Is Ryan Junell the future of enterprise?

My PhD is a joint-program between a university lab and a huge, publicly traded company, formerly State-owned; I often come across co-employees, and we share the impression that we are lost in a place where people who should meet don’t.  No IT seems to be able to resolve this relevance issue, as any try out is clogged by buzz-words and politics.

My advisor is a “Neo-Institutional” economist: it means that his work stands on the shoulder of giants’ such as Ronald H. Coase. When he still was a British undergrad, Coase went to USA and wondered: why are there companies? After all, the economic theory considers “agents”, implicitly individual entrepreneurs or already established factories—but not why one would adjunct the efforts of someone else, much to the loss of his privacy. His essay The Nature of the Firm explained that efforts to explain to an external provider off-set the administrative burden—until the company was too big, and resolved to external contractual work. Hence different size of companies, depending on how specific where the task in that particular field.

Subsequent work explained that towns came from a similar comparison between being close to social life and suffering from pollution and loss of privacy. More importantly, their tried to forecast how faster long distance transport would change this; many expected more to live by the country-side to enjoy the green, and still be able to work & play in the city—answer was spectacular conurbation like New York, Los Angeles, London that can attract the world, and sub-urban lifestyle. The walls that protected the city transformed into urban-highways and public transportation networks.

What about companies?  My project manager at Orange secretly thinks they will disappear within our life time.  (My theory is that is almost true, but he needs that to sustain his daily burden of red-tape.)  Some infrastructure need large teams to handle them: I’ve already mentioned roads, but information highways won’t become any less important, especially when they will go wireless; of course, banks could own them, and individual contractors manage and repair them—P2P banks, to pursue that individualist dream.

What already appeared with pervasive information technology is the major companies, information equivalent of financial trust, or urban conurbation: companies like Google that attract the world attention. Will Amazon, Zoho, Apple, Yahoo!, Microsoft, MySpace, FaceBook, Ask be able to be the competitor?  Not necessarily, but the world would use the balance.What still needs to appear, if the urban metaphor is right, is public transportation system, urban highways: information equivalent of what allows you to go from what isn’t exactly the country-side to what is clearly not the country-side anymore; I’m thinking of easy-to grasp, modular contracts. Standardized contract exist, but I only know one example of a simple, modular, coherent system; one that attempts to allow successive works to handle their contradictory ambition—namely, CreativeCommons.

We might need a logo for what some bloggers already call “Friendly NDA”, that is: “I don’t want to force you into signing a document you won’t read, but please, keep what you’ll see to yourself.”A logo? Lawyers won’t like that: don’t we need a contract?  No: there already are such contracts, they are called NDA.  “Friendly” comes because what we need is an interpretation convention.  Most people are not familiar with the legal precedents between California Corporate law (relevant for the product demo) and Ontario Free Speak track record (if the blogger was from up there)—and I save you the international context issues.  What people want is assurance that they understood what this is about; texts of law are for when things go wrong.  What we need now is a five liner explaining the fifty-pages of lawyerese behind.  What we will need is not to have to read even those five lines each and every time we might change contractual partners—daily, or hourly maybe: what we will resolve to use is a logo.

E.g., when you see golden arches, you know the contract can be summarized to:

“We serve almost cheap hamburgers, not really good but tasty.  We have it done fast, generally by incompetent drop-outs, but if anything doesn’t work smooth, the a$$-h*le with a cap will make sure that you are entitled free whatever he deems relevant.  All that in a uninspired, colorful, family friendly environment.  And your clothes will smell of fries until you wash them.” 

That is a five-liner that corresponds the full contract: the thick binder who no one but store managers should have read.  Those arches, the logo, make a daily decision feasible.  For an amateur photograph, CreativeCommons made it easy too, with possible preferences—well, Lawrence Lessig and his team made the five-liners. Ryan Junell made the logos; we need a similar work to make a modular enterprise possible.  We need a logo to say: “Work until things are done”, “Work until clock says so”, “Free pizzas if you have to work after 8PM; taxis, hotel & flight cancellation comp’ed if it’s because of our project”.I’ve done some research work on job offers, and I am positive that this will have some impact on “employability” and not necessarily a socially positive one.  National difference will be higher then for the art forms CC has in mind.  It might encourage standardization—but modularity needs that.We need a logo to say “Play nice” or “Mac/Windows/Linux agnostic”, though I’m certainly not right person to make this list. Maybe “Ready to learn new programing language”? —however, I’m not sure this one will be necessary in ten years time. . .

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About Bertil

I'm a PhD student in Digital Economics, and I love viennoiserie. Je suis un doctorant en économie (numérique) et j'aime la viennoiserie.
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4 Responses to Is Ryan Junell the future of enterprise?

  1. ripley says:

    Hi! followed you over from danah’s blog

    I just was struck by the use of your word “privacy” in this post. It’s a bit of a tangent.. but as a lot of my work has been on concepts of privacy in various contexts (legal, social, psychological), I am interested in your suggestion that the harm of being in a company is a harm to privacy. that’s not usually how the harm is defined in my perhaps limited experience.

    What is your definition of privacy in this context?

  2. Bertil says:

    Privacy then (these are works several decades old) meant geographically close, i.e. uncanny noises, if anything. I’m really surprised you mentioned that aspect: danah’s much more relevant on those question then I am.

  3. alan p says:

    Doi you think Coase’s stuff is still relevant though? I am also using it as a part of the basic argument around enterprise structure as transaction costs fall, bu seems to me that a number of other things have happened in parallel (access to capital, availability of knowledge) that also seem to impact structure.

  4. Bertil says:

    Is Coase relevant? Of course! Is he the only theory for social structure? Well, I’m French so I can quote you about a hundred other great structuralist theories that I knew before I would walk — but I still think Coase point is very good at explaining “Companies” as we understand them.

    Access to capital and trust issues around that explain very well banks and financial institutions, that generally are far larger, or very different in their structure then companies. World-wide holdings, Walls-of-China, VCs as relational hubs. . . All these are justified by access to capital and probably won’t change because of digitalization of relations — or rather won’t change as I describe in this post.

    Availability of knowledge is part of Coase’s idea; what is new, and what I try to describe in my post –poorly, I have to say– is that because knowledge increasingly split between formal (i.e. digitalized) information that is fully available and contextual, embedded interpretations, information that demands personal relations, Coasian need for binding still exists, but not with formal frontiers. The ability to connect becomes more important then the need to secure information, so the company as we know it might “melt” away a little, become a hybrid form. Contracts that allow to surf between structures might be the way to help efficient and relevant production.

    At least that would liberate some people I know.

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