Thoughts on Long-Wave theory and Mayans: is now the time for new kinds of organizations?

Last night I happened upon this great interview with economic historian Elin Whitney-Smith in strategy+business, Booz & Company’s excellent online magazine. Titled A Long-Wave Theory on Today’s Digital Revolution, the article looks at previous periods of disruption throughout history in an attempt to better understand what companies and people are going through today.

Whitney-Smith believes that our current wave of change marks only the sixth such similar wave since the dawn of civilization. Prior waves of disruption—including the shift to agricultural societies, to the printing press, to the present digital revolution—have all been initiated by innovations in information technology. And each transformation has lead to “a new form of organization.”

We preach this sort of thing all the time here at New Kind. In fact, that’s why we named the company ‘New Kind.’ When competitive environments change, strategies must change. When strategies change, structures must change. Such change mandates that innovation becomes strategic. Organizations that want to compete must find new, more sustainable models—new kinds of ways to think and act. In the midst of such change, traditional thinking may be the riskiest strategy of all.

What does it look like—this future that Whitney-Smith envisions for new kinds of companies that want to compete today? Well, she begins by describing a different structure—one that his less hierarchical; flatter, and involves “many more people at lower levels in decision making.”

She goes on to predict that these new flatter organizations the “rank and file will know everything about the organization, including its financial secrets” including “everybody’s salaries.” Therefore, companies will need to “reform their finances.”

Those that reform their finances and transform to flatter organizational models will have a competitive advantage moving forward, she predicts.

Furthermore, given that each ‘wave’ has the half life of the previous wave, Whitney-Smith predicts that this new information order should begin to manifest itself around 2012.

Perhaps the Mayans were right, the world will end in 2012…at least for those who have large, unsustainable business models.

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