Working Draft – From Hierarchy to Wirearchy Overview

From my November 2001 files – it needs updating, and by publishing it here I am goading myself into greater discipline and focus.

We’ll see if it works.


What do you do as a leader – a CEO, a Vice-President, a senior manager – in the Knowledge Age when the traditions of gaining rungs on the professional ladder – and thus power and authority – by being the smartest, the most decisive, the clearest, and the strongest are less effective?  When much of your power and clout came from your position, and from having more information than most of the others?  What do you do when suddenly, many people in your organization, and many of your customers and competitors are loaded with that same information, and you no longer have privileged access to anything? How do you “unlearn” your old mental models? How do you need to communicate and behave in order to establish credibility in the Knowledge Age? 


The World Wide Web burst into mass human consciousness only ten years ago, and its reach has multiplied exponentially since then. And yet, this dominant defining factor of a new era is only in its infancy. The accessibility and interconnectivity that it provides already responds to almost any need or desire, and much more capability is sure to emerge in the next few years


Meanwhile, web-enabled tools are transforming work processes in more and more important and pervasive ways. Interconnected business process applications are proliferating, websites like, and deliver the first wave of on-line learning in easy-to-use formats, and most Fortune 500 companies already have or are planning intranets. It’s predicted that RSS (Really Simple Syndication), a means of automatically streaming newly-generated information, will penetrate many organizations in 2004 and 2005


As we learn more about how to integrate all this potential capability into our daily work lives, we will see various forms of employee portals, partnership portals, project management portals and more recently, comprehensive real-time enterprise computing applications take root and grow in many organizations. Next … blogging ?


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.


Information technology, business process re-engineering and upheavals 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.  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.


Wirearchy suggests a fundamental change in the dynamics of human interaction in – and with – organizations of all sizes, shapes and purposes.  It 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.


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?


When interconnected software and citizens access and distribute information, opinion and facts about the policies and tactics of our governments, new standards for accountability begin to take shape.  Will governments seek greater control and secrecy, or will they adapt and focus on governing by principles rather than tactics ?


Wirearchy is a structure of governance, strategy, decision-making and control based on knowledge, trust, meaning and credibility. Things get done and results are achieved through connections and conversation. Wirearchy is generated by an open architecture of information, knowledge and focus, enabled by connected and converging technologies.


The concept of Wirearchy can help to develop a strategy for creating, implementing and deploying this new interconnected dynamic in ways that respond effectively to continuously changing conditions. The core components of Wirearchy are:


a crystal clear vision and values based on integrity and facts

– 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 above all, shared


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. A cogent (and early) scenario describing this change is found in The Cluetrain Manifesto ( – it consists of 95 statements of 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.


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 way(s) organizations flow and operate, and are clearly more pertinent, accurate and useful these days, according to strategy and organizational structure guru Henry Mintzberg,.


How does today’s senior manager or government leader 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, 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.


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. 


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 controlled the creation of focus and meaning through the control of knowledge, Wirearchy implies that it be used appropriately and respectfully.


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 lead to ongoing growth in human development. 


Many others have and are studying and describing the massive changes we are beginning to experience more and more regularly – in journalism, politics, organizational dynamics, social networks and business models.  


I believe that this organizing principle I call Wirearchy will evolve to impact business, governments and societies in ways that we have never before encountered in human history. We are together growing an interconnected shared mind, something which was never physically possible prior to the development of the Web.  What we do or don’t do with it is up to us.


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