it’s hard to go back


I stood in the electronics store surveying the laptops. It was the first time I had ever bought a laptop computer and I was pretty excited. But I was torn. For a bit more money I could lash out and get a new model that boasted (wait for it …. ) 2Mb of RAM. The significance of this was that it could operate a new innovation called Windows.

But I was unconvinced. Even though I was no computer geek, I really liked the idea of mastering MSDOS. Typing a code at a prompt to achieve certain tasks just seemed more ‘pure’. This Windows thing felt like cheating. I didn’t make a purchase that day, thankfully. Before I did, I managed to accumulate some experience in front of a computer screen, and realised that once I’d experienced Windows it was hard to go back.

When you get a taste of something that is … well … just better, it is really hard to go back. Australian beaches have the same effect on me. As Maria will testify, whenever we were fortunate enough to be in another country, I would hanker to get to the coast to check out the beaches. After some time I realised that, despite the cultural interest, nothing was ever going to beat the Aussie beach experience. You get spoiled … talk up the virtues of other beaches; sure … but really we’re just being kind. Take me to Brunswick Heads please.

When you get a taste of self-managed workplaces and genuinely purpose driven organisations, you can’t go back. Organisations with pyramid hierarchies that operate with the assumption that bosses know best feel like a throw back to another era. But unlike the mass consumer market where Windows machines very quickly rendered MSDOS computers to the storeroom, most organisations persist with operating paradigms that belong in the past. Management consultants and leaders are responsible, but it’s not their fault.

Years ago I was shocked to read that the technology to do away with air conditioning in high rise office buildings already existed. The problem was that the academics teaching architecture in universities continued to teach methodologies from the past, so graduating building designers simply did what they knew how to do …

The same is true in organisational design … it’s like the masses being convinced that MSDOS is the best and only game in town. Meanwhile the Windows revolution gains momentum.

There is a different way to run organisations that is not experimental, but proven and more fit for the era we are in. Bureaucracy and power hierarchies are out, self-management is in. Bringing your whole self to work is in. Market driven competition is out, evolutionary purpose is in. It’s a great new business world.