Is your organization designed for scarcity?

Any company designed for success in the 20th century is doomed to failure in the 21st. ~David S. Rose

One of the many free venues of entertainment in Chicago is eavesdropping on conversations while standing on the “L” platform waiting for the train to arrive. Last week I couldn’t help but smile as I listened to two young men enthusiastically discuss how organizations have changed. They commented on a number of organizations that have grown, exponentially, in a very short period of time.

One of those organizations that is mentioned frequently in conversations about rapid change is Airbnb. Salim Ismail in his book Exponential Organizations provides this background on Airbnb. “A company that leverages users’ extra bedrooms. Founded in 2008, Airbnb currently has 1,324 employees and operates 500,000 listings in 33,000 cities. However, Airbnb owns no physical assets and is worth almost $10 billion. That’s more than the value of Hyatt Hotels, which has 45,000 employees spread across 549 properties.”

Organized to Manage Scarcity

Ismail also says, “Our organizational structures have evolved to manage scarcity. The concept of ownership works well for scarcity, but accessing or sharing works better in an abundant, information-based world. The information-based world is now moving exponentially. However, our organizational structures are still very linear (especially large ones).”

Now, some of you might be thinking, my organization is not an “internet” company like Airbnb so none of this applies to me/us. Well, I think that’s the point. Are you structured to manage scarcity?

Here are two examples to consider. In a scarcity structure you have heroic leaders, employees, and process supervisors. An abundant structure has vital people who fulfill their role. Scarcity uses “job titles,” abundance relies on “dynamic roles.”

Organized to Manage Abundance

It’s hard for me to think of an industry or sector that the idea of being designed for abundance could not apply. Manufacturing (IoT – Internet of Things), healthcare (integrated healthcare), education (online competency-based education), churches (online churches).

If you’re still having a hard time getting your head around abundance, consider this. A recent global study found that 70 percent of professionals work remotely at least one day a week, and 53 percent work remotely for at least half of the week. Gallup recently estimated that 29% of all workers in the U.S. have an alternative work arrangement as their primary job.

We no longer need to be limited (scarcity) by employing individuals who live within an hour’s drive. We can now search the globe (abundance) for the vital people to fulfill a role.

We have lived within the confines of a traditional hierarchical structure for so long, that it’s hard to imagine that anything else is even plausible. How would your organization be different through the lens of abundance?

As David Rose said, “Any company designed for success in the 20th century is doomed to failure in the 21st.”

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