There’s a fantastic special running on PBS’s NOVA series that details the incredible feats of architectural innovation behind some of Europe’s greatest cathedrals. This special focuses specifically on the stone mason’s challenge in building incredibly tall (reaching to the heavens), strong (everlasting), and graceful (wide internal space) monuments to their beliefs.
The problem these masters faced was that they were stuck using the exact same skills, tools, and materials that builders had used for years to build big, bulky, and tightly packed castles.
At the time these cathedral architects were in direct competition with each other to cement their legacy (pun intended). Each wanted to be known as the artist behind the most elaborate and beautiful of these buildings. Yet it wasn’t simply about who had the best design or who could work the hardest. What these early builders were trying to do had never been done before. They had to find innovative solutions to problems that one had ever tried to tackle with stone. They had the near impossible task of building enormous, beautiful, and safe “bubbles” out of rocks.
It’s the mixture of attempting something completely new, along with the direct competition between these master stone masons, that led to some of the most beautiful and long-lasting buildings the world has ever seen.
If you’re interested learning more about this topic, for now PBS has the series hosted on their site. I’d also recommend checking out “Pillars of the Earth” by Ken Follett, an excellent book which takes a dramatic first-hand look at this story from the perspective of a medieval builder.
What does this have to do with Work?
Keeping the stone mason’s challenge in mind, let’s take a look at the two basic types of medieval stone masons one could contract for a build in the 12th century:
Stone Mason John is your typical builder. He has built standard buildings out of stone and wood. The biggest building he built previously was a castle. The castle he built was bulky and thick but is structurally sound and will last a long time. If you’re looking to get something built quickly and efficiently, you want John.
Stone Mason Tom is not your typical builder. In fact, he’s hard to find. Tom has a special passion for his craft, making him an early discoverer of the flying buttress technique. This allows him to build incredibly tall and graceful buildings that are still structurally sound. If you’re looking for a building that will delight inhabitants for millennia to come, Tom is your contact.
This analogy makes it quite simple. The two types of work are clear. At any given time a worker employed by an organization is either (1) working like John and looking to get a task completed, or (2) working like Tom to innovate and disrupt a previous process in order to create something the world has never seen.
Today, it’s organizations like Amazon, Wikipedia, Netflix, and Uber that are prime examples of how innovative technology is disruptive. These are proven examples of how innovative work is destroying old models that perhaps relied too much on “the way work has always been done”.
How does the average organization look past legacy processes and source the disruptive power of work? How do you source “John” for the right types of work, and more importantly, how do you source “Tom” in a way that minimizes risk?
As enterprises prepare their internal and external technical teams for Workplace 2020 it becomes important to understand what new sourcing models are available and how they compare and contrast to existing processes. Today, organizations of all sizes have a unique opportunity to assemble teams of internal experts, offshore groups, contractors, and crowdsourcing communities in the best arrangement for getting the right type of work done.
Success then becomes a word each organization needs to define for themselves. Some organizations might find success in continuing to build tried and true castles. Many organizations will have to learn to build cathedrals to even survive, let alone succeed.
The sourcing world has evolved dramatically with the growth and maturity of the most recent work model: crowdsourcing. This new paradigm has the potential to completely change how we think about getting innovative technical work done.