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The 60’s was a counter-culture time of rapid change, whether you liked or not, whether you have lived through it or not. The only real analysis of that time could be retrospective, and enough of that water has already gone under the bridge to be able to asses the ingredients: the Vietnam war, rejection of traditional authority, generation clashes, alternative lifestyles, race relationships in turmoil, experimentation in sexuality, drugs, and a few other experimentations.  It was a package. Historians and social academics have analysed it, and will continue to do so. What everybody agrees is that there was a ‘catalytic moment’ of rapid change, not an historical continuum. And the Beatles provided the soundtrack.

With my apologies to those who in the 60’s were still in a state of ‘potential concept’ and perhaps landed on earth later thanks to ‘Imagine’, candles and red wine (not a comprehensive list of factors here).

There are always historical points of convergence, accumulation of factors that have the potential to create great discontinuity, as opposed to continuity. I believe the conditions are now here for a counter culture revolution of the nature of the firm, the corporate world, and the business organization.

I can’t pretend to develop this argument as a PhD in less than 1000 words, so I will take the liberty, and dare the adventure, of announcing the key ingredients. I don’t know what will result as the final dish, but my hypothesis is that it will be something of the 60’s counter-revolution equivalent for corporate life.

I believe there are five distinctive bundles, packages, groups of factors, Lego pieces, for the revolution in waiting. The combinations of facts may look like strange fellows travelling together. The concepts may be dismissed easily. The “what’s new?’ brigade will sweep some of them under the carpet. All of the above. But here they are, as I see them.

  1. Social purpose is not just a nice, theoretical, ethical, politically correct concept anymore. Millennials and others are actively seeking it, wanting to work for a company ‘with this’, buying products from purpose-driven producers, and seriously believing profit is secondary to purpose. Enron was the inflection point. The recent banking crisis a reminder. In the quest for purpose, professions, politicians, firms, current forms of organizations, all are on death row. If you think that purpose is the same as ‘mission and vision’, abandon the corporate Titanic now.
  2. Taking control of one’s destiny is serious. The Arab Spring, and its Summer, and its Autumn, has shown that it is possible to join revolutions in real time. There is an Arab Spring in waiting in the corporate world. Forms and models of self-management in organizations have passed the anecdotal threshold to become more and more present in traditional industries. An ‘Employee Revolution’ will show up on a screen near you. That will make an historical, pre-Copernican footnote, of the current ‘Employee Engagement’ thinking.
  3. Digitalization is bigger than globalization. End of distance and end of space is not new but it is now in full blown use. The 24/7 ability to act destroys the 9 to 5 work. Work-life balance is dead. People seek another form of life, not just a balance or imbalance. A sense of belonging, loyalty, ‘engagement’ are in quest mode. Their rules are not written.
  4. New forms of work are ubiquitous, not anecdotal anymore. Full time or part time are old concepts. People are experimenting with shared work, shadow work, remote working, working anonymously. It’s a big experimentation, not all good. Some glorified forms such as ‘working form home’ are an emperor with no clothes. Very traditional forms of work will learn to cohabitate with very unusual forms of work. Learn leadership acrobatics soon. Suspend judgement as to what may work. Experiment! (‘Experiment’ is a wonderful 60s counter-culture concept, so here we go again).
  5. ‘Build to last’, to use the title of a prominent bestseller, better described as a Bible, is dead. A tiny percentage of start-ups survive but many resurrect in other forms. Some die again. Its continuous reincarnation. ‘What would be the magic bullets of long term success’ is the Holy Grail of corporate. A few Crusades are underway. People are very confused. The muddle is huge. In the short term, ‘Built to think’ is my preferred mode. Taleb’s  ‘Antifragile’ is ahead of the game.

All that together has the potential of a counter-revolution in the making. All the ingredients are available in your local cultural supermarket. The question is whether you want to wait for an invitation to the dinner or you prefer to find yourself in the kitchen.  For the record, I am cooking. Want to join?

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  1. Morag McGill

    I’m in the kitchen. Can I help peel the potatoes? Add to the seasoning? Think up some new menu’s?

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