In 2003 Carlota Perez published a great book: Technological Revolutions and Financial Capital: The Dynamics of Bubbles and Golden Ages. She had a profound influence on my view of where the world is heading, and is well worth a full read. One of her key conclusions is summarised by Amy Wohl:
Perez carefully documents the fact that once we have exploited a technology (taken it up the ramp) there may be another whole ramp waiting for it. She calls that second opportunity “the golden age” and she means simply that when the technology is fully exploited throughout the society which surrounds it, the effects are likely to be much larger and longer lasting (she estimates another 20 years of growth).
In the context of today she means having had the internet bubble and burst we should now be in a golden age period that will last 20 years. I think she is right – although recent movements in the dollar have got me a little worried.
Her conclusion comes from analysis of previous technological revolutions, e.g. mass production which led to the 1920s bubble, the 1929 bust and then the post war boom. Looking at five of these over the last 200 years she argues persuasively that in the golden period that follows each bust a new culture and mode of organisation emerges that is characteristic of winning companies.
I think we are a little way into a golden period now and the shape of the culture and organisation mode that will win is becoming clear. To be successful companies need to be agile, and that means a culture of delegation and empowerment – right to the edge of the enterprise. We are seeing this most clearly in marketing/comms with the blogging revolution.
The dominant culture of the last golden period was command and control and the power was all held at the centre. If I am right then companies that have been successful in the past (like MSFT and IBM) will need to shift their cultures 180 degrees if they are to maintain their positions. Gerstner started this process at IBM and MSFT are embracing blogging which is a good first step. The hysteria surrounding blogging in general and at MSFT in particular shows how difficult this change will be.
To repeat a thought from Robert Scoble, the real change will be when MSFT and others trust and empower their people to SPEND MONEY in the same way as they are now starting to trust them to blog.
For all this to happen the dominant enterprise culture will need to shift from control to co-ordination.
IMHO this change will drive demand for social software.
The best guess at the moment is that adoption will be bottom up – fitting the edge control model – which means individuals, teams and departments picking up web tools and starting to use them collaboratively at work. 37signals is a great example of a company riding this trend. There are a couple in stealth mode in Europe as well.
As an aside – what is going on with stealth mode companies now? To my mind you might as well get out there and start publicising yourself as soon as possible. Ideas are not unique.