Disintermediation Rears Its Handsome, if Ungainly, Head

Posted by jlubans on January 06, 2015

Since I am always on the look out for mentions of teamwork and collaboration, I took notice of an essay about innovation.
The January/February, 2015 issue of Foreign Affairs reviews two recent books,
Thinkers and Tinkerers The Innovators Behind the Information Age.” The reviewer, James Surowiecki, has this to say about how inventive advances come about: “… the true engine of innovation is collaboration. The pairing of a creative visionary and a more practical engineer (such as Jobs and Wozniak at Apple) can be enormously productive.” He takes this observation a step further: …“the organizations that have done best at innovating have typically been those that have relied on strong teams made up of diverse thinkers…. These teams didn’t try to quash independent thinking; they welcomed it.”
I would second that conclusion. In my experience, empowered groups do the best work, especially when they share urgency. It isn’t just coming up with something new, it’s being open to always wanting better, never settling for good enough.
Giving independent thinkers – and yes, some of them could be termed “jerks” and others “geniuses” - the freedom to experiment, to venture, to risk is all important in bringing about needed change, any change, not just the creation of some gadget that alleviates boredom.
More important is change that improves our product or service, or how quickly we serve our clients, change that brings a smile to a customer’s face, change that, in libraries, “saves the time of the user.” Few of these changes will be hailed as “the idea of the year” but they make the difference between the humdrum, business as usual and something highly positive and helpful.
As I reflect on my stint in the 9-5 realm, I realize that much of my rationale for more freedom at work was about collaboration and the removal of artificial barriers, a carefully considered disintermediation. Those barriers in my line of work included professionals never talking to support staff. (Librarians are not unique in this negative behavior; doctors and nurses, professors and adjuncts, bank executives and tellers, etc. ) The best bosses, of course do talk to their employees, but the disdain some professionals have for subordinate opinions came up at almost every discussion on how to make the workplace better: seek a genuine mutual respect. To many professionals’ chagrin, I institutionalized the regular exchange of ideas among all levels in my area and the results, over a decade, were more than encouraging – they were conclusive to me about the role of freedom in our working together in “unhierarchical” groups for better outcomes.
Other barriers to innovation include the supervisor – clearly not my unboss -
who must approve a group’s work each step of the way. And, then only after the supervisor has gotten his boss’ permission! How to slow down innovation? I just gave you the recipe! Never assign decision-making authority to the people doing the work.
Oh, if you choose this fuddy-duddy way, you’ll get by – an amazing amount of maintaining the status quo passes for progress – but you will have failed to do your job: improving services by using all your available resources.
Surowiecki highlights another technological improvement, one that is the “closest to being revolutionary” — “namely, the way the Internet has ‘facilitated collaboration not only within teams but also among crowds of people who didn’t know each other.’” A disintermediated communication, if you will. I certainly saw this play out over my career which spanned typewriters, word processors, dial-up online indexes and abstracts, e-mail networks, DVD-resources, the internet and web and e-resources, Wi-Fi and on – an overall disintermediation, usually for the better - a lowering of barriers, an active by-passing of the Middle Man, be it supervisor or service provider.

@Copyright 2014 John Lubans
« Prev itemNext item »


No comments yet. You can be the first!

Leave comment