A new organisational lens

In 1999, Jon Husband coined a new term, wirearchy:

a dynamic two-way flow of power and authority based on information, knowledge, trust and credibility, enabled by interconnected people and technology

As I bump against corporations in my work of implementing networked learning, collaboration or business, I am beginning to realise that Jon’s organising principle is what’s missing. As companies try to move to Enterprise 2.0 or Web 2.0 they are constrained by Organisation 1.0. They may be using the tool, the terms, or some of the techniques but they are still mired in industrial management. The major premise of The Future of Management is that real innovation only happens when you change your management model. All other changes are incremental but management innovation can be exponential.

I’ve worked for some interesting start-ups doing some innovative work, but I’ve noticed that they all use the same management methods as the companies they’re trying to subvert. Even Google uses mostly instructor-led classroom training, for no reason other than that’s how training is done. I think that these industrial-age management models will be like a weight around these initially innovative companies, especially as cycle time decreases and competition for creative people increases.

I’m doing some work with a start-up in the HR field and I wonder if there are “2.0” versions of tools and techniques we take for granted in this space. Is there a better alternative to the organisation chart? Do job descriptions actually tell us anything? Do most businesses need regular hours of work? Is compensation based on time really necessary?

These kinds of questions don’t get asked until you start looking at the entire organisation with a different lens.


19 Responses to “A new organisational lens”

  1. Gilbert

    Brillian post.

    However, the diagram should look more like a web. If cutting one link isolates nodes we have all the same problems as hierarchy. The redundant paths is what gives networked structures their strength. Such is the Network Way…

  2. Harold

    It’s just a cartoon; a metaphor. It can be the seed for an actual model, though. Maybe something to develop while you’re writing your next book, Gilbert 😉

  3. Jon Husband

    Gilbert’s point is well made .. but I think it is important that anything resembling a web also depict or denote the non-static nature of things organizational today. So, think of Hugh’s cartoon as a snapshot in time, caught by the flash .. while in a wirearchy the “we” who are working on something are connected, we are also likely to be “alone” behind our screen (with our headphones on ?). I think I’d add some fainter dotted lines to show that we have various connections operating in the background whilst we are (mainly) connecting to someone else or a small node of someone-elses.

    We now have an environment of flows, and we need organizational forms, processes, dynamics and models that help us work with and within flows wherein the power and authority we use to make decisions keeps on being “negotiated”, supported by the information that is flowing.

  4. Jon Husband

    BTW, over the years I also added (in 2003 or 2004, I think) the words “and a focus on results” just after “credibility”.

    I still parse the working definition word-by-word about once a week in my head, and it still works for me.

  5. Jon Husband

    Are we talking evidence or cosmetics?


    Please clarify (at least for me .. I tend towards being thick or slow on the uptake at times).

  6. Gilbert

    …the power and authority we use to make decisions keeps on being “negotiated”, supported by the information that is flowing.

    I like this. Authority and Power are nodal in this model. A nodel model will be more efficient than a linear system if people are using internet/intranet technologies to communicate.

    Reminds me of hockey a bit. The puck passes around and at one point someone feels he shoot make the decision to shoot at the net. Not always the coach that calls the shots.

  7. graham watt

    You obviously have evidence. The problem is in graphically exposing it.
    Why would it have to be wire-y? Because of the brilliance of juxtaposing hierarchy and wirearchy? I think it creates a tendency to show connectivity in a wire sense because of the hier/wire. The idea is brilliant but seems so very difficult to explain graphically without the graphic becoming cosmetic, a badly chosen word perhaps. The power of the word, to my mind, is graphic enough. Evidence enough. Why must we always draw it, if drawing isn’t needed? That’s why I mentioned Tufte.

  8. Gilbert

    From my perpective the drawing is very important because the systems that will work are those that most closely mimic the topologies and mechanisms of the predominant underlying communication technologies.

    I can assess a systems chances of performing well simply by look at the architecture. And architecture and drawing are always related. Organisational structures are also architectural in nature.

    So I do expect to see routing mechanisms and redundant paths in moder org. structures. A few years ago these structures weren’t as feasible because the communication/collaboration tools were not there to support.

    Jon’s explanation of the image as a snapshot in time made the lack of redundant paths understandable.

    There are multiple layers in a network/organisation. The more layers you get to mimic the predominant communication technololgy the better the system will respond to change. Technically it is a case of systems impedance matching.

    So to come back to the original post.. questions such as : Do we still need org charts?.. can be answered by an analysis of underlying communication networks.

    When in Rome do like the Romans.. when on the Internet do like the Internet.. become a packet .. and Disperse..lol

  9. Jon Husband

    I am nothing close to an expert, but I believe much has been written about the fundamental “architecture” and protocols of the Internet being purposefully “open” so as to encourage the kinds of dynamics we have glimpsed with (Noun) 2.0, no ?

  10. Gilbert

    What is important is to understand the “Medium is the message” thing as applied to the Internet.

    If you ask yourself.. Why did the invention of the press lead to linear man .. you start seeing how linear structures and behaviors had more chances of survival in a world where the communication medium was linear. As an example think of building non-linear course material in the 70s (remember programmed instructions). Very hard to to on a linear/sequential communication medium. Another example is the difficulty non-linear people had to adapt to schools curriculum.

    Once the underlying predominant communication medium changes to a network/nodal mode it becomes more efficient to act in a network/nodal way.

    Organizations are still thinking in terms of how to take advantage of the new internet technologies. They are missing the big picture. The medium is the message. Build your solutions (command structures/business models/performance appraisals/traning/etc) in a nodal way and you will maximize response times and efficiency. Match the impedances of the systems.

    Wirearchy is a nice concept. I like it.

  11. Jon Husband

    Gilbert … re: “The Medium is the Message”.

    I wrote a blog post (or maybe an essay ?) about 2.5 years ago, with a bit of help from an Open Space maestro, Chris Corrigan, riffing on that famous aphorism.

    It is one of my top 5 favourite blog posts … I titled it “The Medium Is The Meaning that we Consume and Create (Together)”. I’d love to know your reaction to it, if you are perhaps interested.

  12. Gilbert

    Nice article. Hopefully many will read it.

    “The medium is the meaning we want to and will create” is really a special case of “the message is the meaning we want to and will create”.

    In cases where “the medium is the message is true” we can say by substituting “the medium is the meaning we want to and will create”. All we did is replace to equivalencies. The substitution makes it harder to understand but we have a new rule.

    “The medium is the message” works most of the time but it can be darn tricky to tell what the medium is.

    Which is the medium? Is it the web page or is it the internet.

    If you select “the web page” as an answer you might come to the conclusion that the web page is becoming the meaning we want to and will create.
    Sounds like a perfect proof.

    If you select “the internet” as an answer you will say things like “the Internet is becoming the meaning we want to and will create.
    Not as elegant a proof.

    The medium is the message is a powerful aphorism but for it to apply the medium must have core properties.

    The medium is the message only because nature follows paths of least resistance. So we must think in terms of paths when we define the medium.

    This is not always easy to do.

    Here I go thinking like a quantum packet again.

    Hope this made you laugh.


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