Why Project Community?

I’ve been considering the work I’ve done, the work I understand. This piece might best explain what my workshop entails.

The Industrial Revolution brought with it some unintended consequences. We learned to structure work around teams, but alienated our broader communities. We learned to manage work by decomposing objectives into tasks and processes, but trivialized the very craftspeople we need to actually accomplish anything. We learned how to control execution, but at the cost of a deeper sense of discernible value. We could deduce one right, most efficient way, but lost sight of our purpose.

The Industrial Revolution also brought with it what Peter Drucker claimed was the single most profound innovation of the twentieth century, the professional manager. As organizations have flattened, the fiefdoms which justified the manager's role are disappearing, replaced by social networks more agile than formal departments and divisions. Most of the work accomplished by modern organizations is accomplished cross-functionally, by individuals mustered for the duration of an individual effort and endlessly reconfigured until people identify much more strongly with their current assignment's community than with any permanent manager, department, division, or company.

Further, social regulators rather than more formal regulations constrain and inform these fluid communities. They are guided by a set of ethics and principles more powerful than the direction of any overseeing management. Indeed, these cross-functional communities are wiser than any inevitably out-of-context manager could ever be. They do not take direction well because they do not need direction to perform well.

The guiding principles of work have changed along with the terms of engagement. We no longer produce long-lived operational processes, but ever-adapting ones. We no longer have the luxury of planning future action in great and definite detail. Planning itself has changed from something we do in advance to guide action to something we do continuously as a part of acting. Prediction, which was the very heart of Industrial Age management, has been replaced by the serial production of valuable results. We want results now. We will not wait. We expect to learn along the way. Our maps have become less useful than our compasses have become. We no longer plot discrete courses, but endlessly orient relative to our shifting goals.

Many trained in Industrial Age management complain about the uncertainty they are expected to contain. Are you using a sieve, which securely held the solid rocks of industrial objectives to transport today's fluid goals? On Time-On Budget-On Spec constitute fundamentally meaningless metrics in a world tenaciously focused upon creating perceived value. Employing Industrial-scale techniques on innovating efforts encumbers them. Well-intended and time-proven techniques for enforcing accountability undermine responsibility.

While the industrial age social architect might create a blueprint for this transformation, the emerging social communities have minds of their own. Whether these social minds perform coherently depends upon a shared set of principles, ethics, responsibilities, and understandings never considered by the industrial mindset. Unlearning what was supposed to work and preparing for accepting what does and will work in this new context is a challenge every organization (and every individual within every organization) faces. That our training and our experience poorly informs us for this shift might just be every organization's greatest competitive challenge.

The future will belong to those clever enough to create it for themselves. Adopting blessed 'best practices' will provide no more than competitive parity, which is no edge at all. How we cope with this dilemma will determine if we thrive.

The principles, ethics, responsibilities, and understandings necessary to perform under these radically different conditions cannot be acquired as Industrial Age skills were acquired. New techniques which employ real work rather than case studies, personal experience rather than cookbook conclusions, and impossible dilemmas rather than complex problems elicit the understandings needed to perform well now. We need learning experiences that involve the whole person, inform the working community, and utterly transform performance. We ask people to create their own personal learning objectives, then bring together a working community to consider and design the means for satisfying these objectives. I insist upon my clients delighting themselves rather than trying to delight them, since their ability to satisfy their own aspirations—often by surprising means—determine their future viability, not their ability to remember someone else's rules for the game.

©2015 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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