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My Steam Engine is Broken

The modern organisation came into being towards the end of the eighteenth century, during the Industrial Revolution in Britain: a revolution in the means of production, fuelled by coal and symbolised by the steam engine, a remarkable new source of power.

The way in which those early organisations were structured and managed has remained more or less in place to the present day. It has been refined by ‘management science’ and made ever more efficient, but it is has essentially the same old management and workforce, command and control, reward and punishment structure that still would be recognisable to a factory worker in the closing decades of the eighteenth century.

We are going to call this kind of organisational structure the ‘steam engine’ organisation, in homage to the Industrial Revolution’s iconic new source of mechanical power.

But the steam engine organisation was designed and built for a different era.

Our steam engines are no longer fit for purpose. They must be transformed.

Transforming the steam engine – bit by bit

The ‘workers’ in modern organisations are no longer, or should no longer be, required to perform routine tasks – regardless of whether these tasks are manual or mental. We are all knowledge workers now.  What is required for success in the modern era is our ingenuity; our fresh ideas; our active collaboration.

My Steam Engine is Broken explores ten ‘paradoxes’: ten things that steam engine organisations continue to do that are directly preventing the very outcomes that the organisations freely admit they most need.

Radically changing the way that any organisation is structured and run, even a small organisation, is a daunting task. We will not be able to transform the steam engine overnight. But we can change it, little by little, bit by bit, until it has been transformed beyond all recognition.

We have, after all, progressed from steam engines to space travel. But not overnight. And not all in one go.

By exploring these ten fundamental paradoxes – things that steam engine organisations continue to do that are directly preventing the outcomes that the organisations most need – My Steam Engine is Broken opens up routes to change: new ways of experimenting with the organisational structure that might, just might, aggregate to the point where the old steam engine organisation has been transformed beyond all recognition and become something fit for the modern age; the Age of Ideas.

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