A Brief History of Organizational Innovation

To set the context for the new organizational possibilities being created at the juncture of computing and communications, it's worth looking at a series of prior ideas and practices that explained functions, companies, corporations, and the markets in which they interacted. Where facilities were located, how much things cost, and who created them all derived from often-unspoken assumptions that the current period sometimes calls into question.

In our era, many elements of organizational life are in transition or are being subjected to multiplying possibilities:

  • Where does work happen?
  • Who tells people what to do?
  • How is performance assessed, and by whom?
  • Why do organizations exist?
  • How is value created, stored, and exchanged?

Before we can understand how the computing and communications revolutions of the past quarter century are changing the shape of groups that perform work, it's useful to see how those groups have been understood over time.

1776: Division of Labor

Adam Smith's description of pin making is borrowed from a French and perhaps dated source. Nevertheless, the notion of taking an industrial process and letting un- or semiskilled individuals focus on discrete process steps was clearly a step away from craft work, in which a relatively skilled individual was responsible for more or perhaps all operations.

One man draws out the wire, another straights it, a third cuts it, a fourth points it, a fifth grinds it ...

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