Unshackle from the Past to Move Your Company Forward

This is a guest post by Jack Bergstrand. Jack is the author of The Velocity Advantage, on the board of the Drucker Institute, and the leading expert on improving the velocity of cross-functional business transformation initiatives.


Move Your Company Forward

We compete in a world that is very fluid, as fluid as knowledge itself. Our work is ever changing and often ambiguous, yet we continue to manage like we did during the Industrial Revolution—with highly detailed and preplanned work, managers who try to do the thinking for the workers, and strong functional and organizational silos. Our work has changed, but how it is managed has not adapted. We simply use more advanced and expensive tools, too often doing excellently what shouldn’t be done at all. Scientific management, which was designed for factories, lives on because it is the devil we know. Even though we live in a world of constant change, companies continue to cling to practices that were designed for the predictable and repeatable nature of assembly lines and blue-collar work processes.


“Even though we live in a world of constant change, companies continue to cling to past practices.”


The nature of today’s organizations is very different from factories. With physical work, people who are carpenters and assembly-line workers work hard for a living. When they finish the day, it is visibly clear to them and to others what they have accomplished. In modern companies, people who are researchers, subject-matter experts, analysts, and managers also work hard for a living. Yet at the end of each day, their achievements are not always as clear. People can work on something that was urgent in the morning but is no longer important by dinnertime. With physical work, we can visibly see the waste that comes from not working (or from working on the wrong things). When people work with their knowledge, this waste is often invisible. It is costly nonetheless.

Working with knowledge can be extremely productive because an idea can be used and kept at the same time. It is unproductive, however, to manage it using approaches that were designed for industrial work. Knowledge is different in that it is invisible; it happens inside our heads. Activities often expand to fill the time available, resources tend to calcify around previous priorities through historically based budgets, and workers too often rise to their levels of incompetence. Similar to the old advertising adage, half a company’s knowledge is wasted—we just don’t know which half.