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The Business Singularity
Tuesday, December 14, 2004
In the latest issue of CLO...

The Business Singularlity by Jay Cross

The structure of business, the role of workers and the architecture of software are changing before our very eyes. Business is morphing into flexible, self-organizing components that operate in real time. Software is becoming interoperable, open, ubiquitous and transparent. Workers are learning in small chunks delivered to individualized screens at the time of need. Learning is becoming a core business process measured by key performance indicators. Taken together, these changes create a new kind of business environment—a business singularity.

Businesses are evolving into networks. What happens inside the walls is not nearly as important as the flow of value from raw material to customer. Networks shared among suppliers, partners and customers integrate the business into a commercial ecosystem—a larger network.

Software is evolving into networks. The Internet is the new model for organization. Open networks that can talk with one another are far more valuable than yesterday’s proprietary fortresses. As on the ’Net, enterprise software evolves, routes around damage and reaches out to form new connections.

People are networks enmeshed in networks with one another. Our bodies and minds are networks with built-in firewalls and filters. Outboard memory in the form of PDAs and personal data stores supplement human wetware. The biggest factor in individual success is the quality of our social networks.

In any thriving network, tentacles reach out to snare new members. Growth begets growth until a tipping point is reached. Then, expansion becomes explosive. The rewards of membership become so high that everyone must join.

We are about to witness a spectacular convergence of networks of people and businesses. Workers and their work are becoming synchronous and inseparable. Colleagues and customers collaborate seamlessly. Transparent software eliminates the business-IT divide. Organizations focus on what they do best, outsourcing everything else to the greater commercial ecosystem. Network efficiencies eradicate the largest drag on corporate performance: slack. The pace of business trends toward instantaneity.

The way people improve their performance in this business singularity is called “workflow learning.” It is what corporate learning can become in three to five years. It takes place in a virtual workplace where workers interact, learn and control the process of creating value in real time. The virtual workplace results from the internetworking of changes in business, software and learning. (See Figure 1.)

Networks are defined by the quality of their connections. The successful business has high bandwidth and connections so good that value flows without friction. The successful software environment connects so well that no one notices it’s there. The successful worker is so synchronized with the challenges of work that he enters a psychological state of flow.

Happily for us, when connections are working properly, we don’t need to see them. Take, for example, the Internet cloud. As far as the user is concerned, she has a direct connection to the site on her screen. In reality, the image she sees is probably the result of information being bounced through a variety of pipes both near and far. Workflow learning is an aspect of a work cloud. As far as the worker is concerned, he is looking at the flow of work, making mid-course corrections, taking care of exceptions, communicating with colleagues and learning how to improve performance. He doesn’t take courses so much as drink from a stream of learning experiences flowing by.

The future of corporate learning is all business.


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