The fall of the firm

Fred Wilson just posted a response to one of Umair Haque’s microessays (aka blog posts) about the declining power — the crumbling, even — of the firm.

As Umair cogently notes:

Competitive advantage is fundamentally about making markets work less efficiently. One catastrophically effective way to do that is to hide and obscure information – to gain bargaining power relative to the guy on the other side of the table. . . .

Where orthodox strategy advises hiding information and making things less liquid, what does edge strategy advise? Exactly the opposite: release information bottlenecks and make things more liquid.

Go read their posts first. This was my response:


Of course, corporations won’t end. But I believe they are being supplemented by a few models that are not about command-and-control at the center, as all old corporations were. They’re the obvious ones you know:

* Platforms. Take Google, of course. It is the anti-Yahoo, built on the distributed model of enabling countless companies to start atop what it provides. Yahoo, I’ve said, shouldn’t just break up into smaller pieces; it should make its entire self exportable and reusable. Ditto AOL. Ditto, for that matter, Microsoft. Amazon and Google are offering up their infrastructures as the bases for others’ companies and that’s smart. Pardon the plug for my book, but they should all be asking WWGD?

* Networks. A little less-loose than platforms; they come together to benefit from critical mass but do not join into a corporation; there is still ownership and control at the edges. I believe that Right Media is part of a larger trend toward open ad networks, for example; see OpenX and Google AdManager. Again: WWGD?

* Metaorganizations. That’s made-up but I want to encompass more than just open-source. This is the loosest affiliation: gathering around standards or standard-making efforts to gain some benefits of critical mass with all control and ownership at the edge.

As Google proves, though, this isn’t an either-or. A corporation can, as the examples above have shown, still be a corporation but scale much larger by creating a network, loose or tight, and adding as much value as possible while extracting as little value as possible while growing as big as possible. This is what I learned at your event from the likes of Yochai Benkler, Tom Evslin, Tim O’Reilly, Umair, and you. From the top view, size still has benefits so it still matters but there are now alternatives to size that also demands ownership and control. From the bottom-up view, enterprises at the edge will join whatever gives them the benefits of size — whether that’s building on a Google platform, or adhering to a Web standard, or selling on eBay, or using Amazon infrastructure, or joining an OpenX or other ad network. To quote Mark Potts from my conference on networked journalism at CUNY: To be small, you have to be part of something big.

The thing is, nobody can own big anymore. And that is what will keep big — the corporations and organizations of the future — more honest, I hope (but then, I’m an optimist). That control is what allowed them to corrupt.

How do you make money on this? I think you already are, by supporting companies that create platforms or take advantage of others’ platforms or standards. Are there more ways? Well, that’s an interesting conversation. Time for lunch. I do think that one could look at any of the industries Umair links to and complains about above and try to figure out what platforms would be needed to utterly disrupt them. Pardon the last plug, but that’s part of what I’m trying to do in the book. So I’ll buy lunch.