principles and models for the network era

The End of the Market Era

Capitalism today is the ultimate expression of a market dominated society, where money is made from nothing, as financial traders manipulate stocks, currencies, and whatever else they can. Its final growth spurt was enabled by ubiquitous fossil fuels so that supply chains could take advantage of either cheap goods or cheap labour due to the human inequalities on our planet. But the age of oil is ending, and markets are being replaced by networks as the dominant organizing model. Nafeez Ahmed recently stated that the end of capitalism is inevitable.

“At the core of this radical re-wiring is a transformation of the human relationship with nature: moving away from top-down modes of political and economic organization, to participatory models of grassroots self-governance, localized sustainable agriculture, and equity in access to economic production.” –

One theory that has informed my own work is David Ronfeldt’s TIMN (Tribes-Institutions-Markets-Networks) Theory showing that all four of these forms will co-exist as we enter the next evolution of society, but networks will dominate. This explanatory theory shows what has happened as we have previously transitioned from one dominant organizing form to the next and is a good starting point to discuss what we can do about it.

Three Organizing Principles

Subsidiarity Principle

There are also some organizing principles that can give us a common starting point from which to build the new organizations for a network society. The first is the principle of subsidiarity, which is: “that social and political issues should be dealt with at the most immediate (or local) level that is consistent with their resolution”Wikipedia.

Subsidiarity is a stated, though perhaps not always followed, principle of the European Union.

“Under the principle of subsidiarity, in areas which do not fall within its exclusive competence, the Union shall act only if and in so far as the objectives of the proposed action cannot be sufficiently achieved by the Member States, either at central level or at regional and local level, but can rather, by reason of the scale or effects of the proposed action, be better achieved at Union level.” – EU Declarations

Subsidiarity can be a founding organizational principle for democratic society in the network era. It enables community-level cooperation to counter older, and still strong, competitive market forces, in order to meet local needs within a global context. Governments only need to act if local objectives cannot be achieved by the community. The solutions to many of our problems are in our networks: local and global.

Wirearchy Principle

Given the high-level principle of subsidiarity, organizations can adopt the next level principle of Jon Husband’s wirearchy: “a dynamic flow of power and authority, based on information, trust, credibility, and a focus on results, enabled by interconnected technology and people”. Wirearchy clarifies how people can work together in a networked democracy. A dynamic flow of power and authority supports the principle of subsidiarity.

Network Management Principle

My Principle of Network Management, adapted and amended from the last century’s Principles of Scientific Management which informed much management thinking, is more specific on how work can be done in wirearchical organizations which adhere to subsidiarity. The Principle of Network Management is that: It is only through innovative and contextual methods, the self-selection of the most appropriate tools and work conditions, and willing cooperation that more creative work can be fostered. The duty of being transparent in our work and sharing our knowledge rests with all workers, especially management.

Models for Working and Learning

Given these three guiding principles, models can be developed to help us create effective and human networked workplaces. The Triple Operating System model supports both collaborative and cooperative behaviours. It is a framework of overlapping networks, communities of practice, and work teams. It differs from the traditional organization chart in that it incorporates relationships outside the organization. Like the web, it is about creating connections. The triple operating system shows the need to communicate and learn across organizational boundaries, while still getting work done. The triple operating system integrates Awareness, Alternatives, and Action, based on the work of Valdis Krebs, who advises: “Awareness and alternatives are useless without the ability to take action on them.” The essence of this model is giving up control and promoting self-governance.

I developed the Self-governance Maturity Model to make it clear how much autonomy people are given to do their work. Discretion for action has traditionally been accorded by virtue of one’s place in the hierarchy. Usually the higher one goes, the more autonomy one has. In most organizations, employees are given different degrees of autonomy in terms of the decisions they are allowed to make within the confines of organizational power.


One way to look at autonomy is the type of action people are allowed to take without permission. There are five levels of increasing workplace autonomy in my model.

  1. Where you work
  2. + How you get things done
  3. + What you work on
  4. + Who you will work with
  5. + Why you do the work in the first place

In a mature wirearchical organization, managed in accordance with the principles of network management, one could expect all five levels of self-governance to be widespread to ensure adherence to the principle of subsidiarity.

My Network Learning Model describes how knowledge can flow between professional networks, communities of practice, and work teams. It shows that it is necessary to connect all three in order to ensure a diversity of ideas and perspectives, as well as safe places to test these, in order to support increasingly complex collaborative work tasks. An essential component of this is ensuring individuals develop the discipline of personal knowledge mastery.

I have put these principles and models together to show how they relate, and to show that each model, while flawed, may help make better decisions about how we structure ourselves to work and learn in the emerging network era.

6 Responses to “principles and models for the network era”

  1. Clark Quinn

    Harold, brilliant as usual. One thought: on the ‘triple operating system’ model, I think there’re two loops feeding back out. I think that the folks on the teams feed their lessons learned back to the community for processing, and then the community then feeds any lessons learned outside to the broader social networks. Yes, teams can share (as in case studies at confs), but those are to their communities. I think the broader practices that emerge and reach other networks are going to come from communities, not teams. Willing to be wrong, but the direct loop seems less plausible. Am I missing something?

    • Harold Jarche

      Good point, Clark. My intention was to show that individuals share these lessons back to their networks, but perhaps it makes more sense that they would only share with those they trust, and it would make sense to show the feedback back to communities.

  2. Harold Jarche

    Changes have been made to the Triple OS graphic, as suggested by Clark

  3. Dariga Maclean

    Fascinating as well as informative, really enjoying the article, so much to take in! Thank you


Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)