What “9” Taught Me About Organizations

I just saw the movie 9. It was great; absolutely worth the price of admission, though I would not bring any young kids to watch it. The animation was fantastic, the plot was decent and the ending was anything but saccharine. I will be the first to admit it has little to do with organizational functioning per se, but a little analysis can tell us a bit about leadership specifically and organizations more generally. I will leave 9 and the topic of leadership for another post. Allow me some latitude and I will share some thoughts on organizations that this move inspired.

One of the movie’s central themes is a mistrust of science and technology. It is not a novel theme by any stretch. Plenty of movies caution us about the dangers and sometimes evils of technology and probing where mankind was “never meant” to probe. Being a scientist by nature and almost by training (I won’t consider myself a “real scientist” until I get my Ph.D.- damned dissertation won’t write itself), this theme bothers me more than a little bit. It gets my manties in a twist, so to speak.

As I drove home, I tried to untwist said manties by exploring the role of science and technology in history. Why does it get such a bad rap? It occurs to me that technology is but a manifestation of human nature. Technology is only as good or as evil as the humans wielding it. Very few technologies were specifically designed to kill or exploit. Notable exceptions come to mind, but the vast majority of human advancement is designed for other, more benign purposes. Look, humans are clever. We were killing each other just fine with pointy sticks. New technologies simply gave us longer, pointier sticks. Even if they were intended to make our homes stronger, or our hunting a bit less dangerous, we would be remiss if we couldn’t figure out how to kill someone with the most mundane of advances. Technology has no inherent capacity for good or evil, but humans have plenty to spare.

I know that organizations are not typically thought of as technology, but they are. Like every other technology, organizations are a reflection of the humans wielding it. Like guns, TNT, computers or the internal combustion engine, organizations are not evil nor are they good. But they do magnify, intensify and enhance the intentions of its human users. Organizations can be used to exploit employees and customers, reducing the quality of life for all involved, if only for brief periods of time. This may not be the original intent of the organization, but outcomes and intentions are not always related the way we expect. By the same token organizations can be a force for good. Some add real value to their customers, clients and employees. The best figure out how to do this while making a tidy profit. These organizations focus on helping everyone win, rather than impoverishing many for the benefit of a select few. Most organizations fall somewhere in between.

I know what kind of organization I want to work for. I know what kind of organization I want to partner with. I know what kind of organization I want to make purchase from. How about you? More importantly, where does your organization sit? If you were an outside observer, or a low-ranking employee, how “evil” would your organization appear? What can you do improve that?

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~ by George Guajardo on September 10, 2009.

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