a new way to work

Corporations were created to give limited liability to organizations that were taking on large, capital-intensive projects, like building railways. Today, most corporations have little physical capital and instead derive their value from intangible goods and services. Such a significant economic shift should make us question the value of putting so much value into the corporation, when most of it now is created by workers. Do we still need a corporation to enable wealth-creation for a post-industrial, and more importantly, a post-job, economy? For example, the open source model has shown that software can be developed faster and cheaper (and many would say better) without a corporate, hierarchical structure. There are alternatives.

A network economy can retrieve artisans and guilds, distributing power to those who do the work, and reconnecting thinkers and doers. This can extend human value through the economy, distributing value so it does not only accrue to the top of the hierarchical pyramid. Corporations, as we know them, are obsolete for a network economy. However, they could still re-emerge in the form of platform capitalism, masquerading as the sharing economy.

hierarchies wirearchies

Post-job Economy

The “job” was the way we redistributed wealth, making capitalists pay for the means of production and in return creating a middle class that could pay for mass produced goods. That period is almost over. America has hit peak jobs TechCrunch informs us. The New York Times calls it  the rise of the permanent temp economy. The recession, combined with technology, is killing middle class jobs, reports the Associated Press.

Knowledge Artisans

An artisan is a skilled worker in a particular craft, using specialized tools and machinery. Artisans were the dominant producers of goods before the Industrial era. Knowledge artisans are retrieving the older artisan model and re-integrating previously separate skills. Knowledge artisans not only design the work but they can do the work. It is not passed down the assembly line. Many integrate marketing, sales, and customer service with their creations. To ensure that they stay current, they become members of various Guilds, known today as communities of practice or knowledge networks. One of the earliest guilds was the open source community which developed many of the communication tools and processes used by knowledge artisans today: distributed work; results only work environments (your code speaks for you); RSS, blogs, wikis, etc.

Platform Capitalism

Companies like Über are not part of a ‘sharing economy’ but are rather  ‘platform capitalists’, the new robber barons of the 21st century. They have combined the power of network effects with a 20th century corporate capitalist, winner-takes-all approach. Amazon is choking the book publishing industry, Google and Facebook are dominating advertising, and telecommunications companies are using their control of the pipes to directly compete with service providers. Über is going after the taxi and car rental industries, getting to be larger than established rental car brands, with none of the overhead. All of these companies may provide initially good services to customers. But over time their monopolistic tendencies kill competition and the entire ecosystem of innovation.

Wirearchy

We should be looking at alternatives to the corporate model in a market economy. Networks are not markets. Networks require structures that are more flexible and can respond faster to change than hierarchical corporations. Work in complex environments requires faster feedback loops. Social networks, which are comprised of people that we trust in some way, can speed up knowledge feedback loops at work. However, to do this, we have to already have that human connection. The post-corporate organization has to incorporate social networks as part of its structure. This can be the first step in developing a wirearchy: giving explicit permission to engage in social networks and bypassing, or even obsolescing, the formal communications structures.  If the work still gets done, you don’t need the formal structure any more.

Let’s make 2015 the year of the wirearchy.

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8 Responses to “a new way to work”

  1. Derek Bailey

    Thank you for succinctly illuminating what foreshadows where vocational education is heading for especially in Australia in that the Medieval concept of Guilds and Artisans will take place, allowing Government to step right away from providing vocational education and training.

    Reply
  2. Hugh Aitken

    There are now boundless opportunities to create alternative connections outside the existing corporations and institutions of regulation that are inherently resistant to change. Given that 98 % of global GDP is essentially corporate gambling any move to building a more substantive base for a creative approach to reinventing a failing economic model is welcome.

    Reply
  3. Lisa Levinson

    I always look forward to your blogs, Harold, as they not only spark my thinking but also speak to the work we are trying to do at the Women’s Learning Studio to encourage individuals and organizations to develop new digital thinking, routines, and learning. This blog was a catalyst for me for going further in thinking about learning/working and changing structures and systems.

    As wirearchy replaces hierarchy, how do knowledge artisans or those of us trying to encourage networked learning, convince employers and employees that this trend is real, and new skills, knowledge, routines and behaviors are necessary to learn in order to succeed or at least survive in the new economy and structures? How do we monetize this so that we are creating our knowledge artisan group niche while ushering in the age of wirearchy?

    There is no doubt that mainstream media (such as your reference to the NYTimes in your article) is beginning to recognize these changes. The Harvard Business Review, in the innovation section on January 5, 2015 reviewed the Tech Trends You Can’t Ignore in 2015. Deep learning, or machine learning topped the list followed by smart virtual personal assistants: robotic trends mentioned in the TechCrunch article. But although media are talking about these trends, is the understanding of the dramatic shift trickling into the world of work in a substantial way?

    How can we help workers and management understand these changes and engage in networked learning (with or without our paid services)? What have others seen and done to promote new thinking and adaptation of wirearchy learning and routines in workplaces? With individuals?

    How do we get past the blank stares when we mention, with our utmost conviction and solid references, the changing nature of the online world?

    Reply
    • Harold Jarche

      I think we ourselves have to learn by doing. I have been active in several experimental organizational models, such as http://InternetTimeAlliance.com and I am currently engaging with http://ethosvo.org/ Many gurus and academics talk about the future of work but few actually create anything new, staying with the same old consulting or speaker-for-hire models. We need to work and learn together, though not on the same problems or in the same place. The more examples we have of alternatives, the better the chances of some getting adopted.

      I highly recommend Laloux’s book, because it is built on concrete examples, from which he drew his explanatory model:
      http://jarche.com/2014/05/reinventing-organizations-review/

      Reply

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