This morning I came down I-95 headed for JFK airport and my flight to Mexico City. I passed Stamford, all it’s buildings (UBS, etc.) pressed up against the highway like ponies at feeding time.
And I was thinking we don’t love the corporation for its own sake. It’s not intrinsically better as a form of organization. It’s just better than the alternatives.
But this organizational form has very distinct problems, and it finds itself perpetually uneasy. The problem is that the better the corporation becomes, the more difficult it makes the world. As it gets swifter, smarter and more adaptive, it creates a world that becomes every more dynamic. (And the farther behind the mark falls the public sector, not for profit, organization.)
The corporation pushes the world to become more testing. In the process, it pushes itself systematically to the edge of its own incompetence. There are moments when it looks like absolute gains are possible. The telephone, computer, email, the advice of Peter Drucker or Tom Peters. Any one of these promises an opportunity for the corporation to pull ahead, to win a lead, to get "on top of things." But of course as every corporation uses its new advantage, it recreates a world beyond its grasp.
I am not sure what to call this problem. I was thinking of something like "The Problem of the Perpetual Last Mile (aka the Postrel Principle)." Or the "bow wave effect (aka the Postrel Principle)." The subtitle I choose to honor Virginia and Steve Postrel, two of the people best positioned to help us understand the problem. (See Virginia’s The Future and Enemies for essential reading on the problem.)
Any and all suggestions gratefully received. Maybe I will think of something on the way to Mexico City.
Postrel, Virginia. The Future and Its Enemies. New York: The Free Press. [this may be imprecise in some of its particulars, I am sitting in an airport lounge, book title and author’s name are correct, though.]