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Say farewell to the divine right of management

http://finance.sina.com.cn 2004年04月23日 10:35 新浪财经


托马斯•马龙(Thomas Malone)原本是心理学家,却半路出家当上了管理教授。他属于那种语不惊人死不休的人。在他看来,企业界正处在“深刻而可预见的变化”之巅峰,这一变化“的重要性不亚于民主之如政府。”

You cannot fault Thomas Malone for lack of ambition. In The Future of Work, the psychologist-turned-management-professor declares that the corporate world is on the cusp of a "fundamental and predictable change" that may be "as important to business as the shift to democracy has been to government".


He claims that companies based on rigid hierarchy will be consigned to the dustbin of history. In the brave new world of decentralised organisations, managers will have to learn to cultivate and co-ordinate, rather than command and control.


Prof Malone, who teaches everything from leadership to information technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Sloan School of Management, is not the first to argue for decentralisation.

罗素•艾可夫(Russell Ackoff)的《民主型企业》(The Democratic Corporation, 1994年版)和詹姆斯•布赖恩•奎因(James Brian Quinn)的《智能型企业》(Intelligent Enterprise, 1992)等著作都曾倡导极端分权型的组织。

Russell Ackoff's The Democratic Corporation (1994) and James Brian Quinn's Intelligent Enterprise (1992) are among the books that have advanced the case for radically decentralised organisations.


A large body of evidence attests to the fact that organisational performance improves when members are invited to offer initiative and commitment, not just compliance.


But the argument offered here is uniquely grand. Not only are decentralised organisations more efficient, they are also the inevitable consequence of technological progress. Deep historical forces are at work.


In the beginning, says Malone, our ancestors lived as small groups of hunter-gatherers, enjoying close-knit social bonds and egalitarian decision-making. The high cost of communication over large distances meant that small groups were the only feasible form of social organisation.


Then came agriculture, which allowed people to settle in closer proximity to one another, and writing. These breakthroughs led to a significant fall in the cost of communication and, as a direct result, bigger and more complex social organisations.


Thus tribes and kingdoms replaced hunter-gathering bands. Our ancestors were happy to put up with rigid hierarchy because these new structures offered benefits such as military protection.


Then, circa 1450, Gutenberg's moveable-type printing press led to another steep drop in communication costs.


In time, this enabled the rise of democracy, which offers all the economic and security benefits of scale but with less of the tiresome hierarchy.


And so, in 10 pages, does Malone explain 12,000 years of socio-economic evolution.


No prizes for guessing what comes next: companies are about to undergo a similar transformation. Information technology will enable them to evolve beyond the feudal stage. Say farewell to the divine right of management.

此论调隐约让人想起芝加哥学派的伟大经济学家罗纳德•科斯(Ronald Coase)。科斯用交易成本经济学解释企业的边界。

There are faint echoes here of Ronald Coase, the great Chicago School economist who used transaction cost economics to explain the boundaries of the corporation.


Coase said, more or less, that companies perform tasks internally if it is cheaper than contracting third parties to do so. This calculation explains where markets stop and companies begin.


Unlike Coase, however, Malone focuses not on transaction costs but on communication costs. In addition, he is interested not only in corporate boundaries but also the internal structure of organisations.


To be fair, Malone does not pretend to know exactly how companies will evolve from here.


The majority of The Future of Work is taken up with examples of organisations that are experimenting with new management techniques and structure.


Inevitably, the loose hierarchy of programmers behind Linux, the open source computer operating system, is cited.


Also present here is BP's attempt to "bring markets inside" by creating an internal market for emissions trading, and the quasi-democratic governance structure of eBay.


There are also sections on "business process outsourcing", "process architectures for interchangeable organisations" and "the deep structure of business processes".


Why is there this obsession with process? Strip any company of hierarchy and you are left with nothing but processes - the flow of work. In the flat, decentralised organisations of the future, it is argued, the ability to configure and reconfigure processes will be an important source of competitive advantage.

同样,马龙的这些说法也不新鲜。盖瑞•哈默尔(Gary Hamel)在其《领导革命》(Leading the Revolution, 2000年版)一书中就呼吁企业建立内部创意、资金和人才的市场。

Again, Malone is not the first to make these points. Gary Hamel's Leading the Revolution (2000) called on companies to create internal markets for ideas, capital and talent.

关于技术如何促进松散化“流程网络”的话题,如需了解详尽的论述,应该去看约翰•哈格尔(John Hagel)的《即买即用》(Out of the Box,2002年版)。

Anyone in search of an exhaustive treatment of the role of technology in enabling loose "process networks", should turn to John Hagel's Out Of The Box (2002).

尽管如此,《未来工作》(The Future of Work)一著是对分权化管理试验的一个广泛调查,书中有大量创见。即便不看作者的宏大历史分析,我们也会承认,不错,很有理由要朝他说的方向发展。

Still, as a broad survey of experiments in decentralised management, The Future of Work is packed with ideas. You do not need to accept the grand historical analysis to see that, yes, there are good reasons for moving in this direction.





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