Roadmapping the forces stressing the enterprise, one more time: the 3F model

The GigaOM Research Roadmap technique is a way of capturing the dynamics at work in a particular market niche, such as work media tools (enterprise social networks). The technique involves a few moving parts. First, we try to capture the smallest possible set of disruptive forces that characterize the environment companies need to survive in, forces that are impinging on businesses and pushing them to change their practices (and perhaps their organization and culture). The consequences of those changes lead to new requirements for tools and techniques, and if those new requirements are different enough from more established practices it may prove necessary to adopt totally new tools and techniques. As a result, tool vendors are in a process of improving their products, coevolving along with their customers to meet these new requirements.

In my discussions with clients, I have been working to come up with the most succinct description of what I believe are those environmental forces pushing on the enterprise. In the past few weeks, I have consolidated earlier descriptions into what I call the 3F model.

The forces on business include these:

  • The Fast and Loose, Postnormal World — The tempo of competition and complexity has risen to a new ‘beyond chaotic’ pace, and it is increasing, pushing the economy over a threshold into a new era, the postnormal, in which the primary response of business will be the adoption of a fast-and-loose style of business operations. Fast-and-loose is not meant to suggest shadiness or sloppiness, but instead agility, resilience, and a predisposition toward experimentation, innovation, and action, as well as a seemingly paradoxical loosening and increase of the social connections between people. (Note: I have detailed this shift in a number of earlier posts, including The Future Of Work In A Social World: Part 1 and Part 2, and in particular, in the characterization of a more cooperative model of work, culminating in the 3C model.)
  • The Paradox of a Connected, but Decentralized, Discontinuous, and Distributed Workforce — People are connected by both open and enterprise social tools to an unprecedented degree, leading to the paradox of a connected ‘workspace’ — the sanctioned and unsanctioned social tools and other workplace affordances —  supporting a decentralized, discontinuous, and distributed (3D) workforce. (By discontinuous I mean two things: people shift across many projects during the course of a day or week, and that includes ‘lifeslicing’ — shifting in and out of work and personal contexts — eroding the boundaries between the two.) The term workspace is meant to encompass the corporate workplace, home office, coworking spaces, and so on, as well as the virtual, online ‘spaces’ where people communicate synchronously and asynchronously. Our workspaces have very large impacts on productivity and group identity, and are one of the primary influences on satisfaction in the workforce.
  • The Explosive Scaling of Foreground and Background Computing — Companies are being accelerated and destabilized by the rise of wide scale ubiquitous foreground computing (what is mistakenly called ‘mobile’), and high and broad scale background computing (cloud, SAAS, big data, etc.). Ubiquitous computing, for short, means that people are in effect always on and always online. This is the means for the unprecedented level of connection that animates business today. This is wide scale, meaning the great majority of business people are personally invested in this horizontal trend, modifying their behavior to leverage its benefits for personal advantage. The trends in background computing are more high scale, more vertical — meaning that the enterprise is making corporate-level adjustments in operations to accommodate cloud computing, big data, and so on, as well as transitioning away from conventional on-premise server-based enterprise application suites. But individuals are also shifting their personal patterns of use with the wide scale adoption of background infrastructure, like Dropbox, that connects them to a high scale cloud service, and which supports an additional sort of foreground sharing, too.

So, at this point I have 3 models that tie everything up:

  • the 3F model — the three primary forces impinging on the business
  • the 3C model — the transition in business from the modern era’s competitive, to the postmodern collaborative, to the postnormal cooperative business culture, organization, and operations
  • the 3D model — the decentralized, discontinuous, and distributed workforce.

Well, all models are lies, in that they oversimplify in order to emphasize the most important, and suppress details under the presumption that they are less so. But we must judge models on whether they are useful, and not condemn them simply for being imperfect. I hope these models help shed some light on what would otherwise seem like a swirling mess of inchoate activities, where everything is tied to everything else, and so pathologically interconnected that we might not see the forest for the trees.