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Shutterstock

The Enron scandal and bankruptcy of the early 2000s was a financial debacle for thousands, sent former CEOs to prison, and led to the extinction of a Big Five accounting firm. It also transformed corporate governance, ushering in the era of Sarbanes-Oxley transparency and accountability. Important transactions into which Enron entered with Board approval suffered from crucial accounting and governance defects.[i]

As Enron’s implosion and later investigation demonstrated, the director’s job in a non-profit, foundation or corporate setting can be maddeningly complex. Are agency relationships correctly aligned so that agents act in a fiduciary capacity on behalf of the principals they are supposed to represent? Should the CEO participate as a full board member with voting rights? How does the board review and approve strategic plans? Are there conflicts of interest? How does the board recruit new members? How does the board review executive performance? …


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Getty

The true weight of bureaucracy’s heavy hand is being felt more keenly in organizations worldwide since the COVID-19 crisis and the rapid dispersal of millions of workers to remote locations. Annoying bureaucratic processes, ham-handed spyware deployments and erratic Brownian-motion Zoom meetings are compromising worker engagement in myriad ways. The scientific community has no special immunity from these effects, which embed themselves into its figurative cell structure.

Matthew Akamatsu and Kennan Salinero are research scientists in the San Francisco Bay Area who are thinking deeply about the need to free science from the heavy hand of bureaucracy. They are brainstorming on multiple fronts about ways to adapt the theories and practices of organizational self-management to thwart advancing bureaucratic metastasis. Future experiments might address challenges that include erratic funding sources, controlling lab heads, disconnected silos, lack of accountability and transparency, idea hoarding, skewed incentives, and many more. …


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Bigstock

TED Prize winner Sugata Mitra delivered a keynote at the 2015 International Conference & Exposition of the Association for Talent Development (ATD) where he shared his dream of a School in the Cloud. At the conclusion of his talk, the nearly 10,000 attendees rose to give him a prolonged and deserved standing ovation.

What made Mitra’s humble talk so powerful? My sense (as one of those 10,000 attendees) was that his simple, transcendent message of freedom and agency marked a phase shift in how we think about learning, particularly for the young.

Mitra and his colleagues began their “Hole in the Wall” experiments in a New Delhi slum in 1999, leaving a web-enabled computer there and filming children as they interacted with it. The experiments, which inspired the movie “Slumdog Millionaire,” showed that children could teach themselves to use a computer and then teach other children how to use it-while upgrading their math and language skills.[i]


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Excalibur

Gary Hamel and Michele Zanini have unsheathed their Excalibur for slaying bureaucracy. Their new book, Humanocracy[i], is about creating workplaces as creative and vibrant as the people who work inside them.

First, the authors take the literary sword to bureaucracy, meticulously laying out the rationale for its demise. They highlight contrasting stories of stellar anti-bureaucratic success (the ATLAS particle detector project, one of the core initiatives of the Large Hadron Collider) and stultifying bureaucratic inertia (Microsoft remaining Windows-centric in the years following Y2K while Google perfected search). …


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AES was a company ahead of its time. Founded in 1981 by Roger Sant and Dennis Bakke, by 1999 it operated 90 electricity plants in 13 countries and employed nearly 40,000 people based on a philosophy of organizational self-management. As Bakke related in an interview at the time: “Everything about how we organize gives people the power and the responsibility to make important decisions, to engage with their work as businesspeople, not as cogs in a machine.”[1]

While AES later changed leadership as a result of slumping energy markets, its pioneering example posed an important question: is it possible for a large organization to decentralize decision-making and maintain a laser focus on its stakeholders? …


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The ancient Greek philosopher Democritus theorized the existence of atoms by wondering what would happen if you cut an apple into smaller and smaller pieces until you reached a point where the material would be so small as to be “uncuttable.” These uncuttable pieces he deemed atomos.

Today, thanks to multi-billion-dollar research facilities like CERN and its Large Hadron Collider, we can now answer questions about atoms and their attendant particles about which Democritus could only dream (like the Higgs boson, irreverently called the “God Particle” to the annoyance of many scientists).

An organization can be defined as two or more people acting in concert to achieve a common purpose. If we theorize the organization as an atomic field, what are the atomic forces that bind people together? The answers are found in the language of commitments and promises. …


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Time is our most important non-renewable resource. Once a year has passed, it belongs to history. The choices we made as individuals about how to spend those 8,760 hours define us in the present and shape our future. Did we learn? Grow? Deepen relationships? Create value? How we spend our time matters. The question of how we spend time at work is profound.

The Management Lab estimates that the excess cost of bureaucracy in the U.S. is approximately $3 trillion dollars per year.[1] That’s one-seventh of the entire U.S. economy. It’s not just an economic cost, it’s a moral cost. …


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Scary terms like “future of work” and “self-management” are challenging for leaders already anxious over wrenching COVID-19 transformation, accelerating technological change, and the uneasy mix of generations in the workplace. Small wonder that an IBM study of executives found that even in the pre-COVID-19 environment, most leaders doubted their own ability to manage complexity. …


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Author, futurist, and innovation expert Rod Collins (Wiki Management [i]) has a vision for the post-COVID-19 organization. It has a lot to do with leveraging the power of networks.

In Collins’ view, the intelligence of an organization resides in its human network, the dense connections linking contributors freely exchanging information. Individual nodes, while important, become supremely valuable as network value creators. One of his paradigmatic models is Wikipedia, the omnipresent online encyclopedia representing the pinnacle of global mass collaboration.

Command-and-control (C2) has been the dominant organizational management model since 1841 when a train wreck investigation on the Western Railroad led to companies importing Prussian military doctrine as a way to pursue accountability (meaning, blame)[ii]. The new industries of the industrial age quickly embraced managers, hierarchy, lines of formal communication, departments and organization charts. Perplexingly, this dominant management model persists today in organizations around the globe, even as its suitability erodes with every advance in communication technology. …


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Dizzying and accelerating change envelops our daily lives. Blockchain, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, nanotechnology, genetic engineering, robotics, and myriad other technologies are disruptively altering our world (we’ve already advanced beyond 3D printing into 4D). The uneasy mix of generations in the workplace, each with different expectations, challenges our most basic views regarding work and life. Black swans are more than ready to swim into view at any time, with surprising and painful impacts (like the coronavirus).

Unfortunately, like Sisyphus pushing a boulder up a hill only to have it repeatedly fall to the bottom for all eternity, we continue to organize companies the same way we organized railroads in the 1840s when information moved a single character at a time via Morse code. In an age when information moves everywhere at the speed of light over networks of glass, might it be time to create organizations that mirror the agility, speed, and power of the information networks that serve them? …

About

Doug Kirkpatrick

US Partner, NuFocus Strategic Group | Culture | TEDx + Keynote Speaker | Author | Forbes + HuffPost | Teal | Wavemaker

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