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 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

Competency Models – HR & Understanding Work in the Network Era

Competency models and profiles are a cornerstone of HR methods and practices in today’s enterprise.  They play a central role in:

  • recruiting
  • learning / training & development
  • performance management, and
  • (increasingly) compensation philosophy and practices

Competency analysis and profiling was developed from the work of David McLelland, a professor of psychology at Harvard University in the 50′s and 60′s.  In the course of his research and thinking, he came to question the conventional wisdom that IQ and aptitude tests were the best / most accurate predictors of successful and/or superior performance in a job or work role.

McLellan hypothesized that past performance was the best predictor of future successful performance, and set out to prove that.  His subsequent work became an accepted theory, then a methodology for several high-profile projects, and eventually was codified into a methodology that all HR consulting firms now practice.

In 1963 McLelland and several of his Harvard doctoral students set up McBer and Company, a small Boston-based consulting company in the early 80′s.  One of those students, Lyle Spencer Jr., wrote “Competence At Work – Models for Superior Performance“, the definitive book on competency profiling, and another of the McBer gang, Richard Boyatzis (a professor of organizational behavior at Case Western Reserve), wrote “The Competent Manager – A Model for Effective Performance”, the definitive book on managerial competencies.

In 1989 / 90 a major HR consulting firm, Hay Management Consultants, acquired McBer and Company and began the long-ish process of bringing competency analysis and modeling to the enterprise world at large.  I was there, and actually worked on a couple of projects with Lyle Spencer, author of the seminal Competence At Work (side not .. the book costs $150 .. holy cow!).

Lucky me, he is a smart man and was a good teacher.  From 1989 to 1992 he travelled the globe, training a cadre of Hay consultants in the methods outlined in Competence At Work.  Then, the firm started selling.  Today, most organizations use competency models.

So today all major and most smaller HR consulting firms sell and implement competency analysis and modeling.  Also included in that work is the field of Emotional Intelligence (Daniel Goleman).  Emotional (and social) intelligence are only going to grow in importance as the  presence of  of what is called Enterprise 2.0 continues to grow and spread.

If you are familiar with the book “Emotional Intelligence – Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, you will note that EI is a derivative subset of generic Hay-McBer competency models. Generic competency models provide a good solid foundation for work design.

So, what about the networked work of the social business or Enterprise 2.0?  When the generic competency models that underpin competency analysis were developed, the Web and hyperlinks, collaboration platforms and hyperlinked social networks did not exist, per se .. remember, this was the early 90′s, pre-browser.

McKinsey & Co. (another well-known consultancy firm, has recently published What Matters: Collaboration types and tools: (note: this link no longer goes to the specific content)

“To improve the productivity of collaboration workers (those who interact to solve problems, serve customers and conceive new ideas), we must understand the details of how their work gets done.

We identified twelve segments of these workers, each characterized by the day-to-day activities required by their jobs.”

.In the McKinsey piece (you have to pay), you can mouse over each job / role, and there’s a capsule comment about what’s required.  This is mainly aimed at cataloguing what collaboration tools and dynamics are most appropriate for the role, but …

It’s far from a rigorous competency analysis or model, but it is a beginning to placing these generic roles into the context of the networked business environment and workplace.

Given that I worked at building competency models for about a decade, I have some familiarity with the techniques.  I remember building a generic competency model for networked knowledge workers about 4 or 5 years ago, but I think it was too early and so it got lost in the drifting currents of too much information passing too rapidly under the bridge.

I believe (if I recall correctly) there was an early example also to be found on David Gurteen’s knowledge management web hub(hang on, I’m going to pop over there and see if I can find it).

Aha !  Here it is … What makes an effective knowledge worker ?

I remember it well.  I suspect that since then many early-stage competency models have been developed that address the issue of working in networks.

But for the record .. I believe it is still too early, in 2013, to deeply understand what effective and successful performance in a networked environment looks like, over time.

Today we know much more about how to function effectively in social networks than a decade ago, and I think much of what we know is portable to the networked workplace.  Off the top of my head ..

  • Listen to others
  • Share generously
  • Add value, but don’t insist on being right
  • Listen some more
  • Practice good ‘social hygiene’
  • Avoid attacking others 
  • There’s a fine line between criticism and negativity .. find it and use it

And I think that with a bit of searching any one of us will now be able to find competency models for organizations engaged in the early steps towards transformation to being a “social business”.  One of the best places I know to begin that search is at my friend Harold Jarche’s blog (and treasure chest) which goes by the name “Life in Perpetual Beta”.  He has analysed deeply and thoughtfully many or most of the coming challenges to working and learning effectively in the networked era.  I think that effective competency models for this era can be developed using his analyses.  He used to have key categories for these analyses listed on his sidebar but they seemd to have been moved off the home page.  That’s probably because he has things so welll organised and tagged that you only need to use the “Search” capability on the blog.

But there’s lots of legacy thinking and legacy models in many of the areas of HR that I think are preventing and will prevent, until changed, the deep transformations that I believe will accompany our ongoing integration of networked activity into our daily work and personal lives.

And I’m not even going to get into the potential changes to cognition and emotional intelligence that may arrive , and/or become necessary !

Anyhow … it seems clear to me that we’ll hear a lot about the competencies required for effective and superior performance in the networked information-and-knowledge flows enterprise (aka Enterprise 2.0).

McKinsey’s typology is an early beginning to that work, and I am sure that the issue(s) will be much studied in the next couple of decades.

If I worked at a major HR consultancy today, I’d be licking my chops!

Co-Creating as Disruption to the Dominant Cultural Framework

“Vision requires execution…execution requires relationships…relationships require trust”

Steve Case

Co-creating ..


.. is a term we’re starting to hear very often, and perhaps too often too soon.   I think it might cheapen and mis-direct the important process of making deep changes to the ‘colonization’ (due to the rampant corporatism of today) of the exchanges between people that are necessary to create almost anything that finds form and expression.  

But clearly it’s important (generally) as a widespread new way of creating things and services, and getting things done by and with people.

The growth and spread of the term “co-creating” has led to significant interest in more open people processes, both in workplaces as well as other forms of organizations.  And more and more processes both conceptual and practical in nature from the domains of art, theatre, ludic play, improv, circus, farce and pantomime are being drawn together and applied to why and how people interact and create.

Participative processes like Open Space, World Cafes, Unconferences, Peer Circles and so on are beginning to appear in a range of hybrid forms wherever people are meeting and interacting to advance an interest, a topic or subject, a project, etc.

At the same time, in the wide-ranging realms of art and culture-making activities we’re witnessing the advanced stage of a long-term wrestling match between commercial forces and the various main forms of funding the expression of creative endeavours.

The explosions of creative technology we’ve been experiencing have spawned a series of sociological responses, in the form(s) of Barcamps, Wordcamps, Govcamps, Foo Camps, Unconferences, high-end celebrity-and-marketing-and venture-capital ‘experience’ markets, new cultural and artistic festivals with technology-and-culture-making themes.  There’s also a rapidly-increasing range of maker faires, many and various configurations of online education (viz. the recent explosion of interest in MOOCs), community-and-consensus building, organizing for activism and fundraising, and other similar events and happenings.

The impetus behind this explosion is both technological and sociological.

Technological … There has been an historical evolution of various kinds of technology over the past three decades, but for the purposes of this essay we are referring to information technology and the creation and evolution of the Internet and the Web.  When we speak of ‘co-creating”, most often we’re interested in the appearance, development and evolution of social tools, web services, massive storage, and the ongoing development of computer-and-smart-devices development.  The changes have been massive and fast, and touch virtually all areas of human activity.  And … it’s not going away.  As Stowe Boyd has said, “welcome to the post-normal world”.

Sociological … People are searching for ways to find others with similar interests and motivations so that they can engage in activities that help them learn, find work, grow capabilities and skills, and tackle vexing social and economic problems. As awareness spreads and experience grows, more and more of these types of events and purposeful gatherings occur. Thus, the “get informed and take action” aspects of general culture are strengthened and reinforced, leading to yet more of these types of activities.

Developing familiarity and practice with open and collaborative processes are ways people can prepare for a messy and uncertain (post-normal) future.  These processes invite us to play and work together.  They occur in spaces in which people can 1) learn more about themselves and the courageous act of finding and using one’s voice, 2)  show and see how useful and positive it is to expose and discuss various ideas, 3) demonstrate how effectively they can operate together in a small temporary community of ideas and energy about an issue.  It can be seen as “practicing for the future”.

The orientation to open and participative is now regularly taking form  in the arenas of education, learning and organizational change.  The processes outlined above, and others using the same principles, are cheap, easy for people to apply with a few simple rules about self-management, operate democratically, and produce results grounded in ownership and the responsibilities that have been agreed upon by the ‘community’.  The relationships and flows of information can be transferred to online spaces and often benefit from wider connectivity.

Today, our culture-making activities are well engaged in the early stages of cultural mutation. These processes are for these times.

What’s coming along next ?  “Smart” devices and Internet everywhere in our lives ?  Deep(er) changes to the way things are conceived, carried out, managed and used ?  New mental models ?  Or, will we discover real societal limits to what can be done given the current framework of laws, institutions and established practices with which people are familiar and comfortable ?

Shorter cycle-based development and release of software and web services incorporating the latest user- and-market feedback characterize our environment today. A philosophy known as Agile development and the related approach to Agile programming are having a rapidly-growing impact on how software applications, functionality and platforms are being developed. Focusing on the participation of users with respect to their needs and ways of using software is an important signal or development. It is clear evidence that the developmental and learning dynamics generated by continuous or regular feedback loops are becoming the norm in areas of activity in which change and short cycles of product development are constants.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is a concept that has come to signify the implementation of intelligent sensors and software into objects that we find and use in daily life … clothes, homes, cars, buildings, roads, and a wide range of other objects that have a place in peoples’ daily life activities. This arena of concentration is experiencing major growth, equally in terms of hardware, software and with respect to the way the capabilities are configured and used. The implications for the uptake of the IoT and the sociological changes it fosters are being explored and examined in media and network culture research centres, universities and think tanks in many societies.

The IoT concept is being combined with the new-ish concepts of Open Data and Big Data, and plays directly into the imagining of Smart Cities / Intelligent Cities. Many of the issues are known and understood, but carry the weight of necessary ethical, political and social impact policy decisions with regard to the presence of intelligent-and-connected objects and activities in our daily modern urban life.

The implications go beyond the tools and the political and economic effects of their use. Rob van Kranenburg, the author of “The Internet of Things” and colleague Christian Nold, recently published a document in which they discuss the future implications and ramifications of deploying the IoT. The new document is titled “The Internet of People for a Post-Oil World”.

This document makes clear that key opportunities associated with widespread uptake of the IoT are derived from the impact upon peoples’ activities and lives. It is expected that the proliferation of the IoT will introduce significant challenges, particularly with respect to dissembling the dominant mental model of commercializing the use of technologies and consumption of products and services generated thereby.

Therefore, they posit, we had better involve people in asking the appropriate questions about why, what, how, when and to do what with the IoT.

Issue for people everywhere: reclaim a politics of technology that is based on the struggle over the terms of their own participation.

Needed: a public debate and tangible design interventions that challenge the need for commercial tools.

People from all walks of life have to be at the table when we talk about alternate uses of ubiquitous computing.

We suggest an IoT as a non-commercial refuge … as an umbrella of emerging technologies that do not only serve capital but also facilitate grassroots survival networks in a world faced with ecological and social devastation.

(Nold & van Kranenburg)

Whether or not these emergent issues become partly or fully commercialized, or whether they remain mainly in the domain of unfunded or grass-roots initiatives, it’s increasingly clear ‘we’ are on our way towards more integrated eco-systems of issues, people and technologies.

And in these new sets of conditions, participation and inclusion enabled by interconnectedness are quickly becoming the ‘new rules’.

In the new era of the Web of Things, if you want to build a better mousetrap …

you’ll need to ask the mouse.
(B. van Lamoen)

What the Future May Hold

Assessing and forecasting possible futures has become a legitimate domain of research and exploration over the past two or three decades. One of the powerful tools used in this domain is the ‘scenario planning’ approach, wherein alternative scenarios (usually three or four) are created based on looking at possible extrapolations and evolution of the current and emergent elements of our world’s politics, economics, anthropology, technology, psychology, sociology and philosophy.

Research observations, anecdotes and examples are combined with data to develop responses in a scenario format about a question or issue seen as important to our collective future. The responses are then crafted into the form of a narrative scenario which can be read, digested and explored. One of the best-known expositions of the method and its uses is available in the 1996 book “The Art of the Long View” by Peter Schwarz, a senior member of the renowned Royal Dutch Shell Strategic Planning Group.

A scenario planning exercise carried out by the Rockefeller Foundation looked at the possible futures for an interconnected world. The issues we face were assessed on the axes of Adaptive Capacity (low to high) and Political and Economic Alignment (weak to strong). The descriptions of the four possible scenarios shows us quickly how many of these elements are already in play. And of course, our collective future is likely to become some blend of these four scenarios as the components play themselves out in an increasingly complex world.

Screen Shot 2013-03-02 at 10.02.12 AM

Clearly these early (and now not-so-weak) signals and patterns tell us that the core assumptions and principles that have underpinned organized human activities for most of the past century – the full bloom of the industrial era – are being changed by the combinations and permutations of new, powerful, inexpensive and widely accessible information-processing technologies.  For a couple of decades now we’ve been being told by future-seekers, philosophers and technological and social innovators that we will henceforth be living, working, playing and co-creating our future at the brave new frontier offered by the information-saturated ‘wired world’.

The short description of each scenario reinforces the perception that we are both individually and collectively in transition from a linear, specialized, efficiency-driven paradigm towards a paradigm based on continuous feedback loops and principles of participation, both large and small in scope. Whether we will shape this into an harmonious and effective new paradigm or some relative degree(s) of dystopia remains to be seen. As noted earlier, these are all early signs of cultural ‘mutation’ that are already with us.

Significant transformations and mutations demand new and effective principles and guidelines. Many are seeking to articulate the outlines and ‘rules’ of our new environment. However, it seems clearer by the day that new principles are emerging that can help guide us, individually and collectively, towards our preferred future

J. Husband & H. Macleod

The concept of wirearchy (other terms also have been used to describe the elements and dynamics of emergent network principles and guidelines) has been applied to offer insight into the manifest implications of this new environment.

Today, more and more people confirm seeing these principles in action in a range of important ways.


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.

– Jon Husband (1999)

More and more of the emergent activities associated with communities of people and interest coming together to engage around a problem, issue or opportunity contain the elements of wirearchy (knowledge, trust, credibility and a focus on results) at the core of the initiative.

Prominent examples include the role of social media and smart mobile devices in the uprisings in Egypt, Libya and elsewhere in the Middle East, or the shocks to our traditional power structures administered by the appearance on the scene of Wikileaks, with its bias towards transparency that menaces established government dynamics. Alvin Toffler foresaw much of this in the 1990 book “PowerShift – knowledge, wealth and violence at the edge of the 21st Century” .. today this shift is indeed underway. Where will the shift will take us is an interesting (and still open) question.

To underpin and support that transition, it is becoming more and more useful to look at the utility of the principles of a domain that began emerging in the 1950’s and 60’s, in the early stages of the growth and development of what we know today as our modern society. The roots of organizational development (OD) are in humanistic psychology and sociology action and ethnographic and cybernetic/ socio-technical systems theory.  It’s a domain that emerged essentially as a counter-balance to the mechanistic and machine-metaphor-based core assumptions about the organized activities in our society.

Organizational development principles are built upon some basic assumptions about human motivations, engagement and activities. Perhaps the clearest enunciation of these principles applied generically to organized activities can be found in the six pillars of a philosophical approach called Participative Work Design, created in the 1960’s by Fred Emery (Australia) and Eric Trist (UK, US and Canada)

Participative Work Design – The Six Criteria

1.  Adequate elbow room – also known generically as ’empowerment’
2.  Continuous learning – an obvious must
3.  An optimal level of variety – conscious avoidance of boredom or meaningless repetition
4.  Mutual support and respect – reciprocating, giving and getting help
5.  Meaningfulness – a clear sense that what one is doing is useful and aligned with personal values to an appropriate degree
6. A desirable future – people usually don’t want to invest time and energy in dead-end work

Using these humanist principles of organizational development, leading organizational complexity theorists have in recent years created models that help clarify how to evaluate and respond to the continuous turbulence and ambiguity generated by participating in interconnected flows of information.

To date we have by and large existed and responded to conditions and contexts characterized by either Simple, Complicated or Chaotic dynamics (from complexity theory fundamentals). Increasingly, Complexity is emerging as a key definer of the issues, problems and opportunities faced by our societies.

Dave Snowden, founder of the IBM Centre for Organizational Complexity, has over the past decade created and refined the Cynefin model for assessing and responding to these new challenges. It offers a well-synthesized and coherent framework for evaluating issues and conditions and then making decisions and taking appropriate action(s).

Cynefin  Method diagram

Cognitive Edge, D. Snowden

Much of today’s co-creative activities must and probably will find ways to come into being.  Indeed, a growing practical response to these various conditions (above) can be seen more and more frequently. Arguably, Occupy Wall Street was an early attempt to bring some global coherence to the power of peer-to-peer connection and conviction in the face of oppressive oligarchy / plutocracy.

Another useful example is offered by burgeoning peer-to-peer movement(s) unfolding around the world. The dynamics of co-creation are deeply embedded (if not foundational) to P2P activities. The proliferation of cultural festivals and events and happenings at salons, forums, galleries and other venues reflect participative responses to many of the challenges emerging from our growing societal complexity. These events and happenings are where people gather to view, wonder, communicate and explore the infinite ways art and culture stimulate reflection, attraction and the opening of minds and hearts.

This is all occurring at a time when it also seems people everywhere are seeing and feeling the loss of parts of their lives to the ‘enclosure’ of privatization and the diminishment of the commons (the public spaces where certain types of common services and goods are made available to the public).

Co-creating in a wide range of forms, processes and purpose may become an effective and important antidote to the spreading enclosure of human creative activity.

But .. the dominant models of governance, commercial ownership and the use and re-use of that which is co-created by people are going to have to undergo much more deep change in order to disrupt the existing paradigm of proprietary commercial creation and the model of socio-economic power that this paradigm enables and carries today.



InfoMutation – we must build bridges between our past and our future

This is a guest post by friend and collaborator René Barsalo, of Montréal.

It is the narrative text for a soon to come infographic video René is working on, seems for years, about the ongoing InfoMutation. Jon provided the English translation and René is offering him the web scoop for this.

Hope you like it, but as René says, with the graphics and soundtrack it’s going to be even more punchy … can’t wait to show it to the world soon.

By René Barsalo, mutant since 1984


We are living through the most important trans-generational media ‘fracture’ ever experienced in history. During the past 100 years, across most developed nations, each generation integrated an additional information technology into its daily life… one not known when the older generation was born.

Yet, regardless of all the innovations in communicating now at our doorstep and our hands, creating a consensus between generations for acting upon today’s societal problems has never before seemed to present such a complex challenge.

Why is that?

We are living through the fracture’s first impacts on collective human sense-making. Each of the generations alive today perceives part of the world differently, depending on how it interacts with our mediated world.

In order to better visualize the size and scale of this InfoMutation, let’s return to the very beginning of the complex system of human communications.


After basically grunting at each other for more than 33,000 generations, the first major transition occurred with the development of speech, which started approximately 3,300 generations ago. Since then, our daily life experiences and concepts generated words, which were transferred orally from tribe to tribe, humans to humans, and thus to our collective memory, generation after generation.

The next major transition occurred with the arrival of text and writing. Both appeared about 300 generations ago, in parallel with the growth of cities and the interactions necessary to carry out commerce. Written texts enabled information transfer beyond face to face interaction, time and space. They were passed about and shared hand to hand, and again from generation to generation. This enabled the cross pollination of ideas developed by scholars and diplomats. Nevertheless, most peoples’ knowledge remained constrained by the limits of shared languages and memory.

About 30 generations ago, the growth of interest in writing and texts was initiated by the arrival of typography and printing. This development increased the scale and speed with which texts could be circulated amongst people of all generations. However, the majority of people still remained confined to the use of oral language and memory, largely because of the limited growth and spread of literacy.

Along came the steam engine and the dawn of the Industrial Age, followed by the development of the combustion engine and the invention of electricity. The industrial revolution ‘centralized’ activities, mainly in factories which were mostly found in urban areas. The public school, a result of an alliance between the state and industrialists, was created to educate future workers in how to read instructions, newspapers and advertising, write reports and pay attention to and respect schedules and deadlines.

This mechanical acceleration of society, more or less consistent over the past century, has brought us to the beginning of the next transition, the electronic one. This new science of sending and interpreting electric signals unleashed the rapid development of a sequential series of major innovations, one generation after the next. This acceleration has brought us the edge of a real fracture between generations regarding how information is consumed and used.

If we estimate the moment when each of these new electronic medias has been adopted by the public at large, and thus taught to our children, the past century has unfolded rapidly and with dramatic impact on one generation after the next, as follows:

1910 – the telegraph, audio recording and cinema;
1925 – the telephone;
1940 – the radio;
1955 – television;
1970 – printed circuits and the fax machine.

And all of a sudden, starting in the early 80’s but growing exponentially since then, the media-based “fracture” has become a yawning chasm and initiated a new transition we still barely explored, the brave new world of digital information and connectivity:

1985 – the PC;
2000 – the Internet
2010 – mobility and gps


The degree and scope of change of the last century is something we never experienced before at such a scale in human history. No more long periods between major changes, periods of adaptation that allowed us to understand the impacts and then in turn teach and guide our children well. From elders to the very young, the changes in the processes and forms of interpersonal communications are now ongoing and constant.

The following quotation by Marshall McLuhan allows us to understand clearly the scale of the impact of the fracture. “Media, by altering the environment, evokes in us unique ratios of sense perceptions. The extension of any one sense alters the way we think and act — the way we perceive the world. When these ratios change, men change.”

After living through a consecutive series of arrivals of different forms of media and their subsequent integrations into our daily lives, it’s quite normal that each generation actually perceives at least part of its world quite differently from the other generations. Why? Each of them communicates and informs itself with the most recent information technology, but each generation perceives and uses them quite differently.

In parallel, just to add more complexity, innovations in health have more than doubled our life expectancy in the last 100 years, enabling us to reach an historical peak with respect to the numbers of different generations, living and working together in the same society.

With the arrival of the digital era, humanity is now split into two groups: those who only inform themselves and communicate in the physical world, representing almost two thirds of the human population, and those who also inform themselves and communicate in a digital and virtual world, which is essentially invisible and intangible to the first group. 30 years ago the second group did not existed. 30 years from now, they will be larger than the first one.

The generations born before the personal digital era, before 1985, were all educated in a world in which information, once it had been reproduced and distributed, stayed fixed forever on paper, vinyl or film. To access that information, one had to have physical access to the media upon which the information had been printed or recorded.

The generations born after 1985 are brought up and educated in a world wherein each word, each letter, image or location-derived coordinates can be indexed, modified, compared and shared with anyone else on the planet, without being printed, without a recording studio nor a media empire. In order to gain access to that information, the only requirement is access to a network online. Information can appear on a screen, on the wall or on a piece of paper so as to in effect re-appear, later, on the next interface of that day.

Those generations born before 1985 who have in an important sense been forced to realign their habits over several decades, must once again, question a significant part of their worldview in order to integrate the digital mutations being visited upon them. For those generations born after 1985, this brave new world is the only world they have known.

This media-based fracture impacting the generations, and now society at large, is also having significant impact at school and at work. The hierarchical model of knowledge transmission in the familiar top-down fashion is being put to the test on a daily basis with the meteoric arrival and spread of socially-networked human interactivity on vast global platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus.

In this new era of interconnected digital communication, just as with the beginnings of speech or writing, knowledge is created and disseminated daily. The major and never-before-experienced difference now is that real time is now measured in milliseconds, not moons. Co-creation of knowledge along with self-directed and continuous learning are becoming part of our daily lives.

Even though we are now finding a growing number of pre-1985 generations familiarizing themselves with the daily use of the internet, most of them are following their existing media habits, which they learned growing up: they send mail, and access their books, newspapers, radio shows and television … but in online formats. However, post-1985 generations perceive networks as extensions of their immediate, present-day environment, which enables real-time access to their friends, their colleagues, and to re-programmable technologies and re-usable, re-mixable knowledge … whenever and wherever they are on the planet. They are exploring in deep ways the possibilities of the digital environment, without assets or territory to protect.

Educated to levels never before seen, they rapidly understand the advantages the new set of conditions – interconnectivity and real-time flows of information – offer for new forms of coordinated action. They are demanding a “re-boot”, at least a major digital update of the political and economic systems of our planet. They feel ready to code their future. But those who sign the cheques, those who vote into place the laws and protocols and policies of our society are almost all from the pre-1985 generations. Already overloaded and pre-occupied by the management of daily issues and the growing impacts of rapidly-accelerating ecological, political and economic crises, they have little time to understand and grasp the opportunities of the digital environment. So they keep resisting it and pushing it back till “later”, thus not learning or knowing how to put this new environment into action and into the service of society at large.




If the ensemble of the managerial class had been educated with handwritten notes, big auditoriums and printed books, the class which will replace them in 30 years will have been educated with screens, interactivity and network-based collaboration. The rules which today regulate our identities, our territories and our economies have all been written for the pre-information-technology physical world… the only one known by humans up until the digital era. This InfoMutation is enabling new ways of interaction, some judged impossible within our traditional views of identity, space and time. The necessary changes for carrying out this massive digital transition are more important than a simple refresh or update.

Our new virtual memory recognizes us already, counsels and coaches us, knows our friends and carries out activities and transactions in our names. But what do we actually know about it? Where I live, as most industrialized countries, 45% of the population has lived at least the first half of their lives in the world of fixed physically-based information, 78% have been born before the arrival of the Web. Yet, the majority of the web natives still cannot vote because they are too young, but not for long.

Now is the time to share between all generations what we value the most of a non digital environment. Over the next several decades, this media-based fracture will close in upon itself when there will no longer be any witnesses to the pre-digital world. At this early stage of the infoMutation, we can still influence our future “digital” code of conduct, and teach our children to value time to think and share ideas and emotions, not just clicks. Some might consider it’s already too late. Others, including myself, consider it’s too late to be pessimistic.

Thus, we have every interest in the world in co-creating our digital future, together, elders and youngest, and assuring ourselves that all stages of human life will be positively encoded into the “great algorithm”, knowing full well, as McLuan once more noted, that “first we shape our tools, and thereafter they shape us”… as did speech, text and electronic before.

René Barsalo, mutant since 1984
This short essay is inspired by the notes and schemas from my “Mutation Notebook” which I keep on filling in by crayon (my type of resistance 😉 … ever since the first computer appeared in my life in 1984.

( www.renebarsalo.com )

Perspectives on the Future of Work in Western Society … From Hierarchy To Wirearchy


First we shape our structures

Then, our structures shape us

                   – Winston Churchill (and other attributions)

SUMMARY: As the Internet has moved through the dot.com boom and bust (and the more recent waves of Web 2.0 and social networks), and integrated software encases the activities of many people and most organizations, the dynamics of hierarchy have begun to morph into a new dynamic called wirearchy.

Wirearchy is a dynamic flow of power and authority, based on information, trust, credibility and a focus on results, enabled by interconnected technology and people.

As hierarchies evolve, “wirearchies” emerge

According to Webster’s Dictionary, hierarchy is:

    • A group of priests holding high office within a religious organization and having graded authority to govern the organization
    • The group of people in any organization vested with power and authority
    • Any arrangement of principles, things, knowledge, etc. in an ascending or descending order

We have long understood that “knowledge is power.” Knowledge in and of itself is non-hierarchic, as Peter Drucker notes in The Economist’s Survey on the Next Society (November 2001). However, gathering and using knowledge to do things, to create results, requires context and decisions.  Creating context and making clear decisions requires effective structures and processes of governance. Hence, as human society evolved through successive eras of new ways to distribute and use information and knowledge, it has become understood that those who able to gain and control access to critical knowledge were able to acquire and/or create power.  Knowledge is power.

The genesis of ‘modern’ hierarchy

Let’s look at history for just a moment. For example, if we can loosely accept the definitions above as chronological, long before the printing press and widespread distribution of the printed word knowledge and power resided with the “royalty” of the church, the monarchy and their court, and those chosen by these small groups of people to stimulate and participate in the control of society. The rest of the populace were busy farming – on the royalty’s land – and making clothes and shelter in order to survive the rhythms and forces of nature.

Fast-forward several centuries. With the discovery and invention of new forces and technologies such as the printing press, electricity and the steam engine knowledge began, primarily through the connected networks of the powerful elites – the royalty and the clergy – to spread around the world, albeit ever so slowly. Having access to knowledge, funding its sources and guarding and/or controlling its distribution created a integrated system of power and authority.  We have learned of the many attempts to control the mass populace through famous stories such as the Spanish Inquisition, Braveheart, Joan of Arc and many other such examples. Always, these stories have been about attempts to resist and control change that sprang from informing and catalyzing popular movements. There has always been the attempt to control and shape knowledge through the restriction of media and dissidents – and this continues today, although in more subtle and sophisticated ways.

Fast forward once again … to the dawn of the Industrial Age. Collectively in the emerging industrialized world, while managing our way through world wars and the re-shaping of important colonial empires, we learned how to build the infrastructure of what we all know today as the modern world – roads, highways, factories, suburbs, downtown cores of larger and larger cities. The demise of colonization and the last vestiges of traditional control, for example in Africa, India and South America is a relatively recent phenomenon. In the last half of the Twentieth Century, there has been an ongoing move off the farm, through the factories and suburbs, and into the offices of modern urban centres. This growth was accompanied by the spread of scientific management and the rise of the professional executive and manager – the Industrial Age equivalent of royalty and clergy.

Hierarchy as the dominant form of organization became encoded into the structure of virtually all institutions of society during the Twentieth Century, mainly as a necessary condition to support efficiency and productivity. Frederick Winslow Taylor has become famous as the father of time-and-motion studies, as the ongoing drive for productivity and efficiency was born in the early 1900’s. Tools and techniques such as division of labour, organization charts, and job evaluation evolved into standard management instruments, and were applied to most forms of organized work activity.

It is only through enforced standardization of methods,enforced adoption of the best implements and working conditions, and enforced cooperation that this faster work can be assured.               (F.W. Taylor)

The structures and forms that resulted have become over the past 75 years the standard model.  These principles have become encoded in all commonly-accepted management and leadership models (yes, even new-paradigm ones), and have defined the general shape, rhythm and rules of behaviour in organizations that we now accept as traditional . As noted at the outset of this essay …

First, we shape our structures…then, our structures shape us.


Paradoxical and often-confusing change confronts us 

Today, paradox is everywhere. Those of us old enough to grow up in the 60’s and 70’s knew a different world, a world in which conduct and behaviours were much more homogenous – roles were clearer, and we knew how we were expected to act as we grew up and moved into adulthood. The movie Pleasantville, released in 1999, gives us a graphic representation of this unfolding of today’s paradox .. as diversity and access to voice have increased, so has the complexity we encounter in the course of our daily lives. The film’s narrative arc morphs from a homogenous, monotonous black-and-white “Father Knows Best” type of family, work and community life to a rainbow-hued juicy diversity of passions and (seemingly) outrageous behaviours. Pleasantville’s “hierarchy” – the mayor, the police chief and their cronies – feel threatened and attempt to control this emergent celebration of life through reining in the perpetrators – to no avail.

Now, as the Information Age has become firmly rooted, we’re moving through living rooms and offices out to the world on the Information Highway – and the ways we use the raw materials and interactive rhythm and pulse of this Information Age are transforming our social structures and behaviours.  And as a result, a lot of turbulence, ambiguity and uncertainty are being created for us.

Living and working in a ‘wired’ world

Many of the structures and forms we use to carry out human activities, such as schooling, shopping, cooking, working and entertainment, are “wired”. The next generations of families, friends and workers are growing up surrounded by electronic tools, digitized images and information, and have been connected to the World Wide Web since infancy. Hierarchy’s “command-and-control” is transforming into as-yet not clear forms of “champion-and-channel” and we will all have to learn how to live, work and manage in this new form of organizational dynamics. We’re beginning to build wirearchies where hierarchies stood, and there’s no going back.

The characteristics are becoming clearer more quickly than we are learning how to behave – not surprising given the ways that mental models shape our perspectives, beliefs and behaviours, as Peter Senge reminded us in The Fifth Discipline. We need to move from stability-based predictability, power and control to an ongoing flow of flexibility, integration and innovation.

So…what do you do as a leader and as a peer in the Knowledge Age, when past traditions of always gaining rungs on the professional ladder by being the smartest, the most decisive, the clearest, and the strongest may no longer work or result in resistance and cynicism? What do you do now, when perhaps previously much of your power and clout came from your position, but you may not have much more information than many of the others in your organization or market? What do you do when suddenly, many people in your organization, and many of your customers and competitors are loaded with that same information?  What happens when there are a number of people just as smart or smarter .. and more talented than you .. wanting to do what you want to do ?

You may no longer have privileged access to information, other than through keeping secrets or manipulating information – which may come back to haunt you? How do you “unlearn” your old mental models? How do you need to communicate and behave in order to establish credibility in this interconnected Knowledge Age?

The Internet and the World Wide Web burst into mass human consciousness only 17 or 18 years ago ;-).  Their reach and penetration have multiplied exponentially since then.

And yet, this dominant defining factor of a new era is only in its infancy.

The accessibility and interconnectivity they provide already responds to almost any need or desire, and much more capability seems sure to emerge in the next five to ten years.

Also, Web-enabled tools have begun to transform work processes in ways that are important and pervasive. Even though the dot-com boom has come and gone, workplace integration and human resources management applications are proliferating. Very large enterprises such as MicroSoft and Oracle, SAP, PeopleSoft, IBM Lotus and others have ‘updated’ the market for productivity and knowledge-work software’, encasing virtually all organizational activity in software. There are too many workplace and business process applications to catalogue, and new more integrated, easier to use versions or competitors appear on the horizon every few months, while new integrated services emerge and jostle for attention and marketplace acceptance. Similar initiatives and dynamics are now underway in a large cross-section of society’s organized activities. And, there has been much push-back and significant resistance to accepting the need for fundamental change.  Yet the tide of integration keeps on coming, inexorably. And ‘clouds’ of cloud computing are overhead and on the near horizon.

The changes to the ways we work keep piling up

Much of what the average worker sees of this is through the daily communion with the computer screen on her or his desk. They access the software with which they work and communicate with other employees through portals, of some form or other. As we learn more about how to integrate all growing software-based capability into our daily work lives, we will see various forms of employee portals, partnership portals, project management portals and, eventually, comprehensive real-time enterprise computing applications take root and grow in many organizations. Organizations’ IT infrastructures, coupled with ongoing growth in the scope and use of smart software, will create a type of integrated nervous system, providing top management and workers with an improvement-and-learning focused feedback loop.

When software connects customers directly to business processes, and employees have “line-of-sight” responsibility for making a clear contribution or directly impacting business results – when most of an organization’s strategy and value proposition is directly coded into its CRM, ERM and B2B applications, will the types of supervision and management we learned in the ‘70’s and ‘80’s continue to be effective? There’s a very real issue here that is helping to create the emerging dynamics – the more that work activities are encoded and embedded into integrated systems, the more the human will and spirit needs to surface, assert itself, and make it known that the multi-coloured diversity of Pleasantville is here to stay.

The proliferation of information technology, business process re-engineering and wrenching changes to established business models created by the rapid development of the Internet are exerting significant pressure on long-standing business hierarchies. Top-down, command-and-control management structures and dynamics struggle to maintain effectiveness in the face of free-flowing streams of content-rich information, coming from all directions.

A new organizing principle is emerging

The dynamics of how people relate – to work, to markets, to bosses and to each other – are changing. “Wirearchy” – a dynamic flow of power and authority based on connections and conversations, is emerging as a social dynamic in both business and society.

This emergent organizing principle is an informal but pervasive emerging structure of governance, strategy, decision-making and control based on knowledge, trust, meaning and credibility. Things get done and results are achieved through the interplay of vision, values, connections and conversation. Wirearchy is generated by an open architecture of information, knowledge and focus, enabled by connected and converging technologies.

It suggests a fundamental change in the dynamics of human interaction in – and with – organizations of all sizes, shapes and purposes. It also represents an evolution of hierarchy as an organizing principle and dynamic. Wirearchy will not render hierarchy obsolete, nor the need for direction and control; rather, it will render them more necessary. However, it will change the meaning of those terms and how they are used and experienced.

People won’t accept authority easily any more. While old-guard keepers-of-the- keys still cling to authority and power, the older models of how to lead and follow are unravelling. Organization charts are still useful, but only as they become more fluid. Certainly, they appear in a much wider range of shapes than before, and often convey new messages about power, status and control. “Organigraphics,” or pictures of the ways organizations flow and operate, are clearly more pertinent, accurate and useful, according to strategy and organizational structure guru Henry Mintzberg.

Perhaps the shift to wirearchy is a result of the conflict and dissonance generated by dated structures, mindsets and dynamics clashing with the irrevocable new forces created by the open access to information and knowledge. An early scenario (.. almost 15 years ago now .. ) describing this change is found in The Cluetrain Manifesto (www.cluetrain.com). It describes how fundamental shifts in values and attitudes due to connections, openness and cynicism demand openness, transparency and authenticity from the prevailing power structures in our corporate-led society.

Early responses to new conditions

How do today’s leaders, managers, employees and freelancers respond to these forces? Clues are evident in initiatives emerging in the fields of customer and employee relationship management, organizational development, human resources management and organizational change: The use of techniques such as scenario planning, dialogue, open space, 360 degree feedback, emotional intelligence, coaching and mentoring have all grown significantly over the past several years. Together, these soften the rigidity of outmoded structures, and help people respond and adapt.

Most organizations carry out ongoing initiatives to create, clarify and improve capabilities in each of these emerging areas. Indeed, a large percentage of the global consulting industry is focused on diagnosing, developing and implementing strategies for these goals. Wirearchy is significantly different in that it focuses on the structural and psychosocial dynamics generated by interconnectivity and access to knowledge. It begins not only with what’s happening at the top, but also what’s happening in the roots and branches of an organization. Where hierarchy created focus and meaning through the control of knowledge, wirearchy implies that the control and use of knowledge acknowledges and involves a much wider range of stakeholders..

Yesterday’s success factors involved secrecy and control, size, role clarity, functional specialization and power. Today’s emerging factors are openness, speed, flexibility, integration and innovation. The concept of wirearchy allows readers to develop a strategy for creating, implementing these factors in ways that respond with value to continuously changing conditions. The core components of wirearchy are:

    • a crystal clear vision and values
    • a strategically designed and integrated technology infrastructure
    • comprehensive, clear and completely open communications
    • pertinent objectives and focused measurement
    • characteristics of culture that create, support and enable responsiveness, adaptability and fluidity
    • leadership that is clear, focused, open, authentic and shared

It will take time and experience in this new era to know what “success” and “effectiveness” mean and look like. In a wired and wirearchical world, where there is literal meaning in the phrase, “everything is connected to everything else,” we will have to watch, learn and imagine how to lead and manage in ways that foster ongoing growth in human development. As the forces that are creating it grow, this organizing principle – Wirearchy — will impact business, governments and societies in ways that we have never before encountered in human history.

Positing an organizing principle for the interconnected, networked Knowledge Age is aimed at understanding and shaping a new organizational dynamic for the benefit of individuals, organizations and the societies in which we work and live. It’s giving a name to a new organizing principle that reflects more realistically and accurately what’s going on out there, and we believe that this principle should be used to create work structures and cultures that respond authentically – with speed, flexibility, integration and innovation – to customer needs.

“Wirearchy” – a dynamic flow of power and authority based on connections and conversations – is emerging as a social dynamic in both business and society. The definition suggests a fundamental change in the dynamics of human interaction in – and with – organizations of all sizes, shapes and purposes. It firmly suggests the necessity for the evolution of hierarchy as an organizing principle and dynamic for the networked era.

The governance and mass customization of work in the new conditions

The new conditions do not render obsolete the need for direction and control; rather, what changes is the meaning of those terms and how they are used and experienced. Wirearchy is a structure of governance, strategy, decision-making and control based on trust, meaning and credibility – things get done through connections and conversation. Preferred futures .. choices about direction and response … are generated from an open yet structured social architecture of information, knowledge and focus, enabled by connected and converging technologies.

Work will keep changing faster and become more uncertain, more precarious, and more focused on delivering results. Work will become an ever-flowing combination of the necessary results delivered by people using their unique combinations of skills, personalities and motivations – the mass customization of work. Mass customization was defined and popularized by Stan Davis, a leading organizational and business thinker, and suggests that standardized products and processes can be adapted – customized – to the specific needs of small groups and or individual preferences and needs. It’s clear that the spread of this concept during the 90’s throughout manufacturing and service processes is now being followed by its penetration into the nature of work – the more work activities are standardized, the more the preferences and needs of small groups or individuals assert themselves and demand satisfaction.

This changing nature of work has been brought about by the ongoing penetration and spread of computers and ever-smarter software into virtually all areas of human activity, notably work activities. Where control of information, knowledge and thus power used to reside in the hierarchical structures built to manage work in the Industrial Age, the changes to work that we are experiencing demand that knowledge, power and control are shared, diffused and distributed. Thus, the new organizing principle – Wirearchy – is required to help us make sense of the consequences of our new conditions and the structures that are being born in response to these conditions.

New models and new ways of doing things are clearly necessary. Symptoms of this need are cropping up all around us – from new approaches to leadership and the recognition that issues like Emotional Intelligence and team work are responses – not always well-designed or implemented – to the need for effectiveness in any organized, organizational endeavour.  We see and live a 24/7/365 work and life, we experience increasing degrees of artificial intelligence in the form of chips and software built into almost everything humans do, and local and national economies are buffeted by global markets and global competitiveness. The established forms of governance, leadership, management and citizenship are under attack from all sides, and new ways of addressing these critical issues are appearing in the current affairs and business news every day.

In addition, the types of organizational structure that can accommodate the necessary responses to ongoing change generated by interconnected markets and constituents are changing in front of our eyes. Much has already been written – and more will follow – about networks, partnerships, and strategic alliances. Competitors regularly partner, or form strategic alliances with a third party where their main competitor is the third party’s other main, and equally important, strategic alliance.

The search for effective techniques and tools continues to grow

In the face of this often confusing and paradoxical landscape, leaders and managers everywhere are searching for tools and techniques that will allow for continued effectiveness in the face of swirling change. Often, the working assumptions they use to guide their quest is based on the traditional mindset – eroding in effectiveness in plain view – that controlling the playing field, being right and minimizing the risk of not knowing and denying or shutting down flexibility and openness, is what will show to their masters – most often the capital markets – that they are decisive and know what to do. The trouble is…it’s really hard to create and achieve sustained success when working from ineffective or unaware mental models.  It’s been well-documented, for example, that the average lifespan of newly appointed CEO’s grows shorter and shorter each year. Why is that?

As unrelenting change and the spread of interconnected distributed knowledge continues to grow, the structure and shape of organizations and work also continues to evolve. More and more work takes shape in time-and-results defined projects, and the presence of teams and teamwork is ubiquitous. Out-sourcing and contracting, as organizational responses to carrying out critical work and tasks while limiting the impact on the core operational aspects of an organization, are widespread. The flattening of hierarchies has also been a common response – and yet the legacy mindset and dynamics of hierarchical command-and-control are still dominant – even though at the height of the dot-com boom it seemed that the dynamics of the “geek revolution” might forever replace traditional power structures.

A unifying, organizing principle will help greatly in coalescing meaning and sense out of this swirling morass – exploring, defining, and explaining what is observable about Wirearchy will be an essential first step in moving forward.

May 2002, updates March 2013

About the Author:
Jon Husband is currently a Strategic Advisor with several high-tech firms, and a workplace coach and futurist.

To Sell or Not To Sell ?


That is my question …


Mb 300 CE Front Right Full View



For the Record: On the Origins of “Wirearchy”

I’ve been noticing .. and friends have been telling me about .. the increased use of the term and concept “wirearchy” in the social business and social learning business arenas.

I don’t mind its increased use .. it’s just a neologism, after all .. but most of the the increased use comes from consulting (Deloitte & Deloitte / Bershin) and social software vendors (SABA Software and Cisco).

And if they are going to use the term and concept to help sell services and software …

I feel compelled to note that I copyrighted the term and definition in 1999, and began writing about wirearchy – the term, concept, definition and its implications – shortly thereafter, in early 2000.

For the record …

 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.

(Jon Husband, 1999)


“Relax; you’re soaking in it .. “

That bumptious feeling you get … semi-regularly, viagra when your plans change ?


Get used to it.  Via Harold Jarche ..


Screen Shot 2013-03-04 at 1.41.24 PM


Have We Arrived In “Brave New World” ?

No, we don’t clone and decant children yet, but …

I’ve recently been re-reading Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World”, published in 1932.

It’s a widely known book, having been on many high-school and university curricula over the past 50+ years.

A drastically dystopian novel, in it Huxley parodies in a phantasmagorical way the core dynamics of Western society after 100 or so years of the impacts of the Industrial Age.

He posits a society in which there is a rigid and (almost) completely accepted social stratification. Betas are glad they’re not Alphas, and lowly Gammas are quite happy not having to live with other Betas or Alphas, for example.

The book also chronicles the resemblance between people complacently contented by a life of significant leisure and how today’s consumerization keeps us yoked into working at things that are more often than not quite meaningless to us.  Anti-human, if you will.

It has struck me for a long time that the arrangements in today’s society are not far off from the descriptions of how the Brave New World’s society is structured and operates.  You have to go “off the reservation” to find real life and grapple with the mysteries of why, what and how.

How We Got Here

Thanks to the significant codification of work and organizational design via scientific management principles and the deep alignment of this codification with the accelerating consumerization of Western society, we have lived now with 60+ years of organizing, arranging, measuring and managing peoples’ work, and their lives outside of work.

That this is arguably so struck me again with force when re-reading an essay from several years ago in which I outlined the core tenets of the basic method with which work is designed and arranged into the hierarchical and pyramidal organizational chart we know so well.

Let me elaborate by referring to the methodologies with which I used to work …

“The Hay Method uses the model that all work has three phases—input, throughput and output—and employs three core factors to measure that work:

1.  Know-how – knowledge and skills acquired through education and experience.
2.  Problem-solving – the application of the said knowledge to problems encountered in the process of doing the work.
3. Accountability – 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, as it relates to fumes, chemicals, outdoor exposure, dangerous physical conditions, unusual exogenous stress, etc.

On the face of it, these factors seem eminently reasonable and the method (and the related ones cited above) have, since the early 1950’s, largely served organizations well for designing one or another particular pyramid,.  These methods are put into practice along with other key assumptions from the era when organizations grew and prospered.  The assumptions as articulated 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.

Industrial Age assumptions about knowledge

Just as important is the underlying assumption of these methods about the fundamental nature of knowledge. It assumes knowledge and its acquisition, development and use proceeds slowly and carefully and is based on the official taxonomy of knowledge, a vertical arrangement of information and skills that are derived from the official institutions of our society.

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 (learns work by rote)

Epsilons in Brave New World

B – Some school, some skill (needs to know how to read & write)
C – Basic high school, routine work (read, write, apply formal routines & communicate effectively)

Deltas in Brave New World

D – Vocational school, community college, trades, senior administrative (follow & adapt established routines & practices)

Gammas in Brave New World

E – University graduation, senior trades, managerial (reads books & applies thought to policies and practices)

Betas in Brave New World

F – University plus 10 years experience, grad school (puts the books to use)

Alphas in Brave New World

G – Deep knowledge and expertise (writes the books)

Alpha-Plus in Brave New World

H – God (has others write the books)

Mustapha Mond ? Ford’s representative in Brave New World


These arrangements are now essentially baked into the structures (and thus much of the dynamics of our society that are generated in and from them).

And it is these arrangements that are failing us, that are shopworn and ineffective in the face of the accelerating complexity encountered as the institutions and people in our societies are experiencing atomisation, customisation, automation. The economies we live in and the financial system(s) that underpin them depend upon growth, and upon the exploitation of human creativity, imagination and labour. The core assumption of growth and extraction of profit at the cost of someone else’s consumption and/or compliance is deeply embedded .. just the way things are, the natural way a society should operate. Legal strangleholds on copyright, employment legislation, commercial activity, invention of new value ensure that this set of arrangements benefits from deep inertia.

However, it seems clear that this center cannot hold, and that it is being blown apart by accelerating and essentially uncontrollable streams of information between connected people (whether in formal organizational structures or somewhere out there on the edges of society).

Friend and colleague Harold Jarche has written often and brilliantly on the emergent yet deep changes to work that are beginning to appear .. more frequently, thicker and faster every month. In various essays he has laid out how the basic tenets of complexity theory found in Dave Snowden’s Cynefin Framework pertain to the changing nature of work, primarily by noting and clarifying the fundamental necessity for ongoing adaptation when faced with these new conditions.

His most recent blog post is titled “The post-job economy”. In it he sets out clearly what is underway and “gathering steam”. I agree with him that there will not be any return to “the normal we thought we knew”, and that there are a range of important societal mutations in front of us, just waiting for us to meet them.

Now, it also seems clear that ‘jobs’ and ‘work’ as we know it in structured-for-efficiency organizations won’t disappear completely for a very long time. People doing structured work are necessary in vast numbers to keep things going more or less as they have been. And yet, there are a number of signs of real difficulty on the near horizon .. be they some additional crisis in the supply of oil that threatens the tightly-linked systems of logistics that keep food in stores, fuel in gasoline stations, or threats of contamination to water and food sources and supplies, an acceleration and intensification of the impacts of climate change .. there are more than enough early not-so-weak signals that should make us want to wake up and do a deep re-think of what we are doing, why and how.

And it also seems clear that the politicians currently leading the world through a series of coincidental crises are by and large not coming clean with us. In many senses they are place-holders whose mission is to keep things intact and functioning whilst attempting to persuade people that a brighter day will soon be at hand. They are not visionary and deep change-makers with a long view on the path of human and societal evolution.

If several of the crises we know about continue to unfold on trajectory, it seems clear that we will be forced to adapt through developing human and cooperative capabilities on a smaller and more local scale, where things can be more manageable for individuals and groups bound by common values and interests.

As for me .. I want to both get out ahead of the curves by stepping out of the manic technocratic mainstream, and by offering my capabilities to those who are interested in seeking and exploring ‘better’, more human and more honest ways of getting through this life. I don’t really want to be part of the Brave New World I think I see coming at us quite quickly.

By the way, it creeps me out that the text box on Facebook asks you “what are you feeling, Jon ?”

Facebook is mining us in order to benefit and profit from the notion of “the feelies” in Huxley’s novel Brave New World.

That seems clear to me.