Joh Husband – Wirearchy @ KMWorld07

November 9, 2007

in Knowledge Innovation

I’ve known Jon Husband through his blog Wirearchy for years. Periodically, we talk, we seem to have a lot in common; beliefs, values, and frustration at why the world doesn’t get it. The world is wired. We are a networked society. We are going from hierarchy to wirearchy. This seems obvious to many of us, yet apparently it is not. It’s a topic that hasn’t yet hit the mainstream and Jon continues with his message and how organizations must change. So I’m here to hear his message for the first time. Effective Organizing for a Wired Workplace. The announcer says what’s really cool is the change from command and control to champion and channel.

Jon tells us that we are facing a chasm between how we structure organizations traditional compensation schemes, job evaluations, structures, etc. These approaches are increasing dissonance in terms of how work is flowing and happening. Many people in organizations think the next time we get change we will go back to normal. With each change in strategy there is change in structure. Organization is a periodic event and change was a periodic event. However now things are changing and flowing in real-time. Periodic organization doesn’t fit with today ‘s environment.

Is the impact of this change fundamental or incremental? The audience seems split. How do we come to terms with the pace of change? Is each change a discreet event? The plans for change management are effectively predictable. This is at odds with an era of complexity. We should think about how we apply traditional principles to our organization practices and how new principles will change them. As Jon follows Dave Snowden, similarities are suggested. Jon targets how we organize, how job define; just like the container, or for the reduction in ambiguity.

I think the audience knows too… although they feel powerless to change the way the money is handed out. Effectively Jon is saying today’s HR systems are buying mediocrity. The chat shifts to complexity. Complex Adaptive Systems require more active adaption principles. Increasingly we see ourselves as more and more interconnected. This perception will change how we work and contribute. Work design in organization must change.

I think it goes further. A healthy complex adaptive system is enabled by very simple rules. HR is effectively complicating things rather than managing an ecology. Concurrently it’s not enabling scanning. Unless we call culture surveys scanning.

Mass Customization of Work is Jon’s second key driver. I interpret this to be… forget your job description. What you did yesterday may not be what you have to do today. How we work with information etc… I need those things customized to me. I also need the organization to adapt to the users and so how we get work done. What are the implications for routine work. Personalizing of work .. it’s my work and I will do it my way. There are increasing pressures leading us to this. I think this really could do with more study. I think Jon’s thoughts may be evolving. When he talks champion and channel; champions we get. Where we need more understanding is in how work is channeled. Some social network analysis helps us with this. I sense that more behavioral work should be done.

Wirearchy: comes from all the archy words. Provides the guiding rules for a large system. We don’t have an archy word for this information age. We have a breaking down of top down hierarchical controls with gatekeepers. diffusion of information transfer, decision making is in webs. This form I think would lack a power center or core. The power if there is any.. comes from listening or scanning. In a Wirearchy world leaders must listen! Constantly negotiating what goes on with different nodes in the network. I look at this as giving leaders good facilitation skills. The leader in the Wirearchy must enable the conversation. The faster the conversation (flow) the more likely the system is to reach a higher order. It also means it requires diversity! It’s interesting that here is just another case of “listening” skill as driving the organization towards more effective behavior.

The Wirearchy challenge… From Jon who looks at the world though a lens of what jobs were and what they could be… I think I’ve framed these question below. Implied from what I have heard.

  • How do you overcome your job (constraints)? your description? and reconcile with your networks, your relationships and your desire?
  • How do we measure flows rather than outputs?
  • How do we enable and recognize pointers, engagement, and trust? How do we make it visible?
  • How do we evaluate proximity and sharing?
  • How do we create an new internal language for metrics, listening, adaptation and learning?

I’m wondering what Jon must do to get his idea more broadly accepted in the world? Organizations still want case studies / examples (strange isn’t it, and yet Jon’s basic premises are relatively easy to accept). We see the patterns! Not good enough when the organization is threatened. Eg support your case questions from the audience. This presentation suggests that organizations are on the cusp of major change.

Another way to tell the story is telling it from the future.. not from the past. People look at the past as incremental. They look at the future as more fundamental change. I think I’d like to see Jon’s thoughts taken out ten years. I’d take two basic scenarios… one is business that drives to control and manage more complexity. I’d show how search, KM, jobs etc. in this world evolve. Then in the other world I’d look at trying to create simpler rules. Thus we have a control scenario vs a turning control over to the network. I believe we have all the elements to tell the story from the future looking back. This approach will also enable the organization to think about the metrics and measures the companies applied over the period of development. Traditional organizations will continue to survive.. although only in some areas. What are those.

A thought that comes with this. What makes you use the blog rather than the attitude or climate survey? Why not share why climate surveys are obsolete! What tools do you use to promote and attract employees? If you aren’t using blogs and wikis then you are obsoleting opportunity. Organizations need to insert these tools into the workplace to enhance………. Thus social tools are at the point where they affect your talent pool. The wiki really is the pallet; the unstructured fragments while the blog / RSS is the engine of dispersal or flow. When an organization adopts a life-streaming approach we have the opportunity to create both the narrative and oral history over time, while keeping the context relevant and free flowing in the present. Lifestreaming will give the organization some comfort in a time of ambiguity while the information fragments or packets / blogs and content tags that are created will provide the engine and conversations to sustain, and energize the network.

Success in a Wired Word.
Champion Ideas! — Personally I think this area is pretty well developed.
Channel Them — How we channel them.. this is not well developed.

Net Net. We need more breakthroughs… we have some of the basic areas.. but bringing them into organizations is still not well understood. The proposition for HR and blogs / wikis must be better understood out there. There are small projects. Eg Directory on the Wiki / Facebook links etc that can enable the beginning of a discussion, of an opening up to solving both the opportunities and the challenges social tools are already presenting to the organization. HR has their hands tied too. They are also some of the best at identifying simple changes that bring about more complex behavior. I think Wirearchy must be framed in a way that HR embraces it; rather than feels threatened by it.

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