Thursday, February 23, 2012


The way we do business has changed and continues to evolve. The change and evolution, however, is not evenly distributed and is confusing about what the 'right' path is.

When I learned to drive, the car had a 'stick shift' (manual transmission). As I was perfecting the skill of keeping my heel on the brake, my toe on the gas, and my other foot on the clutch to avoid hitting the car behind me on a hill, I had to figure out how to shift the gears without bringing the car to a sudden dead stop.

As time went by the stick transmission was replaced with the automatic as standard equipment and it became rare to drive a car (and now trucks too) without an automatic transmission. Technology changed - driving a car became less complex – almost everyone now uses the new technology and skills needed to drive a stick shift are disappearing . Old skills become obsolete or must be replaced with new techniques as the technology evolves.

In the 1950's – 1960's business adopted a military hierarchy - worker, supervisor, middle manager, director, senior management. The supervisor and middle managers served the role of trainers and mentors, as well as pushing to get the targeted output. Over time the managers

Technology blossomed in the 1970's – 1980's and company-wide systems and local computers could compile the reports; the middle managers devolved to doing some entry, some analysis, but became 'measurers' and 'reporters' with little time or contact with the doers.

As financial changes were required – who had the large paychecks and now only indirectly affected production? Middle Managers. They became all but extinct during the right-sizing era.

As managers shifted to working with the systems, the supervisors absorbed the oversight duties vacated by managers, and the doers (workers) collectively became more responsible for their own supervision – no longer the sole province of the supervisors/overseers.

Now the pyramid has flattened out and other models have replaced it. The hub and spoke approach has management/resource (hub) supporting multiple project groups (spokes) to get results (rim). Ad hoc collaborative, project-based teams collect the needed resources and best talent from inside and outside the organization to do the project – when completed, the team disbands, freeing the resources and personnel to join the next project.

Technology has significantly reduced the raw labor needed to do the work, advances in communications – telecom, video, world-wide connectivity – have broadened the talent and resource pool, and the doers now must be perpetual students to continue to be viable in a technology era.

Moore's Law, which applies to computing evolution, predicts that the speed of computers will double every 18 months and the cost per transaction drops as the speed increases – many say up to 50%. The Doer's Theorem advocates you must reinvent your skill-set and expand your experience portfolio about every three years to remain viable in the labor market.

It took big business to make big money in the past. Today it takes big ideas implemented to make big money – like Zappos, Amazon, Facebook, Google. Structure and size is no longer an unassailable requirement to succeed - individual contribution and innovation combined with collaboration has become a strong independent force to create successful, commercially viable products and services.

As leaders we must recognize when business evolution has created a new normal and find ways to leverage it for the benefit of the organization.

What are your thoughts?

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  1. Brings to mind what is valuable when you reinvent your skills. Reminds me of Value Centric Work Analysis which says there are three components to supplying value.
    1. You have to get it right the first time
    2. The thing has to change physically (shifting paper or checking a box has little value)
    3. The customer has to care.
    If you want to check the value of your work, consider these three conditions.

  2. Management has not only shifted, it's gone home. I assume different companies have different models for outfitting their employees with computers/paper/ink/Internet connection when they ask them to work in home offices, but in the last 20 years this has gone from individual managers opening up a new office in a new city starting out at home, to a number of employees, even managers, managing from home and seeing their employees only once a week or so.

  3. Carol's comment makes me wonder why we get together most of the time. I think we have sloppy business processes that require constant check-ins in many organizations. They can't compete with organizations with tighter business processes, which don't require so much manual adjustment. See The Autonomous Economy -