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What Is Wirearchy ?

Over the past 8 years, thousands of people have asked me “what is

wirearchy ?“.

There’s one common misconception that I’d like to clear up first, which
is that wirearchy is mainly about technology. If anything, wirearchy is
about the power and effectiveness of people working together through
connection and collaboration … taking responsibility individually and
collectively rather than relying on traditional hierarchical status.

Most people today know that the Internet and the Web have had a lot
of impact on our daily lives .. we’ve seen the rise (and sometimes fall)
of initiatives like Napster, Amazon, eBay, Dell, blogging, Flickr,
MySpace, YouTube, advertising’s ongoing (and increasingly
contentious) shift to the Web, and the rise of a vast networked range
of political and information-gathering and dissemination activities.

In that context of ubiquitous impact, reams have been written about

the erosion of the effectiveness of command-and control as the
dominant model for leading and managing purposeful organized
activities in business, education, government and governance, politics,
culture and the arts … all the areas in which humans act together to
create and get things done. That mode of getting things done is
evolving to champion-and-channel … championing ideas and
innovation, and channeling time, energy, authority and resources to
testing those ideas and innovative possibilities).

Wirearchy is an (emerging) primary organizing principle. As such, it

can be used to better understand and act regarding being effective in
an interconnected networked world.

The working definition of Wirearchy is “a dynamic two-way flow of

power and authority, based on knowledge, trust, credibility and
a focus on results, enabled by interconnected people and
I believe the shift in power and authority is showing up in clear ways
all around us, for better and for worse. The shift can be seen in daily
events and in the ways peoples’ working lives and behaviours are
changing, in the ways they are becoming more or less well-informed,
and in consumption patterns for much of what they are buying and

Examples are reported on regularly, as the impacts of living in the

digital infrastructure of an electronic age take root. It is clearly
implied by the phenomenon of e-everything. Interconnected access to
information, knowledge and instantaneous communications provides
the modern equivalent to the dynamics created by the invention of the
printing press - information gets distributed (much) more widely and
in many cases almost instantly … certainly at speeds that allow the
rhythm of a conversation back and forth but in ways that leave a
pragmatic actionable record of that conversation.

Today’s rapid flows of information are like electronic grains of sand,

eroding the pillars of rigid traditional hierarchies. This new set of
conditions is having real impact on organizational structures and the
dynamics the generate, contain and also block, which in turn are
making for massive change in the ways we do things and behave.
Some of this is exhilarating, and great. Some of it is not. Some of it is
about greater confusion, stress and frantic action. Some of it is about
clarity, calm and right action.

Polarities are appearing everywhere. Different dimensions and

dynamics of influence, power and control are emerging at various
nodes of the interconnected workplace and world.
The last thirty years have been about the building of the technical
infrastructure that provides an interconnected world. The integrated
platform for a transformation to economies and a world driven by the
communication and exchange of information is now solidly in place.
The next fifty years will almost certainly be about learning how we will
behave in an interconnected world and workplace.

The dynamics of wirearchy are similar to, and different than,

traditional hierarchy - yet need effective and transparent hierarchical
structure and action to work smoothly.

What Wirearchy Means For You

As a Leader - become deeply aware of and truly mindful about the

scope and reach of interconnected markets and flows of information.
Understand how and why people are connecting, talking, sharing
information. Be prepared to listen deeply, be responsible, accountable
and transparent.

As a Manager - become knowledgeable about online work systems

and how the need for collaboration is changing the nature of work,
generally - and the nature of managerial work specifically. Learning
how to be an effective coach is all-important.

As an Employee - become more aware of the changing nature of

work, and the traditional structures of authority. Develop a clear
understanding of how to be both empowered and valuable and of
service. Understand how to navigate on one’s own through a
constantly shifting landscape of work.

As a Citizen - understand the possibilities and responsibilities inherent

in open and public dissemination of information. Understand and
exercise the responsibilities of citizenship in a country. Understand
how to have influence via electronic participation and collaboration.
Responding to the Conditions of Wirearchy

Responding to the interconnected and interlinked conditions of

wirearchy is about adapting on a continuous basis based on real-time
feedback to an environment that keeps changing. This means:

- being aware of, and identifying, the changes,

- setting a direction for a desired future,

- translating that into goals,

- learning how to fulfill the goals,

- taking the necessary actions.

- operating in ongoing and constant feedback loops

As the impacts of information technology have penetrated more deeply

and pervasively into the workplace, the nature of work has shifted.
The first responses were a general flattening of organizational
structure and a focus on developing and implementing teamwork.
Today, the responses are emerging thick and fast - and there is a
pattern to them. Clear trends are emerging about how to respond:

Architectural Considerations (Technology and Social)

Flexibility and responsiveness are critical design principles. Do the

hard work of defining what that means for, your work and your
organization. Too often legacy mindsets and the inability to “let go” of
power and control mitigate against the discipline necessary to
experience real transformation.
Dialogue - Purpose, Meaning and Values

People have an intrinsic need to find meaning and experience

community in their work. The responses identified by OD
(organizational development) theory and practice) during the past
thirty years are more important than ever - yet it seems that the “soft
stuff” is still the “hard stuff”. Finding the time, and breaking through
the resistance, to work on dialogue is as difficult - and necessary - as

Scenario Planning

In an increasingly interconnected and rapidly-flowing world, linear

cause-and-effect planning is showing its age. Involving people in
creating stories about what might happen, and then providing
backgrounds for choosing possibility based on a preferred future, is
gaining in awareness as an effective tool for responding to ongoing

Strategic Conversations and Workshops

Look into how to use conceptually integrated methodologies and tools,

such as Organigraphs,Balanced ScoreCard, Strategy Maps, Strategy
Canvas, Network Analysis, Wirearchy Blueprinting, Sensemaking, and
other approaches emerging out of this new set opf conditions.

The tools listed above are all useful means of engaging in purposeful
conversation about the “why” and “what” of grounding the theory of a
business and implementing the disciplined activity necessary to realize
positive outcomes.
Participative Work Design - Fluidity, Responsiveness, Mass
Customization of Work

The people on the front lines, at the “coal face” of an organization’s

interaction with customers, are best equipped to make strategies real
and effective. Participative Work Design has proven its value, time and
again, when organizations find the courage to address true

Knowledge Management - Blogs, Wikis, Widgets, IM, Web 2.0

Knowledge Management and now Enterprise 2.0 are “buzz words” that
won’t go away. And for good reason - the floods of information and
knowledge unleashed by the confluence of software and the Internet
won’t stop. People now increasingly work with flows of information and
knowledge. Learning how to work with (and within) these flows is
mission-critical - riding the flow will require putting the dynamic of
champion-and-channel to effective use.

Team Work, Team Building

Teams are here to stay. Interconnectedness, and the interdependency

of integrated flows of information and knowledge demand cross-
functional perspectives, the ability to carry out and receive smooth
hand-offs, and the agility to work in the time-bending conditions of
asynchronous social computing.

Emotional Intelligence, Coaching

Getting things done in the “permanent white water” of the

interconnected world demands higher levels of interpersonal
effectiveness. As a genrality, less-and-less often now will people
accept authoritarian directives based on position and status. And if
they do, it leads quickly to fear, resentment, disengagement and
erosion of effectiveness.
Collaborative Technology

The integrated infrastructure is often in place in today’s organization,

and there are definite trends (SOA, SaaS, cloud computing, open
source social networking and communications platforms and services)
that are creating a pattern for the infrastructure of our activities and
what we will use it for and do with it.

Collaboration is fundamental to getting things done - and yet, there

are still many examples of territoriality and the division of work into
functional silos. The limitations of siloed information and
communications have been concerns for at least twenty years - it must
be addressed when the threads of connection run throughout the
organization and its links with customers, employees and suppliers.


E-learning is too obvious as a time-and-cost saver to ignore. The very

large increases in the penetration and spread of social computing and
the evolution of its philosophy and principles and the approaches to
experimentation and implementation are being chronicled, subjected
to significant peer review and dialogue in professional circles of
conversation, and being built upon project by project.

The interactive social web’s influence on learning will, I believe, in time

show itself to revolutionary through placing the learner squarely in the
center of her or his be world, but subject to a an ever-shifting moasic
of context that, because of community needs, imposes constraints
(both positive and negative) on how we interact.

Talent Management

All of the above responses point to new dynamics of relationship

between employees and organizations. The world is moving too fast
for the primary relationship to remain the “master-servant” archetype
of the Industrial Age.
The Fundamental Sociology of Networked Knowledge Work

An adult-to-adult model (rather than parent-child) is emerging - with

all of the attendant responsibilities for both parties in the relationship.