This chapter is reprinted with permission from Harvard Business Review 76, no. 5 (September–October 1998), 145–152.
For more about the influence of information technology on business organizations, see Malone, chapter 3 of this volume; Malone (1987); Malone and Rockart (1991).
See Laubacher and Malone (1997a).
Workers' guilds, common in the Middle Ages, may again rise to prominence, taking over many of the welfare functions currently provided by big companies; see Laubacher and Malone (1997b); Laubacher and Malone, chapter 17 of this volume.
Laubacher, Robert J., Thomas W. Malone, and the MIT Scenario Working Group. 1997a. Two Scenarios for 21st Century Organizations: Shifting Networks of Small Firms or All-Encompassing "Virtual Countries"? MIT Initiative on Inventing the Organizations of the 21st Century Working Paper No. 001, January, http://www.ccs.mit.edu/21c/21CWP001.html.
Laubacher, Robert J., and Thomas W. Malone. 1997b. Flexible Work Arrangements and 21st Century Worker's Guilds. MIT Initiative on Inventing the Organizations of the 21st Century Working Paper No. 004, October, http://www.ccs.mit.edu/21c/21CWP004.html.
Malone, Thomas W., JoAnne Yates, and Robert I. Benjamin. 1987. Electronic Markets and Electronic Hierarchies. Communications of the ACM, 30 (June): 484–497.
Malone, Thomas W., and John F. Rockart. 1991. Computers, Networks, and the Corporation. Scientific American 265 (September) 128–136.
Chapter 6: Two Scenarios for 21st Century Organizations—Shifting Networks of Small Firms or All-Encompassing "Virtual Countries"?
Robert Laubacher, Thomas W. Malone, the MIT Scenarios Working GroupThe MIT Scenario Working Group was comprised of a Scenario Creation and Scenario Review Group. Members of the two groups are listed in the acknowledgements.
One of the key activities of MIT's Initiative on Inventing the Organizations of the 21st Century was developing a series of coherent scenarios of possible future organizations. The scenarios were not intended as predictions, but rather as visions of potential alternative ways of organizing work and structuring business enterprises in the next century. This chapter describes the results of the Initiative's scenario development activity.
Background and Approach
Scenario planning begins with the assumption that the future ultimately cannot be knowable with any certainty. Starting from this point, scenario planners set out to think deeply about the various potential futures that might emerge. The scenario process employs a range of techniques—research, brainstorming, story telling—and attempts to sketch a series of narrative accounts which delineate the boundaries of what could conceivably occur going forward. Scenario planning was chosen as an approach for the 21st Century Initiative, since it provided a structured methodology for thinking about the environment in which future organizations will operate and the likely form those organizations might take.
Scenario Creation Group
The Scenario Creation Group was comprised of thirteen members of the MIT faculty and research staff (see list of members and their affiliations in the acknowledgments at the end of this chapter). Peter Schwartz of Global Business Network, a consulting firm that specializes in scenario planning, served as discussion facilitator. The Group held a series of during the spring of 1994 and framed an initial set of scenarios. The focus was:
the world 20 years hence (approximately 2015),
future ways of organizing work,
issues likely to fall under the control of business enterprises, with government policy considered primarily insofar as it might affect business,
business around the world, not just in the U.S.,
effects of future organizational forms on both economic and non-economic aspects of life, and on both individuals and society.
Review by Faculty, Corporate Sponsors, and Others
In late spring 1994, these initial scenarios were the subject of a half-day meeting held by a Scenario Review Group comprised of ten additional Sloan faculty. Over the next two years, the scenarios were discussed by researchers, executives, and students at a series of events held by the 21st Century Initiative and meeting sponsored by other groups, both at MIT and elsewhere. In all, more than 500 people heard about and commented on the scenarios at more than 10 events.
The MIT Scenario Working Group was comprised of a Scenario Creation and Scenario Review Group. Members of the two groups are listed in the acknowledgements.
On the history and methods of scenario planning, see Wack (1985a, 1985b); de Gues (1988); and Schwartz (1991). Kleiner (1996a) gives a brief history of the rise of scenario planning at Shell and its continuation by many of the Shell practitioners through their work at Global Business Network.
Several of the events where the 21st Century Initiative scenarios were discussed are described in Halperin (1994); CEO Thought Summit (1995); and Kleiner (1996b).