Essay, 5 pages (1100 words)

Out with the old, in with the next essay

Out with the Old, In with the NextIn Michael Lewis’ book, Next: The Future Just Happened, the quickening spread of all types of information via the internet has led to a cultural ’flattening’ of the traditional elitist pyramid structure.  In this rapidly shifting trend, knowledge no longer belongs only to the top level executives and specialists, rather the internet has given rise to a new class of experts coming from every rung of the pyramid scheme.  With this essay, I will examine my former workplace, MarketLine Research, in the context of Michael Lewis’ intriguing book in order to argue that their business is in dire need of heeding Mr.

Lewis’ advice.The structure of MarketLine Research was classically pyramidal.  There were only four full-time employees and they were all partners in the business.  Directly underneath the partners were usually three part-time supervisors, all promoted from within.  The rest of us were part-time employees sidelined to our cubicles that were basically hired to simply fulfill the research needs and wishes passed down from the partners, which were then passed down to the supervisors, who then fed the directions to the researchers.This strategy created an atmosphere of limited knowledge for the researchers.

We could only officially know what was deemed necessary from above, whether from the partners or the supervisors.  Rolf, the president of the company, was directly in charge of the supervisors, who were then directly responsible for keeping track of employee performance and project management.  Any questions that were brought up had to first be passed through the supervisors before they were even posed to Rolf.Michael Lewis elaborates both the benefits and the downfalls of the pyramid structure.  According to him, the benefits are that everybody knows the protocol.  In MarketLine’s case, this means that each researcher knew exactly what his or her responsibilities were: to follow the directions in the manner that they were passed down.  The researchers would not be responsible for the performance of anyone else in the company besides themselves.

This made it, on the one hand, a very predictable and repetitious endeavor.  On the other hand, many of the researchers felt handcuffed with what they could do.  For instance, if one researcher saw another researcher straying away from the stated directions, but was having greater success or productivity, we could not ask that researcher what their technique was for fear of either outing them for breaking from the rules, or because we would first have to ask the supervisor if there was any room for variation from the rules.Perhaps the deviant researcher had already got the go-ahead from the supervisor (who would then in turn have to get approval from Rolf) to employ the new strategy, but nobody else would have access to this knowledge unless the supervisors called a meeting to let everyone in on the new technique.  In this top-down working environment, specialized knowledge was directly related to your position in the company and that is one of the key shortcomings to the traditional pyramid structure (Hayes). After all, as Lewis says of the changing information landscape, “It wasn’t just the commercial order that was in flux.  Many forms of authority were secured by locks waiting to be picked” (Lewis, 14).In contrast to the pyramid structure, Mr.

Lewis identifies the newly emerging strategy of opening up the fields of knowledge.  He describes this theory as the ‘pancake’ effect because it effectively flattens the scope and breadth of knowledge that anyone at any particular employment level or pay grade can have access to.  More importantly this approach offers the ability to provide specialized knowledge to anyone else at any level in the organization.  This can have far reaching impacts, most noticeably in the realms of what previously were held as elitist professions such as some of the examples provided in the book like stock brokering and legal attorneys.In practice, the ‘pancake’ effect is a democratization of knowledge.  It is more egalitarian, as Lewis points out, due to the precise effect it creates and perpetuates.  So an intern might possibly have a bright idea to a problem that a high level executive is struggling with.

In this case, rank is not as important as insight and expertise.It is important to note that just because the flattening aspect of the pancake effect opens up fields of knowledge; it does not eliminate the reality of hierarchical structuring.  He writes, “People take on the new tools they are ready for, and only make use of what they need, how they need it” (Lewis, 16).  A CEO still holds the power over the bright intern, in both influence and pay-scale as regards how the information will be put to use.  This being the case, we can see how organizations are getting around this issue by offering bonuses and promotions to people who demonstrate a unique and intelligent perspective related to whichever enterprise they are involved with.This is exactly what makes it more egalitarian and democratic as opposed to the structure that we endured at MarketLine where only certain people had access to specialized information.  For example, at AskMe.

com, the people providing the answers to client’s questions depend upon positive feedback ratings in order to increase their overall rank within their field of expertise.  The other part of the equation, of course, is that in order to get positive feedback the ‘experts’ are encouraged to provide valid responses in a timely manner.  Therefore the system is mutually dependent on a constant interaction of both confirmation and acceptance.  This can be evidenced by the example in the book of Marcus Arnold.  He was the fifteen year old legal expert in the book that found out the hard way that just because you have gained prestige and positive feedback does not mean your ‘certified’ colleagues will accept you and confirm you as a legal expert. Lewis, while writing about the values held by his father in his legal practice, remarks about this phenomenon, “The most important thing in the world to him was his stature in the community” (Lewis, 20).

This confirmation and acceptance as one of the special elites in the field is what lies at the base of the traditional pyramid structure, but this practice can still be evidenced by the persisting system of checks and balances employed by higher level personnel on the social pyramid.That being said, the fact that the overall system is flattening out and opening up is dynamically changing the way organizations conduct their business, both from within and to the public at large (Hayes).  If MarketLine Research would adopt some of these emerging strategies instead of keeping knowledge isolated to the top of their pyramid, it is most likely that their overall business would benefit; not just in increased creativity and productivity, but also in employee moral because everyone would feel that they could play and important role in the work of the company.

Works CitedHayes, Cassandra. Diversity Leaders – advancing business performance through diversity. July, 2004. Black Enterprise. 11 May 2009. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1365/is_12_34/ai_n6169009/Lewis, Michael. Next: The Future Just Happened.

New York. W.W. Norton & Co.


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