Several months ago, I attended a conference which featured uber-guru Tom Peters and the legendary Carly Fiorina. Tom, as usual, has a lot of radical ideas, some of which do make sense if you think about them properly. One of the most striking was the fact that terrorist groups like Al Qaeda still thrive despite facing the all out assault and firepower by the mighty American and European armies.
Terrorist units have a certain flexibility and mobility which makes them difficult to target. They are the epitome of amoebic organisations that are small, lithe, agile, invisible, highly networked, dispersed, decentralised and improvisional. Terrorists normally live off the land, are highly adaptable, have few rules to follow, and have a high tooth-to-tail ratio. They travel light, are well connected, and operate in a fairly flat organisational structure. Nothing and nobody is indispensable, and to them death is an honour.
Think about the new world of social media, citizen journalism and web-empowered “me.com” In a way, it throws in a spanner into the works of old, archaic hierarchical organisations with their traditional bases of power and their Jurassic command-and-control structures. With the (mostly) FREE tools available on the web – 24 by 7 – everyone of us can now be an agent of mass evangelisation (as opposed to mass destruction, although it probably works for them too). The democratization of the digital domain has made it possible for even grannies and granpas to hop onto the bandwagon and play.
Just like terrorists (or guerrillas), I believe new age organisations must learn to assemble and disassemble themselves with more agility, nimbleness and fleet-footedness. Unfettered by the old rules (please clear with your boss, your boss’ boss, your boss’ boss’ boss ad infinitum), these new guerrilla entities can behave more like bacteria and viruses. Every single agent is like a Special Operations Officer – a one-man army if you may – who is equipped with the right tools to close the deal, fix the plumbing, or diagnose the disease right at the sweet spot. Anytime. Anywhere. With anybody.
Of course, this does not mean that there is no longer any use for organisational charts. There will still be a need for some structure, system and process, especially in “rule of law” organisations such as the regulatory government agencies. You still need to know the policies, guidelines, Instruction Manuals, and other laws that rule the land. However, this new wave of thinking encourages us to devise innovative solutions that treat the root cause of problems rather than just the symptons. It pushes us to truly understand our customers – eat, live, breathe and maybe even sleep with them (figuratively) – so that we know what truly ails them, irks them, excites them, and makes them say “Wow!”
Organisational agility doesn’t mean organisational anarchy or chaos. It just means that there is now more flexibility, less rules, more room for creative expression, and less boundaries to one’s imagination, energy and enthusiasm. It means that every single employee – or club member, family member, worshipper, enthusiast – can now influence and impact his or her immediate surroundings more readily and easily. It means that we are now defined less by what we do, but more by what we believe in (think religion). Indeed, quite often, the lines between work, play, study, and family may blur with this shift.