12 December 2006

The Why of My Research

My friend, Leigh, blithers (her word, not mine) about business morality in a networked world. She ponders,
It seems to me that ‘networked morality’, like many things on the Web, occurs at a much more dramatic pace than we have been traditionally used to. The network effect with word of mouth and now user created content, can create a new social norm within months, weeks or even days. Something that might have been ok in the past, gets rejected in no uncertain terms as the network discloses, discusses, debates and determines what the new norm will be.

How will business change to adapt to this or even can they?
Her pondering struck a resonant chord for me and prompted me to post this response:
Nothing new here, Leigh. Marshall McLuhan was writing about these effects in 1964. The rest of us have woken up at varying times between then and now - now, of course, the effects of a UCaPP society are obvious and all around us.

For me, the question is not how will they adapt, or can they adapt. I think the issue is far more profound than adapting, since adaptation suggests keeping fundamental assumptions about the (prior) world while being assimilated by the new. For me the key question is, when will businesses (meaning managers and professors of business) truly realize that the changes of the past 50 (and I would argue, 162) years represent such a profound change to an industrial age mentality that the foundational assumptions, vocabulary, and premises of business must be carefully reconsidered, reframed, and reoriented? For me, it is only incidentally a question of morality if you're into value judgements.

We experience far more than we can understand; our reach (influence) always far exceeds our grasp (understanding). It is long past time that we collectively start to think of the totality of effects as the primary focus of business, rather than results.
That is (one of the reasons) why I'm doing what I'm doing. In my view, we - business-folk, politicians, many activists, and capitalists, socialists and anarchists alike - collectively have been far too "results oriented," with results being defined in a very narrow context. The world has always been interconnected and complex, with the events in one place effecting changes elsewhere. For most of human history, the speed with which those effects traverse the face of the planet and the realm of humankind has been almost undetectably slow. We are now living at a time in which the complex interactions of this finite, closed system that we jointly inhabit are observable, often in real time, and most certainly well within an individual lifetime. As McLuhan spoke about a global village in which what happens there affects me here, because there is no longer a there, everywhere is here - it is long past time that we collectively question the fundamental assumptions of the prior era, the mechanical, industrial era. It is time for our grasp to at least approach our reach.

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