The organizational shuffle

Lorcan 1 min read

A while ago I wrote an entry noting the general trend towards decomposition and recomposition of parts at various levels, from metadata schema to organizations: recombinance all the way down, remixing all the way up. As the network moves inside structures, they fragment and recombine.
I was reminded of this forcibly while reading Richard Sennett’s The culture of the new capitalism while travelling last week.
He talks about the rearchitecting of organizations using the analogy of an MP3 player.

Specifically, this new structure performs like an MP3 player. The MP3 machine can be programmed to play only a few bands from its repertoire; similarly, the flexible organization can select and perform only a few of its many possible functions at any given time. In the old-style corporation, by contrast, production occurs via a fixed set of acts; the links in the chain are set. Again, in an MP3 player, what you hear can be programmed in any sequence. In a flexible organization, the sequence of production can also be varied at will. In high-tech software programming firms, for instance, the institution might focus on some promising, innovative bit of imaging work, then go back to build the routine code support which simplifies the imaging, then go forward to think through commercial responsibilities. This is task-oriented rather than fixed function labor. Linear development is replaced by a mind-set willing to jump around. [p. 48]

This style of working supports ‘delayering’, outsourcing, and ‘casualization’ of the labor force (more contract and short-term working). He pushes the analogy further, as in an MP3 player, so in new firms: there is a centralized coordinating intelligence within flatter, reconfigurable structures.
This analogy occurs thoughout the book, an essay on the changing institutional contexts of working and their impact on self-identity and behavior. The MP3 reconfigurable fluidity is contrasted with the more fixed pyramidal structures we are moving away from.
Incidentally, he begins the book by reciting those words of our time “all that is solid melts into air”.
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