Knowledge, Trust, Credibility and a Focus on Results — Are They Factors That Disrupt or Help Society Evolve ?

I was recently asked to provide some thoughts to a yet-to-be published book about designing purposeful flows of information and interaction. Specifically, I was asked to provide thoughts and opinions about what kinds of impact may result from the increasing presence and volume of flows of information amongst interconnected people.  

Based upon our individual and collective experiences of interconnectivity over the past 15 years or so, the increased frequency, intensity and volume of flows of information may mean some kind of permanent transition from traditional hierarchical decision-making towards various emergent forms of more horizontal, more rapid and more transient exchanges of information between people and the resultant negotiations about decision-making, responsibility, accountability and ownership of the results.

The question of whether or not we are able to ‘design’ flows of information is pertinent today because the reality of living and working in a  networked world is catching up with us.  This new reality is catching up with us because being interconnected with each other brings with it a dependence on flows of useful information.  The dependence on flows and our associated interdependence as humans are having a growing and deep impact upon the way(s) we do things.  

We now live in and are surrounded by flows of information, and we need to be able to understand ..

  1. why these flows are happening,
  2. what they mean and (can) do to us and
  3. how to be effective in and with flows, both individually, in small groups-of-purpose and (eventually) when the flows affect the ways in which our society operates.

We know hierarchy – it’s embedded in our lives and psychology

For many generations now we have lived and worked in social arrangements that are hierarchical.  It is often said that « Knowledge is power », and our acceptance of traditional social hierarchy is directly related to that maxim.  In virtually all areas of human endeavour, possession of and access to knowledge is a critical compnent of social hierarchy.  

Social hierarchy has grown through the ages out of the power structures of clans and tribes, which are typically directly related to the wisdom, sagacity and potency of a clan chief or tribal leader. From these beginnings it has grown through the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution and the Post-Industrial Information / Knowledge Era. Today it is codified into the structures and operating arrangements of most aspects of modern society

As past eras have waxed and waned, the distribution and use of ‘knowledge as power’ has come to be at the centre of the notion of social hierarchy (and through evolutionary extrapolation to the modern era, organizational hierarchy).  Earlier in human history, power and status as the head of a clan or tribe probably evolved as a result of both someone’s might and sagacity.  Eventually the chiefs of clans and tribes and families became monarchs, and the creation of the notion of the “divine right of kings” became formalized in societies. It came to be accepted as a direct link to the ultimate power and status of the Divine. And it was the monarchs and their delegated ‘mandarins’ in the form of the leaders of religious orders (who also had a special relationship with God) who directed monks and other scribes in writing out the texts that created recorded knowledge.  

A seminal event occurred with the arrival of the Gutenberg printing press. It is now recognized as the moment when the stable or slow-moving force of ‘knowledge is power’ acquired a new and additional dimension.  Its invention enabled the much easier, more rapid and less expensive creation and production of books and pamphlets, which in turn resulted in a much more widespread access to information and opinion and knowledge.  However, its impact on society was much resisted for many years by the existing power structures ( the monarchies and the dominant churches ).  The spread of knowledge in books and eventually pamphlets and other printed forms occurred relatively slowly over several hundred years.

More recently, and for a range of reasons we understand well, our modern era hierarchy has codified and embedded hierarchy as the primary organizing principle for the protocols and methods that have have appeared in the institutions and dynamics of developed society.  The dominance of hierarchy is primarily due to the wholesale adoption of Taylorism (it being a model positing efficiency as a primary objective of organized activities). Management ‘science’, modern hierarchical management, the division of labour and specialization of tasks, and other social science and engineering principles applied to the tasks and process of management are all derivatives of the core principles of Taylorism. Taylorism met its soul mate in organizational hierarchy when the two core assumptions of 1) the division of labour into sets of tasks fitted together to deliver predetermined (read “designed”) results, were codified into methodologies for work and organizational design that create, reinforce and sustain the pyramidal hierarchy that today we know so well.

Interconnectivity – hierarchy begins a major evolution towards wirearchy

Approximately 40 years ago the Internet was created.  A little more than 20 years ago the Web came into being, thanks to the invention of the first browsers, which were based on the main operational aspects of the graphical user interface (GUI).  Subsequently, and with accelerating intensity, we’ve encountered and begun to use in massive ways hyperlinks, easy self-publishing tools and platforms upon which people connect, engage with each other and share.  

Connected people share everything and anything, including much that is uninteresting, venal, narcissistic, uninformed and otherwise not useful.  But also people spend much of their time exchanging interesting and pertinent information with each other, on purpose.  These exchanges happen for many reasons .. including social play, grooming, or expressing feelings, beliefs or interpretations of events.  They do so in order to create responses, advance agendas, inform and educate others and themselves .. and so on. In turn, this sharing free-for-all creates hubs of interest and also new or pertinent knowledge that people can then use, whether in decisions to use or buy something, or on how to vote, etc.

Sharing generates continuous flow

The past decade has been the beginning of an historic transition in how people communicate, use information and create and use knowledge. People everywhere are connecting, interacting and generating new loci of power based on sharing information pertinent to their purposes and interests.

The now-ubiquitous hyperlinked social interaction creates an environment characterized by flows of information and a growing fluidity of activities.  The relative stability and homogeneity of the pre-Internet post-WW II society is rapidly becoming a subject for wistful nostalgia for many.  

Increasingly, people everywhere are interacting with each other, feeding and digesting flows of information.

Social interaction is primarily comprised of information, opinion, and beliefs. These exchanges can be seen as the basis upon which initial trust is built. However, given the evolution of our society through the ages as described earlier and the notion that ‘knowledge is power’, traditional hierarchy has come to be widely accepted as a prosthesis for trust. Leaders and senior people are assumed to have the best interests of those they lead or govern as a primary objective of the use of their authority and decision-making powers. Given the interconnected and interactive conditions that are growing in impact today, the unconscious placing of trust in the structures and operations of  traditional hierarchy needs to evolve in order to become or remain effective in an increasingly complex environment.

A new organizing principle is necessary

Wirearchy is an emergent organizing principle that describes the fundamental dynamics supporting the interactions of  networked people, technology and information.  The working definition, which has become increasingly relevant over the past decade, is ..

A dynamic two-way flow of power and authority based on knowledge, trust, credibility and a focus on results, enabled by interconnected people and technology.”

Why the four elements of Knowledge, Trust, Credibility and a Focus on Results ?

From research and heuristic observations as the impact of hyperlinks and connectedness have spread throughout our societies, it seems that these four elements are at the core of why and how people will organize to get things done in an era characterized by growing flows of interconnected information.

Knowledge, trust and credibility are each subjects about which many theories have been developed and books written.  Defining them clearly can be a long-winded and argumentative process.   However, it seems clear that they are fundamental by-products of human consciousness, sense-making and social interaction. They are critical … without them we would not have evolved to the kinds of lives we now inhabit, with impressively complex physical infrastructure and capabilities and equally impressive developments in human social arrangements.

However, if today we are saturated in surround-senses data and information flows, the opportunities are many, and always present, for misrepresentation, misunderstanding, misdirection and social control by means of carefully-crafted manipulation-by-information.  Thus, it is fundamentally critical that we understand the role and force of each of these factors as touchstones for informing and organizing human initiatives and activities.

Let’s explore that assertion in greater depth by exploring the role of each as a critical element for generating and supporting purposeful flows of information and interactions between people who are seeking to create or realize some sort of objective or other.

Knowledge is a fundamentally necessary  foundation which represents the fundamental raw material applied to resolving a problem.  Knowledge is used to address and deepen the understanding of an issue and the challenge and opportunities it presents.  Typically it leads (usually over time) to improving the tangible value generated by work or received from a product or service.

In the interconnected conditions of the networked era it is increasingly the case that knowledge is accessible from or built through exchanges between humans who are working on understanding what to do about a problem, issue, product, service, etc.

Trust is essential for any meaningful exchange (other than conflict) between sentient beings. Our arrangements for operating with each other and the set of laws that govern societies have developed throughout human hsitory to become the core response to the fundamental need for trust.

Trust is accessible through and built from seeing and experiencing the result of exchanges between humans wherein the humans involved assess the veracity and applicability of knowledge generated by the exchanges. It is developed over time by each participant assessing for themselves the intent, style and subsequent effects or results of the exchanges between the human participants involved.

Credibility results from the testing and verification of the effects and utility of purposeful exchanges between humans.  Due to a commonality of purpose and the nature of problems and issues emanating from the exchanges, the need for a basic threshold of efficiency requires the use of a framework of verifiable knowledge and trust each time humans address a problem, issue/opportunity or provide products and/or services.

Credibility can be developed by exchanging with others in ways that visibly demonstrate the reliability and utility of the knowledge that an individual or process brings to the exchange.  It offers others a more efficient way to assess knowledge and develop degrees/levels of trust over time. As experience with others grows over time, credibility becomes 1) a threshold of assessment and 2) a facilitating dynamic for deepening and accelerating the relevant impact of applying trusted knowledge. It is an efficiency lever.

A Focus on Results is a central characteristic of a online networked environment in which flows of information (generated by a large number of human participants holding diverse interests, perspectives, beliefs and values) creates in greater complexity. When issues, problems or opportunities are presented in a networked environment, regularly people seem to want to “cut to the chase”, and focus on what needs to be done, how it is to be done, and by when .. in actionable terms. A focus on results is the practical outcome of a network’s purpose in action.

In order to be effective with respect to seeking results, there must be a common understanding of what is the desired or required end state.. The initial exchanges between networked humans-on-purpose must seek to clarify the desired results in order to provide intent and direction to applying knowledge and effort. Thus, generating results depends upon the effective focus and alignment of humans’ efforts in combining knowledge, trust and credibility towards the desired objectives.

 Making knowledge, trust, credibility and results visible

To deepen the introduction to the concept of wirearchy (posited as an evolution of  hierarchy in a networked environment), it’s useful to think of using X-rays to discover the effects of networked activity on the classic organizational hierarchy (the infamous organization chart which maps out reporting relationships and structural lines of communication and decision-making).  The X-ray images show what’s actually going on in terms of activities, making a visual map of the connections, sharing and dynamics of interconnected (hyperlinked) people and information.

Wirearchy as a design principle enables, guides and concentrates flows of information.

Basically, in an interconnected and hyperlinked world (henceforth the new conditions in which we live in much, but not all, of the world) the incessant flows of information increasingly define key aspects of what we do and how we live.  These flows of information are occurring in a public space, and are beginning to be a key ingredient of communal, societal (and perhaps global) opinion and cultures.  

Can such flows be designed ?

The short answer is yes, but in the general sense of the people involved in creating, distributing and digesting the flows using Design Thinking principles. And from another perspective, perhaps not in the sense of creating such flows with respect to stable or necessarily repeatable forms.

In interconnected conditions we can design flows in the sense that the flow(s) address a purpose and the objectives derived from the purpose.  The flows (whether of human energy, pertinent information, actionable knowledge, or other forms of stimuli and data) can be directed towards and/or grouped around the purpose and the objectives define the realization of that purpose.

Wirearchy as an organizing principle comes into effect in such conditions.  

Interconnected people grouped around a purpose and objectives (the thrivability of a community, let’s say) use knowledge, trust, credibility and a focus on what needs to get done in order to:

  1. clarify,
  2. enable, and
  3. sustain the community’s thrivability.  

The form of organization taken by any given group will be based on its purpose and (increasingly) be designed by the people involved.  

The design of that form of organization will use the flows of exchange to build trust through engagement and credibility, and it will use existing and just-in-time knowledge built by the participants (extracted from the flows of information by the exchange(s) of pertinent and useful information) to address the purpose and objectives of the group.

Much of our individual and collective futures will play out in networked environments.  It behooves us to learn and practice as much as we are able to in order to become more effective more rapidly. 


Knowledge, power, and an historic shift in work and organizational design

“Social business is not dead. I’m learning that the most advanced organizations see social not as a technology movement but instead one of culture and philosophy

But the challenge is that social media strategists may actually be hampering its potential by not helping executives see the bigger picture beyond the technology.”

(Brian Solis)


Horizontal networking often creates dissonance in the vertical enterprise

The hierarchical arrangement of knowledge (and the related assignment of power and authority to roles expressed on organizational charts) did not foresee the arrival of social computing tools and the horizontal networking now shaping today’s workplace.

(Jon Husband)


« Knowledge is power », the saying goes.

Setting aside issues such as what exactly knowledge is, and the many forms of manipulating information and knowledge in order to affect behaviour, voting outcomes, investment decisions and such, the foregoing phrase has been conventional wisdom ever since Sir Francis Bacon first noted « Scientia potentia est » (knowledge is power) in 1651.

This realization and statement came into being a little more than 200 years after Johannes Gutenberg, upon having an idea visit him like « a ray of light », came up with the invention known as movable type, which subsequently took form in the Gutenberg printing press.

The invention of the Gutenberg printing press is widely hailed as a critical turning point in the history of the world. It brought into being a new medium for creating, distributing and using information and knowledge. Due to its effects on how information and knowledge were recorded and published it created fundamental change in the way(s) people communicated ideas, information, knowledge and meaning to and amongst each other.

Given the speed at which many things operate, unfold and evolve these days, we tend to forget that the massive changes in the distribution of information and knowledge afforded by the printing press took several hundred years to have really major impacts. But clearly books, magazine and pamphlets were the ‘radical transparency’ of that era where previously information and knowledge was jealously held, guarded and hoarded by and circulated amongst those who ruled over others.

Those days are long over. Since then we’ve lived through two phases of a massive world-transforming Industrial Revolution and the first phase of what has been called the Information Age and/or the Knowledge Age. We now seem to be entering the second phase of the Information / Knowledge Age, in which we really get hooked up … in this phase interconnectedness and continuous flows of digitized (and thus indexable, searchable and easily manipulated) information characterizes the environment.  Flows of power increasingly are both top-down and bottom-up.  A new, fourth source of power beyond monarchs, clergy and institutions (the traditional sources throughout human history) is rapidly coming into being .. public opinion built from the circulation of information in networks (as depicted in the following info-graphic by Michel Cartier).

Screen Shot 2013-12-04 at 15.53.55

This new set of conditions is also beginning to impose a powerful new sociology onto the core assumptions that defined the use of information and knowledge in the second phase of the Industrial Revolution, wherein F.W. Taylor’s notions of efficiency and effectiveness grew into widespread dominance and provided exactly the right logic for organizing and optimizing many aspects of western societies that were expanding and growing rapidly.

Rapidly-growing knowledge about how to create and deliver many goods and services met equally rapidly expanding and growing needs. Mass production and mass assembly demanded mass and standardized efficiency in order to meet these needs. In addition, these conditions were met by the culmination of a remarkable spurt of innovation and development of scientific and management knowledge.

Along came more modern inventions .. easy credit, mass over-consumption, financial engineering, advertising, marketing, national and international travel and greatly-speeded-up trade .. as key examples of the significant developments of the age.

And most recently another transformational new medium or set of media signalling as much impact or more impact upon human society as delivered by the Gutenberg printing press. .. the Internet and then the Web. In the western world and large parts of the eastern world we now live and work amongst nearly ubiquitous hyperlinks, social networks, DIY publishing, ripping and re-mixing, content piracy, really radical transparency, and so on.

So …

Now, today, there’s a lot of chatter about the power of (people using) social media, the power of the kinds of possibilities that social media enables, bottom-up versus top-down dynamics, the collective wisdom of the organizational crowd, and various other related themes.

One of the last places to begin feeling the impact of the digital hyper-linked environment has been the workplace. Yes, access to knowledge through education and training has brought about huge improvements in productivity over the past 75 or so years. The evolution of progress doesn’t stop .. whether it involves materials, designs or ways of doing things. And much of the progress of the past 75 years has come from deeply embedding the tenets of Taylorism – efficiency, predictability, replicable quality, stability and control – into the means of building and delivering good and services. Taylorism has been refined and then further refined, and then distilled into the essence of the ways things are. Today for most people it’s barely a conscious afterthought; it’s just the way things are done.

It is the dominant and still-firmly-in-place paradigm.

Networks initially create turbulence and dissonance

However, there’s ongoing dissonance between the Taylorism-derived methods .. the ones behind structured, highly-defined organizational activities forms .. and the growing demands imposed by the world of hyper-linked flows in which knowledge and meaning are built layer by layer, exchange by exchange, resulting in the « scaffolding’ of knowledge to feed continuous improvement and innovation . These are the results which, increasingly, networked social computing enable.

A key reason why turbulence and dissonance are created is the way knowledge work has been (and still is) designed and the organizational structure that contains this work.  A primary tool in designing work and its organizational structures is called job evaluation (which is often accompanied by derivatives like accountability mapping and redundancy analysis).  The methods used today were created in the mid-1950′s and haven’t changed much since then.  Their core assumptions are directly derived from, and have helped embed, Taylorism at the core of the modern organization.

The term job evaluation as used here does not mean assessing a person’s performance on the job – rather, it means the function carried out by HR departments (or consultants) that ‘measures’ or ‘weighs’ jobs, and assigns them to levels and pay grades based on job “weight” with respect to skill, effort, responsibility and working conditions (the legal criteria for assessing pay equity).

Taylorism-derived job analysis, evaluation and measurement are the tools (along with their underlying assumptions) that are used to create the skeletal architecture of hierarchical organizations, the pyramid we all know.

Dissonance in job requirements

The methodology of job evaluation is a very useful place to look at some of the key critical reasons for the ongoing dissonance and resistance to change we are seeing and will continue to experience.  The methodology of job evaluation situates jobs in the organizational hierarchy and creates pay grades, pay practices, thresholds for entry into bonus schemes and often is the main criterion for distinguishing between management and non-management jobs.

Fundamentally, job evaluation (work measurement, as noted above) relies on the core assumption that knowledge is structured and used hierarchically.  Thus the job requiring more cumulative and/or or seniority-based knowledge (and the job requirements that demonstrate this) is—on paper—the job that deserves to be “higher up” in the organization, and accordingly is placed there on the organizational chart.

Redesigning work requirements

There are four or five major, well-known methodologies for measuring work.  They all use very similar factors (sometimes described a bit differently semantically, with a couple more or less factors or sub-factors) and they all essentially measure the same thing.

These fundamental principles of work design need to be examined and re-conceived if the significant power of social computing is ever to be realized. As an example I will use the measurement factors used by the Hay Guide Chart Method, as I know them the best.  I have also worked with the other major methodologies – they are essentially all the same: the Aiken Plan, and the Towers Perrin and Watson Wyatt job evaluation methodologies (now Towers Watson) in the past.

The Hay Method describes work as having three phases—input, throughput and output—and it employs three core factors to measure that input/throughput/output:

1.  Know-how (input) – knowledge and skills acquired through education and experience.

2.  Problem-solving (throughput) – the application of the said knowledge to problems encountered in the process of doing the work.

3. Accountability (output)- the level and type of responsibility a given job has for coordinating, managing or otherwise having impact on an organization’s objectives.

There is a fourth factor called working conditions, but in many cases this is treated almost as a throwaway factor, especially when it comes to knowledge work.  It typically relates to physical factors such as lighting, air-conditioning, the presence of fumes or chemicals, outdoor exposure, dangerous physical conditions, unusual exogenous stress, etc.

As noted above, the core assumptions of these methods are derived from the philosophy of Taylorism (aka scientific management) and the divisions of labour and packaging of tasks that have underpinned the search for efficiency and scale ever since the beginning of the 20th century. On the face of it, they seem eminently reasonable and the Hay Method (and the related ones cited above) have since the mid-50′s largely served organizations quite well for segmenting and dividing labour, identifying necessary expertise and specialization and, in effect, designing one or another particular hierarchical pyramid.  Today these methods are put into practice along with other key assumptions from that industrial era when organizations grew and prospered – mid–50′s to approximately 2000.

Changing assumptions about knowledge

These methods set out a fundamental, foundational assumption about the nature of knowledge. They assume that knowledge and its acquisition, development and use is relatively quite stable, that it evolves quite slowly and carefully and that knowledge is based on an official, accepted taxonomy – a vertical arrangement of information and skills that are derived from the official institutions of our society (Jane Jacobs has a fair bit to say about this in her last book Dark Age Ahead(Chapter 3 titled Credentialing vs. Educating) in as do others like John Taylor Gatto and Alfie Kohn, and as does David Weinberger’s Everything Is Miscellaneous – the power of digital disorder).

Above I have offered an example (paraphrasing the Hay Guide Chart Method’s semantic scales for measuring a job’s knowledge).  It describes a vertical arrangement of Know-How (knowledge) and the method creates, supports and sustains vertical reporting relationships.  The other two factors (problem-solving and accountability) derive from, and reinforce, the know-how factor. For example, the rules of job evaluation are such that you cannot have a problem-solving or accountability factor assessment that is of a higher order than the know-how slotting.

The definitions of the know-how (knowledge and skills ) factor levels are paraphrased from the semantic definitions on the actual Hay Guide Chart.

A – Unschooled and unskilled
B – Some school, some skill
C – Basic high school, routine work
D – Vocational school, community college, trades, senior administrative
E – University graduation, senior trades, managerial (reads the books)
F – University plus 10 years experience, grad school (puts the books to use)
G – Deep knowledge and expertise (writes the books)
H – Ultimate expertise (has others write the books)

These methods did not envision or foresee the Web, hyperlinks and the exchanges of information which have spawned and carry the bit-by-bit layering and assembly of knowledge and peer-to-peer negotiation of results and responsibilities we are seeing emerge with greater frequency in this new networked world.

Multiple ways to structure knowledge

We are beginning to understand that the main way we have structured knowledge is only one way, and that this way is captive to core assumptions about the ordering and classification of information as created by some of the great thinkers, organizers and classifiers of information and knowledge who helped build up our growing understanding of the world around us (Linnaeus, Darwin, Dewey, etc.).

What we have developed into solid and maybe seemingly unassailable beliefs about knowledge are built upon the principles we have inherited from a time when human progress benefited greatly from regular and related discoveries about the world around us, both natural and man-made.

For example, it’s clear that there was a proliferation of written / printed material from the 1600’s through the 1900’s, containing amongst other things much codification of discoveries of the knowledge we use today in a wide range of domains and disciplines. More and more (too much ?) of this knowledge is accessible very rapidly on today’s Web in ‘fragments of one’ (nod to Dave Snowden’s assertion that the brain works most effectively with fragments of information) connected by search engines, hyperlinks and a range of easily used publishing platforms.

So … now let’s look at how information is shared and exchanged in order to build and use knowledge amongst networked individuals or groups.  The use of knowledge in a networked context is very often much more horizontal, sideways and based on accessibility and collaboration – much more so than is the (official) use of knowledge in formally structured hierarchies.

Linked knowledge

What we know today is that people with vastly different types and forms of knowledge can be or are linked together for a wide (and potentially limitless) range of purposes (though clearly we are learning quickly about the limits to cognitive attention as lessons in social cognition surplus are offered up to us almost every day).

In networks-of-purpose, addressing Purpose A connects individuals with Skills and Knowledge Set B, Interests and Knowledge Set C , and Connections and Knowledge Set D (and of course the second-order concentric ring of connections each of them brings to any given network in which any of them participate). Each of them subscribes to different sets of feeds and has access to different sources of flows of information than each of the others, but can forward to all those in the on-purpose network anything that comes across their attention that may be pertinent to the purpose at hand.

The dynamics of attention, flow and circulation of pertinent and relevant information are now clearly feeling the impact of the power unleashed by the integration of social computing tools, service and capabilities.  They are rapidly becoming firmly ensconced in the activities of knowledge work, in the guise of platforms for collaboration—the domain increasingly called Enterprise 2.0 and/or Social Business.  And, as many of us know, these monikers are increasingly being called into question as insufficient or only addressing part of the overall story.

As the use of these tools and capabilities spreads, in a networked environment it’s safe to say that problem-solving or accountability is very often dealt with based on negotiation of ‘who knows what’ or ‘how to get something done’. Usually, or often, a call (Tweet, blog post, Skype chat, email) is put out to find and access some additional skill or knowledge that is required, and accountability is negotiated based on the constraints of the purposeful activity at hand.

Any of us familiar with medium to large sized organizations can begin to see, I believe, that the fundamental Taylorist assumption that knowledge is structured vertically and put to use in silo’d pyramidal structures and cascaded down to the execution level must be straining at the seams in the increasingly highly-connected social networks in which many people work today.

Social computing – first dissonance, then participative flow ?

Thus, it seems clear that the introduction of wikis, blogs and RSS feeds (and now micro-blogging a la Twitter) for project work, for analysis and planning, for research and development and for other knowledge-intensive work is likely to introduce some reasonable levels of dissonance into the common and accepted organizational dynamics (or “organizational sociology”) of formal, traditionally structured organizations.

This is an area where David Weinberger’s phrase from the Cluetrain Manifesto — “hyperlinks subvert hierarchy” (or expose it, which may be better)—is likely to have real impact.

Take Weinberger’s additional concept of first- , second- , and third-order organization of emergent knowledge (outlined in his “Everything Is Miscellaneous”), combine it with hyperlinks and spaces designed for interaction based on core usability principles and you have a potent recipe for looking at the design of socially-networked work groups.

In some senses, we’ve been here before … social interaction with other knowledge workers is the foundation of (for example) Fred & Merrilyn Emery’s theory and method of Participative Work Design and is at the heart of socio-technical systems (STS) methodologies for organizational development and change.  These theories and methods by and large reflect “getting the whole system into the room”.

Of course, with the arrival of the Internet and the advent of the interactive participative environment that is generally called Web 2.0, “the room” is larger and “the whole system” increasingly does indeed mean everyone, or at least the whole of the organizational crowd that makes up that organization.

Reams have been written about the Internet’s potential to democratize the access to and use of information. It does seem clear that the use of the Web, collaboration platforms, software-as-a-service, and cloud-based social computing by organizations that see information, knowledge and responsive innovation as mission-critical are core factors enabling the growth of network-based ways of creating pertinent and useful just-in-time knowledge and putting it to work.

Vertical knowledge disrupted

This causes dissonance and ambiguity because typically performance objectives, job assignments, compensation arrangements and bonus schemes are generally almost always predicated on causality derived from the vertical arrangements of knowledge and its use in planned and structured initiatives

As more and more knowledge work is carried out by people communicating and exchanging information using hyperlinks in social networks (where knowledge lives ) and routing it to where it is needed at any point in time, vertical arrangements of knowledge are disrupted, if not subverted.

Call for organizational redevelopment

Based on the notions explored above and in a wide range of texts about organizations previous writings, it seems there is a rapidly-growing need for the return to prominence of the domain of Organisational Development (OD).  With greater fanfare and less emphasis on the core principles, key parts of the framework known as organisational development have been resuscitated, dressed up and called « Social Business ». As social business initiatives continue to proliferate, I cannot see how the latent dissonance described aearlier in this essay will be avoided.

The turbulence and discipline that characterizes the power shifts going on in today’s interconnected knowledge workplace will have to be addressed by using new design principles for knowledge work.

Many parts of knowledge work have been routinized and standardized with the ongoing marriages of business processes and integrated enterprise information systems. What has not changed much yet is the adaptation of structures and culture to permit easily building flows of information into pertinent, useful and just-in-time knowledge, or fanning out problem-solving and accountability into networks of connected workers.

I think many executives and senior managers sense massive challenges to the power and status relationships (the core of yet-to-change organizational structure) that exist in most of today’s larger organizations.  This sense of a growing challenge is behind many senior managers’ and executives’ struggles to understand or become enthusiastic about the possibilities of Enterprise 2.0.

There is no Guide Chart yet about networked know-how, problem-solving or accountability.

Never mind that there is much rhetoric about the need for leadership at all levels, or about the empowerment and democratization of workers in organization X or Y.  Performance management, grade levels and compensation have yet to recognize how work gets done in networked environments and in a networked world.

I’ll close with a dare .. if any of you have any experience with performance management programs or with assigning someone currently in a job to a new and different grade level, or in making changes to levels of pay or bonus schemes, you know what I’ve been setting out above can easily become a real and potentially very explosive minefield.

And yet .. the way(s) we go about these core issues of work design are almost certainly going to have to undergo significant revision if not complete re-invention.

Thoughts on Evolving From Modern (Machine) Hierarchy to Adaptive (Ecosystem) Wirearchy

During an hiatus from blogging the notion of wirearchy continued to hang around and get noticed here and there.  Recently it seems that awareness has been spreading and growing. 

I hope this continues.  Over the past decade a large number of people have asked, once interested in the neologism wirearchy, what it is and most specifically “how to do it”.  I always reply that I am not going to offer specific answers because I want the concept of wirearchy to become identified as an organizing principle.  I think that sounds arrogant of me, but it seems important to me that the concept is a principle only, not an approach or methodology that might be followed as a recipe.  

The market for ‘organizational transformation’ seems to be crying out for a solution. The methods appearing these days have a number of characteristics that I think will prove to be useful in going some of the next steps towards more responsive, accountable and adaptive organizing.  But basically I don’t trust prescriptive approaches to be flexible enough and adaptable enough to be of continuous use.  

In order to realise the benefits of variety and diversity of human groups, I want to suggest that all those concerned with organizational design and change should work from principles.  It’s essential to consider context and specific industry, market and talent challenges and decide how to get involved in a continuous and iterative process of Near Future Design Thinking.  

Implementing a Process Rather Than Buying and Installing a Prescriptive Solution

It took 30 – 40 years for Taylorism to become codified into a relatively small group of very similar methods for creating the structure and managing the activities of an organization.  It is not reasonable for us to think that by installing a collaborative platform and following a recipe for

  1. installing and integrating some social computing tools, and
  2. combining that with training and some initiatives to enhance engagement, 

… that the organization will transform rapidly.

The best current example I can think of (or the one with which I am the most familiar) is TELUS, a Canadian telecommunications company.  It started on the journey towards major change 5 years ago. Yes, it started with making choices about collaborative platforms and social computing tools .. but it also started 5 years ago with a good understanding of the importance of an organization’s culture in adopting and embracing new ways of doing things

It has reported going over the 5 years from mid-50′s to early 80′s percent engagement with the company’s mission and values.  That has taken the full 5 years, and that was with the advantage of building on an (my opinion) already fertile seedbed.  It also has highly intelligent and/but hard-driving senior executives who are (in my limited experience) well aware of the human sociological issues and organizational dynamics. While relatively prescriptive in some ways, the leaders have been careful to engage the whole organization to a tangible degree in the validation and enactment of vision and values (an all-important process).

The design of transformational evolution and development-based growth of a more responsive and resilient organization and organizational culture begs the issue of seasoned practical, conceptual and philosophical advice and accompaniment.

In that vein, there are some professional individuals and professional consulting firms that by now have been exploring the deeper issues of both “Enterprise 2.0″ and “Social Business” and who have enough expertise to criticize and/or refute the points I’ve set out below .. these people that have my admiration and respect are (for example) Harold Jarche, Dion Hinchcliffe, Lee Bryant, Dave Gray, Euan Semple, Megan Murray, Dan Pontefract, Rob Paterson, Esko KilpiDave Snowden, John Hagel, Anne-Marie McEwan, Anthony Poncier, Dominique Turcq, Luis Alberola, Charles Jennings, Bertrand Duperrin, Steve Denning, Rawn Shah, Sameer Patel and others I will have omitted but belong on this list.  

What We’re All Up Against

The previous era was dominated by one model of how organizations were supposed to look and act, and this dominant model was derived from the maturing of the application and codification of the principles of  Fordism and Taylorism to virtually all aspects of our society. 

The codification and enactment of those principles has led to massive (or even beyond-massive) growth of a consulting industry and consulting firms that 40 or 50 years ago were small-ish accounting and / or other professional services firms. As the world has become more complicated and more complex, these firms have become massive and (often) global).  I won’t bore you with the business model requirements necessary to scale in such a way, and/or how that demands a significant amount of homogenization of prescriptive model-and-method based advice and support.  

I am sure you can figure it out.

Thus, consulting firms in many areas of consulting have long since learned to promise solutions primarily because that is what client organizations buy, married with the demands of the business model..  I am not fond of this logic and the attendant market dynamics, primarily for philosophical reasons.

Recently there’s more and more talk of how organizations need to be in the hands of stewardship-oriented leaders (who understand that organizations are collections of people-on-purpose).  The impulse behind this growth in interest is aimed at facing current conditions head-on and beginning the work and the journey of learning to survive and thrive in new conditions (conditions that will only be encountered more frequently and more intensely).

Here are 10 considerations that I think are key for whatever forward decisions are made about why and how any given organization chooses to begin facing the future and taking action to realize constructive and positive change.

What To Think About and Perhaps Consider

Rather than offer a solution, below are 10 broad and general pieces of advice when thinking about what and how to get started  or keep going.

  1. There will not again be one dominant method or model; there will be variations on a theme depending upon the context and type(s) of networked environments and activities.
  2. Abandon purity of organizational design ideology – rigid rule-driven methods need not apply (principles not prescriptions)
  3. The philosophy, mental models and attitudes about the structures and processes of decision-making need to tangibly recognize and make real the notion of leadership at all levels
  4. The organization’s IT architecture – issues such as cloud, BYOD, use of SaaS applications, collaborative platform(s) (internal) and social media tools, platforms and expertise (external) – needs to be flexible, robust, resilient and as open as possible.  This is an area where I believe Dion Hinchcliffe is the world’s leading thinker and explainer. 
  5. Adopt responsive strategies such as the Cynefin model (developed by Dave Snowden) for navigating complexity or other approaches that include tolerance for and constructive use of experimentation and failure
  6. Organizational Network Analysis (ONA) is in my opinion key to renewing the pertinence of the work of the Human Resources domain. It can be used in order to identify bottlenecks, under-appreciated resources or poor work design .. and to gain strategic perspectives on organizational politics, talent management, organizational change. Just don’t spy on employees in order to exploit and manipulate them.
  7. Adopt Minimal Viable Structure (euphemism for seeking no more than 5 levels from customer to CEO) – front-line workers / operational and administrative support staff / professional knowledge workers / senior guides and coordination coaches / senior management
  8. Participative and inclusive decision-making and work design come to the fore; provide the space and support for people to learn on an ongoing basis.  Use Participative Work design principles (PWD) and seek an appropriate balance of personal development and augmenting domain expertise under the guidance of the 70 – 20 – 10 learning model
  9. All parties involved need to modernize the philosophy about and approaches to areas of organization rigidity (e.g. unionized work); plan for sustainability and ongoing evolution.  An example that comes to mind is an organization’s contract-based work design and compensation philosophy and practices.  
  10. Compensation, talent management, performance management and development .. all of these need to be re-conceived. For example, if I were CEO and wanted to get my organization’s employees attention and possibly their engagement, I would a) cap executive compensation at reasonable multiples of the average pay of workers in the organization.  Any additional compensation would be deferred long-term (substantive long-term) and tied as closely to the performance and progress of the organization at as a whole, which means probably not the shareholders interests foist and foremost (yes, I know that’s not how things work in the real world).  

I’d also explore the notion of gainsharing rather than pay-for-performance (otherwise known as variable compensation or performance-based pay).  Gainsharing is a concept that gained some momentary visibility in the 80′s and (maybe) early 90′s, but then more-or-less disappeared as organizations 1) began dealing in more forceful ways with unions, and 2) battening down the hatches when it came to optimization and the deep search for efficiencies.  I think it’s likely that gainsharing is a more appropriate way, in my opinion, to add to the base salaries of people working in networked environments, and in general is well aligned with the philosophy and practices emerging for the more socially-connected era we are entering.

We live in exciting times.  

As another thinker and writer I admire (David Weinberger) once said a long time ago .. “We’ll see what happens”.





The Intersection of People, Information and New Forms of Technology Changes Everything (Eventually)

The following seven sections of this essay are the summaries of the ‘chapters’ of an essay written in French (and abundantly annotated by schema and concept maps) by Michel Cartier.

I have often said to many people that I believe he is the francophone world’s version of Marshall McLuhan.  I realize that many people think I am exaggerating and / or am mistaken, and I may be.  But I don’t think so, and I am extremely privileged to be able to collaborate with him.

In effect, the long form of these chapter summaries represent a significant portion or distillation of his life’s work.  He is a master synthesizer and puts his abundant skills to best use in developing visual schema and concept maps which add significant meaning and understanding to his texts.  The texts (in French) along with the visual representation can be found at

1- Information

 The history of humanity progresses by eras, one era after another. Each past era was initiated by an encounter between humans, their environment and new information. Each time that a critical mass of human beings has suddenly appeared on the planet, they have created such large amounts of new information that it became necessary to develop new tools for processing that information and for communicating with each other.

And so it is that that over the past centuries there appeared the alphabet, the printing press, the television and the Internet. These are all basically modes of appropriating, transmitting and distributing knowledge. In turn, each time one of these new information and communications technologies (ICT) appears a new culture is created. The new culture re-models or renovates the existing human environment, because each ICT brings us new ways of accessing and understanding our exchanges, ourselves and our civilization.

We are now discovering that information literally becomes a form of energy, a mechanism or vector which will ‘inform’ and thus generate a new post-industrial society. In effect, when information is translated into an argument in a given context it becomes opinion. Opinions are a force for change and an agent of transformation. In a post-industrial world information takes on an enormous strategic value.

In fact, we should define the value of information in relation to the actions it unleashes.

In each era, the forces of the mind have grown, and humans’ brains have become more plastic while the society became more complex. The frontal cortex, the information it processes and the environment in which the processing make up a triangle around which the future organizes.

We have just lived through several decades in which we’ve been mainly interested in information technology in and of itself, but it’s about time that we ask ourselves what exactly is information within the emerging context of the new era that has just begun.

2- Digital

In the emergent post-industrial society, the new digital form of information is becoming much more than a mere technology. It offers all citizens a ‘collective’ way of life and of taking decisions individually and together.

In this context an algorithmic culture is developing which offers a traceability and imparts a transversal, cutting-across-existing boundaries character to information. This culture is modifying databases, the use of search motors, the availability and use of information tools and other aspects of processing information. As well it is becoming the fundamental foundation for a new culture, a new economy and new forms of democracy that are seeking greater openness and transparency.

3- The Internet

In the emergent knowledge-based society, the Internet is more than a network of IT networks. It is now becoming a planet-wide ‘public place’ which hosts and drives citizens’ expression of needs, wants and desires. It is no longer an information network as in the past, but rather a network of intervention; it is becoming a space of, and for, influence.  In other words, it is becoming a space where power is created, distributed and used.

The political elite(s) still do not realize that they are no longer trusted by the citizens of the societies they govern. They are also experiencing the first tremors associated with the Internet channeling and aggregating the different kinds and types of anger that are growing all over the planet; these crises are intensifying and being amplified because the elites have not been able to come up with any effective solutions or even any tangible and significant progress.

Internet 1 has evolved as expected according to Moore’s Law ( a linear progression which doubles the amount of information processed every 18 to 24 months). With Internet 2 (and eventually Internet 3, the Internet of Objects) Metcalfe’s Law (cubed based on the numbers of users); the impact will be exponential. Not only is the Internet « smart » (in other words interactive, more visual and able to process greater amounts of information), but it will become much more « social ».

But there’s a worm in the Internet apple : NSA – PRISM. This act of spying forces all the world’s Internet users to realize that the brute force of digital has come smack up against a force equal to or greater than the force of politics. The manipulations of the American security forces obsessed with control have reminded us that the Internet is before all an economic (and political) tool that they control via ICANN.  It is a significant problem and danger that in a world so divided, this network of networks we know as the Internet can be or may become balkanized.

4- Communication

Since the arrival (advent) of the first computers 60 or so years ago, most of the analyses carried out have focused on the utilization of information technologies rather than on the use of information. This was a mistake, and today we must re-define how we are going to address and use information in the future; that is to say, how we are going to communicate and create meaning together, how we will engage in sense-making.

In the emergent post-industrial society, communication is not a process of one-way distribution, broadcast « out and down » via the mass media, as in the past. It is becoming a much more complex activity that involves (at least) three modes : the broadcasting of television, the narrowcasting of personal computers that carry and circulate specific content, and the point-casting of mobile devices which are based on real-time instantaneous geo-localization. The first mode (broadcasting) reaches the public-at-large, the second reaches specific interest groups in the public sphere, and the third reaches our « friends ». As well, the actual communications process is becoming different from its past dynamics; it is becoming much more personalized. There is an important dark side to this process; the personalized receiver becomes isolated and thus able to be manipulated more easily than ever before.

At this point in time, social networks are the object of media exaggeration. This type of florid journalism appears each time a new phenomenon emerges but has not been analyzed adequately. In fact it would be smarter for us to be talking more realistically and with greater care about online social networks, because since the beginning of the species the existence of human beings has depended upon living in human social networks.

We must realize (or at least acknowledge) that the current users of online social networks are only groups of individuals who basically only speak with each other, amongst themselves. However, studies now have revealed that groups rarely are larger than 140 – 150 people; regardless of the stretch and reach of Facebook and Twitter, many more people still have their attention, interests and concerns captured by the mass media. As the information provided by the mass media becomes more and more ‘personalized’, the practice of »point-casting » does not add anything worthwhile to the progression of the society in which we live. The real social changes will only arrive with the practice of « narrowcasting », when various groups interact and become capable of establishing common points of view and aspirations based in consensus.

5- The culture of screens and images

 We are the sorcerer’s apprentices. Throughout history, we have pried open various Pandora’s boxes : the alphabet, the printing press, the television and now the Internet.

Our society see-saws back and forth behind a multitude of screens which seek our attention at all costs. This does and will affect how we create and seek meaning. This signifies that many of us have already submitted to the intoxications of the images on screens brought to us by the marketers of the media conglomerates. Unfortunately, we will live through more and more contradictions of meaning brought to us by the dissonance between reality and what we are offered as reality by the images on our screens.

The revolution (in the sense of an accelerated evolution) will eventually be profound. If, during the Industrial Era the analyses of our environments were textual (linear, and detailed and above all controlled by the « gatekeepers » in our respective societies), now we are using communications which are carried out using screens and images.  This process offers a relationship and dynamics that become much more personalized and thus much more emotions-based than before.

No one really knows what this means or will come to mean to live in a world governed by people communicating regularly by using images. In time, this intensely emotional mode of communication presents the risk of replacing substance in important ways; we may come to live in an environment that consists of little else than sensationalism, misrepresentation and hoaxes.

Image-based pictorial representations are becoming so ubiquitous that a new culture of screen-based images is imposing itself over on top of the culture of the written word. For the first time in history this reversal of cultures offers all citizens of the planet Earth a new form of media-based interactive ‘writing’ which is symbolic and personalized. It will modify the entire system and the dynamics of communication between humans.

This image-based civilization has already begun the process of conquering hearts, minds and spirits; the citizens do not yet realize the types and extent of the manipulations to which they are being subjected. But tomorrow? And by whom?

6- The knowledge-based society

Our world is not ready for the deep changes facing it : our current stagnation or paralysis may well last another 7 or 8 years because the resistance to the massive and deep changes is till too strong and too well coordinated. The elites who govern our society pretend to want or to lead the changes; however, in effect they are only willing to modify the existing model and do not want to change it as they are fearful of losing their privileges and status.

Citizens also want « a change », but not if it involves modifying or changing too deeply their existing habits and lifestyles. It’s likely that we will have to wait for the current crises to play out and exact a significant enough « price » such that a collective clarity makes a real change fundamentally necessary.

The powers that be do not rely solely on the laws and the policing of those laws; they depend more and more on acceptance and legitimation by public opinion. The political elits are no longer governing in any effective way; they are only tending to their territory,  eyes fixed on surveys and polls. Thus, as a result of globalization, the true power is now in the hands of the economic class which current directs the activities of the planet in a constant search for profits.

The voices of citizens around the planet are expressing more and more frequently a loss of confidence in the governing elite, and various forms of anger are surging forth and at times exploding due to the erosion and disappearance of any semblance of a just social contract. The new form of power that is emerging, that of « public opinion » demands that the elite currently in place negotiate with the civil society the re-definition re-establishment of confidence and trust. However, new power(s) could be accorded to the citizenry in exchange for the participation of the citizenry in developing effective solutions for just and equitable governance.

The obvious question today is « Are we in transition towards an era of participative citizen-based responsibility? ».

In the past, emerging societies borrowed the western world’s model in order to develop and evolve, because they judged that it would help create and sustain « democracy ». Today, with the relatively rapid rise in the prominence of Asian societies, the West is no longer necessarily the default model. It remains the dominant model because of the force and support of the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the World Trade Organization. In other words, those who saw the solutions in the American model now see that it is the dominance of the United States that is as much the problem as it is the solution. Thus, there is currently no unique effective societal model but rather several diverse attempts to develop new models on a regional basis around the globe.

Two distinct economic models are being developed at the moment. One model is built around security and surveillance, or monitoring, developed during and following the Iraq war, and the model developed around services related to proximity. Experiments in this second model are now in operation around the globe in various regions and communities.

Do we have a say in these choices?

7- The citizen

In the emergent society of tomorrow, it is the citizen who will change the most.

Since centuries past, the governing powers of society have been sustained in place by carefully filtering information thanks to the control of the written word. Today, the culture of the written word is beginning to be replaced by a culture based on screens-and-images which, notably via telephones and smart tablets, encourage, enable and impose new forms of media-based communications.

For the first time in human history, the citizen has access to tools which permit her or him to express what they think and feel; from simple and anonymous tele-spectator, they can become producers and creators of content. They become agents and actors in the arc of their destiny. The networks of connected communication thus become battlefields upon which are encountered a wide range of many different and contradictory opinions, points of view and belief systems.

We have not yet fully understood the scope, breadth and depth of the changes we are facing; the new visual-and-interactive interfaces are being used more and more frequently by Everyman because this new media-based expression is married to humans’ oral communication, their forms and habits of speaking with each other. In addition, the new tools are certainly in fashion today; they have become permanent fixtures or extensions of humans’ ways of communicating almost overnight. We are no longer in the artisan / craftsman (or early adopters’)phase of their use.

As experience with their use combines with increased popular anger over betrayals of confidence, these tools will allow the citizen to express their personal visions, which are a combination of opinions, desires and beliefs. These opinions, desires and beliefs are increasingly decentralized and distributed and can become antechambers of action.

In the expression of voice by the citizen lies the next great societal revolution. And it will be an accelerated evolution due to the characteristics of all interconnected electronic communications. Access to information and knowledge is becoming more and more personalized and emotions-based. Today, no one knows what that actually means or will mean to live with a much more intense emotionality.

The citizen is always at the heart of the final point of any new democratic system; a system which rests upon the citizen’s willingness to participate in a society’s activities (or not). In this new era the new tools for creating information and for its transmission and distribution are rapidly becoming smaller, lighter, more intuitive, less expensive and easier to use.

The citizen of the 21st Century will therefore acquire new political and economic power(s) in exchange for her or his participation, because without the participation of citizens there will not be any real changes when facing the coming crises (which it seems clear the existing political and economic elite will not be able to address effectively or resolve).

Tomorrow, citizens will have to negotiate and claim their personal digital identities. In exchange, participation in society’s activities and governance will demand of the citizen a significantly greater level and exercise of responsibility for themselves and towards their fellow citizens.

We’re all in this massive shift together .. whether we like it or not.

Re-discovering Parts of the Path to Wirearchy

(Re-published from 2009)

My storage space is a reasonably organized mess.  However, recently I decided to sort it out at a fundamental level for once and for all, or at least until the next time things accumulate to the point where it’s not orderly.  How anal of me.  Oh, well.  Most of the next two weeks are being spent getting ready to turn 55 (I’m now 60), and it feels like a reckoning of sorts, so it was as good an activity to dive into as any other.

You have to start somewhere.

One of the first things I did was go through the boxes of books and sort them (and then either throw out or re-box) according to categories.  The large majority of them are about organisations, organisational effectiveness, the sociology of organisations, HR practices and methodologies, new directions in management, the development of leadership, organisational and community development, work design, learning, and so on.

You get the picture.

As I was doing this, I realised that at least I came by the concept of “wirearchy” honestly.  In other words, I was primed to connect the dots when it began to be apparent (earlier in my case than in most peoples’) that a massive shift was well and truly underway and would continue on.

I decided to share my reading list from the last 15 years (not all of it but a decent portion) mainly in order to make public the path of reading and thinking I took.

Heh .. I also ran across acetates - acetates !!! - of a presentation I did to the National Grid Company (UK), titled “General Manager Competency Model”, in October 1992.  This was obviously before PowerPoint or other such programs were in widespread use.  Acetates !!!

Further digging revealed all my old Hay Management Consultant manuals, with various titles such as:

  • HRPD Competency Assessment Methods and Applications
  • HRPD Marketing Materials Handbook
  • British Petroleum Recruitment Focussed Interview Training Agenda – Instructor’s Guide
  • Managing Motivation For Performance Improvement – Instructor’s Manual


Goodbye to all that stuff !   My, how things have changed .. for me, at least.

I’ll appreciate any feedback anyone cares to offer, or suggestions of other books or articles I might find interesting.

Yes .. I did read them all.


Powershift – Knowledge, Wealth and Power at the Edge of the 21st Century, by Alvin & Heidi Toffler

Receptors – New Knowledge About the Brain, by Richard Restak

The Plateauing Trap – How to Avoid It in Your Career and Your Life, by Judith Bardwick

Management Consultancy – The Inside Story, by Clive Rassam & David Oates

The Tao of Negotiation, by Edelman and Crain

Seizing the Future – the Coming Revolution in Science, Technology and Industry and How It Will Expand the Frontiers of Human Potential

Guide to the Management Gurus

Open Space Technology – A User’s Guide, by Harrison Owen

Future Search – An Action Guide to Finding Common Ground in Organizations and Communities, by Weisbord & Janoff

Productive Workplaces – Organizing and Managing for Dignity, Meaning and Community, by Marvin Weisbord

Goal Analysis, by Robert F. Mager

Improving Performance, by Rummler and Brache

Working Harder Isn’t Working – A Guide to the Four-Day Work Week, by Bruce O’Hara

Self-Directed Work Teams – The New American Challenge, by Orsburn, Moran, Musselwhite and zenger

Harvard Business Review on Knowledge Management

1001 Ways to Reward Employees

Competence At Work – Models for Superior Performance, by Lyle and Signe Spenxcer

Reward Management – A Handbook of Remuneration Strategy and Practice, by Armstrong & Murlis

People, Pay and Performance, by Flannery, Hofrichter and Platten

Getting to Yes – Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In, by Fisher and Ury

The Age of Spiritual Machines, by Ray Kurzweil

In the Age of the Smart Machine, by Shoshana Zuboff

The Support Economy – Why Corporations Are Failing Individuals and The Next Episode of Capitalism, by Zuboff and Maxmin

The Power of Passion, by Hobson & Clarke

The Future Consumer, by Frank Feather

The Great Game of Business, by Jack Stack

Corporate Renaissance – The Art of Reengineering, by Cross, Feather and Lynch

Corporate Loyalty – A Trust Betrayed, by Grosman

Thought Leaders – Insights on the Future of Business, by Joel Kurtzman

The Age of the Heretic, by Art Kleiner

The 500 Year Delta – What Happens After What Comes Next, by Watts Wacker and Jim Taylor

The Visionary’s Handbook: Nine Paradoxes That Will Shape the Future of Your Business, by Wacker, Means and Taylor

The Deviant’s Advantage – How Fringe Ideas Create Mass Markets, by Wacker and Matthews

Built To Last – Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, by Jim Collins & Gerry Porras

The Unfinished Revolution – Human-Centered Computers and What They Can Do For Us, by Michael Dertouzos

Rethinking the Future, by Rowan Gibson

Learning As A Way of Being – Strategies for Survival in a World of Permanent White Water, by Peter Vaill

The World According to Peter Drucker, by Beatty

The Collected Papers of Roger Harrison, foreword by Edgar Schein

Upsizing the Individual in the Downsized Organization, by Johansen & swigart

The Empty Raincoat – Making Sense of the Future, by Charles Handy

The Stakeholder Strategy – Profiting From Collaborative Business Relationships, by Anne Svendsen

Leadership Jazz, by Max Depree

When Giants Learn To Dance – Mastering the Challenges of Strategy, Management and Careers in the 1990′s, by Rosabeth Moss Kanter

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen Covey

The Twenty-year Century – Essays on Economics and Public Finance, by Felix Rohatyn

Discovering Common Ground – Future Search Conferences, by Marvin Weisbord et al

The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook – A Field Guide, by Peter Senge et al

The Organization of the Future, by Hesselbein, Goldsmith & Beckhard

Working Wisdom – Skills and Strategies for Learning Organizations, by Aubry & Cohen

The Fifth Discipline – The Art & Practice of the Learning Organization, by Peter Ssenge

Complexity – the Emerging Science at the Edge of Order and Chaos, by M. Waldrop

The Quark and The Jaguar – Adventures in the Simple and the Complex, by Murray Gell-Mann

The Anatomy of Buzz – How to Create Word of Mouth Marketing, by Rosen

Crossing the Chasm – Marketing and Selling High-tech Products to Mainstream Customers, by Geoffrey Moore

The New Deal at Work – Managing the Market-Driven Workforce, by Peter Cappelli

Harnessing Complexity – Organizational Implications of a Scientific Frontier, by Axelrod & Cohen

Execution – The Discipline of Getting Things Done, by Bossidy & Charan

The Inmates Are Running the Asylum, by Alan Cooper

Organization 2000 – The Essential Guide for Companies and Teams in the New Economy, by Leslie Bendaly

When Things Start to Think, by Neil Gershenfeld

The Monster Under The Bed, by Stan Davis and Jim Botkin

Future Perfect, by Stan Davis

It’s Alive – The Coming Convergence of Information, Biology and Business, by Stan Davis & Chris Meyer

Blur, by Stan Davis & Chris Meyer

Net Attitude, by John Patrick

Leadership From Within, by Peter Urs-Bender

Leading the Revolution, by Gary Hamel

The Future of Management, by Gary Hamel

Trends 2000 – How to Prepare for and Profit From the Changes of the 21st Century, by Gerald Celente

The Age of Participation – New Governance for the Workplace and the World, by Patricia McLagan and Christo Nel

Intelligence Reframed – Multiple Intelligences for the 21st Century, by  Howard Gardiner

Managing for the Future, by Peter Drucker

The Age of Unreason, by Charles Handy

The Empty Raincoat, by Charles Handy

Reclaiming Higher Ground, by Lance Secretan

Knowledge For Action, by Chris Argyris

The Competent Manager, by Richard Boyatzis

Principles of Systems, by Jay Forrester

Urban Dynamics, by Jay Forrester

World Dynamics, by Jay Forrester

High Tech, High Touch – Technology and our Accelerated Search for Meaning, by John Naisbitt

The Empowered Manager – Positive Political Skills at Work, by Peter Block

Toppling the Pyramids – Re-defining the Way Companies Are Run, Gerald Ross & Michael Kay

Learning Organizations – Developing Cultures for Tomorrow’s Workplace, by Sarit Chawla and John Renesch

Post-Capitalist Society, by Peter Drucker

Fad Surfing in the Boardroom – Reclaiming the Courage to Manage in the Age of Instant Answers, by Eileen Shapiro

The Turning Point, by Fritjof Capra

Synchronicity – the Inner Path of Leadership, by Joe Jjaworski

The Collaborative Enterprise – Why Links Between Business Units Often Fail and How to Make Them Work, by Andrew Campbell and Michael Goold

Practice What You Preach – What Managers Must Do to Create a High Achievement Culture, by David Maister

The Trusted Advisor, by David Maister

Stewardship – Choosing Service Over Self-Interest, by Peter Block

The Ultimate Book of Business Gurus – 10 Thinkers Who Really Made a Difference, by S. Crainer

Orbiting the Giant Hairball – A Corporate Fool’s Guide to Surviving with Grace, by Ian Mackenzie

Crisis & Renewal – Meeting the Challenge of Organizational Change, by Hurst

Digital Game-based Learning, by Marc Prensky

Thinking In The Future Tense – A Workout for the Mind, by Jennifer James

Survival Is Not Enough – Why Smart Companies Abandon Worry and Embrace Change, by Seth Godin

Rekindling Commitment – How To Revitalize Yourself, Your Work and Your Organization, by Jaffe, Scott and Tobe

The Ingenuity Gap – How Can We Solve The Problems of the Future ?, by Thomas Homer-Dixon

de Bono’s Thinking Course, by Edward de Bono

Digital Aboriginal – The Direction of Business Now – Instinctive, Nomadic and Ever-changing, by Tarlow & Tarlow

The Art of the Long View, by Peter Schwartz

Here Comes Everybody – the Power of Organizing Without Organizations, by Clay Shirky

The Wealth of Networks, by Yochai Benchler

The Starfish and the Spider – The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations, by Brafman and Beckstrom

Emergence – The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities and Software, by Steven Johnson

The Cathedral and the Bazaar: Musings on Linux and Open Source by an Accidental Revolutionary, by Eric Raymond

McLuhan for Managers – New Tools for New Thinking, by de Kerckhove and Federman

Pedagogy of the Oppressed, by Paolo Freire

Education for Critical Consciousness, by Paolo Freire

Presencing, by Otto Scharmer

The Living Organization, by Arie de Geus

Wikinomics, by Don Tapscott

The Cluetrain Manifesto, by Doc Searls, Chris Locke, David Weinberger and Rick Levine

Small Pieces, Loosely Joined – A Unified Theory of the Web, by David Weinberger

Everything Is Miscellaneous – The Power of the New Digital Disorder, by David Weinberger

Intellectual Capital, by Thomas Stewart

Human Capital – What It is and Why People Invest In It, by Tom Davenport

Information Ecology – Mastering the Information and Knowledge Environment, by Davenport and Prusak

Competing On Analytics – the New Science of Winning, by Davenport and Harris

Thinking for a Living: How to Get Better Performances And Results from Knowledge Workers, by Tom Davenport

The Attention Economy, by Davenport and Beck

Working Knowledge: How Organizations Manage What they Know, by Davenport and Prusak

The Balanced Scorecard, by Kaplan & Norton

Gainsharing and Productivity – A guide to Planning, Implementation and Development, by Doyle

Managing Customer Value – Creating Quality & Service That Customers Can See, by Brian Gale

Future Work – Where To Find Tomorrow’s High-tech Jobs Today, by Diane Butler

The Dilbert Principle – A Cubicle’s-Eye View of Bosses, Meetings, Management Fads & Other Workplace Afflictions, by Scott Adams

Age Wave – the Challenges and Opportunities of an Aging North America, by Ken Dychtwald

Jobs, Roles and People – The New World of Job Evaluation, by Hay Management Consultants

Punished By Rewards – The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise and Other Bribes, by Alfie Kohn

The Great Reckoning – How the World Will Change in the Great Depression of the 1990′s, by Lord Rees-Mogg

The Organization Game, by Craig Hickman

Love Is Letting Go of Fear, by Gerald Jampolsky


Yes, it’s heavy on the non-fiction .. and yes, for the years since I have been reading many more novels ;-)

Hacking As Purposeful Organizational Change

For the past several years we’ve heard lots about BarCamps, WordCamps, BookCamps, GovJams, Unconferences, Hackathons and various forms of collaborative spaces, etc. All of these represent forms of organization in which people come together and group around a purpose with the objective of carrying out some practical experiments. Typically today such groupings are invited, planned and often facilitated by people connected online to other people because of affinities of purpose, interest, values or skills.

The aim is to see what can get done when a bunch of people with passion, similar interests and diverse skills come together and get started at seeing what the results of focused collaboration might be.

Why can’t that be done by larger organizations, and become seen as a ‘strategic business process’, a form of crowd-solving ? Why not hack onerous and out-dated HR processes and policies ? Or ask people to tackle other problematic areas of an organization’s operations ?

I believe there are some early examples in (for example) IBM’s large-scale and sometimes global jams. But it seems to me evident that grouping people around issues and problems that they care about will make useful things happen much more quickly and efficiently than might otherwise be the case.

Wirearchy in action ?

Leading and Managing People In The Networked Era Must Evolve

For the past few years there have been increasingly numerous and strident calls for fundamental make-overs of both management and leadership. One of the most recent that has high visibility (Forbes Magazine) is Steve Denning’s «Why Most Of What We Know About Management Is Just Plain, Flat, Dead Wrong“. People everywhere are clicking into the fact that yesteryear’s models and ways are less and less effective, and yet we all labor on whilst yelling “change .. change, or die .. etc.”

World-renowned organizational effectiveness guru Gary Hamel set out the fundamental challenge(s) in his 2007 book “The Future of Management“. Others, such as John Hagel and John Seeley Brown’ in their 2012 “The Power of Pull“, have weighed in with equally sharp and challenging premises and theories. These works and numerous others signal an urgent need to innovate and adapt to a new set of conditions, conditions which are rapidly on their way to becoming ubiquitous and/or expected by the generations entering or approaching their chapter-of-life in the workplace.

It sometimes feels like this is only the next round or wave of coming to terms with rumblings and dynamics that began back in the 60′s, 70′s and 80′s. After all, we began hearing about the critical need for empowerment, continuous learning, flexibility, agility and resilience at least three decades ago. And most of the pioneering work in these areas came even earlier, stemming from the soft-and-squishy (or seen to be that way) world of Organizational Development (OD), developed and championed by pioneers like Eric Trist, Fred Emery, Bill Passmore, Marv Weisbord, Peter Block, Charles Handy, Meg Wheatley and many others.

As the years have passed since these pioneers first addressed the human issues in organizational structures and processes derived from engineering and efficiency principles, various elements of their thinking and practices have inexorably found their way into managing processes and people. I suggest that this is entirely understandable as the increasing frequency and intensity of complicated and complex organizational activities have grown over time, along with the evolution of peoples’ expectations about work and meaning in a modern era.

My premise is that management innovation is indeed available from that world of organizational development. The principles and dynamics of Organizational development are closely aligned to Hamel’s suggestion that « activities will still need to be coordinated, individual efforts aligned, objectives decided upon, knowledge disseminated, and resources allocated, but increasingly this work will be distributed out to the periphery ».

The New Context Demands New Principles

What was yesterday called Enterprise 2.0 and today is called “Social Business” can be seen as the emergent stage of the intersection of significant advances in information technology, management science applied to business process, the analysis and control of operational activities AND the interaction and participation of people with information, opinions and knowledge to share.

These forces and factors are converging in today’s workplaces, wherein a continuous flow of information is the rule rather than the exception. Thus, it is essential to cast a critical eye on the fundamental assumptions of work design and how people doing the work are managed. The core assumptions embodied in widely-used methodologies today still present work as ”static sets of tasks and knowledge arranged in specific constellations on an organization chart” (see all major job evaluation methodologies for more detail).

It’s getting clearer and clearer today that the capabilities and dynamics of what started in the consumer realm as social software (those funny things called blogs, and wikis, and widgets stitched together by interconnected people using web services) are finding their way into the workplace.

That they have migrated to the workplace makes sense. People have always (at work) been creating and building up … knowledge through exchanging information, talking and arguing and pointing out other ideas and sources of information and ways to do things. Such services and tools and the reasons for which people use them are the means by which general human activity (purposeful and otherwise) translates to the online environment.

So, as stated at the outset it seems clear that we’re situated in a more interactive, less static environment. Whether we like it or not, we are passing from an era in which things were assumed to be controllable (able to be deconstructed and then assembled into a clear, linear, always replicable and thus static form) to an era characterized by a continuous  flow of information. Because the flows of information feed the conduct and operations of organizations large and small, the flows necessarily demand to be interpreted and shaped into useful inputs and outputs.

The methodologies still in use today presnt obstacles to the rapid and timely creation of outputs.  These methodologies generally did not foresee working with networked information flows, and thus the way work is designed and managed does not really address how it could or should be managed.

We need to revisit the fundamental principles of work design AND the basic rules used to configure hierarchical organizations in which the primary assumption is that knowledge is put to use in a vertical chain of decision-making.

Both Horizontal and Vertical

Horizontal flows of information and peoples’ engagement have already been put to work in a range of early Enterprise 2.0 and Social Business experiments.  But let’s be honest .. how these will work, or not, is less than clear to date. There’s an enormous amount of inertia and habit to overcome, all whilst confronting continuously turbulent conditions, seasoned with healthy helpings of ambiguity, about economics, governance and peoples’ collective capabilities to adapt.

The complex challenges organizations face have traditionally been directed, controlled and managed by senior people in hierarchies. And let’s be clear .. hierarchy is not disappearing from the organizational landscape, nor should it. It’s an useful construct for clarifying decision-making and accountability, and I believe it will come to co-exist with the core dynamics of networked people and information …

a dynamic two-way flow of power and authority based on knowledge, trust, credibility and a focus on results”

.. which, incidentally, is a fundamental aspect of all the ‘democratization’ (it’s probably too early to yet call it that, but let’s do so for the time being) we are witnessing in the recent uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East and in the concerns about surveillance and privacy in the wake of the phenomena of Wikileaks and the NSA – Snowden whistle-blowing.

Would that our western governments and organizations watch and learn as they embark on the renewal of leadership and management in the 21st Century.

The implications are huge, will demand significant effort and responsibility on the part of all individuals, and may lead to very different ways of working and being in and of the world.

But clearly, the embodiment of leadership and management as it is practiced today must evolve and become pertinent to the growing presence and impact of networked people and information.  What we have been doing thus far looks less and less likely to be as effective as necessary in the rapidly-approaching future.

Your organization is already a wirearchy … ?

… it just doesn’t (officially) operate as one.

In order to do so, the people charged with leading and managing its activities must in all likelihood must undergo some some significant unlearning and then adoption of new mental models.  At a minimum.

The organization in which you work has probably involved everyone in using computers for at least 15 years now. People sit behind laptop or desktop screens, and increasingly are on the move or working remotely, using laptops, tablets and smartphones. Web access is growing in ubiquity, and access speeds are increasing.  The people in the organization are interconnected and exchange information with each other all day long

The productivity platforms for organization are no longer Microsoft Office and ‘home-grown’ patchwork information management systems but large integrated ERP systems (like SAP) and collaboration-oriented platforms like Sharepoint or IBM Connections or one of a number of other lesser-known platforms (often integrated via APIs with a number of other SaaS-based capabilities). There are many ways for employees to connect with each other, as intranet solutions become more ‘social’. It’s likely that the executives and managers in your organization will have been hearing and reading about this networked world of work for at least 3 or 4 years now.

We are now fully ensconced in the interconnected Knowledge Age. And there’s near-unanimity amongst informed pundits that the interconnectedness and speed-of-light transmission of information will bring us growing uncertainty and turbulence as well as significant new and interesting opportunities.  But more understanding is critical.

But now how do we use a formidable array of connectedness and social computing capability to become responsive and adaptable to these new conditions ?

Given that the organization and its people are « wired », the key elements of wirearchy are already in play.

 Wirearchy – a dynamic two-way flow of power and authority based on knowledge, trust, credibility and a focus on results enabled by interconnected people and technology; knowledge, trust, credibility and a focus on results.

Connected people, connected organizations

To recap, today it’s very likely that in your organization people are interconnected and are using their exchanges with each other and their participation in information flows to get work done and achieve objectives. The organization’s people are already operating using knowledgetrustcredibility and a focus on achieving results .. it’s just that the ways these elements are used or put into service are not often well adapted to the new more horizontal playing field.  And of course there may be significant lapses or absence of these elements.  We’ll explore the issues below.

Start with “why” – why should these new capabilities be used, and what for ? The question to ask here is how well does the organization use these new capacities.  And how well has it adapted its leadership, management practices and organizational culture to be flexible and adept enough to take advantage of these real possibilities for improvement and/or innovation?

These question softer uncover ambiguity and lack of clarity.  And there is often general dissonance and resistance to the necessary adaptation(s) because more often than not people are operating in the psychological infrastructure of the traditional not-interconnected hierarchy.

A decade has gone by

By now (early 2014) almost everybody interested in the networked organization will have heard of holacracy, radical management, work hacking and a range of other initiatives aimed at bringing deep(er) change to organizations seeking to function more effectively in an environment of hyperlinked people and information.

It’s been 8-plus years since the term Enterprise 2.0 was created by Andy McAfee to designate a new form factor for organizations brought about by the introduction of social computing tools and productivity platforms which support activity streams, work flows and collaborative practices. The term and related concepts have offered organizations everywhere the possibility of  rebooting or re-orienting the ways knowledge work is carried out.

Now that we have more than a decade of experience with the Web we know that users gain familiarity with social computing in the consumer arena first, followed by migration to more serious pursuits (in this case collaboration and knowledge work). The term Enterprise 2.0 generated a lot of heat and light, but arguably the adoption, implementation and significant use of social computing was examined only tentatively by most organizations.

By the time the Enterprise 2.0 caravan struck out towards the future’s frontier, thanks to consumer social networks we also had a decent understanding of the latent transparency afforded by hyperlinked information, individuals and groups. Scores of blog posts and articles developed the themes associated with the potential (and eventual) impact of these new conditions on the widely-accepted classic pyramidal hierarchy.

The new environment is different indeed

The classic hierarchical model has been optimised over the past 50 years through a range of initiatives addressing continuous improvement, re-engineering, and a massive and continuing focus on execution and quality. Today at the start of the 21st Century this model dominates the organizational world. It promises control, predictability and progressive incremental quarter-over-quarter growth and constant improvement in financial performance in an era when for many executives that is all that matters.

Hyperlinked information and people seems dangerous to those charged with creating and managing the control, predictability and forward stability. The paths to effectiveness in an interconnected environment seem and feel less knowable, less controllable. People are prone to asking questions and introducing new ideas. Networked exchanges between people runs the risk of introducing disorder or mis-alignment into the ranks of the execution-and-quality-focused knowledge worker.

Yes, I am over-simplifying here. But it is not an exaggeration to state that there has been anticipatory anxiety, trepidation or indifference by the organization’s C-Suite with regard to addressing the deep changes (both possible and imagined) that are generated by social computing.

After a period of initial exploration and shaking out of the concept of Enterprise 2.0, and aided by the spectacular growth of online social networks, the domain shifted or graduated to the notion of « social business » in 2008-2009. More and more organizations had begun to realize that social computing and networks were not going away. And of course the primary connections seen as necessary were the connections to the already-wired-and-connected consumer, who by now surfed the internet daily, shopped online pretty regularly and participated in one way or another in exchanges on Facebook, on Twitter, on blogs, on Instagram, etc.

Social networks and their dynamics were no longer breaking news, but either an opportunity or a bother to be dealt with somehow.

Enterprise 2.0 → Social Business

Thus, the term « social business » arrived. It was coined by members of the Dachis Group to denote business activities taking place in connected eco-systems of information. It’s main contribution to the field of interest created by the concept of Enterprise 2.0 was a greater emphasis on people being part of the connected eco-system.  However, Enterprise 2.0 still tended to focus on the advent and spread of tools and platforms, whilst of course it’s people who use the tools and platforms).

« Social » is a tricky term, of course. In a first instance, many people have pointed out that « business has always been social ». Secondly, there’s been much debate over the past three years about the fundamental difference between the Dachis Group’s notion of ‘social business » and the notion of « social enterprise », a form of organization that is structured and operated so as to return profit, capital or other benefits to members, clients and communities.

Additionally, it’s useful for my purposes to add here that the concept of « social business » as articulated by the Dachis Group borrowed heavily from the social science domain known as socio-technical systems theory. Interest in and research into the collision or melding of technology and sociology began in the 1960′s principally as a counter-balance to the dominance of engineering and efficiency principles as applied to organizational structure and dynamics. Much of this work can be found today in the principles and practices of the field known as OD (organizational development) although it has tended to focus on people and often enough ignore technology.

Optimization or ongoing development?

The field of OD came into being in the 50′s / early 60′s mainly as a search for ways to counter or work around some of the less desirable aspects of rigid hierarchy, and to increase productivity though worker satisfaction.

Since then OD has coalesced mainly into a domain of activity in the organization associated with learning and development. For many leaders and managers, this makes coming to terms with networks and their dynamics and activities pretty difficult. You may have heard the phrase « the soft stuff is the hard stuff ». In a world where management « science » has grown and flourished for the same 50 years, unlearning and letting go of what made you successful as a manager and gave you social status within the organization is not an easy thing.

Both we and our organizations need an understanding of and fluency with the new technology(ies) and the realization that the dynamics of networks align very clearly with the main principles of (organizational) development and learning

Notwithstanding the practices available from socio-technical systems theory, the adoption of « social business » practices over the last 4 or 5 years has continued to encounter significant amounts of resistance to new ways of working with information and knowledge and managing people. At the same time there has been ongoing evolution of social networks, the technology that enables these networks, and the activities generated by the people in the networks.

Whither « Social Business »?

Quite recently there have been various « dust storms » of opinion  with respect to the proclamation that « social business is dead »,.  This discussion has been accompanied by the noticeable stagnation by most organizations regarding coming to grips with the wider and deeper effects of social computing and networks.

I’ll admit some schadenfreude here, as I’ve been one of those who has stated for some time that the term « social business » helped gloss over or keep superficial the deep(er) changes … to structure, to managing both activities and talent, and to organizational culture … that organizations must deal with if they are to survive and thrive in this era of networks.  And indeed, in response to the notion of « dead » many opinions sprang up noting the contrary, that the era of networked activities is just getting started and that the major changes to business process, organizational structures, and management of people and activities are on the horizon, yet to come.

Why is this? Well, it seems clear now that the deeper changes are underway all around us. Changes are coming thicker and faster to the sources and structure(s) of knowledge and the ways in which people create both economic and social value through their work .. hence the notions of holacracy, work hacking, radical management and so on.

But .. most organizations are still structured as classic traditional hierarchies, and the well-known « command-and-control » models of management (though now often structurally ‘softened’ by 2 decades of continuous change) are still in operation almost everywhere. This has not gone unnoticed. Over the past two years there has been a spate of books, articles and studies suggesting that leadership and management for a networked area MUST change, and in important ways.

 The Future of Management (G. Hamel)

The Future of Work (Malone)

The Golden Age of Management Is Now (Denning)

Will Enterprise 2.0 Drive Management Innovation ? (Husband)

Flat Army (Pontefract)

.. and a large number of other similar works.

The organization’s future is here; it’s very unevenly distributed

What’s the next stepping-off point or springboard for the networked organization?

I’d like to suggest that it is critical to recognize, explicitly, that …

  1. networks are here to stay,
  2. future generations of knowledge workers accept these tools and dynamicss as a regular part of their lives
  3. the conditions are at hand for growing flexible and responsive learning organizations comprised of engaged people, and
  4. adaptation is fundamentally necessary; there are and will be significant payoffs from investments in social tools, collaborative platforms and engaged people

After all, your organization is no longer, in effect, a traditional hierarchy. Almost everybody in the western world who would be considered a knowledge worker works daily behind a screen (desktop, laptop, tablet or smartphone) and functions to some degree or other in a range of now well-known social networks. And no doubt many of the organizations who began experimenting 6 or 5 or 4 or 3 years ago will now have some form(s) or other of functioning social networks in operation.

People are connected to each other, and critical information and knowledge are flowing daily. This fact is not in question and is not going away. More information is being created each day,  younger people who’ve by now grown up with things digital and social tools are entering the workforce, new tools and new information technology capabilities (semantic engineering, machine learning, work automation), etc.

Change is inevitable. The people and the information in and of your organization are already networked. Increasingly there’s a mis-match between the way an organization has been structured (wherein access to information and permission and freedom to act were arranged vertically through reporting relationships) and the way(s) it can be structured to operate more effectively and more ‘holistically’ in ubiquitous networked conditions.

Dissonance and structural tension

Henceforth, organizations and the ways they operate as currently designed will likely be awkward in front of engaged networks. Primarily this is because hyperlinks, connectedness and information flows have a significant impact on decision-making and taking action. The dynamics of networked information flows and the exchanges by people that accompany the flows need to be addressed in the design of the jobs/roles, departments and levels, pay practices, etc.). But the changes necessary to access greater effectiveness are large and important.

What we have today is networked organizations dealing increasingly with knowledge and innovation as key differentiators whilst still structured as industrial machines in which jobs are the separate cogs, levers, nuts and bolts of those machines. However, the dynamics of networked organizations have often been compared to the dynamics of living, holistic ecosystems. It’s not much of a stretch to think of things in this fashion, when we begin to consider an organization as a representation of an organism .. networks and connections being the neurons and synapses of its nervous system, its processes being the operations of the body, its relationships with key suppliers or partners its arms and legs, etc.

Decoupling work from stable employment

As we can see, there are important variables at play regarding the increasing complexity of the nature of work and the necessary changes to the structure and dynamics of the organizations in which knowledge work takes place. Many of these variables began feeling the impacts of the new conditions a decade or more ago. These impacts have not escaped the attention of workers everywhere. There seems to be ample evidence that people who work as employees are increasingly dis-engaged from authoritarian top-down decision-making paternal management styles and practices.

Additionally, in order to respond as effectively as possible to more turbulent and uncertain conditions in a globalized business environment, it has become commonplace over the past 20 years for organizations to carry out reductions-in-force (or downsizing) when it becomes necessary to reduce costs.

The cumulative effect of this approach to effectiveness has been a accelerating deconstruction of the social contract between employers and employees. Other than fear and anxiety, little prevents dis-engaged workers from leaving an organization or offering mediocre personal performance.

Thus, clued-in people everywhere are recognizing that their future is already here, even if the organization(s) in which they work are not responding to the constellation of new conditions we all face. They’re operating more and more in wirearchies … in connected groups where the key enablers for effectiveness are pertinent knowledge, thresholds of trust, reliable credibility and an ongoing focus on results. We don’t want to talk just to be social .. let’s also make things happen, let’s get things done. Often for people that means leaving an organizational environment in which they feel they cannot flourish or easily explore interesting ideas that may lead to invention and innovation of new ways of getting things done.

Increasingly, we can expect to find smart people, loosely joined in networks are there to get things done they care about or in which they have made investments of psychological and emotional energy. They may well need hierarchy to help in decision-making, but less and less as proxies for stability, control and trust. That horse has left the barn.

 And, so what?

The people in your organization are connected, whether to each other or to flows of information and knowledge. As more and more information flows about products, services, conditions, industries, local, national or international events and so on, traditional reporting relationships and decision-making permission defined by levels in the organization becomes less and less effective.

Hierarchies prescribe and dictate; networks enable, sense, and generate. When connected to clients, networks help workers follow issues and ideas coming from the market. The organization as a whole can stay in closer touch with the desires, appetites and needs of its clients, employees and other stakeholders.

But as described earlier in this essay, in so many cases they are still being tasked with operating the levers, cogs and other mechanisms of a machine that has efficiency as the non-emotional key strategic driver.

In reality the interconnected world we now live in is beginning to ask for more. It is asking for more rapid and more intelligent responses, more accessibility and more honesty, but from fewer top-down policies and rules and faster, more flexible and more effective decision-making where it matters (in front of or in exchange with a customer)

Can the transitions each and every organization must go through be made easier, more valuable, more effective?

If So, How?

It’s not at all clear that organizations can change all that much, and there is a decent amount of evidence to the contrary. However, I think there are two or three clear approaches and/or tools that can be extremely useful (assuming that the organization in question has some networks operating within and or without).

The primary useful approach, I believe, is ONA (organizational network analysis) pioneered by Valdis Krebs, Rob Cross, Verna AlleeJessical LipnackPatti Anklam and others. ONA is a derivative or sister concept of SNA (social network analysis) and now has established principles, practices, metrics, known challenges, etc.

In effect, carrying out ONA helps make the wirearchy (an hierarchy co-existing with networks) of a specific organization visible and more accessible. When visible and accessible, it’s easier to find out why things are stuck somewhere, where talent is being mis-managed, under-utilised. It helps to uncover and clarify various types of issues and challenges related to the flows of information (and decisions) between interconnected individuals and groups.

I’ve been surprised that ONA has not become more widely used over the past 5 years (a colleague pointed out to me that there are actually very few social networks operating in organizations today).  If that is true, either I am deliberately provoking you, the reader, with the title of this essay or it underscores that position that while there is much interconnectedness, the activities carried out in the interconnected environment have yet to coalesce into something effective),.

That said, I believe ONA is becoming more valuable all the time. Wit the assumption that networks are not going away, that more and more people are comfortable with them and with the tools they use, we can imagine that their presence will only grow in visibility and impact.

You can’t make (real) changes to culture or leadership or management practices if you don’t really know what’s going by whom and with whom in the networks of a given organization. But make that activity and the people visible on maps that provide analytic tools (such as centrality, betweenness, etc.) and all of a sudden there’s much more tangible information with which to work in order to design, implement and execute cultural change or introduce models of management practice that recognize and address the dynamics of networked activities.

But .. your organization today is indeed a wirearchy, but a young and immature one.  It may or may or may not grow up to be an effective networked hierarchy.  But in order to survive and thrive it will need to unlearn its steady-but-less-responsive ways of operating and use ONA and other means to make its networks and the value it contains and generates visible, accessible, intelligent, empowered and in a constant state of evolution.

On Leading, Managing and Co-creating in the Connected Workplace

1.  Customers, employees and other stakeholders are all interconnected, and have access to most, if not all the information that everyone else has

This fact has large implications for any organization.  It means that you can’t hide – anywhere.

Michael Schrage of MIT puts it very succinctly:

Networks make organizational culture and politics explicit

It’s essential, in this interconnected age of instant accessibility to information and knowledge, that as a leader and manager you are aware of the potent force that is contained in networks of connected information and people.

The implications are clear.

People have to understand and believe in what an organization is doing, why the organization is doing what it does, and how it’s doing it.

The messages have to be clear and believable, and the culture that carries out the organization’s mandate and mission has to be flexible, responsive and open.

Fear and cynicism, being driven to perform – as opposed to being invited to contribute your best – can’t carry the day.

2. The organization chart usually reflects power and politics in the organization … more often than not, customers and employees find work-arounds to create the experiences that delight

“Hierarchy is a prosthesis for trust” – Warren Bennis  (just stop .. please .. and think about this one for a moment)

Most organization charts reflect an organizational design that is intended to deliver a strategy developed by a small group of people sitting on the top of an organization

Evaluating and ordering jobs in terms of their size and importance is often used to implement the organizational design.

Most methods of job evaluation use factors, logic and language that was developed in the 1950′s and 1960′s – perfect for the Industrial Age, less than perfect for the interconnected Information Age.

Often, reporting relationships and chains-of-command get in the way.

Why do you think the Dilbert comic strip has been so successful for so long ?

Probably because people know that lots of time, energy and effort is expended keeping bosses happy – usually at the expense of customers. Many managers aspired to, and have spent the last twenty years, learning how to become “bosses”.  Do you know what prison guards are called by the inmates ?  You guessed it … BOSS !

3.  People interconnected by the Internet and software have ways of speaking to each other – and so they do that – all day long.

People communicate.  That’s what people do.

They share jokes, they send around interesting e-mails and web sites, they help each other get things done.

The nature of work in the Information Age has changed – dramatically.  And it’s likely that the nature of work will keep changing.

If you want to see what work might look like – watch developments in the usability and usefulness of blogs and wikis.  Watch younger people as they bring the gaming mentality into the workplace and watch how they communicate using cell phones, e-mail, and IM and the (eventual) derivatives of podcasting.

Watch, too, for developments in telepresence.

Employees are people, too.  They communicate just like all the other real people, in Social Networks.  They’re the ones communicating with your customers and shareholders.

It’s essential for an organization’s success, and the personal success of each and every one of those employees, that they feel proud of what they communicate. They want to be engaged in positive ways in making a meaningful contribution – to the customers, to themselves and to their fellow employees.

4. Champion-and-Channel replaces Command-and-Control

Thousands of articles have talked about how command-and-control dynamics are less than effective in the new set of interconnected conditions found in the workplaces of the Information Age.

Remember how you felt (or feel today) when commanded by a parent or other authority figure?

All too often, going to work in today’s organizations feels like re-living the adult version of that experience.

Not all organizations are like this – but fewer and fewer of tomorrow’s organizations will be able to function effectively if command-and-control remains the dominant dynamic.

Coaching has become an important response to changing this dynamic.  Coaches help leaders and managers listen better, respect other people more authentically, and become more effective at striking a balance between:

Clarity and Decisiveness                         AND                         Flexibility and Openness

As change swirls and complexity keeps on growing, champion-and-channel helps good ideas and effective responses come to the surface and get implemented.

Effective leaders and managers know how to, or learn how to, champion and channel.

Bosses are different than leaders and managers – as both a conceptual construct and in the lived experience found in our relationship with them.

5. Conversations are where information is shared, knowledge is created and are the basis for getting the right things done

Human beings have been having conversations since time began.  That’s how we’ve figured out all of the things we’ve invented and how we govern ourselves.  It’s how we’ve gotten to how we are now.

In the Industrial Age, reporting relationships, and the assumption that the dog on the top of the heap knew more than all the other dogs, were the formalized structure for conversation .  It doesn’t work very well this way, anymore.

The only way to deal with ongoing change is to create and sustain effective conversations horizontally – with your customers, with and amongst employees and with everyone else.

Sharing information, and creating new knowledge, in order to respond to ongoing change, is the only way that will work from here on out.

The structure, tools and culture of organizations will have to honor this fact.

There’s no other way it’s going to work.

6. Trust, transparency and telling the truth are the glue that holds it all together

People want to trust, they want to believe – even in the face of large amounts of evidence that the system is being manipulated in the favor of a select few.

In North America, we’re still trying to shake off the disbelief about the blatant  dishonesty and fraud demonstrated by some corporate (and governmental) leaders.  We actively do not want to believe things may be as corrupt as they seem … institutionalized dishonesty and deceit.

We don’t want to believe that these attitudes and behavior might be more widespread than is apparent, yet somehow we have a feeling that the common corporate culture rewards and supports this possibility.

Many people – checking  their 401K’s or stock portfolios, or looking back at the job(s) they’ve lost – feel at best disrespected and at worst enraged that they have been taken advantage of.

The interconnectedness of the Web has created a means for people to challenge blind authority, and to push back.  If their trust is abused, many will use this to establih their own authority or fight back

Let’s understand one thing … when people who have been abused decide to get organized and push back, they become a potent force.

Interconnectedness is a potent force for creating transparency and demanding trust, and many are just now learning how to use it more effectively.

7. The Workplace of the Future will be more diverse – in terms of demographics, values, gender, race and language

In the midst of all the interconnectedness and sharing of information, the composition and shape of the workplace will keep changing.

North America and Western Europe are landscapes of a changing population – different waves of immigration keep coming, and each new generation brings fresh change to the workplace.  The workplace of the near future will be a sea of people from a wide range of countries, cultures and languages – and they will all be interconnected.

The range of diversity brings with an equally wide range of beliefs, values and reasons for working.

This emerging mix will bring new dynamics of relationship into the workplace – both online and offline

Learning to listen, respect and champion-and-channel will be an essential competency for success.

8. New, integrated and sophisticated technologies are being developed and implemented – and the knowledge workers of tomorrow will be more interconnected than ever

According to the experts, we’re moving into a collaborative and cooperative workplace and economy now – most organizations have by now adopted and (perhaps) implemented collaborative platforms,  an infrastructure that’s decentralized and more open than that which existed until now.

Remember Napster ?  (Oh my God .. like a century ago in Internet time).  The workplace versions exist and may be coming soon to a workplace near you.  Indeed, the wider conversation about blogs, micro-blogging, sharing and the place of these hyperlinked human activities in the workplace is only growing and acquiring useful examples.

Many forms of “smartware” are also on the runway, getting ready to take off.  New tools are absolutely essential to deal with the overload of information that already exists – and grows more daunting with each passing week.  This “smartware” (for example, all sorts of semantic filtering, or the use of what Thomas Vanderwal of Folksonomies fame has termed “social lenses”) will eventually find ways into the interconnected knowledge-based workplace.

Smartware will either “dumb things down” (entering information, and the system does the rest), or “smarten things up” (helping people collaborate and create new knowledge).

Many of these tools will add capability and functionality to the continuing need for effective collaboration – and so will make collaboration more and more possible.

More technology-supported collaboration will in turn increase the need for effective leadership and coaching – champion-and-channel will become more necessary than ever.  The game will get sharper again.

Adapting to the new tools will require new forms of social interaction in the workplace.  As change keeps coming, and work activities become more interdependent, the required adaptation will become more social and cultural – and biological, in terms of the dynamics – in nature.

9. We’re all in this together

The interconnected Information Age is beginning to show us that we’re all linked together – and that the whole system matters.

This principle applies to organizations, to networks of customers, suppliers, employees and communities, to our societies and to the planet.

New language for this principle is popping up everywhere – knowledge networks, intranets, communities of practice, systems thinking, swarming, social software, social networks, tipping points.

Awareness is the key.  Maintain an “open focus”.

Being aware of yourself, others and the effects of your actions and ways of being in relation to others is a fundamental requirement in these conditions.

10. There’s no going back to “Normal” – Permanent Whitewater is the New Normal

It’s almost trite to say this – the only constant is change.

However…over the past 15 years or so, there have been enormous amounts of energy spent resisting change – waiting and hoping for things to go back to “normal”.

It won’t happen.  It’s useful to acknowledge and accept this, and get started … at learning how to learn, and equipping yourself for constant adaptability.

It’s a good – but not the only – way forward.

At the same time, you won’t survive by trying to make yourself into a chameleon.  You can’t be all things to all people.

Connecting to your self – your values, your ways to build and acquire knowledge, and understand and use your intuition – is in my opinion the only way to go.

“What If Everything Ran Like The Internet ?” – Guest Post

Published below is what I think we can consider to be a seminal piece by my friend Dave Pollard.

And .. just in case some smart alec suggests that there’s much on the Internet that is shadowy, stupid, banal, disgusting, irrelevant, etc., yes that’s all true.  This is a conceptual piece that outlines the systemic-level differences for how we arrange human activities in societies that are accessible with different core assumptions and power structures.

Dave Pollard is an exceptional thinker, observer and writer.  He was, like quite a few of my conscious and heartful friends, a mainstream business person for most of his adult life.  And so, whatever shortcomings in his thinking one may attribute to naive and/or utopian ideals, Dave can claim to have the background of practical and experiential working life to bring to the questions and issues he tackles.

Today’s western world demonstrates in full-blown technicolor the complicated, complex and inertia-laden infrastructure that certain core assumptions and ideologies have provided us as the substrate for living and working.  Our notions and concrete concepts of money, societal laws, rules like accounting standards and educational curricula and speed limits on highways, mortgages and credit, and so on .. all reflect the society into which we have grown unblinking as we’ve passed very quickly, in effect, through the quickening of the late-stage industrial era into the post-industrial era (please remember, I said “the western world” ;-)

And there’s more change .. lots more change .. coming at us thick and fast.  Here’s my good friend René Barsalo expressing a critically-important concept he calls InfoMutation.

Most of us know we’ve created all this, and created it using a combination of human cognition, creativity AND tradition, adapting as we go along (usually via political and economic means). Many of us just accept hat “it is what it is”, and that whilst change is constant, our main challenge is to survive and remain viable as an individual and often (though less and less often) as a family unit.

Many of us also know or believe it doesn’t have to be this way. Ask George Orwell or Aldous Huxley. Ask Buckminster Fuller.  Ask Ernest Schumacher, or Paolo Soleri.  Ask Jane Jacobs.  Ask Dave Snowden. Ask Michel Bauwens.

We celebrate as visionaries the utopians and dystopians of our past who have had the courage to to see and think differently.  There is today, I believe, a huge and mainly untapped appetite for deep change, but/and many people feel trapped .. whether by being relatively unconscious, by learned helplessness, or just by being too busy as competitors in the human rat race our system invites us into all too easily.

Dave Pollard is one of these extraordinary people.  He is equally at ease as an utopian or a dystopian, and has an uncanny ability to set things out clearly through the use of deep and comprehensive analysis, clear language and heartfelt cris de coeur that don’t fail to touch (one way or another) anyone who takes the time to read and unpack his always-pertinent thinking.

In the piece below he has artfully woven together virtually all of what I have been thinking about for the past twenty years.  I recognize each sentence.  I like to think I could have written it, but I’m too lazy and (maybe) too discouraged.

Discouraged because what he sets out is after all clearly utopian (heh .. see the title of his blog) .. The piece below sets out something like the fantasy social systems we can find outlined in (for example) Urlsula Le Guin’s classic The Dispossessed.  And please note .. his piece starts out with “What If .. “.  

I don’t believe I’m very utopian in my own thinking. I think society and its organization will mainly remain hierarchic, managed by power dynamics and controlled by our respective systems of capital markets, money and energy consumption.Perhaps idealistic and perhaps naive when I write .. but I am mainly theorizing.  A number of my friends, such as Harold Jarche or Euan Semple or Stowe Boyd or Phil Cubeta also hold onto hope for a better world through interconnectedness, trust, sharing and giving.  But I believe we all agree that we’re on a (very) long slow march and that it can at times be hard to keep our eyes on the prize.  

We’re regularly told we live in social systems underpinned by freedom and democratic principles.  In this era I am less and less sure of that.  But to give space and possibility to the scope and reach of human potential, I believe that I and the afore-named friends (and many many other people around the world) think opening up to democratic principles and peer-to-peer egalitarian dynamics in workplaces, communities and regions .. is the way to go.

Thanks, Dave Pollard.  Thanks to the Web, may your observing, thinking and writing live on.



When the Internet was first starting to catch on in the 1980s, I was invited, as a representative of a large business consulting organization, to a day-long seminar explaining what this new phenomenon was and how businesses should be responding to it. It was led by a man who now makes millions as a social media guru (I won’t embarrass him by identifying him), but at the time he warned that the Internet had no future. The reason, he said, was that it was “anarchic” — there was no management, no control, no way of fixing things quickly if they got “out of hand”. The solution, he said, was for business and government leaders to get together and create an orderly alternative — “Internet 2″ he called it — that would replace the existing Internet when it inevitably imploded. Of course, he couldn’t have been more wrong.

The Internet represents a different way of ‘organizing’ (though that word doesn’t quite fit) a huge system. Instead of a hierarchy, it is what Jon Husband has coined a “wirearchy” — a vast network of egalitarian networks. It follows nature’s model of self-organizing, self-adapting, evolving complex systems, instead of the traditional business and government top-down, controlled, tightly managed, complicated system model. There have been many attempts to graft a hybrid of the two, but they have never worked because complex and complicated systems are fundamentally and irreconcilably different.

It is because business and government systems are wedded to the orthodoxy of hierarchy that as they become larger and larger (which such systems tend to do) they become more and more dysfunctional. Simply put, complicated hierarchical systems don’t scale. That is why we have runaway bureaucracy, governments that everyone hates, and the massive, bloated and inept Department of Homeland Security.

But, you say, what about “economies of scale”? Why are we constantly merging municipalities and countries and corporations together into larger and ever-more-efficient megaliths? Why is the mantra of business “bigger is better”?

The simple answer is that there are no economies of scale. In fact, there are inherent diseconomies of scale in complicated systems. When you double the number of nodes (people, departments, companies, locations or whatever) in a complicated system you quadruple the number of connections between them that have to be managed. And each “connection” between people in an organization has a number of ‘costly’ attributes: information exchange (“know-what”), training (“know-how”), relationships (“know-who”), collaboration/coordination, and decision-making. That is why large corporations have to establish command-and-control structures that discourage or prohibit connection between people working at the same level of the hierarchy, and between people working in different departments.

Why do we continue to believe such economies of scale exist? The illustration above shows what appears to happen when an organization becomes a hierarchy. In the top drawing, two 5-person organizations with 10 people between them have a total of 20 connections between them. But if they go hierarchical, the total number of connections to be ‘managed’ drops from 20 to 8. Similarly, a 10-person co-op has a total of 45 connections to ‘manage’, but if it goes hierarchical, this number drops to just 9.

This is clearly ‘efficient’, but it is highly ineffective. The drop in connections means less exchange of useful information peer-to-peer and cross-department, less peer and cross-functional learning, less knowledge of who does what well, less trust, less collaboration, less informed decision-making, less creative improvisation, and, as the number of layers in the hierarchy increases, more chance of communication errors and gaps.

Nevertheless, this is considered a fair and necessary trade-off. The 10-person co-op organization in this illustration is already starting to look unwieldy, so imagine what it would look like with 100 people (thousands of connections) or 10,000 people (millions of connections). By contrast, the hierarchical organization that combines 2 five-person companies only increases its number of connections from 8 to 9 (and perhaps even fewer if some ‘redundant’ employees are let go after consolidation). With similar control spans a hierarchical organization of 100 or 10,000 people only needs an average of one or two connections per employee, a fraction of what the non-hierarchical organization would seem to need. Isn’t this apparent efficiency advantage a worthwhile ‘economy of scale’?

It isn’t, and for the same reasons noted above: as the hierarchy gets larger, the loss in exchange of useful information peer-to-peer and cross-department, the loss in peer and cross-functional learning, the loss of knowledge of who does what well, the loss of trust, the loss of capacity for collaboration, improvisation and innovation, the inability to make informed decisions, and the volume of communication errors and gaps increases exponentially. Beyond about 50 people, the hierarchy begins to get dysfunctional, and much above that (as in most large corporations, government departments, agencies and other organizations) it becomes totally dysfunctional and sclerotic — incapable of change or innovation.

Why do these large organizations seem to be so effective then, at least in the private sector and when measured by market dominance and profitability? There are a number of reasons:

  • As they get larger, their political power rises proportionally, so they can effectively lobby governments worldwide for subsidies, legal protections, preferential treatment, and tax and regulatory changes that give them a huge competitive advantage.
  • As they get larger, they qualify for large volume discounts from suppliers.
  • As they get larger, their power in negotiating with unions and employees grows — they can always threaten to hire new, cheaper employees, contract out, outsource or offshore work (and usually do so)
  • As they get larger, their market presence gets larger, so they don’t have to work so hard to attract new customers or experienced employees
  • As they get larger, they can afford to buy up, intimidate and crush smaller innovative competitors, and by eliminating competition easily increase market share and reduce downward pressure on product prices.

So these so-called “economies of scale” have absolutely nothing to do with efficiency or effectiveness and everything to do with abuse of power. These abuses of power are all “win-lose” — and the losers are taxpayers, ripped-off customers, domestic and third-world citizens and workers, innovation, so-called ‘free’ markets, and our massively-degraded natural environment (which they shrug off as “externalized costs”).

In the public sector, the loss of connection as governments, agencies and other organizations grow ever-larger are similar to those in private organizations, but because their mandate isn’t revenue and profit, but public service, the diseconomies of scale are somewhat different:

  • less personal knowledge of ‘customers’ means reduced ability to be of real, customized service, and less awareness of the consequences of poor service
  • less exchange of useful information peer-to-peer and cross-department means the one hand doesn’t know what the other is doing, resulting in bureaucracy, redundancy and runarounds for ‘customers’
  • less peer and cross-functional learning and less knowledge of who does what well means lower levels of competency and less recognition of excellence by peers (often its own reward)
  • less trust means less willingness to offer ideas to innovate or improve processes and services (why take the risk?)
  • less collaboration means more workarounds, more unprofessional make-it-up-in-the-moment answers to systemic problems and needs
  • less informed decision-making means top ‘officials’ in these organizations often make incompetent decisions and rules, forcing employees to find convoluted workarounds to do their jobs without contravening higher-up decisions
  • more communication errors and gaps mean costly service mistakes, insufferable delays and inconsistent service
  • governments and agencies then try to offset the economic diseconomies of scale by forcing each employee to do more and more work, resulting in burnout, inattention and exhaustion
  • consequently bright minds are often enticed to work for private corporations instead of in the public service because it seems less frustrating and pays more

To be sure, these size-diseconomies are also present in large private organizations, and in fact, John Ralston Saul in The Unconscious Civilizationprovides compelling evidence that large governments, agencies and public sector organizations are significantly more effective at providing value to citizens and ‘customers’ than comparable-sized private organizations (not that that’s saying much). So as much as we love to loathe governments and their agencies, privatization almost always makes things worse.

Just as the larger a private corporation becomes the more dysfunctional it gets, the more people a government serves and the farther its representatives get from citizens, the more dysfunctional it becomes.

So why do we (including many liberals) so often want to centralize government services and administrations in the search for economies and effectiveness? The answer in part is that we want to believe that combining functions could eliminate unnecessary duplication and allow the introduction of so-called ‘best practices’ across a wider jurisdiction. When we see two public works departments doing the same thing in adjacent communities with no coordination of effort, the wisdom of combining them would seem a no-brainer. But unfortunately the effect, as noted above, is usually the opposite. We confuse ‘efficiency’ and ‘effectiveness’, and are often drawn to centralization that would seem to offer at least short-term ‘efficiency’ gains, and then get distressed when the result, at least in the longer run, is the opposite. The citizens of many municipalities that have chosen to amalgamate often deeply regret these decisions and try (usually in vain) to reverse them. Likewise, consolidating and combining government departments tends to increase, not decrease, bureaucracy.

Likewise, most business ‘combinations’, mergers and takeovers actually produce ‘negative shareholder value’ (i.e. the value of the merged organization is less, five years hence, than the value of the predecessor organizations). And except for the people at the top of the hierarchy (who end up with more power and bigger bonuses), such combinations almost always disappoint employees of both predecessor organizations (even those who have kept their jobs, who often end up with more responsibility with no more pay). Sales and profits are up, but except for top executives and major shareholders, everyone is a loser.

So back to the purpose of this post, to answer these questions: 1. What is it about the ‘organization’ of the Internet that has allowed it to thrive despite its massive size and lack of hierarchy? And: 2. What if we allowed everything to be run as a ‘wirearchy’?

To answer the first question, the Internet is a “world of ends“, where the important things happen at the edges — and everything is an edge. “The Internet isn’t a thing, it’s an agreement”. And that agreement is constantly being renegotiated peer-to-peer along the edges. If you look at the diagram above of the co-op with the 45 connections, you’ll notice that the nodes are all at the circumference — around the edges. There is no ‘centre’, no ‘top’. And the reason the organization isn’t weighed down by all those connections is that they’re self-managed, not hierarchically managed. The work of identifying which relationships and connections to build and grow and maintain is dispersed to the nodes themselves — and they’re the ones who know which ones to focus on. That’s why the Internet can be so massive, and get infinitely larger, without falling apart. No one is in control; no one needs to hold it together. It’s a model of complexity. And, like nature, like an ecosystem, it is much more resilient than a complicated system, more effective, and boundary-less. And, like nature, that resilience and effectiveness comes at a price — it is less ‘efficient’ than a complicated system, full of redundancy and evolution and failure and learning. But that’s exactly why it works.

natural enterprise model

THE NATURAL ENTERPRISE MODEL (from my book Finding the Sweet Spot)

Turning to the second question, let’s start with the private sector: What if allbusinesses operated as wirearchies? Let’s picture what that would look like:

  1. No hierarchy — everyone is an equal and trusted partner, with equal capacity to make decisions and to make contracts
  2. Self-organization and self-management — collective, collaborative, consensus-based decision-making, including decisions on membership, roles, remuneration, objectives, and strategies
  3. Autonomy — each individual is authorized to make decisions, without fear of repercussions, in specified areas of responsibility; each self-selected ‘business unit’ is similarly authorized in other areas of responsibility, deciding by consensus; a few defined decisions are made by a central directorate with rotating membership responsible to the whole
  4. Small is beautiful — once the business reaches a certain size at which diseconomies of scale start to arise (say, 150 FTE members), it is split into two or more fully-autonomous units
  5. Shared values and principles — each business agrees to follow and operate in a manner consistent with a set of overarching values and principles, some of which are specific to the business or the community in which it operated, and others of which are international standards, conditions of operation anywhere (see for example the values and principles by which co-ops around the world operate)
  6. Network of networks — rather than competing, each business collaborates in a network with other businesses to collectively solve ‘customer’ needs

Such ‘tribal’ organization is how humans first came together to achieve common goals. Notice that this ‘picture’ is only peripherally about the business of an entity(in fact the entity tends to be almost entirely transparent). This is a picture of anagreement, a negotiation — very much the way the Internet is.

This is how many co-operatives operate now (and there are millions of them). It’s a deliberately democratic, non-hierarchical means of self-organization. Suppose we could evolve a system where every business operated this way. They would not pursue profit, only sustainable solvency. They would exist to be of use. They would have no absentee owners or debts to outsiders, other than short-term working capital loans from credit unions (which are another form of co-op). Their members would all live in the community in which they operated. They would have no need to spend money on advertising, marketing, PR or other zero-value-add activities. They would need no ‘venture’ capital. They would operate as peer-to-peer organizations using peer production methods.

By virtue of their (self-)organization, structure, principles, modus operandi and size limits, they would be subject to none of the diseconomies of scale noted above. And with limited power they would also avoid the pathology that is so endemic in large global corporations today. They would be inherently more (socially and ecologically) responsible and sustainable than today’s corporations, and more joyful places to work. They would be more responsive to local needs. There would no longer be any such things as ‘jobs’, ‘employment’ and ‘unemployment’.

In short, they would run like the Internet — no one in control, agile and self-adapting to changing ‘user’ needs and circumstances, evolutionary, collectively massive but not dysfunctional, participatory, democratic, open to all, and politically neutral.

The struggles of the Occupy movement, and other social and economic justice movements, have made it clear we lack the political will to dismantle the existing corporation structure and strip corporations of the subsidies, perks and power that they now enjoy (and utterly depend on). But that doesn’t mean a wirearchical economy couldn’t be established and thrive, the same way the Internet did and has, and then, when the current economic system inevitably collapses, wirearchy might fully supplant hierarchy in the private sector.

The biggest challenge in creating this New Economy is that the core skills needed to create millions of co-operative enterprises (ones that fill identified, unmet real human needs) are in short supply, are not taught in the ‘education’ system, and are more advanced than the skills we had to develop to use the technology of the Internet. But it’s possible, and the New Economy movement is clearly growing, and will start to provide these skills and hence support wirearchies as it gains momentum.

                      working groupenterprise group

So if it could work in private sector, what about the public sector — could governments, agencies, not-for-profits and other public organizations work as wirearchies?

Here’s a list of the major services that such organizations currently provide: Health and wellness, education, ‘public’ roads and transportation (including ports and airports), mail, police/fire/emergency/security services, conservation, sport and recreation, water and waste management, arts and culture, ‘public’ utilities, social and spiritual services, defence, old age security, unemployment and occupational accident insurance, ‘public’ auto insurance, regulation, ‘public’ broadcasting, lotteries, management and governance, international aid, legal aid, lobbying, collective buying, co-operative and ‘public’ housing, and political and social activism.

Together, they make up about half of our economy, according to some estimates. Some are large and bureaucratic, some are small and bureaucratic, some are small and lean. Some are centralized, some are dispersed, and some are small, single-location organizations.

What is they all were operated like the Internet? Some of these services are already offered by volunteer or not-for-profit organizations, but in many cases these emulate the hierarchical structure and other dysfunctions of the private sector. (The only thing worse than working for a tyrannical and incompetent boss is working for one as a volunteer.) And many of these services are offered by government bureaucracies that exhibit the worst, entrenched dysfunctional behaviour and power politics.

But just as for the private sector, we need not wait for the established hierarchical public organizations to collapse before we start to create co-operative wirearchies that fulfil these functions. And they would have the same 6 characteristics: no hierarchy, self-organization and self-management, autonomous, small and size-limited, adhering to a shared and universal set of values and principles, and network of networks.

So the short answer to the question: What if everything ran like the Internet? is a bit of a mixed bag:

  • A significant portion of our economic and social activity already does run (at least in part) this way
  • It would potentially eliminate the current diseconomies of scale and power abuses that plague our current hierarchical systems, and it would be more sustainable, more responsible and responsive to citizens, and more joyful and fulfilling
  • The transition to get there would be furiously resisted by those running current hierarchical organizations, and would run up against great skepticism from citizens who think the current hierarchical systems are the only viable ones
  • There’s a huge learning curve to get there, but we have time (and we’d be better off learning now than waiting until the hierarchical systems collapse and making our learning mistakes then)
  • Everything would be much more local, hands-on and personal, for better and for worse

The first steps towards getting there, I think, are learning steps:

  • Learning about co-operatives and their formation and operation (and identifying some of the things co-ops often currently do wrong, such as allowing themselves to grow too large, so that we can make them truly wirearchical)
  • Learning about what is needed in the world that hierarchical organizations aren’t currently or properly providing that wirearchical ones could
  • Learning about what we have to offer the world (our gifts and our passions) personally and collectively
  • Learning consensus, conflict resolution, negotiation, collaboration skills, listening skills, self-organization, self-management and the other critical competencies needed to make wirearchies work
  • Discovering who the potential partners in our community are — acquiring the “know-who” of what others do and know, that complements our own “know-what” and “know-how”, and learning how to partner (a skill few possess, one that is about collectively negotiating shared power and increasing autonomy, that would be useful in all aspects of our lives)

I’m thinking about how I so much wanted my book to be a vehicle for this learning, and how no book alone can hope to be that. And I’m thinking about what I can do, now, to be of use, to help evolve something that can.

Dave Pollard – June 2013