The information society

Lecture 7
Ewan Sutherland

Offices and organisations


The inequality of work

Uneven distribution of work: Differences in attitudes:

There is no greater modern illusion, even fraud, than the use of the single term work to cover what for some is ... dreary, painful or socially demeaning and what for others is enjoyable, socially reputable and economically rewarding. Those who spend pleasant, well-compensated days say with emphasis that they have been “hard at work,” thereby suppressing the notion that they are a favored class.

J K Galbraith (1992) p 33.

Work in the USA

... the poor in our economy are needed to do the work that the more fortunate do not do and would find manifestly distasteful, even distressing. And a continuing supply and resupply of such workers is always needed. That is because later generations do not wish to follow their parents ...

Galbraith (1992), p 33.


There are individuals and families that, it is conceded, do not share the comfortable well-being of the prototypical American. These people, this class, are concentrated ... in the centers of the great cities or, less visibly, on deprived farms, as rural migrant labor or in erstwhile mining communities. Or they are the more diffused poor of the Old South and of the region of the Rio Grande in Texas. The greater part of the underclass consists of members of minority groups, blacks or people of Hispanic origin.

Galbraith (1992) pp. 30-31.

Reich’s categories

Symbolic analysts

... include all the problem-solving, problem-identifying, and strategic brokering activities ... can be traded worldwide and thus compete with foreign providers even in the American market.

Reich (1991), p. 177.

Intellectual capital

Knowledge that exists in an organisation that can be used to create differential advantage.

K Hugh Macdonald (formerly with ICL)

The visible hand

Consequently the need for:

The office

The rise of the secretary

New technologies

New roles for women.

Time spent by clerical staff.

Office information systems

Cost justification

Office productivity


Comparisons of productivity gains

US Federal government

Effects on the number of office jobs

Successful use of OIS

Middle managers

The middle manager of the core American corporation at mid-century was not, by most standards, a rugged individualist. Indeed, his tendency toward conformity was the subject of considerable comment at the time ... But conformity and tractability were perfectly consistent with the standardized, high-volume system of production he oversaw. The system neither required nor rewarded much in the way of original thought.

Reich (1991) p. 54.

The decline of the middle manager

Reforming the PTTs

Productivity of the PTTs

Massive structural change in PTTs:

Organisational dysfunctions

The symptoms of the traditional organization’s inability to adapt are numerous. There are complaints from staff, workers and customers that decision making is very slow. Communications processes up and down the hierarchy are seen to be inefficient, with downward messages being distorted and upward messages failing to get through. Non-communication between departments, functions or specialisms is even more endemic, with the result that complicated problems needing multifunction input are difficult to deal with.

Colin Hastings (1993) p 3.

Non-hierarchical structures

Flattening the hierarchy is not enough!

Need for network organisations


Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC)

Empowering people


Organisational culture

A pattern of basic assumptions - invented, discovered by a given group as it learns to cope with its problems of external adaptation and internal integration - that has worked well enough to be considered valid and, therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think, and feel in relation to those problems.

Ed Schein

H M Treasury


Competition from:

Artificial intelligence

Artificial intelligence is the science of making machines do things that would require intelligence if done by men.

Prof. Marvin Minsky


Elimination of well-established categories of work:

Increasing capabilities of the technology:


Galbraith, J K (1992) “The Culture of Contentment” Penguin, Harmondsworth.

Reich, R B (1990) “The Work of Nations” Knopf, New York.

Schein, Ed (1989) “Organizational Culture and Leadership; a dynamic view” Josey-Bass, California.

Copyright © Ewan Sutherland, 1995.

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