Management Innovator’s Bookshelf: Out of Control by Kevin Kelly (1994)

Last year when I started Around the Corner I promised a place where we could challenge some of our assumptions, explore something new or discover something unknown. Out of Control: The New Biology of Machines, Social Systems and the Economic World by Kevin Kelly is the second in the list of Gary Hamel‘s essential reading for management innovators. It presents a wonderful opportunity to challenge, explore and discover.

Kelly, previously the founder and Executive Editor of Wired Magazine and member of the Board of the Long Now Foundation, imagines a world for us in which biological principles can help to enable human collaboration. For instance, the typical organizational structure is very hierarchical and top-down driven. But Kelly suggests a beehive model might be informative for our modern knowledge economy. The members of the beehive do not have formal roles and responsibilities, but each member makes a contribution. The beehive as a whole is adaptive, distributed, and organic. Likewise, a spider web is a useful model to describe the interrelated nature of suppliers, employees, customers, and stakeholders in today’s complex organizations. These and other systems in nature don’t generally follow a centralized hierarchy, but instead work through networks of cooperation. In some cases the group seems to possess a kind of knowledge that surpasses the individual intelligence of any one member. Consider migrating geese. None of the flock have made the trip before, yet somehow the flock knows its migration path from hemisphere to hemisphere

Another of Kelly’s key ideas is that complex systems work best when they grow incrementally: “The only way to make a complex system that works is to begin with a simple system that works. Attempts to instantly install highly complex organization without growing it, inevitably lead to failure….. Time is needed to let each part test itself against all the others….”

Out of Control is not a quick read, but it is a thoughtful book that challenges the reader to think about future possibilities. As technology professionals we know from what we experience every day that success requires careful attention to every detail and that progress is slow and most times really quite laborious. Possibilities are endless in Out of Control. It is worth the reading because we’re too often led to exclude possibilities rather than wonder what’s Around the Corner.

It’s on my bookshelf and I hope you have the time to add it to yours!