I sat down this morning to ponder the multiplicater effect and what it tells us about management in the new age of knowledge and information.
This is how I look at it.
In the 1900’s
In the olden days, business was like a household budget. Money came in and money went out.
The way to get a bit richer was to take the job you did and get someone to do parts of it more cheaply than you could do yourself.
Let’s imagine I was a cobbler. If I could get you to stand in a line and one of you put on the soles, one thread the laces, and so on. I could pay you each less than I could pay myself. And I could keep the profit that each would make if he worked for himself.
We used simple arithmetic and success was mainly about keeping the change.
Confusing housekeeping with economics
This business model leads to weird behaviour. Everyone believes that a one pound coin is indivisible. Either I have it, or you have it. And we fight to the death over it.
National wealth does not work like that. Indeed, company wealth doesn’t work like that.
Stock turn is important in shops. I don’t want to buy stock and having it sit on the shelves. I want it in and I want it out and the money banked. Circulation is the key. Not hoarding.
In a town, the same applies. When we fight over the one pound coin, we are wasting time and energy. Let me buy something from you with the coin. Then let you buy something from the next person and they from the next and ultimately someone buys from me. That one pound serves many of us. The more people served by the same one pound coin, the healthier the economy.
I keep threatening to put an GPS device in a pound coin to follow it as it moves in the wild. If you would like to collaborate in that project, do get in touch.
In the 2000’s
In the modern business world, few of us are like the cobbler with a skill which can be broken into parts, each of which can be done by someone less skilled than us for less money than we would do it ourselves.
Adam Smith and the division of labor
In this day and age, that model of division of labour is a nonsense. Yes, it made perfect sense in the 1800 hundreds in Scotland when Adam Smith said that we can make more pins when we each made part of the pin. And maybe this rule-of-thumb is still true when we are making pins.
Today’s products are more complicated than pins
But in today’s world, we are often making something a lot more complicated than a pin. We’ve moved on. There isn’t any one person who has made the whole of what we are making. There isn’t any person who knows how to do everything. In truth, if we put a 1000 elves in with Santa we wouldn’t be able to draw or visualize exactly what we are making
We are like the blind men describing the elephant. I think the elephant is his trunk. You think it is his tail.
The elephant knows he is an elephant, of course. But he has no way of communicating with the blind men We have to wait until the blind men get the concept of a possible elephant and start communicating with each other. Then they can work out there is an elephant and what it looks like.
You cannot fool all of the people all of the time but there is no end to the people who will try
Now there are plenty of people out there trying to pretend that they know how to make a pin and hoping to delegate part of it to you. Notice well though, that they will be reluctant to give you a good contract that goes beyond chance. They have no market for that pin. (Sorry people who make real pins ~ I know you are real.)
Before you part with an hour of your time, ask them for their sales report
The point is not that the heaven has finally fallen on Chicken Licken. The point is that the world is making bigger things than pins. When you hear someone claim that they understand the whole elephant and you should play a small part at the trunk for a pittance, ask sweetly to see the sales reports. They won’t show the report to you because it doesn’t exist.
Listen to those who want genuinely to collaborate
But when someone says, hey, I feel something interesting in front of me. What do you feel? Do you think there is any connection between what you feel and I feel? THEN, we have a show.
When we network our skills together, then we can make something that we cannot see alone.
This is not the age of division of labor
Division of labour aimed to do things faster and cheaper. Today’s world is about networking specialist labour to do something no one person or company can do alone.
This is the age of connecting with other skilled people
This is not the age of division of labour and making smaller and smaller things. This is the age of networking skill and making bigger and bigger things.
To be practical
As a career coach and work psychologist, I put my practical cap on and ask: what does this mean in practice?
- The essential career tool of today is a set of modular pieces of work which have the potential to link up with others. I say potential because other people may not have work ready to link up. We do our work anyway but rather than just do it, we do it in a way that has potential to link up with others so they can see where they could join in.
- The essential career management tool of today is to be adaptable and do whatever work is available without losing sight of our skill base. The test of any task is not whether we are paid for it but whether we are willing to put it on our website for others to link up to.
- The essential selection criteria for inclusion in a permanent team will be
- number of modules we have available for others to use
- the diversity of modules (are we able to clean the floor and do the accounts as readily as paint a Picasso)
- the readiness at which we create modules in new situations (rate and diversity)
- the connections we make with the team and importantly are now possible between other team members without our presence!
- The ethics of selection come down to whether a person’s connections will be richer by working with us (do they become more creative and are they involved in richer sets of connections?)
- Pay is likely to be more equal with money paid into development funds to pay for capital when it is needed and the opening up new opportunities. Where there are differentials they are likely to come from being central to a network because the pound moves through us more often (we buy and we sell). People who only sell should receive less.
- Ranks of professions might change. Lets imagine we paid a toll to a receptionist each time we walked through the door. We might be come reluctant to have a receptionist. Indeed, this is a test of a division of labour philosophy operating. We may not need the service if we had to pay more for it. Let’s imagine the hospital workers mentioned in a paper today who create a lot more value than they take home. What if they decided to run a hospital and just hire the doctors and nurses around them. That makes sort of sense to me!
- In the olden days, training meant starting with a small task and growing into the ‘owner’. Obviously the tasks in our early career will be small. But what if the goal was to move increasingly into the centre of a network where we are able to work with a wider number of people? Have the pound coin pass through us more often? What if the goal was to increase whom we are able to work with on a project of value? What if I took a person into a room and said: take two people, figure out what they can do and figure out, not what you can sell to each of them, but what you can take/buy from one, transform and pass on to the next. It’s what entrepreneurs do, of course. But what if the entire training process was geared to the capacity to detect and executive collaboration?
- Jane McGonigle lists the qualities of projects that have this magical capacity which I restated here I would look for these multiplicator competencies in someone’s portfolio and help them find opportunities to broaden their experience in new ways of working.
The beginning is the ability to do modular work that has capacity for collaboration. To be potentiated, so to speak, to collaborate. A change of focus but an important one. Learn to be a multiplier rather than a taker.