The title of this book is misleading. A more apt title would have been: The Future of Organizational Structure. If you really want to read about the future of work, I suggest you look for a different book.
As an expert on communications costs and benefits, Professor Malone explores how the pros and cons of centralized hierarchies, loose hierarchies, democracies and free markets compare in producing better organizational results. The book abounds with examples, most of which were not new to me.
The book's overall theme is that with the costs of communications plummeting and the value of the information communication increasing it is inevitable that organizations will decentralize more than ever . . . by employing hybrid forms of loose hierarchies, democracies and free markets for the same organization.
The book ends up with a call to live your dreams that draws on decidedly nonmanagement sources of inspiration. The key idea is that organizations can live values that uplift everyone in them.
If you would like a solid introduction into the forces that are influencing shifts towards decentralization, The Future of Work is a good theoretical overview. Professor Malone also points you to online resources for finding out about best practices in some of these areas.
As a book for a practitioner, The Future of Work leaves a lot to be desired. Most will find it too abstract and theoretical to help them decide what changes to make in an organization. The book would have been vastly more valuable if it had focused on a few key areas of management performance (such as developing new business models, creating breakthrough new products, or bypassing competitor's established cost advantages) and described how best to apply the concepts in those contexts. I hope that Professor Malone will choose to do this in future books and articles.
The writing leaves something to be desired. Although the book is brief, it has a startling number of repetitions of examples and references. I sometimes felt like I was being talked down to (as though I could not make the links for myself or remember the example that had been mentioned two chapters before).
Much of the book also suffers from an over focus on the "economic human" rather than the "total human." For instance, there is little reference to psychology until quite late in the book. Any success with organizational structure has to take into account both the rational and emotional sides of those involved in the organization.
But I am unaware of any better book on the theory behind this subject, so for the time being we should view this book as the gold standard . . . and thus worthy of five stars.
I suspect that many people will find that rereading books about chaos theory as applied to organizations will have new meaning when viewed through Professor Malone's perspective. I encourage you to do some of that rereading after you tackle this book.
on 3 July 2014
Malone starts with a simple premise - that autocratic organisations and markets are at opposite ends of a decision speed continuum. He then exposes why most businesses are being disrupted and how it is organisation, not product, which is at the core of the problem.
Very powerful in exposing the problem, and it shows why many of the latest ideas have emerged.