Saturday, November 15, 2008

Surfs Up-Corporate Tsunami

Having read Alvin Toffler's book, The Third Wave, and participated in many discussions over the years concerning his futuristic claims, I pulled his book out this morning and was re-reading some of his points on corporate identity. I couldn't readily remember the particulars when it came to corporations as we traveled out of one era into the next.

Toffler notes that the most immediate change which will affect the corporation will be a crisis in the world economy. Corporations thrived during the Second Wave as they created an integrated global marketplace, but a global crisis will bring a global need to redefine the corporation. The simultaneous emergence of gross inflation along with increasing unemployment will begin to take corporations to their knees. New technology with it's new levels of communication will add to the destruction of corporations as we know them. It's not about socialism over capitalism, but as Toffler believes, it will be the general crisis of industrial civilization as a whole.

Toffler predicts this upheaval in the world economy will threaten the survival of the corporations and will throw it's managers into a wholly unfamiliar environment. During the second wave, the financial structures put in place at Bretton Woods by the capitalist world powers were solid, and the rise to affluence was steady. The financial economists were confident in their free market and their abilities to predict and control the economic machine they had built. But then came the new technology that allowed faster communication and this began restructuring in the world markets. A global world banking network grew with the use of technology which allowed the sprawling global bank networks to create a sort of stateless currency which was outside of any world government's control and oversight.

According to Toffler, the Second Wave economic system saw the corporation grow up based on national markets, national currencies, and national governments. This nation-based infrastructure, however, is utterly unable to regulate or contain the new transnational and electronic currency bubble. Now the entire global framework that once stabilized world trade relations for the giant corporations is crumbling and in danger of coming apart. The World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade are or will come under attack. As I'm writing this, the world financial leaders, G-20, are meeting in Washington D.C. in order to attempt to find a solution to their financial system's meltdown.

Toffler mentions that the Europeans will scramble to bolt together a new structure to be controlled by them. The less developed countries on one side and the Arab countries on the other will clamor for influence in the financial system of tomorrow and we will begin to hear talk of creating counterparts to the International Monetary Fund. The dollar will be dethroned and the world economy will go through jerks and spasms quite similar to the dying rattles of the millions of people their system has destroyed.

In his book he mentions after these preliminary effects, corporations will have no wish to relinquish corporate power, and will continue to battle for profits, production, and personal advancement. However, faced with soaring levels of unpredictability, with mounting public criticism and hostile political pressures, the managers of the corporate systems will begin to question the goals, structure, and responsibility of their organizations. Can Toffler be right? Are his insights into this new age accurate. It would seem from what I've read, that he isn't too far from the mark so far.

Farther into Toffler's predictions, he mentions the redefining of the corporation. The corporate identity crisis will deepen due to emergence of a worldwide movement demanding not merely modest changes in corporate policy, but a deep definition of it's purposes. In the past, critics of the corporations leveled their scrutiny on the entities, but they were willing to accept the corporations per their own definitions. The critics of old shared the view of the corporations as an inherently economic institution. Today, we see the corporation's critics attack them for their artificial divorce of economics from politics, morality, and other dimensions of life. The corporations are being held responsible for not just their economic failures, but also their links to pollution, poisoning, racism, sexism, and their deceptions of the populations of our world. They are targeted for their support of our unsavory regimes in under developed countries across the globe, and for using poor populations as guinea pigs in their drug testing. The world view of corporations has dramatically changed during my life time, and I have no reason to believe we will not see what Toffler talks about when it comes to a push for a new corporate identity.

Toffler mentions the Third Wave will bring with it a rising demand for a new kind of institution altogether. He speaks of a corporation that will no longer be responsible for only profit and the making of goods, but one that will contribute to the solution of extremely complex ecological, moral, political, racial, sexual, and social problems. The corporations prodded by criticism, legislation, and it's own concerned executives, will become a multipurpose institution.

All I can say is..."Surfs Up!"

Monday, November 03, 2008


I was listening to Brother Jim's short audio magazine this morning. It was entitled, Quotes From Seth Godin's Tribes. The original audio can be found here as an Mp3.

First I would like to mention that Seth Godin, who Jim mentions, not only has the book "Tribes: We Need You To Lead Us", but he offers a free downloable pdf e-book of the "Tribes Casebook" which is meant to be a companion to Tribes. This e-book has been written by a private online group of people using a Ning social networking format. Seth also mentions..."Feel free to share it or post it or print it, but please don't sell it." Here is a quote from his website concerning the group who has been instrumental in the writing of the e-book:
Three months ago, I posted just once about joining a private online group (it's on Ning... sort of like Facebook, but by invitation only). Well, quite a few people joined in, and about 10% became seriously active. On good days, there's a new post every minute or two. There are hundreds of groups, thousands of discussions and a lot of energy. The tribe taught me a great deal about the dynamics of a group, and they've been a terrific resource, not just for me, but for each other. This ebook represents some of their thinking. The group remains closed, but feel free to start one of your own.

That is an extraordinary accomplishment in my book. I've seen small pockets of like minded people sprout up on the Internet over the last nine years or so, which is how long I've really been participating in this extraordinary human experiment of collaboration via the web. I've had the extreme good fortune of participating and contributing in two memorable groups and have communicated with many more that overlapped both those groups. Being more progressive minded than most of the close neighbors in my physical world, the Internet offered me a venue to reach others who had the same values and ideals. This venue has led to me discovering other like minded people in my physical world, maybe not necessarily in the nearby community, but in my real world where we do share our front porches, a good cool or warm drink, and some warm and stimulating conversations. It seems the parallel of the online and physical communities lies in the open communication or collaboration within each. Without this, neither community will accomplish much more than a bunch of folks making small talk.

I've often wondered if it were possible for other communities of like minded people to combine into a single entity. I think I now believe that this probably is not good for the community. I'm not saying the communities shouldn't overlap in places of like interest, but from what I've gathered doing my time on the web trails, it's best for the small groups or communities to remain autonomous and work together with other groups of interest on a flat playing field, on our porches if you will. Yes, I do know of, and have contributed to much larger websites that pool people together with an intent of focusing large numbers toward particular interests and goals. There are hordes of political action and coalition websites that accomplish many goals and help to activate people. These are some wonderful websites, but they are just that...websites...not communities in the sense I view a community. They have their place, but those sort of social sites mostly use the old hierarchical structure of our fathers and forefathers. Just my humble opinion but these are aged structures from the Industrial Age that no longer seem to fit within the context of community as it's being defined by many progressive people these days. I guess I'm one of those who is searching for that perfect definition of community. That search will more than likely continue until I'm dust in the wind.

Jim's talk made me think back to where I began. I really didn't begin to reach out in earnest until July of 2000. It wasn't easy for a self-educated pipe fitter to feel at ease along side of the thinking heads I was constantly coming in contact with as I went deeper into the Internet. Some of the first folks I opened up to were over at the old Members for Democracy website. That site was constructed as a Canadian local union's election platform which morphed into a union reform site because of the undemocratic elections themselves. The site then began to attract other reformers from over the world. As it continued, it became a haven for labor activists as well as business and law representatives. So there I was in the middle of all these learned folks and my eyes spent as much time in the dictionary as they did on the screen. But I discovered it wasn't the vocabulary or the sheepskin that made a real human being. It was about being honest and following your conscious that made the thoughts I had to share valuable. Once that realization hit home, a freedom came over me and the chains fell free! The more I spoke up, the more the people of the community supported and helped me out through the learning process. It's about sharing, teaching, and learning. I owe practically everything I've learned during my participation on the web to all these wonderful people who "get it" and understand that giving it away is the right thing to do.

I would like to share a story that is somewhat related to Seth's book "Tribes" and his views of leadership. One of the earlier times while I was just beginning to have the courage to speak, there was a discussion started by Bill Pearson, who was a local union president at the time, concerning transformational leadership and even leaderless groups. The discussion grew pretty ugly as it went on and two sides of thoughts on the subject of leadership quickly emerged. This discussion was one of the first times I had felt confident enough to join in and give my opinion on how I saw leaders. Of course this discussion was built around our labor union leaders, but leaders and leadership are the same, regardless if we're talking organizational, communal or political.
IMHO, leaders must be selfless, and place the goals desired by the people who vote them into their position, above any and all personal goals. A leader is a tool the voters use to achieve these desired goals and the leader must be willing to listen to, as well as help educate, their brothers and sisters. The thought of one individual knowing what is best for the majority is unsettling to me unless they have listened to the people who have placed them into their position. Leaders can no longer be arrogant or overbearing when it comes to the masses who have chosen them to lead. Bottom line, a leader IMHO, is a person who labors or exerts himself for the benefit of the people who have placed their trust in them. In this context, we should all be leaders within the labor movement.

The reply to that statement was liberating! At that moment I didn't feel as if my beliefs were so far out there that they would be deemed insane. A reassuring moment for sure, and one that flipped the switch for me! ;-) Here is the reply I received:
The only thing I would add is that leaders should also inspire and encourage creativity and inquisitiveness on the part of their colleagues (and that's what they'll be: colleaugues, fellow members, partners, allies - anything but "followers"). They will encourage people to question conventional wisdom and push out the boundaries of what is known or accepted.

The reason we have so much trouble getting our heads around these new notions of leadership, is that this is all so foreign to us. We've had centuries - millenia actually - of conditioning against this notion. The conditioning tells us that we are too stupid to decide what's best for ourselves and too selfish to work collaboratively towards our goals. We need strong leaders who will take us to some goal that has been decided as "best for us" by others. This is the purpose of dogma - to provide a place where we can led by some guy who thinks he'll be proven right when he gets us there.

The notion of the leaderless organization is scary because we've been told that we're not up for making it happen.

I mentioned later that there was no doubt there were many leaders who post on the forums. Some may be born leaders, others possibly are taught to be leaders, some are not leaders who think they are, and others are leaders who don't think they are. But the leaderless structure which was discussed in that thread had struck a chord within me somewhere. I just couldn't get that out of my mind and to this day I believe this is possible. We are all leaders and as responsible human beings, we should be in a constant teacher/learner frame of mind and maybe...just maybe, an egalitarian civilization will be possible. Throughout my life, the word civilization has been a negative connotation that represented anything but equal or civil. At least that's how I've viewed it through my experience. It was the support of the community that created my energy and spurred my attempt to write my first real article. Civilized To the Edge of Uncivilization. I was no longer a nOOb but was very self-conscious about my abilities as I still am to this day. Surrounding oneself with great human beings is key to getting through all this!

Eventually discussion once again turned toward the idea of leaderless organizations and the possibility of reaching consensus due to the small nature of the structures. The book The End of Management, and the rise of organizational democracy was introduced into the discussion and described as a new business perspective on how 'networked' groups or 'webs' will do away with the need for 'heads'.
The leaderless group is small enough that it can reach consensus. Those who can't mesh with the rest of the group will move on and join groups where they can reach consensus. Each of the groups will expand, contract, disappear and reappear with different participants. Those groups, or nodes, will seek out other nodes to network with. When an issue arises, which affects the nodes, the ones affected will begin to network and 'web' to address the issue. When the issues or 'event' to address the issue is exhausted or resolved, the nodes dissipate to resume their networking with like-minded nodes.

To see the ideas still surfacing surrounding the necessary changes needed in our leadership structures is a great thing! Seth Godin's book "Tribes" is definitely a good sign that people are "getting it" and we are still heading towards something better. This is a great time to be alive, and whether we can see it or not...we are in the middle of a huge global transformation. A transformation toward better values and a more just and peaceful world.
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