Hi, everyone. I’m Clay Spinuzzi, an associate professor of rhetoric and writing at the University of Texas, Austin. I research how people produce, circulate, and coordinate information in workplaces. Lately, I’ve been very interested in loose, flexible work organization. Think in terms of freelancers, subcontractor federations, and kinds of work whose traditional tools and resources have been replaced by digital technologies. Today, I’ll talk a little about why we’re seeing a shift toward loose work organization, particularly in what we might call “adhocracies.”
Let’s think in broad strokes. Futurist Alvin Toffler argued in 1980 that we have gone through three “waves” of major change in human history.
In the first wave, we became an agricultural society and for millennia most of our work was agricultural.
In the 18th century, we began the second wave, the Industrial Revolution, and until the mid-1900s industrial work dominated.
But, Toffler argued, since the mid-1900s we have been in the third wave: we have become a knowledge society and the most influential work is knowledge work. Remember, these are broad generalizations, but they’re still useful for thinking through some of the changes we’ve seen. Because we certainly have seen changes. Knowledge work has taken an increasingly large share of the developed world&apos;s economy in the last century. By 1980, the information sector grew to 46.6% (Beniger). By 1994, traditional (agricultural and industrial) work has shrunk to only a sixth or an eighth of the workforce - the rest of the workforce is engaged in service and knowledge work (Drucker 1994, p.6).
But these changes aren’t all. Each form of work has its own logic and form of organization. To get agricultural work done, you have to establish hierarchies that direct labor on a mass scale. To get industrial work done, you have to create and leverage markets. To facilitate knowledge work, it helps to establish networked forms of organization: relatively independent workers in fast-changing, recombinant organizations.
Toffler saw this shift to networks in 1970, when he predicted that work would be reorganized from departments to projects, attacked by transient teams of specialists: knowledge workers. In these “adhocracies,” cross-functional teams change in composition, and leadership shifts during different stages and different projects.
Toffler saw that adhocracies meant that people no longer had to work in the same space - the same field, the same factory. With more and more work being knowledge work, people could install computers in their houses and perform their work from home - i.e., telecommute.
And yes, perhaps they’d want to get out of the house sometimes, so maybe they’d go to local coops. But Toffler didn’t see these coops as being preferable to working from home - because he didn’t foresee three things.
Pervasive and cheap Internet connections delivered through independent telecommunications companies ...
powerful mobile computers, affordable to individuals ...
and mobile telecommunications, inexpensive enough that even tweens could afford them.
These three technologies have really changed the present - and probably the future - of work.
They’ve allowed people to work in “third spaces”: coffee shops, libraries, parks, hotel lobbies, McDonald’s, etc.
They’ve opened up telecommuting and mobile work to small businesses, not just big business: freelancers, partnerships, contractors. They’ve enabled virtualized organizations. And they’ve accelerated the transition to project-oriented work - and adhocracies.
They’ve allowed more work to be outsourced. Companies retain their core functions, but they contract other jobs.
And they’ve generated a “pickup” economy in which people reach out through their personal networks to assemble today’s team, to find contractors, to be contracted.
These are adhocracies to the nth power. And this is the environment in which many entrepeneurs find themselves working: an environment in which free agents come together, establish a temporary configuration with temporary leadership and organization, work on a project, then disperse at the end of the project. But in a pickup economy, how do you find your team? How do you network?
Increasingly, it’s through that third space, that coop that Toffler mentioned but didn’t really pursue. People without offices find themselves meeting in places like coffee shops. But coffee shops are noisy, unpredictable; you can’t get a table;
you can’t maintain confidentiality. You don’t know who else is there. You haven’t been able to develop trust. And trust is absolutely vital when you’re assembling a team to work on a project you own. You need a place where you can develop trust if you’re going to work effectively in an adhocracy. This is where coworking fits in.
As corporations continue to outsource non-core functions and as knowledge work becomes more prevalent, expect to see more spaces that can accommodate this work. And expect to see more variations on adhocracies.
How Adhocracies Fit
into the Future of
“man will find himself [sic] liberated, a stranger in a new
free-form world of kinetic organizations. In this alien
landscape, his position will be constantly changing, fluid, and
varied. And his organizational ties, like his ties with things,
places, and people, will turn over at a frenetic and ever-
“managers are losing their monopoly on decision-making”
1970, p.125, 140
“Soon we may see the rise of movements demanding that
all work that can be done at home be done at home.
Many workers will insist on that option as a right.”
“Put the computer in people’s homes, and they no longer
need to huddle. Third Wave white-collar work ... will not
require 100 percent of the work force to be concentrated
in the workshop.”
1980, p.203; 199
“We might also see groups of home-workers organize
themselves into small companies to contract for their
services, or, for that matter, unite in cooperatives that
jointly own the machines. All sorts of new relationships
and organizational forms become possible.”
“neighborhood work centers”
“dispersed work centers”
1980, p.205; 200; 205
“the new production system relies on a combination of
strategic alliances and ad hoc cooperation projects between
corporations, decentralized units of each major corporation,
and networks of small and medium enterprises connecting
among themselves and/or with large corporations or
networks of corporations.”
Castells 2000, p.96
“The individualization of working arrangements, the
multi-location of the activity, and the ability to
network all these activities around the individual
worker, usher in a new urban space, the space of
endless mobility, a space made of flows of
information and communication, ultimately managed
with the Internet.”
Castells 2003, p.234
A new urban space
Slide 2, 3: Public domain, Library of Congress, http://www.flickr.com/photos/library_of_congress/2179136302/
Slide 2, 4: Public domain, Library of Congress, http://www.flickr.com/photos/library_of_congress/2179077779/in/photostream/
Slide 2, 5: CC, Rod McLatchy, http://www.flickr.com/photos/rodbotic/2479178443/
Slide 10, 13: Public domain, OCal, http://www.clker.com/cliparts/2/4/e/2/120818528589
Slide 11, 13: CC, Ryan Jones (ichibod), http://www.flickr.com/photos/ichibod/2073251155/
Slide 12, 13: Public domain, http://www.pdclipart.org/albums/Telephone_and_Cell/mobile_phone_22.png
Slide 14: CC, Kevin Fox (kfury), http://www.flickr.com/photos/person/107899274/
Slide 17: CC, Ed Yourdon (yourdon), http://www.flickr.com/photos/yourdon/3823194254/
All others: Spinuzzi
Slides are at spinuzzi.blogspot.com