Emergent Value

A certain amount of hierarchy is necessary to get work done. Networks route around hierarchy. Networks enable work to be done collaboratively, especially when that work is complex and there are no simple answers, best practices or case studies to fall back on. This is where real business value lies – complex work.

The above image, by Verna Allee, shows the relationship between hierarchies and networks in various domains. While most organizations need to deal with all of these domains, each takes different control methods and communications platforms. Complex work requires looser hierarchies and stronger networks, something many organizations need to improve.

As simple work gets automated, it still needs to be controlled. Complicated work is outsourced but needs to be coordinated. The high value work, as I’ve contended before on this blog, is complex (and creative) and requires collaboration to get things done. This has to be enabled by communications platforms that do more than the traditional Intranet. Enterprise collaboration tools – Socialcast; Jive; Brainpark – are the platforms for complex, collaborative work. In addition, knowledge workers need to regularly poke their heads out of these private networks and get involved in public, social networks – Twitter; LinkedIn; Facebook – which are rather chaotic. This is where they may find new ideas and create emergent value for their organizations.

All levels are needed in any large organization, and they shouldn’t be confused. Enabling the outer rings is critical for long-term success and that’s what business leaders, IT departments, HR and Legal have to enable; very soon.

Follow-up post: Embrace Chaos

13 Responses to “Emergent Value”

  1. Jon Husband

    I am wondering of there are emergent or undirected hierarchies that form and interact in the chaotic quarter, as patterns are tested to cordon off aspects of the chaos into loosely-ordered configurations, which then can test some more as they make it, or not, into relatively stable complex forms. That’s kind-of what living and working in beta is all about, no ? Initial (and loose) hierarchy comes from making choices and decisions about who, what, how and when, I am thinking.

  2. Jon Husband

    I’d think so also. A bureaucracy / bureaucratic structure (of any size) would seem ill-fitted to chaos and chaotic conditions.

  3. Gordon Ross

    Great post Harold.

    I think Geoffrey Moore has done a great job talking about the difference between systems of record vs. systems of engagement recently. Simple & complicated = systems of record. Complex = systems of engagement.

    On the chaotic front, isn’t a strong hierarchy (like the army in a civil unrest / chaotic revolutionary context), what often emerges to drag everyone kicking and screaming back to the ordered domain, Jon? The leader’s job is to take immediate action to establish control. That means either pushing back into the complex (by introducing light constraints, safe fail experimentation, etc.) or rigid constraints and trying to go right back to simple.

    My Cynefin dynamics might require some more thinking. Or perhaps the military in those chaotic coup-type situations are configured more like a strong network than a strong hierarchy…

  4. Peg Boyles

    It seems to me that activities emerging from the chaotic domain often organize via structures we call heterarchies and holarchies.

    Depending on the situation, the new interactive/collaborative arrangement might then intentionally describe and promote its work as one of these alternative-to-hierarchy–but robust–organizational structures.

  5. Jon Husband

    It seems to me that activities emerging from the chaotic domain often organize via structures we call heterarchies and holarchies.

    Yes, and what some of us call wirearchies:

    – Identify a purpose (this is what may or will be emerging in chaotic activities)
    – Identify and enroll the skills, motivations and personalities necessary to address the purpose in a constructive and/or creation-of-value way (typically, within one or more social networks).
    – Identify and create the infrastructure for effective and constructive communication and collaboration (the web services and social tools that are increasingly commonplace and free or inexpensive)
    – Open the infrastructure to the “crowd of interest” on the web (unless it is a commercial endeavour on the part of a now-grouping of ppl, as in a consulting group that emerges from peoples’ interactions) .. it can be participative social media marketing on the part of companies, or advocacy and activist dynamics on the part of not-for-profits
    – Create practical metrics that a group or network actually understand and believe in, and refine as the networked wirearchy grows, sustains or wanes.
    – Refine, adjust, adapt (it’s critical to ensure social ‘hygiene’ and seek, then instill ways of building and sustaining trust)

    They (wirearchies) come and go … flowing with the ongoing activities in networked markets and institutions and industries. More formally structured organizations also actually undergo rolling change, but the tools the orgs use to understand their structures often don’t easily acknowledge that rolling flow of change.

  6. Peg Boyles

    I love your description/image of the wirearchy, Jon. I first learned of it in one of Harold’s webinars.

    But wirearchy doesn’t embrace the conceptual utility of the term holarchy, a system of nested “holons”—whole entities that operate simultaneously as independent and as parts of a greater whole (incorporated into and transcended by the senior holons up the chain).

    I find the idea of holarchy particularly useful as a way of ranking/ordering ideas (religious, political, philosophical) as well as for explaining how the “necessary” amounts of hierarchy Harold refers to above can accommodate the self-organizing, collaborative, often-ad-hoc workflows of wirearchies within an organization (which the chaordic- systems folks describe so well).

  7. Harold Jarche

    Gordon; military units can be very light on bureaucracy during operations. It’s when they’re sitting around with little of value to do that they get more complicated. Interesting to see a loose hierarchy/weak network (Al Quaeda & Taliban) take on a strong hierarchy/strong network (NATO) in a chaotic region.

  8. Jon Husband

    But wirearchy doesn’t embrace the conceptual utility of the term holarchy, a system of nested “holons”

    Not certain of that, have been aware of holarchy and the possibility of nested holarchies for quite some time (first learned of them via E. Satouris maybe 15 – 20 years ago, but see it as (even) more conceptual than wirearchies (which I think have been forming and linking for a while now.

    That said, ’tis but an opinion on my part and I’d welcome discussing the concepts and issues more with you and others.

  9. Ollie Gardener

    I too am a fan of the wirearchies to describe the self-organising collaborative connections that come and go with the flow of change.
    The analagy is even stronger (in my view) if you look beyond the need (and the opportunites) for collaboration.
    The wirearchy of connections need to form not just to meet the collective needs/goals, but to support people’s independent work both within and accross company boundaries (the work that we do in parallel).
    As much of a fan I am of twitter and their ability to connect people, surpise and inspire – I can’t help but think the chaotic nature of such networks will not be *the* solution for the outer layer of your ‘onion’.
    I also think that we can do better than to ‘cooperate’ at this level.That we can get to a point where we can provide environments of mutual support born out inter-connected work (co-working / co-learning / co-developing).
    That we can create ever evolving wirearchies of connections based on the links between our work – not just by our shared (broader) interests or via personal connections.
    Thoughts? (am I making any sense, it is getting late! 🙂

  10. monika hardy

    when i saw Gary Flake intro getpivot on his ted, i resonated with the x-dimensionality legit web offers us for better convo and collab, the navigation needed to till Shirky’s cognitive surplus.
    non-linear video logging, tagging convos, Schanks just in time stories, and then using that navigation to create even more serendipitous connections. Venessa Miemis’s experimentation as logged in her emergent design. can we sophisticate our virtual meet ups to the point we feel like we just left the coffee house? with the benefit of streamlined recall? on those connections that matter?
    then Deb Roy’s ted brings the abilities of the web out of the closet even more.

    so ugh.
    all levels are needed in any large organization…
    isn’t that what we can do now.. seamlessly. gyrating from the vertical to the horizontal at whim, sophisticated zooming in and out, we’re in the system, we’re out of the system, we’re large, we’re small.
    and without us even thinking it’s work, or that we’re doing it, or forcing it.
    it’s like our reward for listening to what tech wants is that we can just be. and the freedom from just being, the extra time/money/energy from letting tech work the chaos, is allowing us to notice things we’ve been blinded to – for all the order we thought we craved. we were missing mindfulness.
    emergent value and life in perpetual beta.. how lucky are we?

    Hagel’s writes on the neurobiology of passion: – Scientific research increasingly demonstrates that our brain wiring patterns can be significantly shaped by where we choose to focus our attention, particularly if we can sustain that focus over an extended period of time.
    so the freedom to notice more, makes us rich.
    i’m currently reading Richard Restak’s the new brain. and Pesce’s blog – the human network.

    is this all wirearchy Harold?

    • Harold Jarche

      This is wirearchy, complexity, connectivism etc. My observations are that this mindset is not wide spread, especially in large organizations. Many people are too busy cutting down trees to see the forest. I would say that “seamlessly. gyrating from the vertical to the horizontal at whim” is not a common practice in many workplaces. We’ve a long way to go, but what you describe is a good picture of what we can be with more mindfulness.


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