Thursday, April 16, 2009

Robert Heller

From Robert Heller: Culture shock and the cults 

In 1990 I had published a futuristic book called Culture Shock: The Office Revolution. 

The book was commissioned by Rank Xerox, and I have to confess that, before I started work, I had no clear knowledge of where the modern office might be heading as it absorbed all the frenetic developments in all the Silicon Valleys and all the organisations that were entering the Silicon Age. And in one flash of personal experience I had a revelation of revolution.

In a Rank office in High Holborn I was shown a Chinese-born whiz-kid who was at that moment metaphorically crossing the Atlantic, going coast-to-coast to LA, and entering a colleague’s PC file to add input of his own.

My conclusion was obvious. The networked PC was going to conquer the world. Collaborative working in particular had a whole new meaning and potential - and the subsequent advances have been huge on all fronts. 

Too many didn’t look in 1990: just as many didn’t understand the significance of the World Wide Web when it was marvellously launched three years after my book; and many still aren’t looking in 2008. Deep trouble indeed.

Wall Street’s mania and nightmare was directly linked to ignorance of the real revolution. The very same people who sneered at Amazon because it made no money for so long rushed to invest in the day-dreams of con-men who lavished their venture capital on themselves up-front; paid insane amounts for ‘hits’ and ‘eyeballs’; and thus built up an unreal clientele. 

Not surprisingly, most of them failed. No more surprisingly, those companies which operated in the real world with real markets (like Amazon) went on with their real breakthroughs and won real rewards for their real and life-changing innovations.

As in the sub-prime massacre, competition had achieved total lunacy. The years from l990 were full of large disappointments (and vast ephemeral rewards) for worshippers of the two false gods, The Cult of Shareholder Value and The Cult of the Chief Executive. Both were naked invitations to maximise both the share price and the amounts which the hero boss could extract from the stock markets.

Despite the fiascos and financial scandals, managerial IT is actually much fitter for purpose than it was in 1990 or 2000 - as you would only expect. Those two Rank Xerox employees I found working together at a distance of 7,000 miles were forerunners of armies of collaborators, using shared electronic information to reshape their organisations and businesses.

The Office is anywhere and everywhere - we’re all home-workers now. Also, the workers’ knowledge of what’s actually happening inside the organisation and outside is much greater and obtained much faster. The new Cult is (or should be) that of Collaboration, which is where I found my enlightenment in 1990.

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