Perceiving The Whole From The Parts

John Hagel is giving rhetorical form to what I think are the most important issues at the confluence of business, economics, marketing and even epistemology. His “Unanswered Questions at Supernova 2007” post from a month ago is still consuming my thoughts even when I’m trying to do other things, like eat and sleep.

He’s joined Deloitte & Touche USA LLP “with a mandate to establish a major new research center in Silicon Valley…[to]…explore key business issues created by the intersection of business strategy and information technology.” The content of the post is dominated by an explanation of the questions that will inform the mission of this center. Concerning the question, “What if there is no equilibrium?” he suggests:

Here’s the paradox: at the same time, we cling to traditional equilibrium concepts and institutions that emerged and prevailed in more stable times. Nathan Mhyrvold highlighted in his talk yesterday the contrast between the exponential advance of technology performance and the linear thinking of most executives. Clayton Christensen got the attention of the business world with his perspective on disruptive innovation – but even that is a punctuated equilibrium view – it holds on to the assumption that equilibrium will eventually return.

A more specific question might be: what are the institutional architectures required to operate in a world where there is no equilibrium? Early conventional wisdom suggests that these architectures should focus on agility and flexibility, but that misses the real opportunity – balancing agility with the persistence and stability required to build and deepen long-term trust-based relationships. Being able to discern what needs to change and what needs to remain stable may be the greatest challenge of all…

From where I sit, his questions seem to be pointing at a still somewhat inchoate body of interpretation about what is going on with business and technology and marketing communications. I don’t think he’s without some vision of where he thinks the future lies. For my part, I think it has to do with something more subtle than the “democratization of the market” trope that is being advanced by some.

I just think it’s an incredible set of questions and worth reading.