Atlantic magazine’s October 2015 issue carries “Are Bosses Necessary?” One of America’s more useful business school professors is quoted:
What’s enabling this shift [to Zappos-style holacracy], argues Thomas Malone, a professor at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, is simple: falling information costs. In his 2004 book, The Future of Work, Malone broke the history of organizations into three stages. In stage one, information is expensive to convey, so most decisions are made face-to-face in necessarily small firms. As communication costs begin to fall, Malone explained to me, we reach stage two, in which “it becomes economically feasible to send information to a single, central place for decisions to be made.” That is, the large, centralized hierarchy becomes possible. Then comes stage three: “As communication costs continue to fall, there comes a time when it’s economically feasible to bring information to all points, so in some sense, everyone can know everything.” In this third stage, the benefits of bigness can persist, but its traditional handmaiden, hierarchy, doesn’t have to. (Indeed, when the volume of information grows large enough, trying to direct its flow upward for evaluation can slow everything down.)
[See Malone’s “Semi-Structured Messages” paper from 1986.]
I want to push one of my old ideas… combine Edward Tufte’s sparklines (see explanation in this 2006 posting) with a 1200 dpi 11×17 color laserprinter. Take every number that matters to an organization and print it out every day on an 11×17 sheet of paper that is given to every employee. For a web site it might be “new registrations yesterday” printed in green if it went up from the moving average of the previous week, printed in red if it went down. Next to the number would be a Tufte sparkline to put the number into context. The next line down could be “500 Server Errors,” followed by “Average pages per session,” etc.
What do readers who work in companies with at least 50 employees think? Would it be helpful to arrive at work and find an 11×17 sheet of paper across your keyboard with perhaps 150 metrics of the company’s performance?