The debate between centralizing vs. decentralizing business organizations seems to be cyclical: companies that go too far one way shift the other way, and vice versa. I have read at least a hundred cases describing companies at one part of the cycle, and their rationale for a shift to the other part of the cycle. All of the arguments seem plausible and fact-based, and in many cases, the recommended shifts yielded some or all of the benefits that were desired. So is it better to centralize or decentralize? As I was thinking about this question, I noted that the debate is no different from the “PC vs. mainframe” class of problems, which is reflected in the modern challenge: do we build software that compiles and runs on the PC, or should we build software that runs on the network?
To try to gain some insight into this question, I thought biorhythms might be a good model – and to cover both the business model and computing model, I also had to reflect on the definition of technology.
What is Technology? One dictionary definition of technology is “the sum of the ways in which social groups provide themselves with the material objects of their civilization.” I like this definition because it indicates that it is a combination of people and tools that yields true technological progress.
What are Biorhythms? Biorhythms are the natural fluctuations of body, mind and consciousness that were initially observed by scientists W. Fliess and H. Swoboda in Europe at the turn of the 20th century. Although still regarded as simply a theory, several identifiable cycles have been postulated:
- Physical (23 days)
- Emotional (28 days)
- Intellectual (33 days)
- Compassion (38 days)
- Aesthetic (43 days)
- Self-Awareness (48 days)
- Spiritual (53 days)
What if there is also a technological biorhythm – a cyclical pattern by which we, as individuals and members of social groups, respond to the architecture of the organizations and computing systems surrounding us? What is the period of this biorhythm? How does it affect how we respond to change, at a personal level and as our organizations evolve? How does it influence our collective perception of which is better – centralizing or decentralizing?