This post provides an overview of the “Meta City” phenomenon – a fascinating evolution of society and geography. It then provides examples of three large organizations and how they are moving in new directions strategically and operationally, in line with Meta Cities. Finally, the post discusses several impacts to consider in the practices of strategy and project management.
Evolution: The Meta City Phenomenon
We can look at human history and see a fascinating evolution of cities and geographic location. There was the silk road, the interface between Europe and Asia, the discovery of America – and all of the migration, connections, and interrelationships that have evolved. Enabled by technology, and accelerated by the pandemic, our world continues to evolve with “The Rise of the Meta City“, as depicted and described in this fascinating Harvard Business Review article.
Cities evolved near raw materials, modes of transportation (ie. oceans, lakes, rivers, and later railroads and roads). While those forces still exist, they have diminished in emphasis to other forces on connectivity, such as industry hubs, such as we see, for example, in the financial (New York and London) and technology (San Francisco) industries.
Reflecting on how this evolution occurred int he past and how it continues to evolve is, in essence, a study in getting work done. How can we get food to people? How can we build better homes? How can we transfer goods better from place to place? How can we provide better clothing for people? How can we communicate better? How can we put the best talent to work on solving problems?
In our present age, we are breaking new ground trying to make things better. It’s an imperfect quest, with mixed results as change is made and hard progress is earned – for people both individually and collectively. Indeed, the “The Rise of the Meta City” article says,
“An August 2023 BCG survey shows that just 7% of companies have mandated full-time return to work, while only 8% have given up their offices altogether. Most companies fall in the broad middle, testing a range of hybrid work strategies such as allowing employees to mix time at home and in the office, or mandating that employees come in several days a week.”
There is a lot of customization needed for each organization to reach its own optimal solution. To do that, it takes understanding the big picture.
And that big picture includes a new understanding of geography, and the relationships among cities. For example, there is a “city hierarchy”, where, for example, New York and London are the ultimate megacity hubs, with linkages out to other major cities such as Miami, San Francisco, and Los Angeles in the US, and cities such as Paris, Munich, Vienna, and Berlin in Europe.
A similar evolution is occurring with cities in the Middle East and India, interconnected within their regions and to the rest of the world. An there is a whole additional “world” out there when we consider China, Japan, Australia and other Asian countries.
Let’s take a high level look at how this evolution is shaping how organizations are coping with this phenomenon.
The Evolving Organizational Ecosystem
The Meta City phenomenon is influencing much mor than just recruiting. It is influencing manufacturing, distribution, financing, marketing and sales. I picked out three companies – large companies but pretty much random – for a very brief review of how they are evolving – in large part influenced by the Meta City phenomenon.
- Honeywell – This company was previously headquartered in New Jersey, where it still has a significant presence. This mimics the push outward from New York City. It’s new headquarters, Charlotte, NC, is one of those growing satellite cities mentioned in the HBR article. The pull to New York is probably less than for many other organizations. Rather, there seems to be a pull to the “middle” – to places like Kansas City, Texas, and other across the US for its manufacturing and distribution businesses, which are at its core.
- Goldman Sachs – Now here is a very New York City-centric company! In line with the message of the HBR article, it is greatly expanding its presence in India, with data processing nd related IT – and surely AI – capabilities in Bengaluru. And there is also the growing connection with Miami, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. The company will surely continue to grow its footprint in line with the evolution of of the Meta City. But I doubt there will be an exit from New York, and time will tell how New York evolves in importance.
- Accenture – With roots in Arthur Andersen and Andersen Consulting, the company has had an international presence for a long time. However, today a very sizable portion of employees are located in India. These provide services efficiently and effectively for the rest of the compony, which is spread across the globe. In addition, with headquarters in Dublin, Ireland, Accenture is nimble enough to locate corporate business functions in the most advantageous locations worldwide. It is also in a service business which is able to take maximum advantage of technology and work place trends and is able to recruit top talent, largely regardless of location.
There very brief and high level sketches show the effect of the Meta City phenomenon on corporate strategy.
Implications of Meta Cities for Strategy
The underpinnings of the ideas of the Meta Cities have been around a long time. The idea of Meta Cities is just an evolutionary step. Here are some older frameworks that go a long way in explaining how Meta Cities are influencing strategy:
- Michael Porter’s Diamond Model – This framework looks at organizational structure and evolution on an international scale. And organizations refer to nations, which are comprised of companies, governments, and other entities. The four key forces are 1. Firm Strategy, Structure, & Rivalry, 2. Demand Conditions, 3. Related & Supporting Industries, and 4. Factor Conditions.
- A Strategic Agile Competency – Rita Mulcahy, in “The End to Competitive Advantage“, talks about the shortening of the timeframe for a competitive advantage, She calls it “transient advantage”, where organizations run through five (5) phases: launch, ramp-up, exploit, reconfigure, and disengage. Meta Cities enable transient advantage – and represent a risk for further outlying cities. They enable an agile approach of trying something and balancing permanence with agility.
- The Network Effect – The competitive advantage of cities and related locations within the Meta City framework is very closely related to the Network Effect. In fact, diagrams of networks of cities visually resembles the look of networks of companies, individuals, and other entities that provide competitive advantage. Many cities will remain big and even get bigger simply because they are already big! But bigness is not just population, but involvement with networks of companies, people, governments, and other parties that create of network effect.
These types of broad implications of Meta Cities are important considerations in the formulation and transitioning of strategy.
Implications of Meta Cities for Project Management
There are many implications for project managers. I will outline some thoughts on three:
- Infrastructure projects – Whether it is building factories, office towers, or telecom networks, choosing locations and prioritizing them is influenced a lot by the idea of Meta Cities. It is important to consider the context of project decisions within this long term mega trend. Just as project management is an organizational capability, infrastructure projects provide new capabilities and need to be considered as part of portfolio strategy.
- Widespread teams – Teams are less and less co-located. Meta Cities are evolving to provide the opportunity for people to work remotely as part of hybrid arrangements. They are also supporting the phenomenon of almost exclusively remote teams, as in many situations it becomes nearly impossible to require teams to co-locate for long. However, there is a benefit to some sort of physical proximity, even if it is to networks of people, closeness to academic institutions, or multiple centers to accommodate dispersed groups of people.
- Cost control – Meta Cities also provide a cost advantage. Since they are roughly organized around getting work of all types done. they have a way of ‘self optimizing’. Whether it is commutes, office space, technology infrastructure, or other considerations, Meta Cities provide a natural evolution that is driven in part by streamlining costs. This will have an effect on project costs as well as prioritizing projects.
These are just a few areas of project management that are impacted by the growth and evolution of Meta Cities.
This post provided an overview of the “Meta City” phenomenon in the world today. It then provided three examples of large organizations, and how they are moving in new directions in line with Meta Cities. Finally, the post discusses several impacts that this trend has on strategy and projects management.
How do you see the phenomenon of Meta Cites impacting your life or organization?