Notes on ‘Business Anarchist’

Several people have asked me for more information about the book I’m writing at present, ‘The Business Anarchist‘, so here’s a quick summary of the themes and structure.

Who or what is a ‘business-anarchist‘? Anyone who works with inherent uncertainty in business in an intentional, disciplined way – working with the uncertainty rather than trying to ‘control’ it. Often it’s not so much a person as part of a business-role – a necessary part of that business-role. (Most of the examples in the book will come from my own field of whole-of- enterprise architecture, but the same principles apply in just about every other type of business-role.)

Why ‘anarchist’? Anarchy is about working without rules, working ‘outside the box’. When ‘business as usual’ breaks down, a disciplined form of anarchy is probably the only way through to something new that works well in the new business context.

‘Kiddies-anarchy’ and real anarchy: Anarchy has had a very bad press in the past, mainly because of what I describe as ‘kiddies-anarchy’ – an overdose of presumed ‘rights’ without responsibilities, especially in terms of causing disruption and destruction without any awareness or respect of the consequences for anyone else. Real anarchy is very different – arguably the most difficult of all political forms, because there are no easy rules to fall back on or to blame. Some entire organisations have been run on anarchic lines – the Quakers have done so for centuries – and even some businesses – such as Ricardo Semler’s Semco Group – but here we’re mainly focussing on an often-unnoticed yet everyday set of roles and responsibilities within an ordinary, everyday type of business.

What kind of business? Any business, and any type of business – for-profit, not-for-profit, government or social – from a huge global conglomerate right down to the local bridge-club or the school parent/teacher association.

Business-analyst and business-anarchist: Business-analysts deal with certainty and predictability: they refine the figures, crunch the numbers, track the trends. When your business world is reasonably stable, you need your analysts to help you optimise efficiency and maximise returns. But when your business world is not certain, not predictable, that’s when you’ll need your anarchists. And you’ll need your anarchists then, too. Your analysts can only tell you how to do more of the same, better – which is good, of course, in its own context, but it doesn’t help when what you really need to do is something different.

What’s different about how business-anarchists work? The quickest one-line answer is that analysts rely on rules and algorithms; anarchists rely on guidelines and principles.

What principles should business-anarchists rely on? Obviously this varies from one context to another, but from my work in whole-of-enterprise architecture the three most important design-principles seem to be these:

  • There are no rules;
  • There are no rights; and
  • Money doesn’t matter.

These three principles, and a fourth follow-on principle, Always enhance adaptability, provide the overall structure for the book.

There are no rules: Rules provide a spurious sense of certainty that can let us down badly when our business-world changes around us. The real world is much messier and more complex than any system of rules that we could devise. Hence at times it’s necessary to start off from the assumption and expectation that there are no rules: instead, we have to rewrite the rule-book, by working back to the core-principles from which the rules originally arose. A simple everyday business-example of this is embedded in the ISO-9000 standard on quality-systems:  work-instructions provide ‘the rules’ that we need for real-time practice and process, but when the world changes, we need to rewrite the work-instructions by working upward to procedure, policy and, if necessary, overall vision.

There are no rights: ‘Rights’ are an important social fiction, but as with rules, they don’t actually exist in the real world, and in themselves they tell us almost nothing about how to create the conditions that such ‘rights’ would require. In practice, apparent ‘rights’ arise from mutual, interlocking responsibilities – so it’s those responsibilities, and not the purported ‘rights’, that are where we need to start. This has important implications for business-architecture and enterprise-architecture that will be explored in some depth in the book – for example, we need to ask serious questions about “What do shareholders own?” if they possess all the ‘rights’ for the business but without any real responsibilities.

Money doesn’t matter: Money is important for every business, of course, especially in a commercial context – but as with rules or ‘rights’, it’s not the place where we need to start. Money is also only one small part of the overall economy in which the business operates: reputation, trust, attention and respect all need to exist before any money will be placed on the table. And if we state – or show – that we’re only interested in ‘making money’ from our customers and community, why would anyone want to engage with us? As with other ‘rights’, money is solely a social fiction, and profit is an outcome of being ‘on purpose’ to values: to achieve the profits that we may desire, we first need to start from values, with a values-architecture that describes how we engage with everyone within the extended-enterprise of the business.

Always enhance adaptability: Change is the only certainty: we therefore need to design for that fact. Mistaken notions about rules, rights and money often serve only to slow us down, placing the business at risk as the world changes around us. This sections of the book explores how to embed the ‘business-anarchist’ principles into everyday business-practice, especially in business-architecture and enterprise-architecture.

More details to follow over the next few days, including book-cover, cover-blurb, ISBN numbers and so on. Publication-date is fixed as late-April, so I need to keep moving! 🙂

3 Comments on “Notes on ‘Business Anarchist’

  1. Tom, the book sounds fascinating. Good title and a correct notion that most worthwhile business innovation — which authentic corporate responsibility is — comes from those determined to break the rules and revitalize the system. Anita Roddick, Yvon Chouinard, Ingvar Kamprad, Ray Anderson are just a few names that spring to mind.

  2. Pat – many thanks – may well take you up on that offer! 🙂

    Christine – likewise many thanks – and given your own business focus in CSR etc rather than EA, that response really does help me.

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