It’s Bosses, All The Way Down

Conventional thinking about emergent leadership is all wrong.

Stowe Boyd
Work Futures
Published in
5 min readAug 4, 2019

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source: Brooke Lark

Nicolai Foss and Peter Klein go after ‘bosslessness’ as ‘one of the biggest new management fads’ in No boss? No thanks. Why managers are more important that ever.:

“Unfortunately, the bossless-company narrative is dead wrong. It misunderstands the nature of management, which isn’t going away, and it is based on questionable evidence. Given these fundamental defects, this narrative is potentially harmful to managers, students and policymakers.”

I plan a critique in depth, this is just a starting point. [Update 2019–02–18: I’ve reconsidered the notion of a more detailed response, and decided my response here is detailed enough for its purpose. However, I do plan a longer treatment of the idea that in the ‘revolutionary’ business, all workers become bosses.]

This is the discussion we need to have, in the transition from normal to emergent (revolutionary) business (see Moving from ‘Normal’ Organizations to ‘Revolutionary’ Organizations). There is a long list of mistaken assertions in this piece, like Elon Musk and Steve Jobs being seen as exemplars of the new way of work, just because of the high-tech nature of their businesses. They aren’t. Also, there is no real discussion of the changing backdrop behind all this: the changing world, which invalidates a great many of the premises underlying business as normal. Consider this comment:

“Third, while technological miracles such as the internet, cheap and reliable wireless communication, Moore’s law, miniaturisation and information markets have induced sweeping changes in manufacturing, retail, transportation and communication, the laws of economics are still the laws of economics. And human nature hasn’t changed. The basic problem of management and business — how to assemble, organise and motivate groups of people and resources to produce goods and services that consumers want — is still the same. Since the industrial revolution, entrepreneurs have been organising extremely complex activities in firms that are neither completely centralised nor completely flat. Imagine the complexity involved in operating a national railroad, a steel mill or an automobile assembly plant in the 19th and early 20th centuries. These were all

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Stowe Boyd
Work Futures

Insatiably curious. Economics, sociology, ecology, tools for thought. See also workfutures.io.