What a real Network looks like – Thanks Valdis Krebs

What does a real network look like? If we know then we can see if the networks we seek to design and grow are real. Here is how Valdis Krebs sees them and he is for me the Gold Standard.

I think when the history books are written that one of  the Galileo’s of our time – a person who used scientific tools to see a new reality that changes our paradigm – will be Valdis Krebs. While commentators such as myself speculate, Valdis proves the theory with evidence.

This is what the new organization looks like:


Here Valdis uses a real community – (OCL) – on the outside a loose group of “lurkers”. In the Green group – groups of loosely connected sub groups – In the Centre – the Core – a densely connected group that acts like a Sun. It has both mass that acts as a social gravity attracting inwards. It also acts as the sun in that this group also shines energy out that reaches to the far edges of the outer group.


Here is Valdis’ view of the core or as I call it the “Sun”.

Here is another view of what the “Sun” can do – it is an adoption force. Once the Sun is powerful enough, it can shift the paradigm. This may be how people get a disease like flu, adopt a new fashion. Or adopt social media and then a new view of how the world really works – that we are not part of a machine but part of an interconnected universe!


So the implications are clear for me anyway.

Adopting Social Media has nothing to do with the tools. After all the tools are cheap and easy to use. It is all about rewiring the habits and the mindset of people.

If you wish to have your organization adopt this new mindset and hence also its tool kit of social media. You are going to have to create a “Sun” – a densely connected but small group that are committed to the bigger idea that is the energy behind the Sun.


The numbers required for the core are modest. A core of 8 will get you an inner ring of 4,000. A core of 34 will get you an inner ring of 1,300,000. 89 will get you 62,000,000.

The leverage that is possible is incredible when compared to the traditional organization. This is where the costs fall away and the impact goes up.

I will talk more about this and offer you a number of real examples.

But here is the key insight. The Big idea cannot be about the internal needs of the organization. It can’t be about your sales, your profits etc. It cannot be about YOU. For the Sun to access the full energy of people and to spread out to the edge, it must be about US. It must be about the larger group that includes everyone who will be in the community.

More later.

The new world will have hierarchies and will not be open – For that is Nature’s design

Many say that they hope that the new world will have no hierarchy. This is just as much a fantasy as the positional hierarchies in traditional organizations are. A hope based on nothing. Many say that new systems will be “Open” meaning that all can access them. This too is a fantasy. In nature all systems have boundaries that are defended vigorously.

Many profess that they hope we will find algorithms to filter the best stuff from the web but miss the fact that unless we trust the source, content is just noise. No filter works like human filters and quite small groups can cover a lot of ground. You won’t miss much with a group of 33 or max at 144. For the real filter is in our own heads and can only be pierced by a trusted source.

Here is a post of mine on FF that explains this. 

What is value? Usually it is something that is scarce. What is scarce today? Certainly not content which is why all the attempts to make content pay are doomed. Content has never been more plentiful. In fact we are approaching the point where content is all but infinite.

The Value point then becomes finding content that means some thing to each of us. So Search is a Holy Grail here. And it is very valuable. But can we rely only on algorithms?  I do not think so.

This week two people that I respect and trust a lot Craig Newmark and Jeremiah Owyang have put their own stakes in the ground saying that ironically it will be a screen of named people in our social orbit that will be the final layer of screening for meaning. That our impersonal transactional world will return to a personal world where reputation is key. There is enough convergence to call it now I think.

What you are about to see is how the world will be organized in the future. It’s official now!

This is the new Org Chart.


The Inner Circle is your Trusted Space – moving out from this is a gradient of Trust and Intimacy – These rings have numeric boundaries. The Inner Circle is limited to 8. The next ring for you is 34. The outer ring is of course 144. If you look up to the diagram above the “Donut”, you will see the Fibonacci Curve. There you will see that these numbers are the boundaries of the curve – this is how nature organizes all complex systems. The Dunbar number is 144. (Not 150 by the way) We know that 8 is the ideal team size. We know that 34 is the ideal large team.

To the left I have added the “Permaflower” – this is the organizing model for Permaculture. I think that this may be the model that we use to organize the Natural Organization.

Here is how Craig opens his piece:

People use social networking tools to figure out who they can trust and rely on for decision making. By the end of this decade, power and influence will shift largely to those people with the best reputations and trust networks, from people with money and nominal power. That is, peer networks will confer legitimacy on people emerging from the grassroots.

This shift is already happening, gradually creating a new power and influence equilibrium with new checks and balances. It will seem dramatic when its tipping point occurs, even though we’re living through it now.

Everyone gets a chance to participate in large or small ways, giving a voice to what we once called “the silent majority.”

Here is how Jeremiah describes it:


Here is how a Permagarden is layed out:


Here we see the idea of a gradient in the hierarchy more clearly. Inside the network are of course sub networks. In Permagardening, these are called Guilds. They are reinforcing groups of diverse species. Toby Hemenway is the source of these lovely garden images.


Talking about guilds here is how Chris Allen has shown us how Guilds form in WOW.

teambuilding blocks

In this slide you can also see the leverage that the Fibonacci Sequence can give you. Imagine your 8 inside the Trusted Space. Imagine that you have 4 good friends in the next circle who have 4 friends who have 4 friends and then 4 more – that is 4,096 people. A group of 34 with 4 friends gets you 1.3 million. 144 gets you 429 million.

A small group can have huge social leverage. Enough I think to do anything.

Sometimes I lose it with people who will not see – Adoption

Many people just cannot let go of their old perception – and sometimes I lose it. 

Most organizations know that the web is important today – even the most dinosauric. But for most, the web is an up and coming “channel” and most still don’t have a clue about social media – they do it because they have to and they do it without much understanding about how it works and how different it is from their old “Normal”.

The final arrival of the Beatles on the web – mainly as we see boosted by social media – shows the new reality. That the web amplified by good use of social media is now the primary way of connecting what you have to the public.

Billboard magazine reports that The Beatles sold more than two million individual songs worldwide and in excess of 450,000 albums in its first week on Apple’s iTunes Music Store. (The Beatles’ catalog was added to iTunes on November 16th.)

According to Experian Hitwise, it was social media — not search — that drove a lot of the online interest and, more importantly, the online traffic surrounding The Beatles addition to iTunes. Consider this stat: On November 16, the first day Beatles songs were available on iTunes, 26% of UK traffic to Apple.com came from social media, about double the amount that came from search.

This nail in the coffin of old marketing is what NPR discovered. When I worked for NPR back in 2005 – attracting a younger audience was thought to be vital. But at the time this meant that somehow the content should be changed. But what they found was that if you changed the medium for connection to Social Media – the young came – they loved the content – they just will not access it in the old way.

In a survey of more than 10,000 respondents, NPR found that its Twitter followers are younger, more connected to the social web, and more likely to access content through digital platforms such as NPR’s website, podcasts, mobile apps and more.

NPR has more than one Twitter account; its survey found that most respondents followed between two and five NPR accounts, including topical account, show-specific accounts and on-air staff accounts.

The data on age is hardly surprising. The median age of an NPR Twitter follower is 35 — around 15 years younger than the average NPR radio listener. This lines up with data we recently found about other traditional news media; the average Facebook user reading and “liking” content on a news website is two decades younger than the average print newspaper subscriber.

Isn’t this what has happened to the Beatles? Good content is good. If you have a product or a service or cintent that is good and is not available on the web via social media – you are punishing your business.

So what does this mean? The jury is no longer out. If you are not using the web and social media well – you are no longer cautious but stupid. You are refusing to see the world as it is. Now I know why you won’t move. Because this is all new and you are not any good at it. It’s like me taking up skiing in my forties. What had held me back was how awkward and stupid I would look and feel. But you know – no one cared about how awkward I was and learning to ski then allowed me to spend 10 winters with my kids having a hell of a time. I am 60. I started blogging back in 2002. I was utterly pathetic at it. But over time, I got ok. You can be too.

The real question is do you want your TV station, store, business to survive? It’s still not too late but it is getting close.

Who can help you? Well there are a lot of shysters out there. “Self proclaimed” Social Media Experts who have been involved for a year or so. So here are a few questions to ask to ensure that you are getting someone who can help for real:

  • Tell us about who you have worked for in the past that you have helped make the shift in mindset? They must have been able to help another make this shift in POV
  • Tell us who your friends and network are? The shysters know shysters, the real folks know others who know their stuff and their network is as valuable as anything that they know.
  • Show us what you have written that moves the cheese! Shysters pound on about Facebook etc, the real deal is part of a larger deeper conversation about what all of this means.
  • Show us how knowing what you do has helped you in your own life? Most Shysters still live in the 1.0 world themselves. The real deal don’t – living this life has changed them radically – they have been made different by this and you will know this when you compare the 2 types. PS relentless self promotion is a give away!

Some advice about process:

  • There is no formula/cookie cutter – it is not about using Facebook next week – it is about changing your own mindset. So start with lots of conversation about what is going on and where you can start – you cannot know where you will end up right now – don’t try and go there.
  • Our mindset is changed not by will but by new habits – try a few smallish experiments and label them as such – look at at others who have done well and see how this may give you a start – Have a look here at how Boingo have used listening or look here about how Kotex have used a deep question. These are powerful places to start to help you be different for in the 1.0 world we don’t listen, we shout. In the 1.0 world we don’t ask tough questions, we live instead in a clean, fun, smooth fantasy world where periods are the best part of the month.
  • Hire one or two great young folks. Andy Carvin – just one person has done more for NPR than an army of consultants. Same with Baochi at Boingo who enjoys the confidence of the CEO.
  • Persevere!!! This is really really hard to execute – the tools are simple – it is the shift in mindset that is so painful. I have found that as much as I and others know the direction the day to day part of the journey is stressful. Think of Christopher Columbus on his first voyage. He “knew” that there would be land if he sailed long enough west. But his crew did not. They also had to deal with storms etc, When they arrived, it was land but not the Indies – the destination was different. People got upset. When you do this – all of the trials of Columbus will come your way – Doubt, fear mutiny, disappointment – the lot. But there is no going back – you just have to push through.
  • Last point – anyone who tells you that this is easy and they can show you a step by step formula is a Shyster

So stand up for our species. Be a Sapiens and not a Sap and good luck to you.

So what then is the leadership story for making the change from machine to network?

I wrote this with a client in mind – sadly he stayed in the valley and left the new alone – it’s hard! Many cannot leave the old even though they know they have to.

Going 2.0 as Lee Bryant says is not about hanging shiny new objects on your old form. It is in truth that hardest of all things to do – changing who we are. As Euan says – it is the hard work of giving up our institutional form and re-becoming human again. So how do you make these changes to the inside of ourselves and our organizations?

I have been forced to reflect on this as one of my projects comes to the very edge of success. Here is the story I told the CEO today.

You are a chief. Your tribe lives in a valley. Over tall mountains is a much larger valley that has a huge lake – larger than Lake Ontario. It is like a vast sea. But you have never been there. You have never seen a lake. You have never fished in a lake or seen a boat. This new valley is beyond what you have ever experienced and so beyond what you can imagine. For your valley is savannah. It is plain full of herd animals and game of all types. It is lush and there are many plants that you use as well. Your tribe has been there a long time hunting and gathering. You are good at this. The Tribe has organized to do this work well.

But over the last few years, there has been a shift in weather. The savannah is drying out – the drought is getting worse. The game is getting scarce. The plants are dying too. Your success over the last 100 years means that you have many mouths to fill too.

So you have heard stories about the lake on the other side of the mountains from traders who go everywhere. So you send out a small reconnaissance party over the mountain to explore this new land. A new land where the skills to get food and the processes are very different. For remember none of you have ever seen a lake, a boat, a weir, a net. None of you have built houses in such surroundings. You don’t know what a pier is. You have no idea what weather can do on a lake. All you know are stories. Stories that might be fables.

The small party does quite well and returns home to tell you what happened. Now the lake and all that is needed to live by a lake is more real to you. At least people that you trust – your own tribesmen have seen it. But you are not going to up sticks and take all your people there just on the evidence of one trip. The risk is too big. You don’t know if enough of your people could adapt. And anyway, maybe the drought will end soon.

The drought gets worse. Now you send a larger party for a longer time. You tell them to really test this new life. Their mission to to see if a move to the new place is feasible. They set up a base camp in the new valley and build some boats and make nets. After much trial and error, they start to learn how to do well in the very new place. They spend a whole year there. They make a of of mistakes. Some die. But they can now see what has to be done. They are not good at any of it but they know the basics. They return home. Everyone is both fascinated and fearful. For if it is possible to live in this new valley, then it will be possible to leave our ancestral home. Everyone hopes that they don’t have to do that. Who wants to give up all they know? Maybe the drought will end.

But the drought gets worse. It is clear that this is a trend. It is clear that if the Tribe does not leave the valley, that in 5 years all will die. So now you send a lead party back over the pass into the new valley. Their job is to set up a new home for the tribe. They are not coming home. They are the beach head.

But as the new team settle in the new valley, they go home all the time in their minds. For the only home they really know is the old valley. Even though the new is feeding them. Even though they are gradually getting the new skills. They long for what they know. They are torn. They are in the new valley but they still are organized as if they were back in the old.

Still part of the tribe is left in the old valley. This left behind part of the tribe feel bad too. They know that they have been left behind. They know that the future is in the next valley. Both sides feel separated. One from the old, the other from the new. But this separation had to stand until the Chief knew that his people could make it in the new.

You could not wait however until he was completely sure because you could feel that the disconnect between the two groups was starting to threaten the whole tribe. So you moved the rest of the tribe over the pass into the new place as well. Because they were in a new place that needed new skills and new ways of working, you also had to realign who did what and for whom. You had to ensure that the tribe was organized to live in the new way. Fortunately because of the tension of the separation, most were relieved to have their doubts settled and quickly settled down to the new. Also because they all knew that they could not go back, that longing for “home” faded. After a while the new home became “Home” for all.

As I told this story, I started to see what had in fact happened. I had missed it all even myself. What we had done only became clear today.

The institutional world is dying. But it is the only world we know. Our place in it is home. We cannot just jump to the new. We have to explore it.  This exploration needs to be organized as history tells us successful explorations are conducted – using larger and longer staying expeditions. At some point some people have to stay in the new world.

Even then history tells us that we at first long for the old. We even organize based on the old even when we live in the new. This tension is debilitating.

This is the story of America itself. Many expeditions lead in the end to the early colonies. The War of Independence is the re-org. This then opens up the west and the new culture and millions cross the sea for the dream.

Yes the tools are important, but it is the change in world view that is the key.

Soon I will have the data to prove this.

What do you think? Where are you on this journey?

Boingo – Using the Network to aid Sales and Marketing

So how do you apply the network to a conventional business? Here is how Boingo has done this.

What would it be like if your business had a sales, marketing and support force that was 1.3 million strong that you did not have to pay for? What if you could source this leverage with a tiny central force? Sounds impossible? Do you have any idea of how this could work?

Now that everyone is using Social Media – what I am seeing mainly are people who using the new tool in the old way – trying to shout above the noise – “Look at ME!” “Aren’t I cool!” “Aren’t we good!”. I am seeing a Dilbert approach – “Let’s have a Facebook site” “Let’s get on Twitter”.

Most do what most do when a new technology arrives – they apply it in the old way and so get nothing in response.

So what then is the power and leverage that you can harness by using social media well?

Boingo are on their way to finding out how to do this. Oh yes and I am one of the people that are part of this and oh yes I am not being paid and nor do I in any way work for them. I am living the theory.

So how might this work and so how might you do this too?

Boingo have a class of people that are deeply committed to the enterprise that Baochicalls her “Super fans”. They and why they are connected to Boingo and each other is the core of the leverage potential. We will meet 4 of them in this post who agreed enthusiastically to be interviewed by me. As you will see, these Super Fans are attracted first of all to Boingo by the obvious:

  • The service – easy one stop access to Wifi in Airports and Hotels – is now no longer a nice to have for travellers but an essential
  • The support for the service is outstanding – got a problem – you get instant personal help

But a great product is not enough. Nor is good service. What is the differentiator for Boingo is the human nature of the relationship that Boingo has with its customers. Most organizations do not allow their people to be human. Service people are often ciphers working from a script. Boingo have set up an environment where their key point of contact is a real person who is allowed to be herself.

She has a name and a face and we are all in awe and a bit in love with her. We all feel her presence watching over us. It is way more than getting her help when we can’t sign on. She watches out for us. Have a problem – A quick tweet. In minutes she is there. She is like the guy who runs the old corner store who holds your keys when you go away, keeps an eye on your kids in the street, helps you find a new roommate.

As Nuno Montegro, a customer in Portugal says – It is not what she says but how she says things that is the difference.

Nuno is like me, a customer who actively refers others to the service.

Most of Social media is all about Weak Ties – They are very useful but Weak Ties don’t get people to do much – or risk much – or commit much – that is why they are Weak – they are easy.

If you want to do something – Civil Rights in the US – you need Strong Ties. (Nice new piece by Malcolm Gladwell that explores Weak and Strong Ties in depth)

The key to attracting Strong Ties is being human. It is NOT PIMPING your product. It is instead to show that you really do care about ME. It is instead to show that you can indeed be trusted.

How do you show this? Nuno makes the point that every service and product fails at times. The key is to offer the best possible response to the inevitability of a problem. The best possible response is to know from experience that if there is a problem, you can reach a real person quickly and that they will go the distance to help you get it fixed. “I felt as if I was the only customer in the entire world when she was helping me” Nuno told me. I had the same experience.

Attracting Strong Ties is all about “Giving”.

Aaron Strout is the CMO at social media agency, Powered Inc. and is also Super Fan. “Boingo is proactive and they don’t expect a direct return – they are not selling all day – so if they want an inch, I go the mile back. It’s Karmic! I know if I have a problem that they will look after me. If people are good and do good, then good comes back. Not necessarily directly but good gets attracted back. We talk about a wide range of things that affect me not just the product – which is great too – have to have that – they listen.”

What Aaron is talking about here is a very old model for an economy that was the centre of all tribal economies – the Gift Economy. In the Gift Economy, the Big Guy is not the man who has the most stuff but the person who gives the most.

This is the power in networks – this is how Open Source Works too.

Cliff Bremmer is a programmer who works for a company called Carley Corporation that bids on government contracts to develop instructional CD base/computer based training for the US military.  ”In my spare time I help companies understand and navigate the social media spectrum in a professional yet interactive way.  The company I’m currently helping is the one my father works for called the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel“.

The Gift?

Not only is he a fan but in interacting with Boingo he has learned a lot about how to use SM media well. “If there is anything I’m proud of lately it’s that I helped the Pegasus Hotel promote their brand with the help and support of @Boingo and other companies to become one of the most popular brands in Jamaica.” Boingo is  not only helping him with his travel and Wifi but is talking with him and helping him help his dad in his business with advice and Tweet Up prizes such as free access and bag tags. The Gift in action!

He can see the flaws of how most use SM – “They are stuck in self promotion versus communication. I can see through it all – it’s all about them.”

In the Gift Economy that drives Trust and so Strong Ties, the starting point is YOU. In the non network economy the starting point is ME. No small difference!

Shelby Rogers is a flight attendant, a serving soldier (in the active reserve) and the wife of a serving soldier. Travel is her life. When she is not working, she travels. Access to Wifi has made her travel better – “I now know more than the Gate Agent does about my flights!” and it has taken away much of the loneliness that travel brings with it. Who has not been alone eating room service and watching TV in our room? “I can stay in touch with my husband on Skype and every city seems to have a friend in it.”

For Shelby, Boingo is a service that truly meets her needs. But it is how Boingo is connected to her that has transformed a pleased customer into a Super fan.

How often has your service provider taken you out to dinner? “We have even had dinner recently. I am now a walking billboard for Boingo with winking bag tags!”

So what does this mean? What are the lesson for both Boingo and for you?

  • Baochi is no accident – the Boingo senior leadership have created the role and given it the space to enable someone who is naturally humane to be herself inside it. This new way of using Strong Ties to be the centre of a network is all about culture. In most cases senior leadership is too scared to let go. But if you do let go and create this safe place then the power of the network effect can be yours
  • A really powerful network has to have an inner core bound by Strong Ties. This is where the leverage is. One staff person like Baochi can without too much trouble have close ties with 34 people. That gives her an outer network of 1.3 million. If she can handle the Dunbar limit of 144 that creates an opportunity of 400 million! You can see that with the right person, you can have a vast reach – provided you realize that your goal is not to have thousands of relationships but a few Strong Ones
  • The secret is the math of social leverage. Many of you know about the “Dunbar Number”. Some of you know about “Magic numbers – the hierarchy of trust in human groups. If you don’t here is a quick primer.

So what now?

I think that the next stage would be this:

  • At the moment all the Super Fans have a strong relationship with Baochi – I think that the best next step might be to find a way to connect them to each other
  • At the  moment most of the dialogue is still about the obvious and excellent service that Boingo provides – I think that some of the work that the Super Fans could do might be to deepen the conversation – Shelby touched on this in her interview with me – What is it that being easily connected while travelling does? In her case it helped her deal with isolation and loneliness – it helped her do her job better – it kept her in touch with her husband – these are deep issues that I think connect all of us who travel a lot

As I think about networks, I think about the laws of physics. All systems have order and attractors. Some force is needed to keep systems coherent.

Think of the Sun in our own local system. It has mass that provides a gravity that holds all the planets and asteroids and stuff in a pattern. It has energy that creates life in the system. I think that any healthy human social system has to have gravity and light.

At the very centre is the “Right Space” a Trusted Space created by the leadership. In this Space, the Right Person – Right being a person who as part of her natural persona truly cares about others. Connected to her is the fuel and the mass that makes up the Sun – the Super Fans. The closer they are to the centre and the closer they are to each other – the more mass and the more energy. The more mass and energy, the larger and more healthy the network of Weak Ties that form up around the Sun.

What gets in the way is our fear about losing control.


At Disney the surface of the Brand Icon never changes but inside the mask is a person who changes all the time and so is never allowed to speak.

But in the new world we have to take off the costume and let the person inside have conversations with the public – HARD to do.

So then how did Boingo organize to do this internally?

Continue reading

So what is the new organization – the network!

The Ford model is the machine – but we are humans – we are not identical parts but diverse aware living beings. So how can we best organize – as all living beings organize in a network. Many of my posts show parts of this new reality that is here already!


Picture from Delta7.com

Did you laugh when you saw this? I did. I laughed because the picture tells the truth that we dare not speak about. That the only thing that keeps the formal organization going are the informal, unseen, human, social networks that both inhabit it and cross its boundaries.

What really lives and works today are social networks. But all the rules that are used in the traditional organization are based on the central metaphor that it is a machine and that people are merely components.

This is the disconnect that Jon and I wish to talk about in this new series on HR and IT.

There are many reasons why the old model is not a good one any more. The disconnect between the machine model and our humanity makes us ill.

CHD Whitehall

This slide is taken for Marmot’s historic study of the UK Civil Service. (The Whitehall Study) What it shows is that our hierarchies kill us. The issue is control. Those in the lowest levels are 5 times more likely to die of Heart Disease than those on the far left, the Senior Leadership. High demands and low control cause our immune system to be compromised. The traditional organization is all about control. CHD is not the only outcome. At my old employer, a major bank, more than 60% of the women staff used anti depressants. We were typical.

We are miserable inside these kinds of organizations – if a better alternative arrives we will go there. Many of my kids age group, about 30, will not work in such places. They just can’t cope with the control.

These organizations cannot cope with change. And Change is all there is right now. We also know how unresponsive these organizations are to change. I was stunned to know this week that most governments in North America still use Word Perfect! This of course is tiny when compared to facing the challenges that confront us all.

There are new organizations based on natural models that are now at scale and making a difference in the world. They are now ready as a model, to be applied everywhere. You think I exaggerate? Let’s look at these numbers.

Skype has 500 million customers/users and only 600 staff. How many people work for your Telco?

Mozilla has about 350 million and so does Wikipedia. Mozilla has 375 staff and Wikipedia 30.

Back in 2007, Craigslist had the 7th highest number of page views of any web company. It had 23 on the payroll. Yahoo, the # 1 had 10,000. Time Warner #2 had 90,000. No wonder the newspapers lost the personals and the locals and could never get them back.

Here is one I bet you never thought of. It is the grandfather of the natural model – the first Chaord or as Jon might the first Wirearchic Organization.

Back in the 1990’s Visa International had 355 million users, 23,000 partners and operated in more than 200 countries but had only 3,000 employees. The NatWest at that time had 81,000 and B of A 91,000 and a fraction of the scale. Here is more current information

All these organizations are designed as natural networks. They use Group Forming as their value proposition.

In the next few weeks, we will talk about what is it about these natural network models that make them so effective? What are the new rules? Why does social media make so much sense in the network model? Why is it so hard to install any of this in the traditional model?

How can a traditional organization stand up to this? After all an artisan weaver could not stand up to the big mill. So once again, a better model will trump the lesser. The industrialization of the world took less than 50 years to be dominant. How long will it take for the natural model to supplant the mechanical?

Is this something that you should know about?

There will be a lot of pain along the way. Especially for those that get caught by the transition. But there is good news. I think that we are about to return to a world where mankind is no longer separated by his tools and processes from nature but is in fact ironically taken home by his new tool set. The plow took us to a cold inhuman and unnatural machine world – the internet and the metaphor that it embodies will return us home. Home to a world where we live again inside the metaphor and rules  of nature herself.

The Job – the worst thing that ever happened to you – Deskilling!

Everyone wants a job today – but they are not coming back – for when no REAL skills are required, you can be replaced by a machine, a computer or a person who is happy to earn 1/4 of your pay. The job demands deskilling – that is why the job needs managers. This period is ending. This is why.

We all worry about getting or losing a job. When we meet people, they ask us what we do and we give them a job description. When we apply for jobs, we get all fussed about the “skills” we need. When we have a job, we have to be managed and so have bosses. Politicians all talk about getting more jobs. School is all about getting jobs.

But the “Job” as we know it is a 19th century idea. In America very few people as a percentage of the population had job before 1905.

Here is a core idea, especially as we all fuss about skills etc. The whole purpose of a Job is to DESKILL people. What do I mean?

1924 Model T Assembly Line

This picture is the key. Before Henry Ford, making a car was an artisanal activity. Really skilled people created each car. With the production line, tools and algorithms were used to enable the owner to use unskilled people. Yes each person could get good at assembly but that is like saying that because I am good at putting Ikea furniture together that I am a cabinet maker. The men who made the Stanley Steamer could make anything. They had the metal working and engineering skills to be artisans.

This process of DESKILLING has taken place in all parts of ur lives.


Today we can all offer our friends and family an excellent meal. Many of us are Foodies. But in reality, most people today cannot cook. They can assemble but not cook. They have no deeper skills.


Yes it takes a certain amount of skill to do this. Chances are if the tractor breaks, it has to go to the shop. But think of the skill behind this!


The plowing is only a fraction of the skill. Farmers in the day knew what was really going on. Today agribusiness is no different from a production line. It’s all external process and algorithms. It’s Ikea.

It’s the same with white collar work. Sales people are all scripted. All core processes are scripted. There is no room to think or create outside the very narrow range allowed in the Chicken Box each of us live in. We are all working at Highland Park.

So all the skill aspects of the “job” are in effect about knowing how to follow Ikea instructions. They are “assembly” and obedience skills.

What is not wanted are people who really are engineers, or farmers or cooks. The assembly line has no room for thinking outside the proscribed process.

This is why when so many people lose their jobs, they are lost. They are lost because they have no real skills. Anyone can put an Ikea desk together which is why your job can be outsourced or replaced with a machine. Your only chance is to find another “assembly” line that still needs what you can do.

Today that will never happen.

This too is why the Manager is a dying breed too. Managers are in reality factory assembly line foremen who job it is to meet the quota and the rules of the process. Theirs is not the job to think of new ways of doing things. Their job is to keep it all moving and the sheep from straying. But with fewer sheep, who needs the manager?

Again the biggest farce of all are all the managerial skills that are in demand. All those managers that are truly innovative get asked to leave. What is demanded is to be able to keep control.

The skill that managers need to rise, is not to have results, but to be expert politicians. Anyone who has been an outstanding manager who has constantly delivered results knows that this means little compared with others who climb over them.

This system was OK when it really was Highland Park. Then all of this was in the open and accepted as such. People also got paid well. Now all of this is obscured behind a touchy feely facade. On the surface we are all one big happy family. We need your ideas. Innovation is what it is all about. We are all going to cooperate. We are all leaders. This will be bottom up.

And worst of all, it doesn’t work anymore. Highland Park revolutionized how things were done in the world. This process worked very well for a long time. But it doesn’t work for any one now, not even the owners.

Later in the series I will talk about leaving the idea of the job behind. Of what true skills mean and how they protect us. Of how to look for work instead of a job.

Bu in my next piece I will talk about the central business process for the traditional organization. The process that any executive has to master. The key to success for you if you wish to climb what is left of the greasy pole. The main barrier against all forms of cooperation and why 2.0 will fail in most organizations. The Budget!

Your Traditional Company has only ONE core process – the Budget. You are just part of the expenses and all the guff about our people is propaganda.

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IBM – Also Moving to the Workplace of the Future

Like Automattic, IBM is getting rid of the old way of working and is moving to be a real network. Here is my interview with Luis Suarez who lives the new IBM life.

What is stopping your organization from creating the kind of work environment where you are in control of your time? What is stopping your organization from allowing you to use the tools and the gear  that you know work best for you?

Of course the answer is culture. But who can you use an example to your organization to give you a chance to shift your organizational culture? The answer ironically is IBM!


Last week I called my old IBM buddy Luis Suarez at his home office in a small village on the Canary Islands. I wanted to find out directly what the new IBM was like.

Screen shot 2010-05-31 at 9.31.06 AM

Here is where the Canary Islands are. I show you this to make a point. Luis’s reporting boss is in Madrid and his team is in the US. Each one of his US team live in a separate city. One lives in Toronto. Luis doesn’t even work in the capital of the Canaries but in a  small village. He is part of a group of 200,000 IBMers who work remotely. He is one of 5,000 who use Macs! The IT group at IBM, far from being the Gestapo have a mandate to serve the workplace of the future. Mobility is the key issue. Everything is done to ensure that the individual is connected to the team at any time. The individual chooses their kit. All laptops are supported. All apps are supported. Skype plays a huge role in the organization. All access is supported. Again the key here is to give the IBM worker the ability to control their own work space and to be connected to the larger whole.

My conversation with Luis focused on two strands – what was this like and how had IBM been able to cross the culture barrier. Let’s start with the Culture Barrier.

The key to the culture was to stop measuring presence – ie punching the clock as at a factory – and to start measuring results and outcomes. This of course is true for any consultant. I am not hired to be busy I am hired to get some specific things done. In reality that is how all work should be measured but in reality that is not how work is measured. We measure instead the appearance of work as evidenced by how much we are seen at the office.

Once you make this cultural shift, then everything opens up. Also the organization gets more focused. After all were we not all meant to be going somewhere and not merely being busy?

The other key to the culture was to get the IT department and the CIO behind their main task which is enabling the people to get the most out of their investment in technology. In most organizations the role of IT and the CIO is in effect the opposite. It is to control the legacy systems at all costs.

Now the full power of all that is happening in the world of tools and apps becomes available. Security is something that you design in rather than make security the only issue.

So what is life like for Luis and for the 200,000 other IBMers who work outside of the “office”?

First of he gets to choose where he lives. Luis is not a native Canarian and comes from Northern Spain. He could have worked in Madrid. One of the worlds most attractive cities. Also right up there in costs. But, like me he loves the Island life. He lives in a place of remarkable beauty that is very affordable too but he is paid a global wage. He has an aesthetic and a surplus that is not normally available to those that choose to live in a major city.

His team is in North America spread over a number of time zones. Luis’s work day begins at noon and ends at 7pm which in Spanish culture is ideal because dinner is not usually until 9.30 or 10pm. Of course these hours are not fixed because he is measured by results. He has a huge amount of flexibility. No fretting about the plumber or the dog going to the vet. If he had been married lots of space to be a great parent. No commute. No office wardrobe.

I asked Luis about that dreaded part of the conventional office – all those interminable meetings!

The team are connected in real time by a variety of chat tools. If you have a question, you ask it. Most issues are settled in real time meaning that they only have one meeting a week and that is very focused. In a virtual meeting like this, everyone is still working in parallel. In a face to face meeting this is impolite, but in a virtual meeting it helps. As issues shift on the agenda, new material is surfaced. There are never any minutes etc because it is all recorded in real time.

The meeting that really count are the social ones. Periodically the team gets together face to face and works and most importantly bonds. Because they are all on the road, they spend a lot of the time socially. THIS is the glue that works better than being “at the office” all day with people that you don’t really know.

So what does this mean?

It means that there is no excuse anymore. If IBM can do this with 200,000 people so can you.

It means that the whole work/life issue can be taken off the table. So long as you have to turn up at the same time at a place far from home, there can be no balance.

The key? Measure results. The outcome, a vibrant engaged, enthusiastic workforce and a focused organization. What could be better than that?

Oh yes and one more thing. Everyone’s costs get lowered. Luis can choose where he lives and plant roots. He has no commuting costs. IBM save on the office costs. My bet is that if we could see the healthcare costs of IBM, they would be much lower than in a firm that insisted on the old ways. For what drives our health more than any other factor is the issue of control.

The old adage used to be “No one got fired for hiring IBM”. Maybe we can modify this today and say “If IBM can do this, so can we”

More here from 25,000 IBMers

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The Math of Work Space – All Nature is based on math – so why not us?

I ended my old life as SVP HR at CIBC – one of Canada’s largest banks. The organization was one of the things I thought about a lot. In traditional HR there is no model for structure other than dogma based on span of control that is itself based on nothing. Over the last 20 years I have been looking for the math that must underpin optimally organized work units – here is some of what I found.

Many of us are starting to see that there is math that underpins human community – The Dunbar Number and related math that defines the hierarchies of trust are gaining credence as being “real“.

I think that they should be: for surely all else in Nature that is about relationships has math? Light, Gravity, Water and Heat etc. So why would there not be Math that supports how Human Relationships work?

I was re-reading my favourite text the other day – Christopher Alexander’s Pattern Language – and I was stunned, but not surprised, to learn that not only do we humans have a gradient of Trust governed by math but that there are limits in the physical space as well beyond which, we fall out of community. Naturally these limits are hardly known, least of all by architects and maybe hardly at all by any of us who wish to design a physical space that promotes a healthy human community.

Alexander brings up this topic in the section on Small Public Squares (Pattern 61). He asks why so many public squares are dead space?

Here is the Space Magic Number #1 – 70.

  • We cannot make out another face much over 70 feet away
  • We cannot hear another person properly over 70 feet away

Any space that exceeds this – Piazza San Marco and Trafalgar are exceptions because they are a nexus in a large city and get filled to the right density – feels un social.

So here is Space Magic Number #2 – 300

  • Any space with more than 300 square feet per person will feel “deserted”
  • So a space with a diameter of 100 feet needs 33 people in it to feel ok
  • So a space with a diameter of 35 feet needs only 4
  • A space with 60 feet needs only 12
  • It’s hard to get 33 or more people into a public space at any one time – it is much easier to get 4

I wonder – do these numbers then tie into what we know about group satisfaction – (Chris Allen)


My bet is that there must be a link between these two sets of numbers.

Forming the best groups in the best spaces will surely have an impact on the power of these groups. This then raises another question. Might getting the group size and the group space optimized have an impact on group power?

Do these numbers have any connection with Adoption?


Might knowing more about ideal groups and ideal spaces address the question that we all have – How can I optimize my power in the world?

Our model until now has been to use money as a substitute for social power.

Are we close now to seeing the Social Power Model? I think so.

In my follow up post to this, I will share a Fractal Model of how we have found social adoption to work in a university setting. If this is Fractal, then the social design we see in a University should match all fields of social groupings.

We may be getting close.

Automattic – the Company of the Future – HR 1

When we think of work, we think of a job, of regular hours, a place, of lots of meetings etc. But that is not how the organizations of the future will be. Here is what they will look like!

5 reasons why your company should be distributed

I’ve noticed a new trend in Silicon Valley. More and more startups are beginning life as distributed companies, and investors and partners are starting to accept it as normal. Our company Automattic is distributed, and I’m ready to sing the praises of running a business in this way. BTW, I thinkdistributed (“evenly spread throughout an area”) is a better description than the more commonly used virtual (“nearly real or simulated to be real”) for a company that has people working from all over the place instead of a centralized office. In Automattic’s case, we currently have over 50 employees spread across 12 US states and 10 countries.

Here are my top 5 reasons why you should consider the distributed model for your company:

via toni.org

I think that this is indeed the future – the full text follows here

As with all good network designs – most of the direct and indirect costs of the organization go away.

The capital costs are shed and are taken up by the nodes. People work from their place. With their gear. Huge expenses off the table. Huge potential to have the best gear for the staff.

Most of those interruptions go away – who can get any work done at the office these days?

Most of those silly meetings go away.

With NO Commute – so they get hours of time back a day. Let’s say 2 hours a day. 10 hours a week. 40 hours a month. (That’s a working week). 12 weeks a year! That is a lot of dentist visits, plumber visits, time with kids and spouse, time to nap, time to do whatever. And all this time was pulled out of the air as a result of not commuting.

Then of course there are the direct costs of commuting – the car, the transport. It costs $9,000 a year to run a car fully costed. How about coffee and lunch? What do you spend today? $5.0 – $20 a day. That is $1,000 – $4,000 a year for coffee and lunch! How about clothes? I used to buy 2 suits a year as a man. Women can’t get away with that. How much does going to work cost you in clothes? $2,000 – $5,000.

Daycare – well you might still want to send your kid off to daycare but now you might be able to do this locally and walk there. You will not have that pressure at the end of the day to juggle that project and getting to daycare on time. If your child is sick, you have options. And with all the money you have saved on the other things, you can afford a good one.

They live where they want. Huge choice given back. Not only can you choose what part of town, but what town or even country.

Then firm can also hire from a market of 6 billion versus from the local pool – the full talent pool of the planet is open to you.

The costs of travel to meet and hang out now and then are tiny compared to what is spent on a conventional organization.

The communication tools that connect you all now are all but free as well. The Skype offices have big screens that are ON all the time – so you can look up and call out to a colleague in another city as if she was in the next room – for free!

So why not your office? Well if your organization is all about control, then this will never happen. if your organization is all about process and not results, this will never happen. If your organization hires people who don’t have the skills to deliver, this will never happen. If your organization is like this – why are you still there?