Tight, centralised control mechanisms are super attractive to comfort-seeking humans. The trouble is, they aren’t working.
The tougher the times, the stronger the compulsion to issue reams of rules, legislation and policy. Just look at the state of politics, drinking and drug laws; and long-winded employee handbooks nobody ever reads.
Arse-covering document production lures us into a false sense of security, skews our priorities and often demolishes common sense. We focus on empty words and numbers, lazily neglecting to change people’s behaviour and instigate true culture change beneath the surface. Back offices grow, coal face shrinks (NHS?!) and leaders cover their ears as their people grow distracted, mindless and even corrupt – manipulating old school systems by hitting targets at all cost; and producing results that are often the opposite of what was intended.
Did you know that kids are more likely to be hurt or killed by the deluge of vehicles at the school gates than they are by walking or cycling without adult supervision?
And what about the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, created as a result of the MPs’ expenses scandal, at a cost of £6.6m – six times the amount the MPs were forced to repay? (Not to mention the 80 staff and £6m per year needed to keep it going).
The world is suffering from The Control Delusion.
Just as faith in institutions has collapsed; tight, linear, rational models of behaviour have been proven to steer us blindly in the wrong direction. The sharpest leaders are beginning to recognise the challenge we face in business is fundamentally human. What makes people work better? What’s our clockspeed? How can we make it faster? How can we make decisions in real time?
The pace of change in the world is rapid and accelerating. Business is slow as hell. It’s time we took a serious look at reconciling, before the gap gets so wide we all fall in (particularly the big ones).
The only way for a high clockspeed business (i.e. most businesses, except perhaps those with decade-long product lifecycles and long-lasting asset value) to survive, let alone thrive, is to get real and loosen up.
The law of diminishing returns states that the more experience an industry accumulates, the harder and slower it is to take the next incremental step forward. Meanwhile, the network effect tells us that the more you add, the greater the value for everyone. The vast majority of businesses are living with the former state in blissful ignorance, as their lifespan compresses. Those who adopt the latter as a means of doing business – thinking of business as a network, an ecosystem, a loose and flexible organism – are thriving.
If you aren’t investing in developing a loose culture, you’re probably going to wake up one morning soon, buried knee-deep in data, wondering what the hell happened. A flat, decentralised, trust-based, collaborative, loosely networked approach to business will win.
It’s not the big that eat the small, it’s the fast that eat the slow.