic organization could use to unleash some of their trapped knowledge and initiative.  Of course, most organizations are as uncomfortable with self organized activity as King John was with the Magna Carta.  But like that fateful day at Runnymede, where the knights forced John to sign, those organizations that don't foster these mechanisms inside, may find that your employees are doing them outside the confines of the corporation, and you may, or may not reap the value. 

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