Saturday, July 12, 2008

Looking Ahead ...

This is a question a lot of people are asking, and a lot of people are talking about. Is web 2.0 going to change the way we work? The answer seems to be yes … that web 2.0 is more than just a set of tools … that it’s a new paradigm for business. The basic concept of this paradigm being the "democratization" of knowledge creation, dissemination, and absorption. In other words, anyone today can write a blog, create knowledge, disseminate it, and anyone can read anyone's blog, interact with the blog (through RSS Feeds, and Comments), and absorb what the author of the blog is saying (simplistic example).

What not too many people are talking about is how this new paradigm is going to change the way business functions. Like, in the 90s, e-commerce changed the way companies worked, by expanding their boundaries, and increasing collaboration with business partners. However, web 2.0, to my mind, is far more profound a change. Why? In one word ... People! Till now, all changes have been focussed around the classical management approach ... optimize, streamline, etc. ... where the focus has been on analytical functions, and business processes. Even the web, for all the changes it brought about in the 90s, had these changes focussed primarily around business processes, and not people ... something i have written about.

Take a simple example ... in the 90s, there was the concept of the webmaster. For the last so many years, the concept has quietly disappeared from the websites i frequent. Indeed, i would believe, that to a large extent, the webmaster is getting replaced by ... hold your breath ... users. No, we are not quite there yet, but the fact is, more and more, users are creating content rather than just relying on webmasters to do that. Once we realize this, its simple to also figure out that the possibilities that are there with people are far more than there are with business processes. People can do so much more than processes can. And this is why i believe why this change is more profound.

Another aspect which we might need to look at ... With this "democratization" of knowledge happening, there are certain things which could change fundamentally. First of all, this "democratization" would lead to concentration of decision-making rights on a particular subject to a particular set of people, while at the same time, decision-making rights would get diffused across the organization (or maybe, the word might be scattered), if we look at it from the corporate level. In other words, decision-making rights would no longer rest with a privileged few, but rather, be distributed among people best suited to take them. Something i have written about before, based on a post by Andrew McAfee. This has interesting implications ... What this means is that the patterns of power-holding would also shift drastically.

Which brings me to the point of power ... The nature of power has changed over the centuries, since the modern business world has come into being. This has been manifested by the way power has been wielded in human relationships. Now, "democratization' of knowledge, and the consequent distribution of decision-making rights would imply distribution of power in the organizational context. Now, human beings crave power ... there cannot be ay disputing that. Which means, that one could expect staunch resistance to this kind of movement. Some of which we are seeing even now in the organizational context. Though, in all probability, this may not be enough to stop the way technology, and hence, business is going to evolve. This, too, is something we are witnessing today. In other words, we are, today, seeing the evolution of business, and the resistance to this evolution which one would expect.

The important offshoot of this is that while we are seeing changes in the way power is distributed in organizations, if we superimpose on this the fact that human beings crave power, one would expect, over a period of time, the nature of power to change, both in terms of its sources, as well as in terms of its manifestation. One would expect this change to occur based on knowledge sharing. In other words, reputation of individuals, and how worthy they are seen to be (regardless of seniority, function, etc.), would probably play a key role in defining the position of people in the organization. In the "web 1.0" context, position defined reputation ... going forward, this could change diametrically.

More about how networks could impact this ...

Just a few thoughts i have been pondering upon ... Welcome all comments, and thoughts! Thanks ...

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