Wanted: New organisational models

More of us are working in a networked economy, driven by the enormous, ubiquitous Internet. Working in a network appears to be most effective for chaotic and complex environments, where the Cynefin model prescribes:

  • Complex, in which the relationship between cause and effect can only be perceived in retrospect, but not in advance, the approach is to Probe – Sense – Respond and we can sense emergent practice.
  • Chaotic, in which there is no relationship between cause and effect at systems level, the approach is to Act – Sense – Respond and we can discover novel practice.

Being outside the corporate/bureaucratic hierarchy I see how easy it is for networks to form and act-sense-respond on perceived opportunities and challenges, especially when there is trust between the nodes. But organisations, no matter how modern, are not networks. They are constrained by rules, governance, proprietary secrets and other control systems. Can “slow nodes” work effectively in a fast moving edge economy?

Searls and Weinberger called the Web a World of Ends, with no centre at all:

When Craig Burton describes the Net’s stupid architecture as a hollow sphere comprised entirely of ends3, he’s painting a picture that gets at what’s most remarkable about the Internet’s architecture: Take the value out of the center and you enable an insane flowering of value among the connected end points. Because, of course, when every end is connected, each to each and each to all, the ends aren’t endpoints at all.

So the question is, what happens to an organisation that tries to emulate the most efficient network we have and becomes completely hollowed out?

Is it still an organisation?

Do the rules remain the same?

Do those on the edge need the middle any more?

The challenge that I see is to create the new organisational model for an edge economy. We have wirearchy as one governing principle and efforts like work literacy for individuals, but no new organisational models for groups that create value.

McLuhan’s laws of media could provide some insight. Possible effects of a world of ends on the industrial organisational model:

  1. Extends the influence of each worker.
  2. Obsolesces control systems.
  3. Retrieves personal relationships.
  4. Could flip into personality cults.

Over the past century we have played with other models (cooperatives, partnerships, sole proprietorships) but the incorporated company is still dominant. Henry Ford took advantage of F.W. Taylor’s new management theories and created a new world of work. Will we be seeing something similar in the next decade?

This is one of the greatest opportunities around but innovations on the old model still get all the press. Other than some tweaking of the existing corporate model, is anyone seeing anything really new happening? It will likely be outside of the “developed” world.

3 Responses to “Wanted: New organisational models”

  1. Tom Haskins

    Lately, I’ve been wondering if “business models” can only apply to confined hierarchies and causal relationships. What you’ve written here has brought that idea into sharper focus. A ecosystem of 200 species, thriving on a staggering complex web of interdependencies, defies thorough description. It’s only possible to model an artificially isolated portion of the complex web. The system itself must serve as the model.

    I’m also wondering if there’s a big difference between selling deliverables and selling privileges. If what is being sold can be inventoried, scheduled, packaged or regulated, conventional business models seem inevitable to me. What’s for sale is proprietary and in need of controls. However when privileges are for sale, individuals create unique experiences of access, contribution, reciprocity and unexpected discoveries. The purchase of the privilege is small in the context of so much self-propelled involvement. Like the ecosystem, the complexity is overwhelming. What occurs inside the privileged boundary is non-linear and out-of-control. Yet the value generated can easily be more responsive, innovative, customized, thorough, timely and current. This suggests another quartet of transitions to accompany yours:

    1. Extends the natural proliferation and diversification of interdependent life forms into the diversity of human endeavors
    2. Obsolesces the domination of nature by human “business models” and control systems
    3. Retrieves human abilities to be nurtured by robust natural systems, cyclical processes, and interdependent arrangements
    4. Reverses going online into going offline — in order to probe-sense-respond to the immediate, whole situation

  2. Jon Husband

    I like very much Tom’s application of McLuhan’s quadrant to the necessary thinking about transitions; this is what I expect was the objective of de Kerckhove and Federman’s book “McLuhan For Managers – New Tools for New Thinking”. The use of the Extends, Obsolesces, Retrieves and Reverses quadrant was a central chapter applied to leadership / management decision-making challenges.


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