In 1970, the futurist Alvin Toffler, a bit of a technology guru, predicted a time to come in his book ‘Future Shock’.
He described how society would develop in such a way that we might not be able to handle….information.
The day would come when we would receive, constantly, so much information and at such speed that we would not be able to deal with it. Or ourselves. Society would morph into an anxiety driven mess.
He wrote Future Shock in 1970.
(One or two predictions were a little weird. Can we say disposable clothes have caught on in any significant way? Disposable fashion seems to be quite a different thing).
Amongst the changes he saw developing was the notion of an ‘adhocracy’ – that businesses and enterprises would become self-organised in a more fluid and adaptive and –adhoc -way. This would be a part reaction to the need to respond in a more agile way to so much ‘input’.
While the ‘too much information’ has certainly arrived, what about ‘adhocracy’? Has that happened?
The more that information sources multiply (authenticity unknown) the more ‘overload’ seems to encourage surprising behaviours. And most surprising is the effect on that instinct towards structure and control.
From working across different organisational cultures, of different sizes, it looks suspiciously as if there is a pretty linear relationship between information overload and… LESS ‘adhocracy’.
The more teams I see, the more clear the pattern becomes.
What looks on the surface like a relaxed new way of being (casual dress, first names used, less formal language around the business and what needs doing) emerges as a thin disguise for less autonomy, and for responsibility and authority to be taken to ever more centralised and senior levels. Sometimes this rigidity and control may now exceed anything experienced before the accurately predicted information overload.
Come back Alvin – help us understand.
How did this happen?
And how do we make it stop