Partnership Models of Entreprise
"* Agents do things for you, in return for money. Examples: investment brokers, real estate brokers, insurance brokers, travel agents, talent agents, lawyers, advertising agents, politicians, general contractors, the mainstream media (once called 'news agents').
- Intermediaries are go-betweens, who pass stuff along to you that it is hard for you to get yourself, and sometimes add some value along the way. Examples: researchers, analysts, retailers, bankers, offshorers, and the music, film and TV production oligopolies (which don't actually produce anything, just brand and market).
- Collaborators do things with you, for mutual benefit. Examples: work teams, peer production, facilitators, coaches, Natural Enterprises, cooperatives, Natural (Intentional) Communities."
"There seems to be a growing consensus that:
- Agents are largely a waste of money. As long as they go on doing things for you, you never learn how to do them yourself. And since the money they earn is usually a percentage of the total cost of what they broker, they are, as James Surowiecki points out, in an inherent conflict of interest. They are motivated to broker more, and more expensive transactions for you, whether or not that is in your best interest. So what is emerging are services that eliminate the need for agents entirely, and allow you to deal directly with the supplier (or, in the case of lawyers, with your adversary, through alternative conflict resolution). Suppliers tend to balk at this, because it means they have to deal with a much larger number of customers directly, but with 'self-serve' software it is manageable.
- Intermediaries need to add value if they are to serve any useful purpose. There has been a recent trend to disintermediation, getting rid of the middle-man, in those cases where the middle-man just holds the stuff for awhile and charges you for the cost of holding it (which is of no value to you), displaying it, and 'serving' you. But there has also been a counter-trend called reintermediation, in those cases where the middle-man (or woman) really does add something of value. Many librarians, for example, no longer maintain collections of materials and do searches for their employers; now they do research, produce reports and analyses, and represent their employers as subject matter specialists. But this is tough to do if you don't really know what your (internal or external) customer does, and most intermediaries are, alas, specialists in intermediation, not in their employer's or customer's business.
- Collaborators, if they're good, are pure gold. But that's a big 'if'. Most of us are not very good, or practiced, at collaboration. With practice, and with good facilitators and coaches (also hard to find) we can get much better. And ultimately as we move to peer production, we will be working with our customers and suppliers so closely that we can no longer differentiate them. We will be able to operate collaborative enterprises with no middle-men whatsoever. These enterprises will be true partnerships, with no overpaid 'executives'."