Learning Through Criticism …

I rarely search for references to the ideas and concepts I have been working on, but today I decided to use Twitter search.

I ran across the following two tweets.

@sleslie wirearchy? really? wirearchy? I’m not anti-neologism, but that is the only time you’ll see me use the word

@cosmopoetica @sleslie No kidding.Wirearchy is one of the dumber ones I’ve come across lately. Not worthy of the inspirearchy

My reaction was interesting.  I am one of the first to acknowledge that it is merely a neologism (a made-up word).  OK.  My main questions to myself were:

1.  Is it generally accepted, as a colloquial term or phrase, that we live and work in an increasingly ‘wired’ world ?  (After all, there IS a magazine called Wired 😉

2.  Are there emerging patterns and dynamics related to interconnected people and interlinked conversations, information flows, ways of presenting and discussing information and knowledge, disintermediation of established traditional structures and services (music, newspapers, advanced forms of e-commerce, etc.) ?  

I’d say Yes.

Do large systems that organize human activity typically become characterized by an “archy” word?  Again, I’d say Yes.

The only other candidate I’ve found for an useful “archy” term denoting the impacts many people notice on established structures and dynamics that makes sense to me is found in the well-articulated arguments in “Neither Hierarchy Nor Networks: An Argument for Heterarchy”, by Karen Stephenson.  She as an academic in the arena of organizational design, leadership and organizational effectiveness in the networked era, is taken seriously.  Me, not so much, though some people I respect have some time for me and my thoughts.  Here and there …

I think “heterarchy” means variable hierarchy, or maybe “variable structures”, derived from the prefix “hetero”, which means:

hetero or heter-


1. Other; different: heterochromatic.
2. Containing different kinds of atoms: heterocyclic.

I can quibble with the hetero- prefix if pushed.  I think it’s a touch academic-y and may have a less applicable general definition.  But I too have been accused of being overly academic from time to time.  That said, I believe thus far that the ‘wired” prefix more closley connotes the conditions from the conditions experienced in and derived from acting in the ‘wired’ conditions (again, colloquially), but no matter.

The bigger question, I think, is will it be useful to have an “archy” word to denote structure and dynamics that people in large numbers are encountering as they use and learn on the Web?

But hey … what the heck.  It makes for interesting discussions.





Tim Kastelle

Linguistics isn’t archaeology – it’s not as though words exist out in some natural state, so that ‘found’ words are better than ‘made-up’ words. Every word is a neologism when its use first starts. The question isn’t whether or not it’s made up, the question is whether or not the word is useful.

I agree with you that there is a distinct organisational structure that is not currently well-defined. So it needs a new word to describe it. Personally, I prefer wirearchy to heterarchy by a fair margin – to me, it is much more clear.

Chris Jones

Like you Jon, I think "wirearchy" works a bit better than "heterarchy" .. but if no one forces me to a single word, I tend to opt for "networked organization". It’s a mouthful, but it leaves no questions. Have you bounced it off of Valdis Krebs and/or Beth Kanter? Seems they have invested much in this space as well.

I’m happy to use wirearchy in "beta" until it or something else catches on.

Why not?

I think the greater challenge is: what stars have to align for organizations to start embracing alternative structures? Is it a pain threshold issue? A need for culture change? Tell me it isn’t waiting for the next generation of "digital natives" to be in charge?

I’m up for helping drive a paradigm shift in OD. But we’d need a plan of attack.

Jon Husband

I guess words that end in "archy" are an established category in the English language, that denote an organizing principle for a form of a large human social system.

What struck me a decade ago is that there’s no archy word for this arguably new set of conditions ,, electronic interconnectedness enabled by a set of technical protocols operating on an ubiquitous infrastructure.

As for me, I’m going with wirearchy until a clearly-better alternative is proposed. But of course I am invested 😉


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