“What is it about the ‘organization’ of the Internet that has allowed it to thrive despite its massive size and lack of hierarchy?
The work of identifying which relationships and connections to build and grow and maintain is dispersed to the nodes themselves — and they’re the ones who know which ones to focus on. That’s why the Internet can be so massive, and get infinitely larger, without falling apart. No one is in control; no one needs to hold it together. It’s a model of complexity. And, like nature, like an ecosystem, it is much more resilient than a complicated system, more effective, and boundary-less. And, like nature, that resilience and effectiveness comes at a price — it is less ‘efficient’ than a complicated system, full of redundancy and evolution and failure and learning. But that’s exactly why it works. “—Dave Pollard: What if Everything Ran Like the Internet?
While a certain amount of hierarchy may be necessary to get specific project work done, networks function best when each node can choose with whom and when it connects. Hierarchies should be seen as temporary, negotiated agreements to get work done, not immutable power structures. Networks enable work to be done more effectively when that work is complex and there are no simple answers, best practices, or case studies to fall back on.
Thinking like a node in a network and not as a position in a hierarchy is the first mental shift required to move to a connected enterprise. The old traits of the industrial/information worker may have been intellect and diligence but networks need people who are creative and take initiative. People cannot be creative on demand. Nurturing creativity becomes a primary management responsibility.
The Internet has finally given us a glimpse of the power of networks. We are just beginning to realize how we can use networks as our primary organizational form for living and working. A connected enterprise has to be based on looser hierarchies and stronger networks.
In networks, even established practices like teamwork can be counter-productive. Teams promote unity of purpose. Sports metaphors are often used in teamwork, but in sports there is only one coach and everybody has a specific job to do within tight constraints. In today’s workplace, there’s more than one ball and the coach cannot see the entire field. The team, as a work vehicle, is outdated. In a complex world, team unity may be efficient, but not very effective.
Exception-handling also becomes more important in the connected enterprise. Automated systems can handle the routine stuff while people working together deal with the exceptions. As these exceptions get addressed, some or all of the solutions can get automated, and so the process evolves. Complexity increases the need for both collaboration (working together on a problem) and cooperation (sharing without any specific objective). Networks enable rapid shifts in the composition of work groups, without any formal reorganization. Networked colleagues, learning together, can close the gap between knowing and doing.
“Many conventional thought leaders conceive of the current global crisis in terms of closing a knowledge gap: if only we could close the knowledge gap (on how to address the current challenges), we would be able to take appropriate action. But true change making practitioners often express the other view: the real gap today is not a knowledge gap, it’s a gap between knowing and doing. That is, the real problem is a collective capacity gap of sensing and shaping the emerging future at the scale of the whole system. If that is so, how can we create new spaces that allow people to co-sense, lean into, and co-shape the emerging future?” —Otto Sharmer: Fire from Within