Professor Øystein D. Fjeldstad is trying to understand what is happening. And he’s excited about what he’s seeing.
Øystein D. Fjeldstad, professor at the Department for Strategy and Entrepreneurship at BI, has been thinking about the future for a long time. Lately, the world of business has caught up with him.
"The speed at which technology is making us re-think the way we do things, is staggering," he says.
"Consider that the Internet, the way we know it, didn't arrive until the late 1980s – or rather in the mid-90s for most people. Google and Facebook came along in the first half of the 2000s. The iPhone landed in 2007. 10 years later, the smartphone is the major element in an incredible amount of interactions and transactions – social and commercial. This is only the beginning."
Our thinking about how to organise human endeavors is changing fast, Fjeldstad believes. Traditional managers may become redundant as the hierarchy gives way to collaborative models of working and interacting. Humans and digital agents will work alongside each other, learning from each other as they go along.
When did you start to think seriously about a paradigm shift in organisational design?
"I met with professor Charles Snow at a strategy conference in San Diego. We started to talk about the kinds of activities that facilitate networks: the value network model. He told me that he was involved with a collaborative community, initiated by several large technology companies, like IBM and Intel. It was called Blade.org. Now this was obviously an organisation of some sort. But it was clearly different from what we usually think about when we use the term «organisation». It was organised for sure, but it didn't fit with the ideas we had about what a designed organization looked like. When Charles B. Stabell and myself wrote a paper on different models for value creation in 1998, one of the models we pinpointed were companies that facilitated their customers' networks. I had been working extensively with the idea of facilitation networks as a model, but not as a means of organising."
But now something was happening.
"My colleagues and I started a discussion based on what we learnedfrom the Blade.org project. We wanted to find potential generalisations: Are there any design principles here that are recognisable? This is where my early academic background came in. My doctorate is in information systems. I was well versed in the object-oriented programming paradigm, which was developed at The University of Oslo by Ole-Johan Dahl and Kristen Nygaard in the latter half of the 1960s. I'd been programming extensively in Smalltalk and C++, and it hit me that what we were seeing was describable according to that architectural paradigm."
Can you elaborate?
"When I started programming, as a systems developer for Arthur Andersen & Co., now Accenture, the system architectures were almost all hierarchical. Then there came a shift. Today, almost all programming is object-oriented. I had a moment of realisation: maybe what we're seeing now, in organisational design, are these principles – applied to the organisation of people. There was another realisation as well: These object-oriented principles have a lot in common with the principles behind the architecture of the Internet. With the Internet, and all the networking services built upon it, we get organisational designs that not only use the Internet, but also borrow its principles. With this in mind we started working on our paper about architectural collaboration, which was published in 2012."