Wirearchy Is NOT Replacing Hierarchy

That’s obvious.

One of the most exasperating things to me when conversing about the notion of wirearchy is that many people seem to think (almost always, in fact) that I am advocating, or predicting, that hierarchy as the core organizing principle for people’s activities will be replaced, or should be replaced, by anarchic group swarming or forming online, or something like that … Gustave Le Bon madness of crowds stuff.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

However, I am arguing that what we understand as traditional hierarchy, and its role in creating, guiding and sustaining purposeful organized activity, is changing in some important ways.

It doesn’t have to be either / or, and of course there are various “archies” that operate simultaneously.  That there is hierarchy as an organizing principle does not nullify the operation of patriarchy or matriarchy or oligarchy, for example.

An important-to-me observation that is primarily related to informations systems in organizations comes from business thinker Stan Davis.  It’s almost 25 years old now (he wrote this in 1987), and I think over time this observation will come to apply to a wide range of human activities because, well, we will be surrounded by integrated information systems in most aspects of our lives and work.  We will be living in a wired world, if we are not already, and many of the patterns of organizing, and the power and authority inherent in that organization, will be different than what we understood in traditional hierarchy.  

That’s what I mean by ‘wirearchy’.

(From Future Perfect, Stan Davis, 1987)

“Electronic information systems enable parts of the whole organization (here, we can read organization in the large sense, as a nation or society as well IMO) to communicate directly with each other, where the hierarchy wouldn’t otherwise permit it.

What the hierarchy proscribes, the network facilitates: each part in simultaneous contact with all other parts and with the company as a whole. The organization can be centralized and decentralized simultaneously: the decentralizing mechanism in the structure, and the coordinating mechanism in the systems.

Networks will not replace or supplement hierarchies; rather the two will be encompassed within a broader conception that embraces both. We are still a long way from figuring out the appropriate and encompassing organization models for the economy we are now in.” 


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