Start Building Roundabouts

Bureaucracy is our legacy founded on the factory floor of the last industrial revolution, where scientific management was born and principles of separating the thinking from the work were created.

Everything it seems has changed except management through all the disruption and innovation, how we organise ourselves for the purposes of work has largely been unchanged. Inspired by the observations of Aaron Dignan in his book - Brave New Work our organisations are based on assumptions that he likens to an operating system. This OS is the foundation that everything else is built from.

A great metaphor to highlight this legacy mindset is to think about intersections and the different operating systems and assumptions applied. If you think of this it is a simple example, how do we stop, as Aaron explains stopping cars from hitting themselves while enabling an optimal flow of traffic? There are two popular systems the “Traffic lights” and “Roundabouts”.

So if we think about the assumptions behind traffic lights as a system, it might be that we don’t trust people to manage the intersection on their own, and need to be told what to do. The other example is the roundabout where people can enter and exit a shared circle that connects all four directions of travel. This is a different operating system that has different assumptions, in this example, people can be trusted, and will trust one another with simple rules, agreements, judgement and relies on social coordination for other scenarios that arise. The traffic lights require only compliance, but the roundabouts require us to be present and responsible.

As outlined and supported in the aforementioned book, on all dimensions roundabouts provide better outcomes so why are we so much more comfortable with the Traffic lights? These provide an extremely good metaphor for what is happening in the world of work. Like with our organisations we are more comfortable with the traditional operating system, we are more comfortable with having a system designed like traffic lights, and not roundabouts. If these are the assumption they were designed more for the predictability of the pass than the uncertainty of the future.

I agree with Aaron’s summation the real barrier to progress in the twenty-first century is us! So we need even more so with the current crisis at hand to view our organisations differently and understand the assumptions that have formed the current operating system. We need to start to learn to build more roundabouts than traffic lights as we embrace a new mindset to the future of work.

If you are ready to change your future of work book a quick chat to discuss where to start.

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