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R  M Kanter
Evolve title

See also:
Electronic Commerce (eCommerce)

          e-business... dotcoms... IT ... the Internet Age ... were among the breathless buzzwords as we entered the 21st Century. But now, euphoria and mind-numbing financial ratios have suddenly vanished; the sad demise of last year’s glamorous dotcoms seems reminiscent of the Tulip Mania of the Seventeenth Century or the South Sea Bubble of the Eighteenth Century.

          The Digital Revolution is much more fundamental and pervasive than
the dotcom effervescence. Evolve!: Succeeding in the Digital Culture of
by Rosabeth Moss Kanter (Harvard Business School Press, 368
pages, $27.50) offers a perceptive analysis of the fundamental elements of the
digital culture now defining enterprise success. Professor Kanter introduces and
illustrates the key elements of this culture:
Dot E-culture is about creative destruction.

Dot E-culture is like living in a glass house under a huge spotlight that’s always on, 24/7.

Dot E-culture is superficial -- in good ways.

Dot Done right, e-culture protects against armed combat.

Dot E-culture is made up as you go along.

Dot E-culture is full of paradoxes.

Dot E-culture can be a lot of fun.

          Achievement and leadership in the New Economy are primarily people -- not technology -- issues. Kanter asserts "that e-culture derives from basic principles of community: shared identity, sharing of knowledge, and mutual contributions. ... the spirit of community is required to implement the changes that the Internet makes possible -- to give customers more choices, citizens more voice, educators more capacity to improve children’s learning, and businesses greater market reach and internal efficiency."

          The Internet "reinforces relationship building, intellectual development, productivity, and collective responsibility where there is already an appealing social environment and face-to-face relationships. It can diminish those positives where the social context is impoverished. The Internet can feed into the worst human tendencies or the best. It can be an excuse for turning our backs on each other as we fly off into cyberspace, or it can be a tool for helping us create online and offline communities, at work and at home. After all, we can only become grounded on the ground."

          Spectacular Internet startups captured media attention and the public imagination. However, pure dotcom businesses never represented more than one percent of the economy. The real revolution is occurring in the totally new ways in which basic manufacturing, distribution, finance and communications are now conducted globally. These are not incremental changes and improvements; they are quantum re-combinations and transformations. Soberly, Lou Gerstner of IBM has averred, "I resist the idea that there is a new economy -- something that is distinct from some other economy." Kanter finds cyberspace "full of reinvented wheels."

          Through more than 300 interviews and case studies plus a 785-company global survey, Evolve! offers a chart for understanding and implementing the core principles of e- culture. This culture "involves better ways of leading, organizing, working, and thinking." Fostering an environment metamorphosing individuals into leaders executing swift and effectual decisions in an uncertain world demands "deep systemic change ... and a deeper emphasis on human skills that build meaningful community out of mere connections."

          "In the Internet Age, morphing has become a common synonym for changing. To morph is to undergo transformation. In cyberspace, on-screen, morphing is instantaneous. One image dissolves into another through the magic of programming. Offline, behind the screen, change is not so simple. Skillful leaders in receptive environments can speed it up, but they cannot altogether avoid the hard work of convincing others to join them in mastering change."

          Professor Kanter defines four components of e-culture:

Dot Strategy as Improvisational Theater -- supplanting rigid scripts with rapid experimentation and learning.

Dot Nurturing Networks of Partners -- spanning making deals to building relationships to forging new connections.

Dot Deconstructing and Reconstructing the Organization -- as a community both online and offline.

Dot Winning the Talent Wars -- enabling people to see themselves, not as workers, but as dedicated volunteers.

          Significantly, the 785-company global survey reveals that "national differences and industry differences are minor notes. The successful transition to e-business is a matter of organizational culture and leadership, that is, whether an organization is change ready and change adept. This finding holds across countries and industries.

          Are our large established organizations today’s dinosaurs? Kanter debunks the myth that largeness or even age unavoidably succumb to the dazzle of the bright new startups. In fact, with vastly enhanced new communications capabilities, the heft of huge bureaucratic corporations can now be linked with the agility of the most energetic new venture. The Internet Age bestows unique advantage upon both immense as well as very small organizations. The realization of these advantages is only dependent upon understanding and implementing the core principles of e- culture.

          Focusing on the people and relationships empowering our digital technologies, e-culture is the soul of the Internet Age -- the energizing spirit powering today’s flourishing enterprises.

Your comments and suggestions for these pages are most welcomed!

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Thomas A. Faulhaber, Editor

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Revised: March 2, 2001 TAF

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