Sharing a House in the Global Village

Years ago, I tried to design a taxonomy for customised versions of policy documentation for a large international organisation. I concluded that it was necessary to inherit from the following hierarchies to decide appropriate content:

  • Geographical locational hierarchy(ies) e.g. defines the national legal framework
  • Organisational structure(s) e.g. different departmental cultures
  • Functional role(s) e.g. information only appropriate to some roles.
    (No, I was never convinced that this one was a hierarchy either.)

The point of such policy documents is to impose an appropriate culture from above. It is a hierarchical control mechanism. Like many, I have lost faith in hierarchy.

Outside ‘an organisation’, in networked, self-organisied teams, co-operating to achieve shared goals, ‘hierarchy’ and ‘functions’ might merge into variable levels of expertise in a variety of areas of interest. In the short-term, this is the ‘Agile’ transition of the ‘generalising specialist’. In the longer term, might it signal a likely return to learning by a period of apprenticeship to a master craftsman? This has worrying implications for social mobility.

As we become increasingly networked, I believed that geography would also become less important but recently I’ve found myself joining and taking part in location-based discussion groups. Perhaps the neighbourhood urge is stronger than I thought. Again, Agile’s co-location philosophy looks a more human solution.

This reminds me of my decision to give up paper and my subsequent discovery that screens were not big enough to allow me to spatially organise my chunks of information or to find information by knowing its approximate physical location in 3-D space.

Are we an appropriate fit for the infinite, multi-dimensional virtual world we’re building?

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One thought on “Sharing a House in the Global Village

  1. Agility is dependent to a large degree on the abilities/skils of those involved, as well as their location. I recently read an article by a recruiting consultant on “the skills shortage”. The author approached the topic from two directions.

    The first of which was the widely-reported critical skills shortage (especially so in Germany, it seems), echoed by many prominent politicians. In the near future (approx. 10 years), they say, it will get worse — 3 Mio. employees will be “missing” from the required workforce. If the present rate of automation continues, however (which does rather appear to be the case), it’s likely that the number of available positions will decrease anyway, so it may not really be a bad thing that a gap of 3 Mio. exists at that point — otherwise, where would they find work?

    The second approach considered the level of applications received today by larger industrial corporations in comparison with the number of advertised positions. It isn’t uncommon to receive 200 applications for a single advertised position. Indeed, those employed are often given fixed-term contracts, which may or may not be extended as the needs arise. It’s difficult to imagine that all of these applicants aren’t skilled. Furthermore, they’re not new to the market but often already in employment elsewhere and want to change.

    In both respects there does seem to be a sort of fickle “skills-void” on the move all the time being fed by canibalisation from within but at the same time being slowly consumed by (i) automation and (ii) freelancers brought in from outside for specific tasks, often abroad (being cheaper), and connected using modern communication technologies for the duration of their assignment.

    Though automation can contribute, the latter situation poses a few problems of its own. Take the persons steering these external contractors — they have to be capable of defining their demands very well indeed in order to get what what they want from, for example, a programmer based in Indonesia. With the exception of a few “loners”, who therefore need specific requirements (either from the customer or themselves) humans are usually more comfortable working together in close-ish proximity, where it’s easier to solve problems as they crop up by talking to each other. That’s how we evolved, essentially.

    We may end up with having to make the decision between agility (local), inexpensive (global) and qualitative (requiring exceptional demand skills) all over again.

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