simple structures for complex problems

What is the optimal digital transformation technology for a networked organization? It is a suite of capabilities that foster an organizational culture that is constantly learning in order to understand and engage the complex environment in which it lives. Like the Internet, that enabled a digital transformation of society and business, these technologies must be based on a simple structure.

The seeking, sense-making, and sharing of PKM can be the core communication technology* of a networked organization.

* “Technology is the application of organized and scientific knowledge to solve practical problems.” – Harold Stolovitch

There are only four interdependent capabilities required to support digital transformation:

1. Promote the active practice of PKM:

a. seek out knowledge from our professional networks
b. enable sense-making on a personal leve
c. facilitate the sharing of the knowledge artifacts we create

2. Enable distributed authority and the ability to self-govern

3. Facilitate temporary and negotiated leadership for collaborative work

4. Allow for cooperation outside the organization and encourage experimentation

This reduces the requirements to those technologies that help individuals learn as they work, facilitate making decisions without asking permission, enable teams to get together to solve problems, and promote a culture of trying new things out. The human brain is the best interface for complexity. Digital transformation technologies need to enable the human component and leave the machines to handle the boring stuff. It is interesting to note that a simple tool like Slack has had such growth lately. I think this is an indicator of things to come. Complexity needs simple, adaptive structures. Human cognition can fill in the gaps.

5 Responses to “simple structures for complex problems”

  1. Brent Mackinnon

    These four interdependent capabilities clear up numerous loose ends that were muddling up my sense of the seek- sense – share framework. By showing how they are inter-dependent I understand on a deeper level how I might sharpen my own PKM practice and help others transition to a networked organization. Also your post helped me understand why you placed PKM as the core communication technology of a networked organization – as personal ownership is assumed and from that core base the other inter-dependent functions can flow and fill out the structure.

    Thank you for explaining these inter-dependent capabilities and how they can form a structure for a networked organization.

    Brent Mackinnon

  2. Karen Jeannette

    This is fantastic! Formerly trained as a horticulturist, I’ve been thinking about how I could explain PKM’s fit in the organization through a model that other science educators might relate to, such as the disease triangle ( or soils triangle (, but neither seemed to fit exactly. This does it ever so simply and to the point. I can’t wait to share this with others.

  3. Bruno Winck

    Interesting you mention slack here. I’ve been using it for the 2 weeks with limited satisfaction and my conclusion tonight was that it’s made for collaboration but fails to be efficient for cooperation (both in your definition). People not sharing the same goals don’t prioritize their communication in the same way leading to distortions. I think it fine for sharing instant communication but shows it’s limits for sharing lasting knowledge. Not sure blog post is the best artifact either.

    I admit human brains has tons of ability to deal with complexity but is limited by its capacity to deal with overload. Between reading posts and read rapid stream of short messages there must be something more substainable.

    • Harold Jarche

      I don’t find Slack to be a great collaboration tool. What is interesting is that it promotes itself as a very simple tool, and has successfully sold this message.


Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)