Intrapreneurs Build Better Typewriters

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I recently wrote about the current slow death of the institution.

It’s  increasingly obvious that the efficiencies we humans have gained in using institutions (to create scale, while minimizing transaction costs and increasing profits) no longer are relevant. The internet have changed this and institutions are obsolete.

Huh?

Yes.  As futurist and director of IFTF Marina Gorbis explains in this talk, there is no financial point in us having institutions any more, and therefore (as we live in a world where money decides) institutions will soon disappear.

“You can think of organisations as a technology for creating scale and minimizing cost. This technology is being disrupted.”

They will likely be replaced with online networks, peer-to-peer solutions or other post-organisational structures.

But the centralized institution as we know it will soon be gone.

It’s like the typewriter. Once an important and ubiquitous technology… And now gone…

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For years I was a believer in intrapreneurship: To use the principles of entrepreneurship to hack or disrupt large organisations from within, while maintaining the actual system, the organisation.

Today I think of intrapreneurs as a bit like those guys who tried to re-invent the typewriter back in the day.

“Hey, Look! We can add another colour to the pad so that you can type in both black and red now!”

“Look! We have invented an electric typewriter. You don’t need to move the paper down with the scroller thingy, now you just plug the typewriter into the wall and press this button!”

These guys had no idea that the typewriter would be replaced with a smartphone soon. They thought that the typewriter would always be around in a different shape or form.

Exactly like people who spend their time managing and trying to change or develop large rganisations today. They think that these organisations will always be around.

But why?

Organisations are a technology like any technology, and it is obsolete. The benefits are no longer there.

Sure, there are social and other benefits, but that’s not enough. If it doesn’t make financial sense it will go.

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Do you work to make organisations better? As a manager, organisational development expert, change management consultant, intrapreneur or similar?

Be careful. You are likely holding evolution back. You are probably a barrier to progress.

As John Hagel recently pointed out in his excellent 21st Century Global Declaration of Independence:

“We find ourselves now at a crossroads in history. The institutions – commercial, educational, political and civic – that we created in an earlier era in an effort to expand our potential have now become increasingly significant barriers to progress. It is not surprising that our trust in these institutions is plummeting around the world. We see so much opportunity and yet the institutions that are supposed to be helping us are increasingly standing in our way.”

Don’t try to build a better typewriter.

Cars

Obsolete Model: The Car
New Model: The Human

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Obsolete Model: The Car

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“The spirit of generosity already threatened by the horse, evaporated entirely with the motor car.”

– Bruce Chatwin in his Patagonia notebook

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I’m about to buy a car. And I don’t like it. I wish I didn’t have to.

I’ve had an issue with cars for a long time now. I don’t remember disliking them as a kid or teenager, so I can’t see any hidden psychological traumas that I have oppressed. In my 20s, I thought cars were great for getting to the French or Austrian Alps to snowboard. My friends and I always had some old rubbish car for that reason. But I don’t remember ever liking cars. They were more of a tool for getting far away from boring university studies.

I have owned cars a few times, but have always had problems with them. One lost the exhaust pipe in the Moroccan desert, one caught on fire on a French Autoroute, and one was stolen in East London. And I’ve always disliked buying and selling cars. Cars are very expensive to most people and the large sums of money, which change hands in these transactions create mistrust between all parts that are involved.

But these days my issue with cars is not with my own car or other peoples’ cars. It’s with cars in general. The car.

I think we can now declare the car an obsolete model which needs to be replaced. Why? Well, let’s look at a couple of things.

Costs:

  • Cars pollute
  • Cars kill playing children and insecure teenagers
  • Cars lead to unhealthy behaviour (sitting down in a metal bubble instead of walking)
  • Cars are expensive and terrible investments
  • Cars are inefficient as a means of transport in urban areas
  • Cars lead to road rage

Benefits:

  • Cars can take me anywhere quickly once outside a city centre.
  • Cars give me freedom
  • Some cars are beautiful
  • It’s fun to drive too fast with a car
  • My car is a place which I like as I’m on my own there. It’s my temple. A place for reflection.

And so on… We all know these things. A cost-benefit analysis would perhaps be more favorable to cars in remote areas, but in urban areas there is no reason for cars.

New model: The Human

A recent report I read said that human drivers will disappear within a generation. I was a bit disappointed. I had hoped that they will disappear before that. But most people agree that self-driving cars will transform our lives when they come.

I’m curious to see whether self-driving vehicles will solve my problems and still give me the benefits with cars, mentioned in the cost/benefit analysis above.

Let’s list everything  again and see if the self-driving car will change life for the better:

Cost/benefit Change Comment
Cars pollute + Won’t be solved, the self-driving car will still pollute, but much fuel will be saved.
Cars lead to unhealthy behaviour (sitting down in a metal bubble instead of walking) 0 Won’t be solved. We’ll still get fatter and move less.
Cars are inefficient as a means of transport in urban areas. + Won’t be solved. Yes, there will be less congestion, but cities will still be packed with cars.
Cars kill playing children and insecure teenagers +++ This will be solved! Self-driving cars cannot kill children or teenage drivers.
Cars are expensive and terrible investments 0 No change (but at least insurance costs will go down)
Cars lead to road rage +++ Will be solved! We will relax with a book or DVD instead of raging against our fellow machines and motorists.
Cars can take me anywhere quickly once outside a city centre. 0 No change.
Cars give me freedom 0 Same. Future Jack Keroac’s can now even write as they “keep on rolling under the stars”.
Some cars are beautiful 0 No change. Some cars will still be beautiful.
It’s fun to drive too fast with a car This will not be possible any more. Hoons and revheads will disappear and have to get their testosterone levels balanced elsewhere.
My car is a place which I like as I’m on my own there. It’s my temple. A place for reflection. 0 No change. My car will still be a place for reflection.

Yes, the self-driving car will solve some of my issues, but not all of them. We need a better model than the self-driving car. A self-driving car is perhaps what the electric typewriter was to the typewriter; a solution which seemed logical at the time, but didn’t stop the innovation from being disrupted.

I wonder what will disrupt the car in the same way as the car disrupted the horse. I suggest the human.

 

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This blog post is part of a series, which started with some of my issues.. I call this the irresponsibility series, as my inner conservative tells me that the posts and thoughts here are “utterly, completely irresponsible”. In the series, I discuss obsolete and new models for five things which I have issues with: Democracy, Hard Work, Cars, Heroic (or Dickhead) Entrepreneurship and Settling. This series is based on Buckminster Fuller’s excellent quote, which has inspired many of us;

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality.
To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”

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