My fascination with the space between technology and organization is something that grew slowly. When I went back to school to get an MBA, I fell into the group that understood the quantitative and structured material. I had spent the previous years designing and writing programs to count things up and calculate answers. Half the curriculum made sense.
The other half–about markets and organizations and people–often bordered on mystifying. But mysterious can also be enticing. The mystery eventually brought me back to school for the third time. I still wanted to understand how to take advantage of technology but the answers were buried in the intricacies of humans in organizations.
One of the things you learn dealing with technology is that technology does only and exactly what it’s told to do. When technology behaves in unexpected ways, then there’s a mistake in your programming. You have to examine what’s going on around you as you look for clues and never forget that you are also a key part of environment your are exploring.
This is an interesting perspective to bring over to the task of understanding organizations. While you’re engaged in deepening your grasp on how organizations work in the abstract, you are also embedded in a complex organization environment.
While you are trying to acquire the tools and concepts to make sense of structure and power and leadership, you are simultaneously engaged in a live-fire exercise with the institution you are a tiny piece of.
I recall a conversation with one of my thesis advisors about a fairly nasty tenure fight that was going on in her department. Rather than get sucked into a Machiavellian swirl of intrigue, her option was to be very clear and explicit on her plans and objectives and then do exactly what she said.
Simple and classic advice.
One of the things you learn with technology is to look for simplicity. There’s plenty of sources of complexity. Your job is to not add to the problem. Combine technology and organization and you’re now in the realm of combinatorial complexity. Don’t make things worse by trying to be clever. Be predictable.