The Big Question

by Jay Cross on December 17, 2007

bigq.jpgLearning is a journey, not a destination, so most of what I learned in 2007 consisted of improving connections to things I already knew about. In informal learning terminology, I rode the bus long ago and rode my bike this year. I filled in gaps in my knowledge but learned next to nothing from scratch.

President Bush is a polarizing politician. (I already knew that.) Some people think W a great leader, keeping the homeland safe, exemplifying our nation’s values, and bringing discipline to our schools. Others consider Bush a doofus who started an unnecessary war, ruined the economy, made enemies of many former allies, and proved himself dumb as dirt. There’s little middle ground. You are pro or con.

In 2007 I learned more about another polarity. One group of business people supports conducting business the “way we’ve always done it,” that is to say, on a manufacturing model. An opposing group advocates networks, sharing, and delegation. Once again, few people are comfortable in both camps.

Permit me to make up some shorthand to describe these groups. I will call adherents to the old-school, rigid, industrial-age model ice. And I will refer to those who embrace networks and flexibility water.

Ice organizations think business is a zero-sum game; for me to win, you must lose. They often have a black-and-white view of the world; the fundamentals still apply. They trust their heads. Secrecy is a competitive advantage; hoarding information is the norm.

Water organizations are content to take their share of an ever-larger pie. Cooperation is a win-win game. They trust their intuition. Nothing is perfect; stuff happens. Relationships are all-important, and the more open you are, the easier it is to form them.

Neither side is tolerant of the other. This goes deep. In the conflict of ice vs. water, it’s push vs. pull, classification vs. folksonomy, privacy vs. transparency, nodes vs. connections, tangibles vs. intangibles, perfection vs. good enough, and expecting the worst from people vs. expecting their best.

Business is headed for a gut-wrenching crisis. A house divided against itself cannot stand. It will become all one thing, or all the other.* Now I am trying to learn what to do about this.

*A. Lincoln, 1858

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