North America

Chaos In The Clouds

By Dr ArLyne Diamond

The ebb and flow of the business environment is interesting. Before the Industrial Revolution, most businesses were very small – “mom-and-pop shops” in today’s vernacular.

People worked closely together and father commonly turned the business over to his son – rarely to his daughter.

The revolution brought more people together in the service of mass-producing goods. The garment and automobile industries as well as many other business segments employed a few hundred people at a time.

Many thought government too big, too unwieldy, and too overloaded with bureaucrats. People in one department didn’t seem to know what people in other departments were doing. And there was too much waste and redundancy.

When the semiconductor industry was born, private enterprise grew bigger than government “big business”, employing thousands of people all over the world and becoming hugely bureaucratic.

Additionally, entrepreneurs often needed investment funding to start a business. The power of venture capitalists and the push for companies to become public increased. Corporations routinely worried about stockholders rather than profitability.

Greed In Silicon Valley

The United States, particularly Silicon Valley, went through an ugly period when venture capitalists included gamblers who had earned their money from stock acquired in successful companies. These gambling VCs delivered a message that said, in part: “Give us a sexy business plan that will excite investors and we’ll fund you.” 

The plan’s feasibility and product quality no longer mattered. When this house of cards came tumbling down, investors became more cautious and demanding.

At the same time, thanks to ever-advancing technology, creating a software or Internet company required less investment capital. Indeed, with the emergence of computers and telecommuting, people could start and grow companies without housing them in “brick and mortar”.

Flexibility A Must

Larger organisations realised they had to become more flexible to compete with new businesses sprouting
almost daily. Change, flexibility, and new products and ideas became primary values. 

Next, the mantra became “chaos theory”.

This hypothesis originally held that small changes in complex natural systems can cause unexpected results. As the phrase entered the common lexicon, however, it came to mean anything goes. Change for change’s sake is good. Bring on the latest gadget or process.

Eventually companies discovered they didn’t need their own servers to store information, which could now be stocked “in the clouds”– huge server farms maintained offsite.

This further reduced the need for brick-and-mortar facilities by enabling small, flexible teams or businesses (like mom-and-pop shops) to operate anywhere in the world. Still more employees could work from home, at least most of the time.

When a visit to headquarters was called for, companies offered home-based employees “hoteling,” or temporary use of small spaces.    

Today, companies can grow quickly and yet remain flexible. They can create a team for a specific project and disband it when the endeavour has been completed. Only a core group of employees is necessary for continuity. 

The Future

What does all this bode for the future? Clearly we must keep learning to remain competitive. We need to overcome our prejudice against people from other cultures, and learn how to work and live with them in harmony. We must take responsibility for our own professional development, because the company of tomorrow most likely won’t.

Our heads cannot be in the clouds, even though our information is. Our professional goals, as well as our plans to reach them, cannot be chaotic, even though companies may value the concept of chaos (as they understand it).  What, I wonder, will happen when we become disenchanted with chaos in the clouds? 

ArLyne Diamond Ph.D. is an Organisational Development and Human Resource Consultant with over 30 years experience. The above is an excerpt from her recent book “Leading and Managing a Global Workforce”. She can be reached at