May 2, 2005

sig's been at the glass pipe again

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Sig and I have been going back n' forth on our blogs about hierarchies in the workplace, in nature, in software etc etc.

In this post he offers an alternative for hierarchies:

Now if we want to replace the hierarchies, then the following has to be fulfilled:
-Order
-Security
-Identity

How to handle these in alternative ways:

Order: As earlier mentioned, tags can replace tree structures. Hierarchies are tree-structures, tags not. Hierarchies organises in two dimensions, tags have no limits. Hierarchies loose.

Security: Routines, duties and responsibilities. Go with the flow, structured flows. Flows are the natural way and can be delivered by IT structures. No need for an iffy tree structure using command and control then. Flows win, command looses.

Identity: Rating, visibility - we know how it works in a networked and open world, small or large. Identity ensues from real results, personality and visibility. No "status" on false premises is the good part (Not for all, but if in doubt just distribute "free high-status business cards" and amazing titles. Cheap and easy, no hierarchies needed for that either).

Has Sig been smoking the rock? Probably.

He's into software, I'm into finding ways of decreasing unwanted cultural disruption within an organisation. Or something. Watch this space etc.

[SEMI-RELATED BONUS LINK:] Doc Searls, in his usual, very lucid and very passionate way, writes in Linux Journal about Tom Friedman's bestseller, "The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century". Just go and read it. Seriously.

Posted by hugh macleod at May 2, 2005 11:27 AM | TrackBack
Comments

With regard to replacing corporate hierarchies, have you looked at Gore? The company, not the politician. At the end of Gladwell's Tipping Point he talks about the rule of 150 and how Gore has embraced this and some other idiosyncracies (no titles, etc.) in the company and manages to do pretty well for itself. I would assume they have dealt with the software issues that go along with this corporate model.

Posted by: Peter at May 2, 2005 7:37 PM

as i mentioned earlier, watching the growing pains arising from horizontal workflows in my own place of employment makes me wonder how one deals with the "unwanted cultural disruption". so far, because the team lags behind the joint ownership of problems model, the most popular solution still seems to be sweeping them under the rug, in which case we're all doomed. i'm tantalized what solutions may occur to you about this hugh - i think filling the leadership vacuum with something better may be the most important thing you, or we, figure out this decade. certainly somebody ought to pay you sick sums of money to consult with them on it. it could literally save some big, fat asses out there.

Posted by: campester at May 2, 2005 7:43 PM

I'm willing to bet you know more or less what I think about all this ..

In addition to this "technolgy vs. culture" thingy .. there are many many types of initiatives and changes in approaches .. to interaction between a company's employees and customers, in adult education as embodied in leadership and management development, in the activities and values of the generations we might call "digital natives" (as opposed to us older "digital immigrants"), in advertsining, in subliminal and semi-subliminal messages all around us .. that will continue to compound and accumulate. What's visible is just the thin edge of the wedge, folks ... imo.

Watch for the days when many or most of the basic capabilities of blogs - such as interactivity of various sorts, more video, *product placement* dynamics, and so on ... begin showing up in sofwtare applications and web services on what is increasingly called Web 2.0.

Go watch the movie Pleasantville .. nary a computer or ISP in the thing, but imo the best movie about the positive possibilities that the Internet may offer. I don't really know of the equivalent for the (possible) dark side .. where technology dominates and defines culture from a command-and-control orientation.

Brazil, maybe ?

Posted by: Jon Husband at May 2, 2005 8:15 PM

Could I get some clarity on the phrase "unwanted cultural _disruption_"? Are we talking about the need to disrupt culture to make a significant change to a system? Or (and I get this from the phrasing above), are we talking about ongoing day-to-day cultural "dysfunction"?

Posted by: Frank Patrick at May 2, 2005 8:16 PM

With regard to corporations / organizations and decreasing unwanted cultural disruption along the way to something more fluid, flexible and responsive than relatively rigid hierarchies, there;'s an area that's almost never mentions that i believe is the critical cultural issue .. the area of compensation philosophy and practices.

This is the area where people higher and lower in hierarchies react viscerally .. and the examples of Gore or the Mondragon Cooperative in Spain or Ricardo Semler's companies in Brazil are instructive on this issue.

You want to understand the uphill path re: changing mindsets and behaviours .. ? Follow the money ! ;-)

Posted by: Jon Husband at May 2, 2005 8:20 PM

A last word (I promise ;-)

I don't see it as an "either/or". There are missions and situations where intelligent and effective hierarchy is probably the best configuration, and others where some loose conherderation of intelligent and engaged skunks are more appropriate.

IMO, the key is to understand what situation demands which configuration, and having the awareness, understanding and willingness to chose which ( a hierarchy or a networked team, say) is likely to be the most effective structure or approoach for that situation. Unfortunately, many larger integrated information systems lack much of the ability to flex and adapt in such ways .. which is why (long-term) I suspect that the plug n' play, API's are the new HTML credo is likely top find more and more traction as web 2.0 evolves and matures.

Posted by: Jon Husband at May 2, 2005 8:26 PM

"Could I get some clarity on the phrase "unwanted cultural _disruption_"? Are we talking about the need to disrupt culture to make a significant change to a system? Or (and I get this from the phrasing above), are we talking about ongoing day-to-day cultural "dysfunction"?..."

I don't see the two that that seperate. Just a question of degrees. Depends on how large a dose the client company is buying.

[NOTE TO SELF:] Stick to drawing cartoons. You are so out of your league.

Posted by: hugh macleod at May 2, 2005 8:59 PM

"anyone with smarts, access to Google and a cheap wireless laptop can join the innovation fray". Yeah. I assume the laptop's in the post to the 25% of children in the UK that don't have access to the internet at home. It's a flat, mad world after all.

Posted by: Thom Lawrence at May 2, 2005 10:51 PM

Send them a laptop? We're too busy teaching them to grow up to be chavs and office fodder ;-)

Posted by: hugh macleod at May 2, 2005 11:12 PM

The idea of a team-model replacing the hierarchical-model in the workforce is politically attractive but in all practicalities untenable.

As it has been pointed out above, teams without leaders tend to have a bias towards coexistence as opposed to delivery.

If we use a biology/nature as a model then hierarchies are de rigueur. Even in a bacterial colony, there are key microorganisms that ‘drive’ the colony’s existence. Therefore, leaders and hierarchies of executives, followers et al. All social animals also observe some form of hierarchy. And even within a team-oriented workplace – there is a need to have a team leader/project sponsor/product champion that leads.

Leadership (hierarchy) is not a four-letter word. And we shouldn’t abandon a model (leadership/hierarchy) because of incompetent execution by few.
What we should challenge is ossified hierarchy – rare I would hope in today’s talent wars – but the ossified hierarchy where the chief is the chief because he/she is the chief – this status quo should be challenged at least once a year!

My five cents worth –

Love the site/art/philosophy by the way.

Ciao
Phillip

Posted by: Phillip at May 3, 2005 4:39 AM

If Sig's at the glass pipe again, where do I get some of what he's smoking? (From him actually - I hope to be having a look at the Thingamy soon ...).

John H: We seem to be eating the same mushrooms too - I am nearly completely convinced that modular "APIs" (or whatever terminology you want to use) which can be assembled/disassembled/re-assembled in multiple configurations of function will ultimately disrupt the "all-singing, all-dancing, all-things-to-all-people" enterprise software that's out there at the moment - and Sig thinks he's got at least one answer to the "how".

Posted by: Ric at May 3, 2005 11:38 AM

Re: Phillip's comment ..

As it has been pointed out above, teams without leaders tend to have a bias towards coexistence as opposed to delivery.


If we use a biology/nature as a model then hierarchies are de rigueur. Even in a bacterial colony, there are key microorganisms that ‘drive’ the colony’s existence. Therefore, leaders and hierarchies of executives, followers et al. All social animals also observe some form of hierarchy. And even within a team-oriented workplace – there is a need to have a team leader/project sponsor/product champion that leads.


Leadership (hierarchy) is not a four-letter word. And we shouldn’t abandon a model (leadership/hierarchy) because of incompetent execution by few.
What we should challenge is ossified hierarchy – rare I would hope in today’s talent wars – but the ossified hierarchy where the chief is the chief because he/she is the chief – this status quo should be challenged at least once a year!


IMO, spot on ! Hierarchy "per se" isn't necessarily the the issue, nor part of the Axis of Evil ... traditional, ossified, rigid, unintelligent hierarchy .. well, that's another story.

Re: team leadership ... leading doesn't necessarily imply "hierarchy" either .. it does demand taking the lead .. in terms of things like proposing a constructive direction, facilitating consensus and buy-in regarding goals and objectives ... and accepting responsibility and accountability.

All that said .. (warning: vast generalization about to appear) in the corporate world there has been an enormous amount of abdication of responsibility and defferral to position or status .. facilitated by org design, job evaluation, etc. ... that whole pecking order thing. Lou Gerstner wrote in his book about change at IBM that one of the most difficult issues was all the upward delegation .. Warren Bennis calls unthinking, positional hierarchy "a prosthesis for trust" (lovely turn of phrase)

In biology you have hierarchy and appropriate decentralization happening all at the same time I think .. depending upon the needs and dynamics of whatever given system or "system of systems" you are examining (though I may be talking shite here ;-)

And so some of the leading thinkers (or at least I think of them that way) would suggest. Stan Davis and Christopeher Meyer of E&Y Center For Business Innovation have recently published a new book titled "It's Alive - The Coming Convergence of Biology, Information and Business" in which they draw many parallels with living systems, using concepts like "the molecular organization" in order to offer perspectives to business people on the rapidly-approaching core issues in organizational design and dynamics.

Posted by: Jon Husband at May 3, 2005 5:24 PM

To follow up Jon's statements:

A team without leadership sounds alot like a committee. And committees are hardly a paragon of efficient, harmonious, envelope pushing, accountable action taking.

Posted by: MarkN at May 3, 2005 5:57 PM