aspirations, Crowd Sourcing, Friedman, heightened awareness, hierarchy, higher purpose, horizontality, Leadership, the world is flat, Thomas, wisdom
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.
Leadership, confidence, and wisdom are actually some of the easiest to recognize in someone. You don’t need a bestowed title to gain authority or to get people to follow you.
I think horizontality and flatness are the wrong words to describe the movement. I picture it more as a meritocratic network facilitated by technology that increases communication bandwidth.
Crowdsourcing is just one method, one that tends to separate an idea from the person who came up with it, distancing it from implied authority and allowing it to be judged purely on merit and incubated by peers. But not all networked methods work that way. The key to the next Theory of Relativity isn’t hierarchy, it’s stubbornness and refusal to give up on an idea just because it’s not perfect yet.
Karl, good points, but I think there may be a slight confusion as to “the movement”. I signal the continuing relevance of the notion of hierarchy even as the technological movement is flattening our society.
I suspect what you were really trying to point out was that just because the technological movement is towards flatter structures doesn’t mean that everyone is equal mentally or in their capabilities. That sound right?
The technological movement is towards a more meritocratic, high bandwidth, earned authority network that plays nicely with different levels of capability and expertise, because it measures each person by their output and can more easily respond to differences between teams or even individuals, unlike traditional systems that label you as a resource with a title and bestow authority accordingly.
While I like Ackoff’s idea of Mental Hierarchy, I suspect it’s really just a component of Knowledge Management, perhaps with a little bit of the Stages of Mastery thrown in.
As for Jaque’s Stratified Organization concept, it seems to mostly point out deficiencies within Organization Development that concentrated on improving the system, rather than just improving the people within it. Part of his Requisite Organization model might be considered seedlings to the current horizontality, with its emphasis on cross functional working relationships, but other parts are just duct tape on a sinking boat. Highly stratified organizations have been widely criticized as leading to increased bureaucracy and slow-to-change corporations. I don’t think that’s really what Jaque had in mind. In fact, his favorite phrase that “systems drive behavior” has been largely superseded by “measurement drives behavior”. The Observer Effect isn’t just limited to physics and psychology.
Karl, meritocracy is an oblique point to my argument. My argument was that while content is horizontal, context is hierarchical. Technology facilitates structural flattening (institutions, etc.) but not necessarily heightened context. This I think is harder to achieve in large groups as it is a personal interpolative heuristic. See also Steward Hase’s Heutagogy comment on my recent Drucker Blog entry: http://www.druckerforum.org/blog/?p=502.
So you’re claiming that an increase in shared (vs horded) information/content in a flatter system doesn’t lead to a shared contextual understanding because the progression from data to wisdom is to personal to share?
Now you’re getting closer to my thesis, yes. Over-reliance on technology could render us contextually poorer. The interpolative heuristic we call “learning” and which I happen to think contains a hierarchical element, is ecological and not amenable to scale. Scale was introduced to our society with the Industrial Revolution, and continues today with information technology. There are definitely benefits to democratization and access that information technology introduces, but it also proliferates certain systemic societal issues in my view and personal experience.
Doesn’t that conflict with “none of us are as smart as all of us”?
Sure, there are leeches who may forget or never learn how to learn and never gain true wisdom, just getting by with other people’s ideas, but I don’t think that’s an excuse to horde data, knowledge, or wisdom.
Don’t forget, what is considered wisdom today is common knowledge tomorrow. The more wisdom in an environment, the higher the collective wisdom advances, standing on shoulders. There’s a critical mass of communication and sharing before someone’s hard earned wisdom becomes common knowledge, but once it does everyone benefits because now new higher order wisdom can be learned, using yesterday’s wisdom as input.
Yes, id does conflict! Which is why I made tye point that the theory of relativity could not have been a crowd sourced innovation. The more profound the thought, the more intimate the act 😉
I do agree that radical ideas do tend to take a beating from group-think, but I suspect that many radical ideas would have been considered less radical if there were more communication and shared context leading up to their assertion. If a ‘genius’ hides in his office for a year and releases a new idea all at once it’s inherently going to appear more radical to outsiders than a new idea on the internet that was publicly announced before it was fully baked and then incubated in the cloud. I’m not convinced that the end result would necessarily be different, other than the external perceptions about it.
In fact, if the same new idea came out of shared wisdom it’s probably more likely to be accepted and applied than the same idea coming from a singular person who has to champion it and sell it.
Karl, different argument. The act of ideation precedes dissemination. While technology may democratize dissemination to some extend (one still has to go through established hubs), the creative act itself is not scalable in my view. It’s not even amenable to process since it is discontinuous.
I’d have to dissagree. All one has to do is google “ideation software” to realize that there is a thriving new economy in the crowdsourcing of creative idea generation, incubation and critical analysis. Most of the current work seems to be enterprise focused, because that’s where the easy money is, but the idea is not new. Bug reporting software has long been a source for suggestions and incubation. And before that, forums and mailing lists lead many a scientific debate and open source feature.