The Physical Geography of Companies (Part 1 – Overview)

During SWIFT’s Sibos conference in Amsterdam last October, I wrote a piece that looked at the physical geography of finance and how currency and other monetary instruments shape this industry.

Since the Social Business Summit in Austin, hosted by the Dachis Group on March 10, I’ve been thinking a lot about Dave Gray’s initial installment on the connected company… I’ve wanted to contribute substantively to the dialogue but something has been nagging at me… and it finally hit me this week… our view of companies is similarly constrained by their physical geography.
So, I agree with Dave that part of increasing productivity is understanding these complex systems and letting go of our notions of how companies function, but part of how we conceive of the functioning of a company is born of their physical geography.  Getting the physical parts of what a company does untangled from the non-physical parts is an important first step. Actually, the example of a car that Dave uses to describe machine design can be extended to this topic.
There are two parts to the production of a car: design and manufacture.  The manufacturing process depends on atoms and materials for construction of a vehicle, so even in the 21st century, when manufacturing is no longer vertically integrated, there is still a physical geography to the part of the car company that must make the vehicles.  Of course, the automotive industry now spans continents and links together many specialized production requirements in a completely new global value chain, but we still need a ‘place’ in which to construct the automobiles or trucks.
However, once you leave this part of the production chain, the organization of the talent at the car company no longer has to be wrapped around this physical geography.  At this point, one is left to ask the question, how much of our thinking on the structure of companies is constrained by this legacy of a physical geography? If we were freed from such constraints, could we more rapidly adopt this new social business design of the connected company? What else do we need to facilitate the more rapid assembly, de-assembly and re-assembly of a company?
Peter Vander Auwera, Innovation Leader at SWIFT and CLOUD advisory board member, wrote an excellent piece recently on this topic: Digital Identity Tuner, Part 4.  In addition to the connected company, Peter observed that there are other components to the connected economy, which include connected teams, the connected self and connected value.  This idea of rapid recombination at all levels from the self to the economy makes itself felt deeply in the heart of a truly connected company. However, for these complex systems to evolve dynamically, they need a more fluid language to facilitate the speed by which such recombination must occur.
The city which Dave discusses as a template for this was also used as the model for an excellent Innotribe session, hosted by Peter and the Innotribe team led by Kosta Peric, at SWIFT’s Operations Forum for the Americas in early March and is the foundation for the next section of my discussion of the physical geography of companies (Part II – The City Motif).