The Entrepreneurial Free Agent and Dejobbed Small Business R&D Lab
Eskimos have twenty-odd words for 'snow', the rest of us mostly have one. Yes, adjectives provide refinement, but that is not the same thing. The great American linguist Benjamin Whorf drove this point home, so much so that many of us are familiar with the term, linguistic relativity. Whorf's relativity may not be as Universe-shaking as the Einsteinian variety but it, too, is thought-provoking.
Conventional wisdom says, "We are what we eat." In a very real sense, we are also shaped by the words we use to think and communicate. With this in mind, we have some explaining to do...
What are the words behind the BIG IDEAS for small business at Sohodojo? Nanocorp, dejobbed small business, Agora business webs, executable business models and more. It is not surprising that we occasionally get feedback that questions our terminology. These inquiries run the gamut from polite requests for definitions to accusations cursing our "bloated and meaningless Internet-boom blathering." We reply to all such inquiries with direct, personal responses.
But we recently had a communication exchange with Allan Cohen, the distinguished professor and recent past Dean of the Faculty at Babson College. We had approached Dr. Cohen based on his interest in organizational change, leadership and influence, and group dynamics. His affiliation with the premiere business school in entrepreneurship education added to our interest in soliciting research collaboration opportunities with the co-author of Influence without Authority.
Dr. Cohen gave an immediate and encouraging reply that included the statement, "What you are up to is intriguing... I looked at the URLs you provided, and after wading through the language you have invented, think I get it." Ouch! It was just the stimulus we needed to explain publicly the words we use at Sohodojo.
The Nanocorp Vocabulary
The Nanocorp vocabulary is more adopted than invented. The recurring words or phases you will most often come across when reading Sohodojo content are described in the following paragraphs.
Shamrock organization: an organization comprised of three main "leaves" - a core leaf of highly paid, highly tasked workers; a B2B leaf of outsourced services; and a contingency leaf of permatemps, free agents and other contract type workers. We adopted this term from Charles Handy as we think it is one of the most insightful and visually appealing metaphors for the dynamics of both today's large corporate organization as well as reflective of the emerging networks of collaborative businesses (business webs being the Tapscott, Ticol and Lowy popularization). The most specific 'Shamrock' reference would be Handy's inspiring, The Age of Unreason.
Entrepreneurial Free Agent: an independent worker who engages in both contract projects and business ventures. Free agent is the increasingly popular term – some would say overly optimistic euphemism – for the non-permanent, temporary or contingency worker, as in Dan Pink's Free Agent Nation: How America's New Independent Workers Are Transforming the Way We Live. Most free agents are not entrepreneurial. They live to fill contract employment opportunities. An entrepreneurial free agent, on the other hand, pursues both contract employment and sustainable personal enterprise through peer-network business ventures. Entrepreneurial free agents prefer the risks, rewards and freedom of their peer-based business ventures over being a cog in someone else's machine.
Dejobbed Small Business: a small business with no employees where all work is done by individuals and no one has a traditional 'job' with a guaranteed paycheck and company-provided fringe benefits. The 'small business' part is easy. It's the 'dejobbed' adjective that is the operative word here. William Bridges either invented or popularized this insightful term in Jobshift. While most businesses are either formally or informally dejobbing, this is particularly true in Shamrock organizations. Dejobbing is certainly an outgrowth of increasingly dynamic matrix organization forms. Tom Peters is beating this drum somewhat indirectly with his WOW projects and the 'Fifties' series that herald the dynamic project over the job as the focus of your value and meaning at work.
At Sohodojo, dejobbed small businesses are extreme forms of dejobbing. That is, we believe Malone and Laubacher's 'elastic networks of small firms' will be most powerfully realized as corporate wrappers on collections of peer-collaborators, no employees. The corporate wrapper functions primarily for branding and income distribution.
Small-Is-Good (vis a vis Big-Is-Good): As in Small Is Good Business Web and Small Is Good Business Revolution - a set of organizing principles that support a "stay forever small but do big things" philosophy for business versus the "start small and aim to grow big" approach of traditional Industrial era business perspectives. We use the 'meme'/verbal-hook of Small Is Good to reference the underlying dialectic in which all fundamental business organizing principles can be clustered around mind-sets that glorify either smallness or bigness as a preferred value position. (See The Nanocorp Primer #1 for more on our 'first principles'.)
Note here that we are very specific about this dialectical difference being the basis of marketplace competitive advantage. Relative advantage, such as 'Smaller firms can be more agile than larger ones, etc.', is appropriate when two firms compete 'playing the same game'. We are saying that truly embracing Small Is Good (for example, Small Is Good Business Webs having no employees but rather being composed of collections of collaborating peer nanocorp individuals) is a qualitative difference in mind-set that grounds a fundamental difference in competitive strategies and tactics.
Business Webs: a system of suppliers, distributors, customers, commerce services and infrastructure providers, especially Agora Business Webs: from the Greek 'agora' (an assembly of people), a business web where buyers and sellers freely meet to negotate and assign value to goods and services. Here we are adopting Tapscott, Ticol and Lowy's definition of business web and their resulting taxonomy of types. (See Digital Capital.) Business webs are closely related to the 'shamrocking' of large corporate organizations. When we factor in the Small Is Good vis-a-vis Big Is Good dimension of business organizing principles, we can extend Tapscott, Ticol and Lowy's taxonomy as reflected in our article, The Yin-Yang of e-Commerce.
Executable Business Models [EBM]: an approach to business system design and implementation where the goal is to directly represent the business model in software using object technologies. It is different from the traditional approach of business system design which requires significant transformations of the business model into software applications. The goal of EBM is to support rapid evolution and maintenance of systems in an increasingly competitive marketplace.
More specifically, role-actor executable business models: EBM that emphasize explicit modeling of persons as actors of roles within organizations and business precesses thereby directly representing the human side of business. Here our 'true colors' as software architects and programmers creep in. We are both business thinkers as well as software developers. Our innovative business model thinking drives our software architecture thinking... and vice versa.
As an Executive Consultant in Object Technology in the IBM Consulting Group in the 1990s, Sohodojo-Jim led a small engagement-based R&D team that was on the bleeding-edge of rethinking enterprise system design and implementation. You'll find Jim's executable business model work described in Shan and Earle's Enterprise Computing with Objects (Ch. 13, Business Systems. Addison Wesley, 1998).
During Sohodojo-Jim's tenure at IBM, he worked extensively with leading gurus of Business Process Reengineering. Since these BPR consultants generally did not 'get their hands dirty' actually designing and writing software, they didn't see that the most logical simplifying assumption consistent with BPR-driven system redesign was, "Eliminate employees and deal with everything as a business-to-business (B2B) relationship." (As you'll see shortly, the concept of nanocorp is derived from ruthlessly applying this simplifying assumption.)
Story-driven, game-oriented e-Commerce: an electronic based shopping experience where stories and games drive the purchase decisions - Sohodojo's software R&D strategy is two-pronged: the role-actor executable business models described above and this notion of a story-driven, game-oriented e-Commerce engine. 'Story-driven' captures our resonance with the thinking of Danish futurist, Rolf Jensen, best reflected in his recent book, The Dream Society. (See also The Nanocorp Primer #5.) Our interest in game-oriented business pays homage to Jack Stack and his popularization of Open Book Management in The Great Game of Business.
Both story-driven and game-oriented dynamics will play a key role in realizing markets based on (Small Is Good) 'Who, How and Why' dynamics rather than the typical (Big Is Good) 'How much and Where' markets. The Yin-yang of e-Commerce article has additional insights with regard to design points for this element of our software solution-space.
Nanocorp: the unary (smallest, indivisible) business – ranging from the solo entrepreneurial free agent to the entrepreneurial 'working' family – fully embracing the Small Is Good organizing principles. Here we finally get to Sohodojo word invention! The genesis of nanocorp thinking, as foreshadowed above, was our realization that the convergence of the concepts 'employee' and 'business' necessitated a word for the unary business. A number of prominent business thinkers have advocated various candidates for this emerging relationship of individuals to their work-lives:
In all cases these terms did not sufficiently shed the underlying assumption that the independent worker was not complete and fully realized until some form of employment relationship entered the picture. In other words, most advocates of free agency cling to the increasingly outmoded assumption of employer/employee no matter how transient that relationship may be.
We wanted a term – nanocorp being our choice (and now part of the lexicon of Free Agent Nation!-) – that truly reflects the convergence of employee and business. This is not a marketspeak word game. This idea of the unary business is an essential concept in 'breaking through' to the new forms of business organization that are envisioned by such astute thinkers as those who contributed to MIT's Scenarios Project of the MIT Initiative on Inventing the Organizations of the 21st Century.
Nanocorp for us, therefore, has very specific and qualitative meaning. We hope you, our intrepid open-minded free-thinking readers, will maintain an interest in Sohodojo as we and you collectively realize the implications of taking to heart and mind the nanocorp vocabulary. Whorf would certainly understand the culture shifts ahead.
--Jim Salmons and Timlynn Babitsky--
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