Chapter 15: What Do We Really Want? A Manifesto for the Organizations of the 21st Century

Lotte Bailyn, Erik Brynjolfsson, John S. Carroll, Thomas A. Kochan, Donald Lessard, Thomas W. Malone (chair), Wanda J. Orlikowski, John F. Rockart, Michael S. Scott Morton, Peter M. Senge, John D. Sterman, JoAnne Yates, MIT 21st Century Initiative Manifesto Working Group Deborah Ancona


In many ways, today's organizations are working very well. But few institutions anywhere—be they educational, governmental, community, or business institutions— are serving societies' and individuals' needs as well as they could. In particular, business institutions, while arguably the healthiest of society's institutions, are operating far short of their potential to contribute broadly to societal well-being.

Today's firms are more technically capable and more economically efficient than ever before, and free market efficiencies are being realized in more and more countries around the world. In many cases, however, these highly efficient organizations are not achieving what we humans really want. The current organization of economic activity is intensifying economic inequity. It is eroding critical environmental systems. And it is generating unsustainable stresses on people, even those "succeeding" in the system. We believe that it is even growing increasingly dysfunctional from the vantage point of traditional economic effectiveness in a world where competitive advantage depends on generating and sharing knowledge and managing increasingly complex interdependencies and change.

For example, we believe that the increasing divergence between the "haves" and "have-nots" within countries and around the world cannot continue without morally troubling inequities and, perhaps, major social disruptions. We believe that the energy-intensive patterns of production and consumption fostered by the current organization of economic activity cannot be sustained without significant breakdowns in our natural environment. Finally, we believe that even the people who are most successful in these organizations often find their lives increasingly unsatisfying. For many, the conflicts between their work, their family, and the rest of their lives seem almost impossible to reconcile. Others find, as have many before them, that the material things they buy do not actually make them any happier.

In short, today's remarkably efficient organizations may be taking us, ever more rapidly, to a place where we don't really want to go. The solution to these problems, therefore, is not a purely technical one. It is, at its root, a question of values. We cannot hope to create better organizations without a sense of what we mean by "better", and we believe there is a strong need today for clear thinking about this question: What goals do we want our organizations to serve? In particular, we believe that business organizations—and the societal, economic, and other institutions within which they are embedded—should evaluate themselves by a broader set of criteria than the narrow economic criteria often used today.

At the same time, the problem is not purely one of values either. Even people with the same values may differ about how best to achieve them. We need, therefore, to learn as much as possible from today's novel organizational experiments and from existing theories about organizations and economic systems. Just as importantly, we need imagination to envision new possibilities for achieving our values. For example, by dramatically reducing the costs of communicating and coordinating, new information technologies make it economically feasible to organize human activities in ways that have never before been imagined.

In many countries around the world, today's political debates already include discussions of what values our organizations should achieve and how best to achieve them. The authors of this document have personal views that range widely across the political spectrum. We all believe, however, that it is important—and possible— to think about these issues at a level that goes beyond today's political debates. We hope that, by appealing to deep human values and imagining new possibilities, it will be possible to reframe today's political debates in important new ways.

We believe that the world of business and of organizations is now entering a period of significant changes—changes that many people believe will be as significant as those in the Industrial Revolution. We believe that this time of transition presents a historical window of opportunity—a time in which the choices we make will have a dramatic effect on the world in which we, our children, and our grandchildren will live.

We wish to set forth here, therefore, the reasons for our beliefs. We also wish to issue with this document a call to reflection about what we as individuals and societies really want, a call to imagination about radical new possibilities, and a call to action in making the choices that face us as wisely as possible.

Inventing the Organizations of the 21st Century
Inventing the Organizations of the 21st Century
ISBN: 026263273X
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2005
Pages: 214

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