Higher speeds = corporate meltdown

I’d like to suggest one probable cause for the increasing instability of employment in large businesses.  The speed of business particle flow is approaching the threshold of human endurance.

Back in the Fifties, when your grandfather was still working, men, and some women, worked long hours under often depressinging conditions, but they handled fewer cycles of action in a day than we do now in a single hour.

They were busy, oh my yes, and everyone scurried around, as I recall, but firing off a memo took two people and an hour to complete. The secretary, remember her, would be called into the managers office and would sit and take notes while the manager dictated the memo. She would type a draft and the manager would review and revise it and she would type a final and he would sign it, and so forth and so on. Then she would put it in a envelope and put it in the outgoing mail for the mail boy. Remember him?

At the end of a long day, a busy manager might look back with satisfaction on a handful of decisions made and a pile of memos sent off. Weekly staff meetings were the norm, but lowly engineers and clerical staff spent most of the time at their desks or the water coolers.

Today, the cell phone rings while you are still eating breakfast. You have at least one life-shaking decision to make before you leave for work, and you have at least two phone calls to make during your commute to your office which is fifteen miles and 90 minutes away on the freeway.

If you have  a Blackberry PDA, your email has been piling up while you drive and you are tempted to look at the latest ones when traffic slows to a crawl.

You get to the office, and your meeting has been cancelled, but
nobody seems to be able to tell you why. It may just be a minor glitch
with quarterly sales projections, but your manager and the higher level
directors are closeted in an unscheduled meeting.

Meanwhile, you still have work to do on a new product release,
Leviathon IV, and you are running out of time and inspiration. Model IV
has fewer real features than III, and it doesn’t address the problems
that your sales people are screaming about.

While you try to resolve this, you plow through 56 emails that have
appeared in your Inbox overnight, and you find one from the Leviathon
design team that says they will have to decommit on the only
significant improvement in Leviathon IV, because the designer has got
himself reassigned to a higher priority project.

While you are laboring to understand what this means to your bonus
and your job, the phone rings and your buddy at another company says,
"You remember that Open Source project…they’ve announced the release
of a Leviathon lookalike that runs on every platform including LINUX."

He may not have his facts right, but your day is already in the toilet and you haven’t had your first cup of coffee.

Meanwhile your cell phone rings and it is your spouse with the news
that the dog is sick or that the kid has been sent home from school for
anti-social behavior and you are needed at the vet or the principal’s
office as soon as you can make it. Your spouse is in a meeting at work
which will not break until 4:30, so it up to you to save the dog, the
kid, and the world.

Multiply this scenario by the number of workers in a large
corporation and you have a picture of highly dynamic instability. Every
person in the company is being bombarded constantly by news and
requests for action.

We live at internet speed, and we are finally getting a good look at
the enormity of the problem has been unleashed. We are pressed to make
more decisions every day than many people made in a week fifty years
ago.  There is no respite.

We are connected up 24×7 to people all over the world. If it isn’t
family and friends, it will be spammers from Nigeria or Saudi Arabia
carefully crafting letters to tap into our bank accounts. Customers,
suppliers and government agencies are all trying to get our attention
or our money.

As a result, if we are managers, we rarely take the long view and we
make shortsighted decisions. As employees, we are hard-pressed to make
rational decisions in the absence of long-term guidelines. We avert our
eyes from situations we should speak up about, because we suspect
correctly that we will be jettisoned for rocking the boat.

I am sure that we will evolve a more thoughtful and humanistic
workplace model in the next few years, because we face hard times if we
don’t.

Meanwhile, those of us who can view this from a safe distance, owe
it to those who struggle to keep our economy going to make suggestions
that will alleviate and eventually correct this corporate meltdown.

Bloggers should play a big role in this. We can be a major force for change in 21st century business.

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