I’ve been toying around with a new hypothesis. Here it is:
Formality in business is dying.
Now I am not talking about Blue Jeans Friday and Bring Your Pet to Work Day all of the sudden cropping up everywhere. I’ve seen very formally-run businesses where people showed up in jeans with their dogs or whatever. So much superficial informality.
What I’m talking about is a fundamental shift of business culture and management practices from formal to informal in many innovative companies. What do I mean? Let’s take a step back.
Here are two of the ways Merriam-Webster defines the word formal.
– relating to or involving the outward form, structure, relationships, or arrangement of elements rather than content
– having the appearance without the substance
That first definition of formality stands out for me as a perfect description of almost every formal business practice I have ever encountered. “Relating to or involving the outward form, structure, relationship of arrangement of elements rather than the content” (emphasis mine).
Organizational charts. Job titles. Performance reviews. Operational reviews. Strategic planning projects.
In your experience, do these things usually reflect the man-on-the-street reality of the business? Or are they an attempt to impose structure on things that do their best to defy it?
The irony is that, while most formal business practices are attempts to manage the complexity of business by defining structure, they usually fail miserably to capture the true complexity of business. They focus on the structure rather than the real content—and they usually don’t even get that right.
In my experience, most business practices that attempt to formalize structure are about as successful as attempts to construct buildings out of clouds. By the time we finish the plan, everything has already changed beyond recognition.
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