The manager is dead, long live the egopreneur!

Many people are announcing the end of management. For some, management can no longer be viewed as the formalisation of delegated decision making, the foundation of the bureaucratic model. For others, such as advocates of liberated organisations or holacracy, the increased complexity of companies implies that managers will disappear to give free rein to local initiatives. With the digitalisation of companies, contexts are gaining the upper hand over managers. Actors have internalised the purpose of management to arrive at a new self-interest, transforming themselves into egopreneurs. We need to rethink our understanding of the management concept…

The end of the productivity/hierarchy model

The notion of management originated in the productivist era of the 19th and 20th centuries. A succession of innovations profoundly altered production models and brought about sociological changes. Electricity, trains, cars, steel and the integration of intensive production technologies into the food and textile industries all led to a shift in production models. In Europe, these changes were combined with the effects of the world wars, which accelerated the catch-up effect in these economies: after the destruction, countries needed to rebuild quickly and they imported the organisational models developed in the United States during these conflicts. We should not forget that the dominance of essentially productivist management models is ultimately only a legacy of this catch-up effect. In short, hierarchical and control management is merely an extension of the destruction/reconstruction phenomenon.

Make way for the algorithmic/distributed cognition model

Things have changed with arrival of digitalisation. As a result, control, like all predictable decisions, is or will be entrusted to algorithmic practices. Control/decision-making management is moving from the level of personal skills to an environment composed of algorithms. In this context, actors must focus on activities that require self-awareness in order to perform activities that go beyond the algorithms’ grasp: creativity, imagination, consideration, passion, pleasure, play, emotions etc. Unlike performing a task, activity means combining distinctive resources that go beyond managerial practices, escaping all forms of external control. The notion of activity encourages the power and awareness of the act and an awareness of the purpose of this act. Time is no longer that of execution on the one hand and expertise on the other, but is instead that of an attentive, passionate or imaginary commitment to perform an activity that ultimately could not be accomplished by algorithmic machines. It is this commitment to activities that is at the heart of start-ups, fab labs and third places: imagining a future state, thinking about functionality, building an idea. In places where the managerial function and the organisation used to imply bringing actions into line with a pre-established model, we are witnessing the rise of contexts where formal organisation is reduced to allow collective activity to emerge: collective intelligence, co-construction, mutual support, collaboration/design etc. The company becomes more of a human/machine intellection device than a production device. Management acts as a “theatre director”, coordinating the material contexts and the cognitive relationships that combine individuals (employees and consumers) and technical objects: the very basis of the notion of “distributed cognition”. Cognitive activities are distributed in a human/machine environment.

Individuation versus individualisation

Organisations are becoming relational contexts, open environments where actors come to perform activities with the aim of amplifying the irreplaceable nature of their characteristics: it is a question of giving oneself the means to “individuate” when faced with the risk of algorithmic substitution. We need to distinguish between the notions of “individuation” and “individualisation”. Individuation, an idea developed by Durkheim, Jung and Simondon, is the possibility of distinguishing oneself from other individuals without becoming isolated from the collective. These changes in management lead actors to become autonomous in their dealings with companies and cause the subordination contract and hierarchy to be rejected. They also weaken the sense of belonging to a company in favour of other individuating criteria such as empowerment. If this is indeed the end of management, it is above all the end of subordination management and the beginning of the management of a multitude of self-entrepreneurs, or rather egopreneurs, who seek to invest, develop and maintain their own abilities in order to manage their competitiveness in conjunction with algorithmic contexts. The company will increasingly become a mere crossing point, offering a specific empowerment framework to develop the individuation of each person.

Jean-Louis Magakian, emlyon business school

I have been working as a strategic consultant for ten years before switching to an academic career. My research aims at exploring cognition in the workplace, strategy and collective intelligence. I also work on cognitive sciences in organizations and Activity Theory as well as on language in ideation making. I teach business history, strategic thinking and strategic change to both Master in science and executive participants.

More information on Jean-Louis Magakian:
• His CV online
• His Academia Page


Further readings…

  • Magakian J.L. (2017). Will we all soon be “egopreneurs”? Knowledge@emlyon, Nov 8th, 2017.
    Read article online

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Sep 19th, 2018|

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