Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Decade of Scale

Miscellaneous Just when I thought it was safe to emerge from cover without being assaulted by predictions about the year ahead, I caught up with David Weinberger writing in Harvard Business about The Year of Scale:

Management by control just can't work in a scaled world. In fact, it was only by removing control that the online world was able to scale. Participants ... are learning that collaboration works, but only if certain conditions are met: People need equal opportunity, a meritocracy needs to be able to emerge, roles should shape themselves to the individual's abilities and social relations, and there has to be complete transparency about the process and the progress. In a sense, management comes after the fact in the scaled world, helping out where needed, but letting much of the organization emerge from the complex relationships among the co-workers.

It's hard to disagree with with Weinberger's argument (more on that below), but I do think he has the time scale wrong. I think this is a case of what Don Dodge calls macromyopia - over-estimating the short term effects and under-estimating the long term impact. Weinberger is right, but he obviously succumbed to an editor's blandishments to write an article about "the year ahead".

Similarly, in Social networking through the ages Stephen Fry considers social networking, and concludes that we've seen it all before:

Social networking ... has been identified as the Big New Thing. In other words, people who watch My Family have now heard of it and are at last aware of the difference between downloading and uploading.

He's quite right in that online networks are nothing new. What's changed is the scale of uptake. It took much longer than expected for "people who watch My Family" to cotton-on - another classic case of macromyopia.

So why do I care? Because it's the decade (rather than the year) of scale. We must not underestimate the long term impacts of web 2.0, just as we must not overestimate the short term impact. Just as online shopping has revolutionized (or ravaged, if you were running a small family business) camera shops, the book trade and the music industry, education is about to change. And we're no more immune to macromyopia than those sad music industry executives.

How should we respond to these changes? I'm not sure yet, but I am sure you have a suggestion! :-)


  1. Hah. You're exactly right that I was responding to the need to say something about the next 12 months. Yes, the change is likely to take longer. But the time scale needs to be extended in the other direction as well: The need to deal with change has been with us for years already.

    - David Weinberger

  2. Editors, eh? Dontcha just love 'em?

    I am interested in the "macromyopia" concept though, something we tend to suffer from in education more than most?