Thursday, 29 January 2009

Buzzword 2.0

At London Business School’s “Management 2.0” conference last night, I detected more than a hint of phrase-fatigue. The scrap to call the latest technological trend, label it, and thereby bask eternally in the glow of its subsequent success, has grown ever more competitive by the progression of the trends themselves. The concept of Web 2.0, for example, couldn’t have been spread more effectively by any other means than Web 2.0 technology. The speed of communication is now so frighteningly quick that giving these buzzwords oxygen immediately legitimises them.

These cute catchphrases are a business school’s meal ticket. They provide the professors with a catch-all hood for their disjointed research (and once it is adopted, the title of their next book) and offer the schools an opportunity to differentiate in a crowded market. “Management 2.0” doesn’t belong to London Business School (we can thank Harvard, among others, for that), but last night’s impressive turn-out spoke volumes, if not for the love of the latest buzzword, then at least for LBS’s progress in achieving its mission to become “the world’s pre-eminent business school”. Well, that’s what it said on the plaque in reception, anyway.

Up on stage, Julian Birkinshaw introduced companies that LBS considers to be pre-eminent in their application of management 2.0. The first was by far the most interesting. TopCoder is a platform for competitive software development. Its “employees” compete online to code software solutions, which are then licensed to third parties. Essentially the company is a huge, virtual community of 140,000 developers in 200 different countries, all with different programming skills. TopCoder merely provides a platform to organise the commercialisation of those skills.

The beauty of the model lies in its appreciation of the Generation Y developer community. However flexible their working habits, young coders still require a dependable structure. They also want the opportunity to work on larger projects without having to pitch their work to blue chip clients. They are rewarded financially, out of royalties, and through the respect of their peers—often a greater motivation than the mighty dollar. The loose controlling structure that sits above this platform requires new thinking—a different style of leadership, which understands that knowledge can come from anywhere in an organisation: management 2.0.

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