On Your Organization’s Horizon: Crowds in the Clouds

It is always difficult to shift to a new paradigm. The present culture’s perception tends to hold us back. The concept that a business needs a bricks and mortar location with people working there still dominates despite more people free lancing and working at home. Indeed, certain business endeavors stake their hope for success on location, hence the famous marketing mantra: “location, location, location.”

The automobile is a good example undergoing a paradigm shift.. If you life the hood on today’s automobile, you can find different power configurations. You can find the traditional combustion engine that has been around for a long time. You can find a hybrid power source that combines the combustion engine with an electrical power source. We are just beginning to see the full paradigm shift to the fully electrical automobile engine.

When we lift the hood of today’s organization, we can see a similar migration playing out. The evolution to the new organizational paradigm is playing out on two levels. One is the makeup of the organization itself in how it is structured. The other involves the people who do the work of the organization.

It is fair to say organizational tweaking on both these dimensions has been going on for a long time. The traditional hierarchical structure of the organization still tends to be prevalent today. It has been tweaked to try to improve communication, get teams to work across the various functions on various matters and to try to get more people involved in the quality of output and customer concerns. Nevertheless, the hierarchy, by its nature, has built in barriers.

When people work in the hierarchical organization, their perception tends to be “I do my job and all the rest of it is none of my concern.” This can obviously inhibit progress and strain positive development in a rapidly changing world.

Clearly, the biggest driver that is laying the foundation for organizational paradigm shift is technology, specifically the computer and the Internet. Work tasks can be immensely speeded up by computer numerically machines that add flexibility and increase quality output at the same time. The Internet has opened up the vast potential of the human side providing the portal for social interaction. The way we organize work and do work is undergoing a paradigm shift.

Two key parts of the shift that is occurring have evolved from computing and the Internet. One is the “cloud,” and the other is the “crowd.”

The cloud is a technological platform outside the organization’s location where the nuts and bolts of computing technology can be placed. Placing computer hardware, software, applications and processing ability outside the organization’s location allows for flexibility and accessibility not possible when located inside the organization. It allows organization members to access work information from anywhere, anytime (at the beach, airport or home). The concept of the cloud is a stratification of the largest cloud of all, the Internet.

The crowd pertains to people assembled through the Internet to do work tasks that can range from very simple to very complex. It is like outsourcing on steroids. Crowds are an evolution of outsourcing but because it is done utilizing the technology and accessibility of the Internet, it allows for infinite scaling and incremental use in time.

Crowds are a way of maximizing the value of social networks. The social network is the technological advance of water cooler communication. The water cooler in the organization has been a place for less formal communication. While groups can be established on social networks, crowd groups are more formal. Crowds have purpose, need structure and willingness to contribute. Roles need to be defined and results evaluated.

In combining the cloud and crowd, the organization becomes devoid of boundaries and relevant information and collaborative work can flow back and forth with ease. The work is not controlled by time constraints.

While the technology platform of clouds and the concept of work done by crowds are evolving concepts, the human side of this paradigm shift needs to be considered. Are those inside your organization ready to play in this kind of arena? What will motivate them to make the transition? Perhaps the biggest motivator will be the realization that the organization is providing help for them to learn how work will be performed in the future. Is the organization’s leadership seeing the emerging value of clouds and crowds and is leadership helping the members to see it and embrace it, as well?

Clouds and crowds are pushing the envelope of organizational structure and operation. These realities are bringing us to the brink of a real paradigm shift in concept and action. In looking to the future, the organizational structure on the horizon will include crowds in the clouds.