The Google lesson for management

by eskokilpi

Eugene Garfield founded the Institute for Scientific Information in 1960.  His pioneering work was in citation indexing. This allows a researcher to identify which articles have been cited most frequently and who has cited them. Garfield’s studies demonstrated that the number of citable items, i.e. the number of papers, together with the frequency of their citation, meaning how many scientists link to the paper, is a good measure of scientific success. Nobel laureates write more papers than other scientists and these papers are more linked to than other papers. The system effectively measures quantity and quality at the same time.

Links on the Web are also citations, or votes, as the founders of Google realized. The whole Web is a densely interconnected network of references. It is no different to the age-old practice of academic publishing and citation indexing.

The observation of Larry Page and Sergey Brin that links are citations seems commonplace today, but it was a breakthrough at the time Google started on September 7, 1998.

What Google did was essentially the same as had been done in academic publishing by Eugene Garfield. At this time, relevance and importance were measured through counting the number of other sites linking to a Web site, as well as the number of sites linking to those sites. The PageRank algorithm includes other variables as well, but the measurement of links is still the core functionality of the system.

What Google has proved to managers is that people’s individual actions, if those actions are performed in a transparent way, and if those actions can be linked, are capable of managing unmanageable tasks.

Collaboration and collective work are best expressed through transparency and emergent, responsive linking. The mainstream business approach to value creation is still a predictive process designed and controlled by the expert/manager. This is based on the presuppositions that we know (1) all the linkages that are needed beforehand, and (2) what the right sequential order in linking and acting is. Neither of these beliefs is correct any more. The variables of creative work have increased beyond systemic models of process design.

It is time to learn from the Web.

By relying on the uncoordinated actions of millions of people instead of experts/managers to classify content on the net, Google democratized scientific citation indexing. To be able to manage the increasingly complex organizations of today, the same kind of democratization needs to take place in the corporate world. Companies are transforming themselves from industrial mass production to creating value in wide area networks of mass communication. The transparency of tasks is the corporate equivalent of publishing academic articles. Responsive linking, rather than predictive linking, acts as a measure of relevance and is the guarantee of quality. This has served the academic community well. It made Sergey Brin and Larry Page billionaires. Now is the time to do the same in the corporate world. Complex, creative, knowledge-based work requires new approaches. The Google lesson for management is, that the more work is based on responsive processes of relating and the more organizing is an ongoing process in time, the more value we create!

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Thank you Jeff Howe and Ralph Stacey