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It’s uncertain to me whether our recent obsession with horizontality started with Thomas Friedman’s flat world. What is certain is that it is picking up steam. The theme of the Internet and mobile technology facilitating asymmetric competition, empowering the little guy, and dissolving traditional barriers is pervasive in business literature – see for example Nicco Mele’s “The End of Big” and Michael Saylor’s “The Mobile Wave”. New business models such as crowd-sourcing and complexity science inspired ant colony organizational models combine with the literature to reinforce the horizontality orthodoxy.

Yet even as technology is dissolving the barriers that had prevented a “flat world”, the invisible hierarchy of human purpose and meaning remains as if not more valid than ever before.

Russell Ackoff’s hierarchy of mental content and Elliott Jaques’s vision for a stratified organization run the risk of being sidelined in the current infatuation with horizontality, and traditional human preoccupations with higher purpose, aspirations and heightened awareness may have to be rediscovered.

The truth is that leadership, confidence, wisdom – to name a few intangible human traits – cannot be flattened, and indeed demand stratification. Technology may flatten the access to knowledge, but distilling wisdom from knowledge is a uniquely human and highly personal heuristic that involves steps and takes time. A social construct cannot successfully pursue progress on tangible means alone; it needs wise leaders with elevated perspective and horizontality is not necessarily the right technology for producing and filtering those from the crowd. As I’ve said in a past blog entry, I don’t believe the Theory of Relativity could have been a crowd-sourced invention even if the Internet was available in Einstein’s time.

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