The Physical Geography of Companies (Part 2 – The City Motif)

On Tuesday, May 3, I will be at the opening of an exhibit at MOMA in New York City. I am excited about this particular opening because the artist is my wife’s cousin, Francis Alÿs.  Francis is Belgian but has had his home and studio in Mexico City for a number of years. Over the course of my 21 years of marriage to Maureen (cousin to Francis), I’ve had the pleasure of being with my wife’s family in Brussels many times and staying in Francis’ ‘apartment’ that he keeps there.

For me, Francis’ philosophy is as important an influence on my thinking as the visual impact of his work and his art.  Of particular note in this series on the physical geography of companies is a particular quote from a conversation between David Toop and Francis Alys recorded in London, July 6, 2005.  The quote relates to the dynamic of a city, which if you read Part 1 of the Physical Geography of Companies, is a compelling thought framework for the evolving connected company:

Here in Latin America the function of the urbanist has been drastically challenged in the last couple decades,” says Alÿs, “where I was taught that the urbanist had to plan ahead the expansion of the city, to reflect upon its future mutations etc. I saw his role inverted if not reduced to the opposite mechanism: the urbanist’s role is now to react to given situations of spontaneous urban growth, to adapt to them and subsequently supply municipal services such as water or electricity to an anarchic urban phenomenon… there is an absence of any master plan.

This quote was re-presented in “Sounds Passing Through Circumstances,” which provides a number of other motifs for thinking about the connected company and the language for making their assembly, de-assembly and re-assembly more fluid.

Before jumping headlong in to this treatise on urban landscapes and how they relate to corporate structure, I think it is important to point out that in my view, the term connected company does not refer just to the connections in a company but also extends to the connections that result in a company.  This distinction invokes Ronald Coase’s theory of the firm.  The theory of the firm consists of a number of economic theories that describe the nature of the firm, company, or corporation, including its existence, behavior, structure, and relationship to the market. According to Ronald Coase, people begin to organise their production in firms when the transaction cost of coordinating production through the market exchange, given imperfect information, is greater than within the firm.

Each of these factors and distinctions in the theory of the firm bring us back to the inversion of the urban planners’ role from master planner to responding to spontaneous growth and adapting.  And, I think this is where Dave Gray was headed with his thinking of a company as a complex, dynamic growing system. I’d take this line of thinking one step further by pointing that the likely reason we manage cities, rather than control them is because the transaction costs to attempt the later would be so high as to be prohibitive.  One could call this a corollary of Coase’s theory of the firm as applied to the city, which from a legal perspective, is typically set up similarly to a corporation.

This sentence from David’s post is the critical one by which the vision of CLOUD comes together with the connected company, the city and design by emergence:

To design the connected company we must focus on the company as a complex ecosystem, a set of connections and potential connections.

CLOUD believes in the “Power of People. Connected.” CLOUD’s future language, CTML (contextual markup language) is designed to address these connections on the Internet in new ways, making it possible for complex ecosystems of people to develop in new ways, not just within a company but between them and between the people of which they are comprised.  CLOUD and the power of WHO provides an excellent peek into just how this would work conceptually and architecturally.

Take a peek at this YouTube video now, and when you return, Part III of the Physical Geography of Companies should be ready. This piece of the series will look at how we ‘frame’ companies and whether they should be framed as paintings or soundscapes…