A few months ago, I read a superb book by James Surowiecki called ‘The Wisdom of the Crowds’. As the title implies, Surowiecki looks at how crowds of people interact and the resultant collective wisdom is often better than individual expert judgment. Now, I have my own thoughts on this phenomena but one, tiny part of the book resonated with me, so I thought I’d share.
When talking about the coordination and interactions within typical businesses, Surowiecki called on a great analogy – the Hollywood Gangster Movie!
In Godfather II, you have a heavily hierarchical, top-down organizational structures which is quickly expanding into multiple business areas. This allows the CEO to manage decisively, with decisions cascading down the tree, and manage long-term strategies and investments. The problems occur when information needs to flow upwards – with a top-down hierarchy it isn’t always in the interest of people lower down the chain to disclose all the information they know. Localized and specialist knowledge is siloed and never reaches the CEO. The end result is an increasingly isolated CEO and leadership team that struggles to control their sprawling empire.
Then we have Heat, a small, tight-knit group of individuals. Much like a small business or well-coordinated team, each person has a highly specialized role, taking advantage of their individual skills. Given the smaller size, each member also has a vested interest in the result of the group as a whole. This results in greater productivity and a mutual awareness and monitoring of the other members. However a small team brings two major issues – there is little room for error, as an individual mistake can impact everyone and the team’s ambitions are curtailed by their limited resources. Inevitably, the resource problem can be solved by bringing in a third party but (as in Heat) this can increase your risk as you are betting the performance of the team on an unknown individual!
Finally, we have the Reservoir Dogs model. This is where a hand-picked group of diverse individuals come together to pool their specialized resources for a very particular purpose. The narrow focus of the group again ensures that everyone is incentivized to perform, however it can be difficult to ascertain whether people’s interests are bona fide – are their actions for themselves or the group as a whole? Therefore, a disproportionate amount of effort can be spent coordinating these disparate individuals.
So which Mafia model reminds you of your businesses organizational structures?
There’s a very good chance that it is more than one of them – many large, top-down organizational structures have started to matrix together to create “virtual teams” in order to spread the siloed knowledge. Furthermore, these same organizations bring in third-party contractors, outsourcers, advertising agencies and a plethora of other companies and individuals with highly specialized skills. This common scenario is obviously an amalgamation of all three models.
What occurred to me at the time was that Huddle actually presented itself as a perfect solution to all three scenarios. The CEO needs a way to communicate out to a large group, but also have a large quantity of information presented to him, in a way that it can be filtered appropriately while still allowing for direct feedback channels. Huddle’s dashboard and workspace structure helps hugely in this regard.
In the Heat model, we firstly need to be aware of people’s abilities and segment their activities and information appropriately. Again, within Huddle we can populate profiles with information about specialities and skills as well as assigning tasks to individuals to keep track of their activity.
Finally, the Reservoir Dogs model relies on bringing in multiple parties together. As a cloud service, Huddle does not need Active Directory accounts to be set up or managed by IT – simply an e-mail address. Users from any company, anywhere in the world, can come together in Huddle and collaborate on documents, tasks and discussions in a secure and accessible environment.
In short, I found Surowiecki’s gangster analogy an interesting one – and certainly one that fits well with Huddle’s approach to collaboration. We are inherently collaborative individuals, we just need to ensure that cumbersome technology (you know, like firewalls and SharePoint!) and organizational structures do not get in way. No matter what gangster model you experience on a daily basis, Huddle provides a unique way to allow your employees and partner organizations to collaborate intelligently.