Friday, December 18, 2009

Reading :: The New Global Economy in the Information Age

The New Global Economy in the Information Age: Reflections on Our Changing World
Edited by Martin Carnoy, Manuel Castells, Stephen S. Cohen, and Fernando Henrique Cardoso

In 1992, the Soviet Union had just collapsed, and the new Yeltsin government invited the authors to come to Moscow to advise it on political economic policy. A year later, their analyses were published in this book, which is an interesting time capsule of the period. It's also a place where Castells sounded themes that he developed in his later work.

As the authors argue in the collaboratively written introduction, "The first political casualty of the information age is the communist state system, based on a 1920s-model hierarchical industrial organization and incapable of incorporating new, flexible management of rapidly changing technology" (p.2). But they argue that it may not be the last casualty: Capitalist states are similarly vulnerable to the transformations that are underfoot, including a new international division of labor "based less on the location of natural resources, cheap and abundant labor, or even capital stock and more on the capacity to create new knowledge and apply it rapidly, via information processing and telecommunications, to a wide array of human activities in ever-broadening space and time" (p.6). The authors interpret the Reagan administration's response to the changing world thus: "The Reagan administration's 'solution' to increased international competition and informationalization was to deregulate such critical sectors as telecommunications, air transport, and financial services, to break unions and lower real wages, to decrease federal tax rates, and to redistribute income to the top 1 percent of income earners. The idea was to make U.S. industry more competitive through cheaper labor and to legitimize such action politically through lower tax rates. ... the emphasis is on cheap inputs, not higher productivity" (p.11).

The authors are not enchanted with this strategy. What was striking to me in the subsequent chapters, however, was that Exhibit A was the lack of US success and productivity compared to the Japanese, whose model was perceived as far superior, especially in Cohen's chapter "Geo-Economics." I remember the widespread fear that the Japanese were going to own the US - but looking back, the Japanese "lost decade" began in 1991, and they lost ground economically throughout the 1990s - falling prey to a bubble somewhat similar to the one we have just experienced in the US. Realizing that fact helped me to put the authors' assessments and arguments in a historical context.

In Castells' chapter "The Informational Economy," he analyzes the collapse of the Soviet Union and the changes in the global economy, arguing that "the increasingly important role of applied knowledge and information is a characteristic of advanced economic systems, transcending the historical characteristics of their modes of production" (p.16). He argues that

(1) "the greater the complexity and productivity of an economy, the greater its informational component and the greater the role played by new knowledge and new applications of knowledge" (pp.16-17);

(2) one strong trend is "the shift, in advanced capitalist societies, from material production to information-processing activities, both in terms of proportion of GNP and in the proportion of the population employed in such activities" (p.17). The "real transformation" is the information economy "wherein an ever-growing role is played by the manipulation of symbols in the organization of production and the enhancement of productivity" (p.17);

(3) another trend is "a profound transformation in the organization of production and of economic activity in general," a change that "can be described as a shift from standardized mass production to flexible customized production and from vertically integrated, large-scale organizations to vertical disintegration and horizontal networks between business units" (p.18). That doesn't mean the decline of the large corporation, but rather their organizational transformation leading to more flexibility and adaptability (p.18);

(4) a fourth trend is "a global economy, in which capital, production, production, management, markets, labor, information, and technology are organized across national boundaries" (p.18), meaning that "the national economy now works as a unit at the world level in real time" (p.19);

(5) and these all take place within a significant technological revolution, based in advances in information technologies. Telecommunications in particular create "the material infrastructure needed for the formation of a global economy" (p.19). Information technology is a critical factor allowing for flexibility and decentralization (p.20).

One result of these transformations, Castells argues, is the end of the Third World as a relatively homogeneous economic region (p.27). It gives way to a Fourth World of marginalized economies (p.37) - an idea that Castells later developed in terms of "black holes." Another, he hopes, is that of "leaner, smaller, more effective, high-tech-equipped, and information-oriented military forces" that would be "at the disposal of all major nations" for peacekeeping (p.42).

In the next chapter, "Multinationals in a Changing World Economy," Martin Carnoy considers the question of large multinational enterprises (MNEs). These MNEs are "attractive and usually necessary additions to any country's economy," but are also "footloose," without allegiance to a nation's development goals - and, in fact, frequently willing to shape national development goals to their own needs (p.46). MNEs, he says, are concentrated in four sectors: oil, autos, electronics and high tech, and banking (p.48). Carnoy notes that US and British MSEs tend to be antistate and more "footloose" than other MSEs, which frequently have some sort of nationalist association (p.86).

The fourth chapter, "Geo-Economics," is Stephen Cohen's assessment of "America's mistakes" and Europe's chance to avoid making them (p.97). The US, Cohen asserts, is not transitioning well to the new realities: it has "set out in the wrong direction," creating a less generous, just, and secure society (p.97). Cohen points to new international competition, particularly from Japan's "developmental state" (pp.98-100) with its answer to Fordism: "Toyotaism," with its measures for high-volume flexible production (p.111). The results are not good: a large trade deficit and an enormous national debt of ... $600 billion! (Ah, the good old days, when we only owned $600B. Currently it's $12,097,698,782,543.93.)

Let's skip to the epilogue. The authors, like so many authors, see hope for real change in a new President. "Bill Clinton's election signals the exhaustion of the laissez-faire economic model whose profoundly negative effects on American productivity and competitiveness we have documented and analyzed in this book" (p.161). Doesn't this passage remind you of Castells' pronouncements about Obama in his 2009 book?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Reading :: Learning and Expanding with Activity Theory

Learning and Expanding with Activity Theory
Edited by Annalisa Sannino, Harry Daniels, and Kris D. Gutierrez

This book is in a sense a tribute to Yrjo Engestrom, whose landmark book Learning by Expanding (1987) was so influential to developing - and popularizing - activity theory. In the introductory chapter, the editors chronicle "four main phases of Engestrom's work as an activity theorist" (p.11). These included 1) the discovery of AT; 2) the turn from student learning to workplace learning; 3) developmental work research (DWR) and expansive learning; and 4) "the formation of activity-theoretical communities aimed at changing social practices" (p.11). The authors in this collection were influenced by all of these phases, particularly the latter three, and they discuss how Engestrom's work has filtered into various disciplines and fields.

For instance, Frank Blackler describes how Engestrom has impacted organizational studies, particularly in more recent discussions of nonhierarchical work involving horizontal learning, mycorrhizae, and knotworking (p.23). Blackler also lauds Engestrom's "powerful" critique of actor-network theory (p.23; I don't agree with this assessment - see my book Network if you like). Blackler does allow that he thinks Engestrom's later work has been steered more by Engestrom's desire to explore exciting new forms of human agency rather than to seriously "chart the changing nature of work and organizations" (p.30). But he very much admires Engestrom's approach to intervention in organizations (p.34).

In rhetoric and writing studies, David R. Russell (n.b., my dissertation director) discusses what he calls "writing, activity and genre research" (WAGR) (p.40). I quite like this acronym, which I think David developed just for this chapter and which I mentally pronounce as "WAGeR." Russell argues that cultural-historical activity theory (CHAT) is a welcome framework for writing studies, since it integrates writing and activity; allows for mesolevel analysis; allows for a unit of analysis broader than the dyad; eschews the Cartesian split; and doesn't privilege one medium over another (p.41).

Russell goes on to examine the role of genre in activity systems at the macro, meso, and micro levels. At the micro level, he argues that "genre helps account for social-psychological stability, identity, and predictability in organizations or, indeed, broader social formations as unconscious operationalized actions" (p.45). But at the meso level, he states that "genres are also central to object formation, transformation, and maintenance of activity systems" as well as "deeply involved in the construction of motives. Genres are, in a sense, classifications of artifacts-plus-intentions" (p.45). Third-generation activity theory emphasizes interlocking activity systems; Russell argues convincingly that genre systems or ecologies provide one crucial avenue for mediating these interlocking activity systems through the boundary objects of genres (p.48). This chapter does a great job of both summarizing WAGR development and linking it to 3GAT in ways that those outside of writing studies can understand. As far as I'm concerned, it's a standout piece that should be cited broadly in writing research (and of course I'll be citing it soon).

In another intriguing chapter, Vladimir Lektorsky reminds us that Engestrom's version of AT is not the only one. Lektorsky argues that "Engestrom's ideas are essentially original. They contain a nw conception of activity, a new understanding of its structure, and they are used to solve new problems" in contrast with Russian and other variants and with the original Vygotskian project (p.78). In particular, Lektorsky draws contrasts in terms of the subject and mediation (p.79).

In terms of the subject, Lektorsky emphasizes that although some variants of AT don't require a subject, "I cannot agree with this idea. Activity has its bearer. ... The subject is activity itself from a certain point of view" (p.79). (On a side note, this emphasis on a human subject is one of the many fundamental, yet underexplored differences mainstream AT has with actor-network theory.) In terms of mediation, Lektorsky airs some Russian philosophical critiques of internalization, then explores mediation to some extent (p.82).

Interestingly, the next chapter actually mounts a critique of AT precisely because it is overly bound to the notion of a subject. Georg Ruckreim argues that digital technology and mediation pose a twofold challenge to AT: theoretically and methodologically (p.88). He argues that "there is no way to characterize those [global] communication networks adequately in terms of subject, action, or activity, let alone goal or motive": they enable pure contingency in self-weaving communication networks. So, he asks, "Can those automatically and independently functioning technical systems still be called activities or activity systems?" (p.91). He charges that phenomena such as Rheingold's "smart mobs" have been brushed aside by activity theorists such as Engestrom, boxed in with vague descriptors such as "interagency" and considered "rare, bizarre, or difficult to comprehend phenomena"(p.93). "Since activity theory is basically tied up with the concept of a subject of activity, it is more than difficult to combine the above-mentioned 'very temporary organizational forms' [i.e., interagency] ... with a kind of 'collective intentionality'" (p.93).

Ruckreim also criticizes Engestrom's work in terms of mediation:
Engestrom's understanding of the problem of mediation remains within the framework of the classical authors and alternates between Vygotsky's and Leont'ev's version of how to solve the problem of mediation. In consequence, Engestrom refers to collective activity systems embedded in capitalist societal structures as described by historical materialism. His methodology does not allow him to interpret the Internet as a basic transformation factor, let alone as a framework for perceiving our present reality as a qualitatively new emerging social formation. ... he analyzes emerging communication processes in terms of old socioeconomic concepts. ... His intervention strategy does not provide him with an adequate instrument to differentiate between traditional changes and emerging revolutionary transformations and their specific problem structures. (p.95)
These are fighting words. Ruckreim continues:
Engestrom seems to fail to take notice of Leont'ev's explicitly repeated emphasis on the strictly systemic nature of the components of individual activity. Instead, he stresses their hierarchical structure and so turns them into an ontological understanding. The psychological meaning of central concepts such as "subject" and "intentionality" inevitably slips into a sociological understanding of activity. ... There is no theoretical understanding of why and how this complexity has been formed as an independent system and got to be more than an augmentation of the same. (p.109)
(Engestrom is not happy with this critique, and lets Ruckreim have it in his response chapter.)

Skipping ahead, Reijo Miettinen examines "high-technology capitalism," which he describes as "the latest form of capitalism" (p.161). In this phase of capitalism, increasing complexity means that no one masters the activity, and "this is why actions must increasingly be transformed with respect to the changing object and motive of a given activity by the people who participate in that activity. A new kind of activity, learning activity, is needed to accomplish this" (p.161). Drawing on Marx, Miettinen argues that
the institutions of capitalism, such as markets, hierarchy as an organizational form of production, and the systems of intellectual property rights evidently do not satisfactorily support the formation and uses of the general intellect. New nonmarket and nonhierarchical forms of organization are needed that allow the development of individual capabilities and call for trust-based collaboration, and that favor the exchange of knowledge and understanding between the participants in the general intellect. (p.169)
Reading that sentence again, I'm struck by how many nominalizations and how much passive voice Miettinen uses, and how they hide the actors. Ruckreim critiques Engestromian activity theory for its fixation on the subject, but here Miettinen reverts to a subjectless, actorless process of historical development, similar to Adam Smith's dead hand of capitalism - or more to the point, a redescription of the inevitable, universal process of dialectics as portrayed in Engels and Ilyenkov. Nevertheless, I am glad to see Miettinen noting the movement from markets and hierarchies toward networks (in the Castells sense) (p.170). He argues that the network society embeds a primary contradiction between common knowledge and the knowledge society's privatization of knowledge (p.172).

Like Miettinen, Anne Edwards addresses the network society. "We live in risky times," she declares, as boundaries and certainties dissolve at all levels and "the sequential linearity of early modernism ... has been disrupted" (p.197). So "the workplace is therefore now less likely to be the source of a sustained identity, whether we are victims [sic] of short-term contracts (Sennett, 1998), are boundary-breaking creatives (Guile, 2007), or are specialist professionals collaborating on complex tasks (Edwards, 2005)" (p.197). Such changes disrupt the organizations that had emerged to leaven the worst effects of capitalism (p.198). In response, Edwards sees AT's collective subject as "a way of thinking about the risky nature of work that is carried out beyond the safety of established social practices and perhaps a way of countering rampant subjectivity (p.197).

Edwards draws on two case studies to explore these themes. In particular, she examines partnership working, in which partnerships and alliances increase in number, also increasing the tensions and therefore becoming more difficult to sustain and manage (p.203). In such situations, practitioners working in the boundary zone developed configurations of confidence that, Edwards tells us, were not networks in the Castells sense so much as latent mycorrhizae activities in the Engestromian sense (p.204). She points to "how one learns how to know how to know who" (p.205), a catchy but difficult-to-parse way to express personal networking.

Katsuhiro Yamazumi also addresses agency in the knowledge society, more specifically, the shift from mass production to interorganizational collaboration (p.212). Focusing on expansive learning, Yamazumi argues that "new types of agency are collaborations and engagements with a shared object in and for relationships of interaction between multiple activity systems" and describes a "hybrid activity system" (p.213) - I found this last part interesting because Engestrom and others describe such hybrids as activity networks with shared objects.

"The world of human activity is increasingly dominated by longitudinal dialogic relationships of collaboration between multiple activity systems," Yamazumi continues. And
these multiple activity systems are engaged by 'runaway objects,' that is, partially shared large-scale objects in complex, distributed multi-activity fields (Engestrom 2005a, 2005c, 2006b). Although these partnerships and alliances are obviously relevant to rediscovering and expanding use values in the objects of activities, they are extremely difficult to sustain and manage. This is where collaborative learning possibilities and challenges truly become necessary. Such learning can be characterized as interorganizational learning (Engestrom, 2001) engaged in the expansive reforging of shared objects and creating new forms of activity between different activity systems. (pp.214-215)
Thus we need a better account of expansive agency or distributed interagency (p.215). Like David Ronfeldt in his TIMN work, Yamazumi argues that types of agency are associated with organizational forms:
This imperative of a new type of agency principally differs from the historically previous forms: "control and command" for management, "resist and defend" for workers in hierarchy organizations, and "take advantage and maximize gain" in market organizations. The efficacy and valuer of collaboration and reciprocity are missed or limited in both of these forms. (p.216)
Later in the book, Susanne Bodker discusses some personal history and theoretical developments in a subject dear to my heart, participatory design research. (She also cites me briefly, something that made my day.) I think Bodker's book, based on her PhD thesis, was the first book-length treatment of activity theory I had read - and I was surprised to read in this rememberance that she hadn't encountered Engestrom's work until after her thesis was completed, when Kari Kuutti showed her a copy of Engestrom's Learning by Expanding (p.275). Bodker goes on to briefly recount PD's development, compare it to Developmental Work Research (DWR), then lays out some challenges to PD and DWR that, like other chapters in this collection, have to do with knowledge work. These include multiplicity (p.282) and going beyond communities of work to address the entire life context (pp.282-283).

Finally, Engestrom responds to the pieces, partially laying out what he'd like third-generation activity theory (3GAT) to address. "Third-generation activity theory still treats activity systems as reasonably well-bounded, although interlocking and networked, structured units. What goes on between activity systems is processes, such as the flow of rules from management to workers ..." but "In social production and peer production, the boundaries and structures of activity systems seem to fade away. Processes become simultaneous, multidirectional, and often reciprocal. The density and crisscrossing of processes makes the distinction between processes and structure somewhat obsolete. The movements of information create textures that are constantly changing but not arbitrary or momentary" (p.309). But, he argues, this phenomenon can still be analyzed within the bounds of activity theory (pp. 309-310). Like literal mycorrhizae, "social production requires and generates bounded hubs of concentrated coordination efforts" and "activity system models are very appropriate for the analysis of such hubs" (p.310). He speculates that perhaps we need a 4GAT to better model trails and mycorrhizae (p.310).

At the end of the volume, I was encouraged by the number of authors who took on knowledge work and knowledge society issues, although I still would like to see much more development along these lines. If you're interested in activity theory and particularly how it's developing to address new forms of organization, this is certainly a strong collection. Take a look.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Reading :: Activity theory in practice

Activity Theory in Practice: Promoting learning across boundaries and agencies
Edited By Harry Daniels, Anne Edwards, Yrjo Engestrom, and Sten R. Ludvigsen

Here's a joke I heard some time ago. What's the difference between a Star Trek fan, a Trekkie, and a Trekker?

A Star Trek fan dresses as a character and goes to a Halloween party.

A Trekkie dresses as a character and goes to Star Trek conventions.

But a Trekker dresses as a character and goes to ... the Renaissance festival.

If there's a similar division among activity theorists, call me an AT fan. I see activity theory as a useful framework with great explanatory power for certain situations, particularly situations involving cultural-historical development in and among organizations. But I don't see it as a theory of everything (see my book Network). The authors of this collection, however, are more like AT-ers: they closely follow the Helsinki school of activity theory as developed by Yrjo Engestrom (p.1) and implemented in research centers in England, Finland, Northern Ireland, and Norway (p.2).

Not that there's anything wrong with that. Trekkers spend a lot of time developing ways to reconcile incoherencies in the Star Trek universe (called "retroactive continuity" or "retconning"), and similarly these AT-ers are putting much effort into the relatively new issue of "how to capture the generation and mobilisation of knowledge in practices that span different settings. This problem arises from the changing world of work where complex problems call for multifaceted responses that can be in tension with the long-established social practices of settled work settings" (p.1). That is, they are attempting to develop third-generation activity theory, which grapples with the issue of internetworked systems of activity: "the development of practices across organisational boundaries" (p.1). Following Engestrom, they are developing activity theory to address the complexities of knowledge work, which tends to involve a high degree of interdisciplinarity, boundary crossing, mobility, customization, and change. Indeed, the theme of knowledge work comes up again and again in these papers, most of which employ variations of Engestrom's Developmental Work Research (DWR) (p.6).

For instance, in "From Diagnosis to Clients," Virkkunen et al. discuss how physiotherapy educators and workplaces co-construct the object of collaborative development. Right out of the gate, they note new developments that have been characterized as the "information society" and the "knowledge society" (p.9). And "the trend is from the production of standardised basic commodities to the production of specialised, unique or custom products" (p.11). But "Globalisation and the information-technology revolution have brought somewhat contradictory challenges to professional education" (p.12), challenges that, in true Helsinki School fashion, the authors display on a matrix with two dimensions: special v. basic and general v. dedicated (p.13). Using the Change Laboratory method of intervention (p.15), the authors worked with the educators to develop and reorganize teaching (p.22). It's a textbook example of using the Change Laboratory to address boundary-crossing issues.

In "The Meaning of Physical Presence," Kallio describes how pulp mills that implemented new software would ask engineers from a software company (Metso) to introduce the software on site - a role that the engineer could theoretically perform remotely. Kallio asks: Why did they insist the engineers come on site? Intriguingly, Kallio argues that the engineer had to help construct a joint object of activity, an object toward which the pulp mill and Metso were both oriented (p.39-41; see diagram p.41). Furthermore, the engineer had to provide a joint language with which the two entities could examine and transform the object (p.40). Not surprisingly, Kallio describes this work as co-configuration (p.41), and demonstrates that it extends into long-term cooperation. Kallio provides the usual 2D matrix (p.45) to describe the different types of logic at work.

Home care of the elderly is the subject of the next chapter, Nummijoki and Engestrom's "Toward Co-Configuration in Home Care of the Elderly." Here, the authors argue that
Co-configuration requires new kinds of agency from both the client and the provider of the service. The client must continually assess his or her own needs and experiences and take initiatives to shape the service accordingly. The service provider must be willing to change the shape of the service and experiment with new patterns of service when a need arises. (p.49)
The authors are intrigued by this idea of new agency and explore it in this study. Specifically, they look at home care of the elderly in the City of Helsinki as it worked before and after a Mobility Agreement (p.50). They begin by illustrating the contradiction in the object of current home care: the home care service sees the object in terms of duties, while the client sees it in terms of their own life (p.51). After discussing the problems with the current situation, they explain how they used the DWR cycle to design the Mobility Agreement (p.54). The authors then examine transcripts from pre- and post-agreement visits, noting layered development in home care.

In the next chapter, "Expansive Learning, Expansive Labour," Warmington and Leadbetter examine multi-agency children's services, using Marx's notion of "labour-power": "the constellation of skills, knowledge and dispositions that constitutes the capacity of individuals and collectives for productive labouring action" (p.72). Arguably, the authors say, labour-power is part of the object of organizations (p.72) - particularly in learning organizations (p.76). In fact, in learning organizations, "workplace activities are as much about the production of the unstable and unfinished commodity of labour-power as they are about marshalling concrete labour to produce general commodities" (p.76). After examining the case, the authors conclude that "thus there is a cyclical, or spiralling, relationship between learning to do multiagency working and the social production of labour-power," and they urge us to understand activity systems in these terms (p.87).

The other chapters in this collection are similar in many ways. Most deal with the issue of newly interconnected work and the boundary-crossing that goes along with it. For instance, in their study of software development, Morch et al. describe co-configuration in terms of adaptation (p.189). In their discussion of joint design in wikis, Lund et al. discuss polycontextuality (p.207) and connect co-design to participatory design (p.189). But in each case, they grapple with multi-activity networks and the sort of repair and reconciliation work that this level of analysis involves, frequently in terms of developmental cycles. It's a valuable collection, and I'm very glad to see AT being stretched to address the vexed issues involved in complex interconnected activities, especially in terms of the knowledge economy and learning organizations. At the same time, the similarities across studies concerned me: these authors use the same tools, approaches, and concepts, but I wanted to see some productive differences. Less retconning, more tension.

Nevertheless, if you're interested in applying third-generation activity theory to complex interconnected activities, this book is a milestone. Pick it up.

Reading :: Future Shock

Future Shock
By Alvin Toffler

Inspired by some of David Ronfeldt's work, I've been reading some of Alvin Toffler's books. Like 1980's The Third Wave, 1970's Future Shock is a fascinating mix of straight-on predictions, near-misses, and way-off guesses that sound like the science fiction being written contemporaneously. Let's put the third category aside for the most part and concentrate on the things that Toffler got right - and what a 1970 perspective might tell us about changes at the end of the first decade of the 21st century.

Toffler defines "future shock" as "the disease of change" (p.2) and "the human response to overstimulation" (p.326). Like its namesake "culture shock," future shock describes a moment at which an individual's expected social cues no longer mean what s/he thinks they mean (p.11) - but with future shock, such moment occur because one's own culture is changing rapidly; you can't retreat to your own culture, enclave, or ex-pat community. Toffler portrays this accelerated pace of change as a characteristic of "super-industrialism" and points to transience as one symptom (p.17).

Transience manifests, for instance, in our relationship to artifacts: "Instead of being linked with a single object over a relatively long span of time, we are linked for brief periods with the succession of objects that supplant it" (p.55) - and here he gives examples such as disposable cigarette lighters and cardboard milk containers, which were relatively new developments in 1970. (Personally, I thought of increasingly rapid genre formation and hybridization.)

But Toffler also points to other aspects of transience that were stirring in the 1970s: apartments; increasing numbers of travel-related jobs; higher divorce rates; the breakdown of the extended family; the loss of lifetime employment. This last point leads to perhaps the most valuable discussion, the chapter on "ad-hocracy," in which Toffler argues that bureaucracies are doomed because workers are too transient and bureaucracies too inefficient and inflexible to survive the rapid change he was seeing. This is "the organization of the future": in it,
man will find himself [sic] liberated, a stranger in a new free-form world of kinetic organizations. In this alien landscape, his position will be constantly changing, fluid, and varied. And his organizational ties, like his ties with things, places, and people, will turn over at a frenetic and ever-accelerating pace. (p.125)
Since organizations are facing higher turnover, he says, the resulting high change in organizational relations dooms the bureaucracy (p.128) by destroying fixed lines of authority and loyalty. The most dramatic symbol of this trend is project or task-force management, in which "teams are assembled to solve short-term problems" (p.132). Novel problems, such as ones involving innovation or customization, require novel organizational structures (p.135). Such ad-hoc teams don't necessarily replace permanent functional structures, Toffler concedes - but they do change those structures (p.135). Simultaneously, traditional chains of command are breaking or being sidestepped, replaced with horizontal communication, (p.137), because vertical communication requires too many steps to convey information (p.139). Furthermore, specialists don't fit into traditional chains of command. Sounding exactly like Drucker, Toffler argues that these specialists are
in vital fields so narrow that often the men on top have difficulty understanding them. Increasingly, managers have to rely on the judgment of these experts. ... Such men are assuming a new decision-making function. (p.140)
So "managers are losing their monopoly on decision-making" (p.140).

"Each age," Toffler adds, "produces a form of organization appropriate to its own tempo" (p.143) - a theme that he later develops in The Third Wave and that Ronfeldt takes up in his TIMN work. And in the age that Toffler describes, "Executives and managers will serve as coordinators between the various transient work teams. They will be skilled in understanding the jargon of different groups of specialists, and they will communicate across groups, translating and interpreting the language of one into the language of another" (p.144).

So, he concludes, "this is a picture of the coming Ad-hocracy, the fast-moving, information-rich, kinetic organization of the future, filled with transient cells and extremely mobile individuals. From this sketch, moreover, it is possible to deduce some of the characteristics of the human beings who will populate the new organizations - and who, to some extent, are already to be found in the prototype organizations of today" (p.144). Whereas bureaucracies were characterized by "permanence, hierarchy, and a division of labor," demanding people who could work within those constraints (pp.144-145), the ad-hocracy demands workers who are loyal to their professions rather than the organizations through which they cycle (p.146); able to work in interdisciplinary, cross-functional groups (p.147); oriented to the task or project rather than the job (p.148); entrepreneurial (p.148); risk-seeking and innovative (p.150); moving among slots in the organization (p.150); extremely adaptable in terms of systems, arrangements, locations (p.150); and in sum,
basically uncommitted to any organization. He is willing to employ his skills and creative energies to solve problems with equipment provided by the organization, and within temporary groups established by it. But he does so only as long as the problems interest him. He is committed to his own career, his own self-fulfillment. (p.149).
It's hard for me to express how closely this assessment seems to align with much more recent literature in knowledge work, communication, project management, and fourth-generation warfare, as well as some of the things I've seen in my own studies. Certainly I could pick holes if I wanted to get into the particulars, but the overall direction has been vindicated.

Certainly Toffler isn't as accurate in some of his other predictions. He argues that people will live in underwater colonies well before 2000 AD (p.191) and that we'll genetically tailor the human race to produce "girls with super-mammaries" (p.201 - and here I wonder if all of Toffler's books include predictions about mammaries). He also predicts the death of college degrees, credits, and majors as we know them (p.273).

On the other hand, he predicts that governments will condemn people to death and transplant the condemned's organs into the bodies of more deserving citizens (p.206), a theme that doesn't just show up in Larry Niven's novels but also in transplant ethics discussions. He predicts, though overhypes, the experience economy (p.226). He predicts the reconfiguration of families to include childless couples, single parents, gay couples, and blended families (Ch.11).

All in all, this 39-year-old book is still a fascinating read, and in parts - especially the chapter on ad-hocracies - it's surprisingly current. If you're interested in organizational change in particular, I recommend it.