We really hate the term bottom-up when it's used to describe an organization chart. We much prefer the term "foundation". Have you heard of the Dilbert principle? It's when people get promoted one level beyond their competency and get stuck in middle-management purgatory.
Here's the reality. Innovators and early adopters are everywhere. While it's true they're about 16% of the population, we think they are over-represented at the so-called bottom of the org chart (worker). And therefore underrepresented at the top of the org chart (management).
Toyota was on to this, with their Toyota Production System. Toyota genuinely recognized every employee, regardless of their title, as a knowledge worker who was an expert in their job.
"... innovation, almost by definition, has to be decentralized, ad hoc, autonomous, specific and micro-economic. It had better start small, tentative, flexible. Indeed, the opportunities for innovation are found, on the whole, only way down and close to events. They are not to be found in the massive aggregates with which the planner deals of necessity, but in the deviations therefrom..."
- Peter F Drucker,
Innovation and Entrepreneurship
When we grow up, we want to be a small giant one day. Roald Dahl could probably come up with something more creative. Building a small giant is a noble undertaking because they:
The industrialized systems in which a lot of us knowledge workers toil unknowingly punishes high performers. Consider a typical engineering firm, as an example. Engineers are paid by the hour to work on projects. And those same hours are charged to the client. Since it's unlikely that an engineer is 100% chargeable all the time, the rate billed to the client includes overhead. Nothing profound here.
Let's consider two engineers, Anna and Betty, who are alike in every way except Anna is slightly more productive. And she's able to complete her work a little faster and a little better. Since they're both charged out and paid the same rates, Anna is not recognized for her incremental contributions. In fact, the company is rewarded for not paying Anna an uptick for her productivity. The company keeps the incremental productivity difference as profit.
So what does Anna do? She'll probably recognize that the system isn't fair and will do one of two things. (1) keep working hard in hopes that she will get a promotion some day over Betty, or (2) work to the mean by finishing her work early and keep the incremental time to herself as buffer.
That's a shame, both for Anna and for us. Anna could leverage her strengths for herself, and keep her incremental productivity as profit for herself. But more importantly, we (as a society) miss out on Anna's increased productivity.
This is an expansion of this topic that's covered in Seth Godin's "Linchpin".
Are we a cliché? Are we part of a tribe? For example, the other day we were discussing whether we would spend $1000 on a fountain pen if we won the lottery. Most wouldn't, but a couple said they most definitely would. Because the $1000 fountain pen was part of their identity as a subculture. That and Moleskines, of course.
We decided that we can be both. We can be a cliche to outsiders, and part of a tribe to the insiders.
We've noticed an underlying assumption about big companies. The syllogism goes something like this: In order to get big, a company must be good at what it does. It must be efficient, well-run, and employ smart people who work well together.
We all know that's not true, most of the time.
Big companies are synonymous with bureaucracy. Perhaps they are just on the downward death spiral and don't know it yet.