Contingency Theory: Environmental Trends – Faster Change and Greater Heterogeneity

The vast majority of serious commentators on the subject are agreed that the rate of scientific advance is increasing. While a few voices question this, there is no doubt about the growth rate of the numbers of people doing scientific work and about the proliferation of areas in which man is exploring the unknown. The phrase “pushing back the frontiers of knowledge” has become stale by repetition, but it is still accurate. Man does invade the unknown. Figure IX-8 helps to capture this idea as it occurs.

As we suggested in Chapter I, in considering the organization of the future we will be assuming an accelerating advance of scientific knowledge. We will also be assuming that the forms of human work will be increasingly diverse. For example, the only organizations that Udy could find to study in his nonindustrial societies were engaged in a few basic pursuits—fishing, hunting, land tillage, construction, etc.10 Today we consider people “gainfully employed” in a vast ar-ray of different activities. Man is constantly dreaming up new activities that become generally defined as “work” as soon as others are willing to reward him for performing them. One of the fundamental reasons for the increasing diversity of work is, of course, that man has invented machines that can produce most of his survival commodities, and has thereby freed himself to invent new forms of “work.” This becomes clearer if we think of the sources of all productivity as broken into four sectors: (1) all- machine work; (2) man-machine work (in which man uses himself as a guide and feeder to a machine); (3) man-tool work (in which man guides and powers a simple tool); and (4) all- human work. Thinking in these terms, we can ask how important each sector has been as a source of gross productivity as man moved from a nonindustrial into an industrial society. We know of no way to measure these matters precisely, but Figure IX-9 is a schematic attempt to represent the probable gross trends.

In this diagram we have also indicated by dotted lines the process by which new conceptualizations of the unknown are carried through the multiple stages of uncertainty-reduction to the point where machines can be completely programmed to do the work. By the spacing and slope of these lines we have indicated that today this process is happening more fre-quently and with a shorter time cycle, and that this trend will continue into the future.

A chart of this kind does not, of course, prove anything. It can, however, help us to question some frequently made assumptions about the impact of the modern industrialization process. With all the current discussion of the growth of automation (the all- machine sector), it reminds us that the “all-human sector” is also growing, not only absolutely but relative to the man-tool and the man-machine sectors. It reminds us also of the great and increasing diversity of “allhuman” work. One major category of all-human work is the transformation of ideas into all-machine work. This corresponds roughly to the work of R.&D departments in business organizations. Another is the management of all- machine work. The growth of work of this administrative type is seldom noted by the public. A third rapid growth category, in the “all-human” sector, involves the helping of other humans. This includes, among many other things, the work of identi-tying, developing, and gratifying newly emerging human needs— the work of marketing and sales departments. Above all, the chart can help us to see the validity of the assumption that the discrete tasks in which man will be engaged in the future will increase not only in number but in heterogeneity. As the comparison of the three industries in this study suggested, the industrial environment of the future will be both less certain and more diverse. What will be the character of the viable organization in such an environment?

Source: Lawrence Paul R., Lorsch Jay W. (1967), Organization and Environment: Managing Differentiation and Integration, Harvard Business School.

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