Just the beginning

My favourite business journalist, Peter Day, writing on the occasion of 21 years working on In Business:

Some 10 years ago the great management thinker the late Peter Drucker told me that he did not think that the computer had yet begun to effect the way organisations were managed. At the time, it seemed to be a crazy remark, but thinking about it afterwards it made more and more sense.

Henry Ford transformed industry after industry with his adoption of the production line in Detroit 100 years ago. Theoretically, the interactive information generated by the computer network should be having just as much disruptive impact on business now as Ford had then.

But few pre-existing companies seem to have changed their shape, size or business model to reflect what they now know about the clients and customers.

The mass production corporation tells itself it is making things its customers want to buy, and giving them a choice. But big companies seem to erect walls around themselves to keep the customer at bay. They commission market research rather than themselves go out and ask questions, and they mainly want customers who want to buy the things they make, not the other way round.

I think he’s right. Even those companies seen as cutting edge — Google, Innocent, Zappos and so on — are really not that different from what has been before in terms of the way they are organised. There’s going to be a lot of change in how we organise in the near future. Something we wrote about in Disorganisation — although I’d go even further if I were to write it again now, having run a company for a couple of years.

Forbes on networks

I meant to mention a couple of weeks ago the special ‘networks’ issue of Forbes magazine after Chris Anderson pointed it out (I’m not a regular Forbes reader, I have to admit). It’s an interesting read and has quite a lot of similarities with the Demos collection that I edited with Paul and Helen called Network Logic a few years back.

Anyway, the fact that it was Forbes reminded me of a blatant name-dropping story from my short stint as a humble intern on Newsnight. George Bush had just made his axis of evil speech and I was dispatched off to help a team find an American foreign or military policy specialist to get a response. We hit lucky and found out that former US Defence Secretary Caspar Weinberger (since departed) was in London and staying at the Forbes house in Battersea.

Off we went to get a few minutes of Caspar (the friendly defence secretary as he was referred to by the editor of Newsnight at the time) on tape. He was already heavily showing his years but as soon as the camera started recording a sparkle returned to his eye and he gave us some brilliantly barbed comments about George Bush junior.

While all this was going on we were being looked after handsomely by the Forbes housekeeper and fed the spare food from a dinner that had been held for Caspar the night before. It was only as we were leaving that the camera man looked in the visitors’ book to see who had been there. The last name stood out. Margaret Thatcher. We’d been eating her leftovers. Suddenly the taste in my mouth wasn’t quite so sweet.

It’s not what you know…

I’m writing a piece for the wonderful Enterprise Insight about networking and entrepreneurialism. The basic thrust will be that networking is a good thing to do if you want to make your ideas happen.

It’s an interesting time for me to be writing it because I’m busy trying to start up a business with some friends. The thing that has struck me so far is how willing people have been to help and to make introductions. It’s been a really pleasant experience meeting up with old contacts to tell them what we’re up to and follow their leads and advice.

So writing the piece for EI gives me a chance to step back and look at what I’ve learned myself about networks and start-ups so far. I’ll write the piece to include a mixture of examples of how networks have helped successful businesses get off the ground and some of the theory behind networks that I’ve learned over the years including through editing Network Logic.