Networked individuals trump organizations

2005 was the year when more than 50% of US workers’ occupations involved non-routine cognitive work, that long-awaited milestone. Stowe Boyd

jobs and work“Work has become distributed, discontinuous, and decentralized, hence, 3D”, says Stowe. As hyperlinks subvert hierarchy, so does work fragmentation subvert organizations. Given the nature of 3D work, it may be possible that we are witnessing the end of the corporation as a wealth-generation machine, just as its current power seems to have no limits.

In knowledge-based work the primary unit of value creation has shifted from the organization to the individual. Work is modularized and distributed globally across algorithms and human work.Ross Dawson

Stowe Boyd calls this the rise of the emergent business. We can look at this change from the perspective of knowledge networks, in which most of us will be working, whether we are farmers or software engineers. A knowledge network in balance is founded on openness which enables transparency. This in turn fosters a diversity of ideas, and promotes innovative thinking. The emergent property of all of these exchanges is trust.

In an economy based on trusted knowledge networks of individuals, the role of the organization may revert to merely a supporting one. We might even see corporations bidding for the privilege of supporting knowledge networks. This is quite the opposite from today, where someone recently stated on a forum that 95% of companies are not in the top 5%, yet they all demand the top 5% of talent. Perhaps in the future companies will have to fight for talent.

open societiesAs more people work in distributed networks they may realize how little they have to gain from organizations. If autonomy, mastery, and a sense of purpose motivate people to work, as Dan Pink says, then networks are a much better vehicle for rewarding work than organizations can ever be. It’s the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. While the industrial era, based on the principles of scientific management, used extrinsic rewards, the network era requires personal motivation. Organizations, driven by external and formal direction, cannot compete with self-motivated and connected workers in the network era.

industrial management

5 Responses to “Networked individuals trump organizations”

  1. Jon Husband


    How hard is that for execs and those charged with stewardship of motivation and performance to understand ?

    Heh .. ever notice how almost no one ever talks / writes about compensation philosophy and practices notwithstanding all the social business harrumphing ?

  2. Celine Schillinger

    There is this thick layer of traditional leadership at the top levels of organizations. They hear about networks & social media but have “no time” to experiment this by hemselves. Therefore they still think it’s a kind of fad for not-so-busy people ; nothing that really justifies changing their organizations’ structure, processes, habits, cultural references. They hire people who think alike and don’t challenge them. So, what do we do? Wait until those people retire, and till then experiment under the radar screen? Or what…?

    • Harold

      The advice I gave to a client was that in certain corporate cultures it’s often best to develop collaboration and cooperation skills under the radar, while waiting for opportunities to present themselves, and usually they will. Without preparation, these opportunities will be missed. If no opportunities arise over time, then it may be wise to leave the organization.

  3. Leyton

    I get the sense this article is incomplete. The picture at the top of this article also causes me some concern because standardized and customized work are at opposite ends of the scale. I believe the companies truly ahead of the curve (leading everyone else) know work must be both standardized and customized; dovetailed or intertwined if you will. All that said, I also believe this concept is still ahead of its time for most companies … in southern Ontario anyway.


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