The network era transition

I concluded in my last post that organizations will need to adapt to the network era. Another possibility is that hierarchical organizations, like most companies, will not be able to adapt to the network era. As with the assembly line, the view of the company as an organization chart may become a relic of the past. org chart

In the very near future it is quite possible that most of us will be working in knowledge networks, 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 can promotes innovation. The emergent property of all of these exchanges is trust.

The network era may revert the role of the organization to merely a supporting one. We might even see corporations bidding for the privilege of supporting knowledge networks. I see evidence of this new approach to work at Change Agents Worldwide, which is firmly based on transparency and trust amongst its current 33 members.

As more people work in distributed networks they may realize how little they have to gain from traditional organizations. Networks that foster autonomy as well as interdependence are a much better vehicle for rewarding work than hierarchical organizations can ever be. Hierarchies, driven by external and formal direction, cannot compete with connected workers working in trusted networks, for they are intrinsically motivated.

In networks, cooperation trumps collaboration. Collaboration happens around some kind of plan or structure, while cooperation presumes the freedom of individuals to join and participate. Cooperation is a driver of creativity. Cooperation is also driven by intrinsic motivation.

No person, no matter where in an organizational hierarchy, has all the knowledge needed to thrive in the network era. Neither does any company. Neither does any government. We are all connected and dependent on each other. Hierarchies divide us.

Managing professional relationships as a network allows each node (person) to be unique. This removes the artificial barrier of the job, which assumes that people are replaceable, and that knowledge flows up and down. Knowledge in a network is about connecting experiences, relationships, and situations.

The latest example of this organizational shift is Zappos, the online shoe company, that is going “holocratic”(R).

“We’re classically trained to think of ‘work’ in the traditional paradigm,” says John Bunch, who, along with Alexis Gonzales-Black, is leading the transition to Holacracy at Zappos. “One of the core principles is people taking personal accountability for their work. It’s not leaderless. There are certainly people who hold a bigger scope of purpose for the organization than others. What it does do is distribute leadership into each role. Everybody is expected to lead and be an entrepreneur in their own roles, and Holacracy empowers them to do so.” – Quartz: Zappos is going Holocratic

“The future has arrived — it’s just not evenly distributed yet.”William Gibson