How to survive the disruption.

To thrive in a software-driven world, large organizations must change the way they think about work.

Division of labor has delivered incredible gains.

Starting with Henry Ford, we have spent the 20th century breaking things down. By analyzing work and breaking it down to its component parts, we have created massive growth engines: companies capable of producing identical products at global scale. We have filled the world with cars, televisions, and machines of all descriptions. We have created a cheap and plentiful food supply.

But all this has come with a price: In our quest for efficiency, in breaking down the work into small, manageable, repeatable pieces, in outsourcing to global suppliers, we have lost our connection to the whole. We have created an army of specialists who focus on independent tasks, each understanding a small piece of the puzzle. But nobody understands how all the pieces fit together to create a dynamic living system of work.

This is a critical failure, because without a holistic understanding of the system, it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to improve it. A global organization today is a complex system made up of many pieces and parts that operate in isolation. This kind of organization is stable but attempts to change it are often futile, because it will tend to react to change as if it were a virus or disease.

Stability can be an asset, but in today’s turbulent times it is more often a liability. What organizations need today is adaptiveness: the ability to evolve.

The industrial age is fading. The software revolution has begun.

One after another, global giants are being overtaken by a wave of software and services that makes them obsolete. The mobile phone industry was a manufacturing industry, but today it is dominated by software companies. Nokia was swallowed by Microsoft. Motorola is now part of Google.

The car industry is next. In the near future it will not be dominated by automotive companies but by software companies.

Software follows different rules. It is not based on dividing things but on connecting them. Software companies understand that they are part of a system that connects customers with each other, with suppliers, with machines, and with other technologies. Everything in the software business is about seeing holistically and making connections.

It’s time to stop breaking down organizations and start putting them back together again.

Dissection and analysis can lead to important insights. But there’s a problem with dissection: in order to dissect something, you must kill the patient. And in the process of dissecting work, we have killed the patient. We have frozen work into global systems that don’t truly understand what they are doing and how they work. This makes true innovation, in a practical sense, impossible.

In the 20th century we took work apart. In the 21st century we need to put work back together again. We need to focus on connecting teams, connecting with customers, and building shared understanding of how our organizations operate. How they work, why they work, and what they do.

But if the knowledge is divided and distributed across the world, how does a global company explain itself, to itself?

Visual thinking is the most powerful tool for connecting a divided company.

By bringing people into a room and asking them to create a picture together, you can reconnect the divided pieces and bring the patient to life again. Picture-making helps people see the connections and build a shared, holistic understanding of what they are doing, how it works, and why they are doing it. They start to understand important fundamentals, like how the company creates value for customers, and what kinds of changes are necessary. Once they have a shared understanding they can start to make positive change.

Management in the software world is no longer solely about supervision.

In today’s world, management is explanation.

Explanation is a beautiful thing. It builds shared understanding. It empowers teams. It builds trust. It gives people hope in uncertain times. When people start to see the big picture they become more creative, collaborative, and engaged.

For the past 25 years we have been working with some of the world’s largest organizations to develop explanations of how things work; how people, processes and technologies combine to create powerful forces for change. We can do this for you, too.

In today’s world, management cannot be solely about supervision. It needs to include explanation. What do you need to explain?

See what happens when people understand.


Dave Gray is the founder of XPLANE and author of The Connected Company.

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