On June 22 at the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands doctor Lilia Efimova defended her thesis on blogging practices of knowledge workers. For her dissertation Lilia studied early adopters of weblogs to provide insights relevant to introducing blogging in knowledge-intensive environments.
Efimova’s findings suggest that ‘while in some cases weblogs are used to perform one’s core tasks, the open-ended and public nature of blogging makes it more valuable for enabling work indirectly through supporting sense-making conversations, developing ideas over time and being able to tap into one’s network when needed’.
Efimova, L. (2009). Passion at work: blogging practices of knowledge workers. Enschede, Netherlands: Novay.
This leads to the second reason we believe that large-scale corporations will remain a prominent feature of our professional landscape: because they will be best positioned to develop and support scalable, long-term, trust-based relationships. Think about it. Even the most accomplished networker supported by social networks like Facebook can develop only a limited number of trust-based relationships. On the other hand, a large institution could scale these kinds of relationships far more rapidly and broadly than any individual could.
Imagine if a well-respected, global firm decided to create the right platform to foster these kinds of relationships, not only among its own employees, but across a worldwide network of diverse external partners. Not only could such a large institution get bigger but—because of the collaboration curve—it would generate increasing returns to scale, accelerating growth for both individuals and the firm. How could any one person, on their own, replicate the scale of relationships such an institution would offer?
Long-term trust based relationships matter because, in the Big Shift era, tacit knowledge is what allows all of us, individually and collectively, to keep up with a fast-moving, unpredictable world. Tacit knowledge, which we all have but experience great difficulty in expressing, is typically created and exchanged only in long-term, trust-based relationships. To access valuable tacit knowledge, in other words, we need scalable networks of relationships, supported by shared practices. Since people can’t ever access as many relationships on their own as they could as part of a larger institution, they will face significant disadvantages by remaining independent.
Now, of course, this assumes a dramatic transformation in the institutions that we have today, from institutions that flourish by suppressing individuality to ones where individuality must flourish in order for the institution to do the same. This will not happen overnight. But companies will eventually awake to the opportunity—indeed the imperative—this transition represents. Long-term competitive pressures ensure that the old guard institutions will wither and eventually die if they don’t.
From this perspective, we believe the current flight of passionate and talented people from institutional confines represents a transitional event rather than a permanent shift to a “free agent nation” or “e-lance economy.” People are fleeing today because our current generation of institutions undermines talent development in the name of efficiency. As a new generation of institutions emerges the current flight from institutions will reverse.