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July 29, 2004


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Jon Husband

Yeah, Open Space is quite something isn'it.

Take a bunch of responsible adults, from wherever they are (whoever comes are the right people), ask them a sound, important question, and give them the space to get together and talk - not yell from pre-determined positions - and watch what happens.

Imagine if that's the way we worked, all of us. The blogosphere has that potential ... and Chris and I have often talked about how OS is the core structure for organizing and acting in a "wirearchy" .... appropriate and responsible hierarchy merges when necessary for getting something important done.

Chris Corrigan

Thanks for the props Phil...Comment systems are a bit of a pain, and mine has never seen so much use. Haloscan wants you to keep it under 1000 characters or something. That doesn't stop our friend Gerry or my pal Dave Stevenson who just keep putting "Continued..." at the top of their comments!

Phil Cubeta

I am sure this conversation will be continued on many blogs for some time. Great things happening.

Lenore Ealy

OK, technophiles, what's the solution to my problem of wanting everything worth reading to show up in my new aggregator, with which I am in love?! I'm finding that I still have to come out here and read all the comments if I want to keep up!

Jon, the concept of hierarchy as emergent is very interesting. If that makes sense, then how do we historically explain the continuance of hierarchies when they no longer are getting anything important done?

Jon Husband

Lenore, re: your "If that makes sense, then how do we historically explain the continuance of hierarchies when they no longer are getting anything important done?"

Not to be snide nor condescending, I would be willing to bet that you could come up with some pretty good solid answers to that question without to much strategic questioning.

There's an interesting but a bit obvious (or pedantic ?) article in the Marvch 2003 Harvard Business Review titled "Why Hierarchies Thrive", by Harold J. Leavitt (Reprint # R0303G).

I doubt it will tell you anything you don't already know or intuit. If you want a copy let me know and I'll email it, as I have the rights to reproduce it from the exec MBA course I lead on Wirearchy.

In my proselytizing on wirearchy, I have never suggested that hierarchy is not necessary ... in fact, I would argue strenuously that health and appropriate hierarchy is often a prerequisite for the effectiveness of certain types of decision-making. It has, however, become a crutch for many types of complacency and entitlement (IMO).

Much more we could discuss ... such as the ways (obsolete, IMO) that most hierarchies are designed, which is why they create as many or more problems than they solve. They don't have to be designed that way.

A topic for some other day ?


Lenore, you have discovered the real secret of blogging. All the real action is in the comments, and not generally the comments are not in the feeds, not even the number of comments which would allow the agregators to track when a new message come in a "watched thread".

Technology isn't easy, and it's always diverging too, so you can never quite catch up. Good design is really important, and it's hard to explain exactly what makes a design good.

And by the way, I completely agree with Jon. hierarchies are generally wasteful and particularly when they serve primarily to concentrate priviledge at the top. Talent arises everywhere within cultures, and priviledge makes sure much of it is supressed and not given the opportunity. It's a crime.

Ted Ernst

Gerry et al, surely Lenore's query about comments isn't unsolvable, is it? Please tell me there's hope!


Why do hierarchies persist? In part because some people do know more and have more skill than others. Even craft guilds, or poetry workshops, or Ballachine on ballet, all recognize that. I am better at what I do now that I was 20 years ago. Now I supervise those who do what I did. There is a certain logic to that. Also, anyone who has ever tried to managed for consensus knows how time-consuming it is. Someone has to make the call, and move forward, particularly when as in war, and often in business, time is of the essence.

Also all this peer to peer stuff on the net, say, is riddled with talkative mediocrity. We have been talking about emergent democracy, chattering away, but until we get people into the conversation who have read the history of political theory, for example, we won't progress beyond the sophomoric cult pieces you see on the net with millions of hits and ditto-heads. Naming no names.

Also so much knowledge now is narrowly specialized. You need a JD supervisiing JDs, up a certain level, programmers supervising programmmers, then you have to get someone who is able to have the units report to her across silos and on up. You can't have a milling mob, all wired up and chattering all day, and compete against a well-led team.

When uninformed people vote with time and attention they often vote for Brands, spectacle and cartoons. There is a point to going into a closed space with qualified people who have paid their dues and working out solutions from the top down, even if that means comining up with a marketing strategy to gull the uninformed into following along, or figuring out ways to jigger the antfarm to produce the desired results. Can't we all identify with that elitist logic, at least at certain moments? The guardian logic, the Straussian logic, the logic of exec, commanders, and MBAs?

OK, Jon, how did I do? Should have added the "Winners advantage," how winners lobby, use philanthropy, use postional power, board seats, captured regulatory agencies, think tank thinkers (present company excepted), and connections to rig the game.

I don't see how you can do this kind of analysis and not come back to the need for checks and balances. What checks corporate power? What checks it that corp money cannot and has not corrupted? That to me is the essential challenge.


The system you have outlined, Phil, is easy to game. Constant vigilance is necessary for it to continue to be productive. Less able men and women whose job skills are dim in proportion to their ability to manipulate and undercut impose their own version of mediocrity and they resort to tyrannical psychological strategies to maintain ascendancy.

Everyone, I think, has encountered the charming conman who manages to present an appearance of skill at odds with actual performance. He can gull his betters easily. Their embarrassment at being fooled saves him from serious consequence. The young man who broke Barings Bank is a perfect example.

Jon Husband

Hmmm ... and gulp ! Phil's calling me on an area of supposed expertise, and I'm gonna have to try real hard here to not be, what was it ... sophomoric, cultish, mediocre.

First of all ... paragraph 1 ... Yes. I would (could ?) argue about the artful design of knowledge work wherein specialization and scope intertwine, and therein many aspects of self-directed team theory would apply. Personally, I believe that many aspects of specialized formal knowledge will soon reside on the Web and be easily accessible via Google or Blinckx or AskJeeves, and that experience and intuition and relationships will be more important than the "supervision" of a knowledge craft. In biz circles, I think supervision is becoming governance (even if they who's supervising don't know it yet). The supervision and guidance will come from alignment with purpose, vision and values and will speak directly to the need to engender trust with clients on an ongoing basis in an every-which-way transparent business environment. You don't want a crew boss for that kind of environment, you want a team of peers and near-peers (two-tier peers ;-) who are working in an area which links to or Venn diagrams with other realted areas and clients.

Supervision - to over-see, I think .... great when there was clearly a linear set of tasks, day after day, in a mass assembly type of work design ... today I would argue that we are rapidly proceeding towards the mass customization of work, and that somewhat obsolete structures (hierarchies) are getting in the way of rapid responsive flexibility. The big issue here is "trust", as in execs saying "we can't give the keys to the inmates". Fred Emery and Eric trist (they of the Hawthorne Electric productivity experiments and the Tavistock Institute) have a lot to say about what they have termed Participative Work Design. It involves giving up a fair bit (most, actually) of "supervisory" or reporting-relationship based control, and moving towards a much more adult-to-adult dynamic in the given work setting.

Paragraph 2 .... Yes, and ... talkative mediocrity for sure, and ... as most of us here know or are learning, there is a reasonable and effective IMO amount of self-and-other selection of who to engage with and why in the realm of social software/collaborative work/wirearchy. Fundamental to this is the question of purpose and commitment ... why are we doing or not doing, how deep and broad do we need to go, is it straightforward or will dialogue and process (purposeful talkativeness) add value to what we need to get done.

Blogs are an "early not-so-weak signal" of how people will communicate and work in an always-on always-interconnected work environment ... knowledge work is about talking and sharing info and building knowledge, and we are really just beginning to learn how to use them. there have been any number of observable attempts to get things "going" after much blog-talk, with some successes and some real frustrations. This whole fledgling community is one of those examples, and Chris C. and I talked yesterday about beginning to chronicle a case study of sorts ... the lead-up to suggesting an OS, the OS, the immediate aftermath, the medium term and so on.

Paragraph 3 ... I'm not sure I agree completely , Phil. I have for the past ten years called my consulting non-practice Work Design Associates. Personally, I think there is over-specialization and that agin there is a lag in effective work design in many situations/circumstances. People seem to like categories and categorization, which helps them instantiate quickly and also gets them off the hook for having to think critically and constructively, which is actually freakin' hard work. There are reams of management/organizational design literature bemoaning the pitfalls of over-segmentation, division and separation of labour, working at cross-purposes without effective communication and collaboration. Think about deep sspecialization, what it entails and what it is used for, and then begin to watch all the places where the work is actually much more simple and routinized than the degree of specialization that is called for ... there are many ramifications to this, including fact-scarce dogma or ineffective yet established past practice in more areas of specialization than you would think. Jane jacobs has a whole chapter focused on this in her newest book, Dark Age Ahead.

All that to say that your "You can't have a milling mob, all wired up and chattering all day, and compete against a well-led team." doesn't quite convince me. Allow me to poke a bit of fun ... as I read that, I thought of the ways many of the CNN anchors frame issues ... a "milling mob" set against a "well-led team". Well ... let's take a milling mob with a clear sense of purpose and mission, with highly coherent shared values and set them to milling on purpose, and let's see what the score is at half-time and at the final buzzer. I'm just not sure that there aren't developing fractal patterns in all that milling as to how to collaborate and get things done when the main structure is wirearchical. This issue will continue to be observed and commented upon ... much.

Paragraph 4, your "Can't we all identify with that elitist logic, at least at certain moments? The guardian logic, the Straussian logic, the logic of exec, commanders, and MBAs?"

Yes. There is a need for forward vision, and clear coherent shared values, and a plan to implement them. Isn't that what made Kerry's speech a relative success last night ? And this, for me is what is interesting ... it is (or clearly wants to be) a two -way process a two-way flow ... grass-roots power up and in, providing cues and clues to designated or representative servant leaders who then synthesize and articulate those cues and clues into an accessible shared coherence, with permission to go ahead and begin the (engaged) implementation of the plan ... rather than a small cabal of people gathering and hiding information, amking decisions behind closed doors based on non-inclusive agendas, and then demanding and directing obeisance without question or dissent.

I agree with Harry's points too. And I agree fundamentally with you that checks and balances are essential, non-negotiable. Typically and traditionally, the core checks and balances have been found in the rule of law applied as neutrally and objectively as possible. This is IMO where things have gotten us all kinda hooped .. the laws, and justice, seems to be pretty clearly skewed in favour of the rich, powerful, well-connected and white ... who create and use the laws to entrench and improve their position(s).

How'd I do ?


Well, Jon, I was looking for a lesson, and you gave me one, thanks. If you are looking for a HBS case study keep your eye on what will emerge in financial services, planned giving, and social organizing/fundraising from Lenore, Tracy, Jeff W, Drake and I. "No walls," just one conversation. Instead of talking about "Donors" and "Clients" behind their backs, as if they were prey, or about advisors as if they are mostly jerks, we are talking together about how to make the world a better place while helping citizens be as generous as they want to be and as effective in their giving as possible. No them/us. No right/left. No inside/outside. No client/provider. No donor/fundraiser. No rich/broke. Just people from different backgrounds trying to co-engineer a process that works for social good, while being prudent and respectful.

Financial services is highly regulated and very vertically organized, not among the reps, but among those who must supervise them. So it will be an interesting test case. Can we create a new cooperative venture within the regulatory world that now exists, and keep the companies in sych with a purpose beyond just profit? I think we can, when they see the miracle of "work teams" that include representatives of potential client groups.

Not hunter and quarry, but partners in a common cause. We shall see.

Thanks for the management training. My philosophy even as a "supervisor" is to be a coach, whenever possible. I find it hard to say, "She reports to me, she is in my unit." As if owned cubicle slaves. Just can't see it that way.


It's comment threads like this one that make the case for implementing comment feeds. I'm sure it can be done, you can create feeds for all sorts of content. Probably is done, but it depends primarily on the bloggers host, which makes it up to the blog owner to choose services with that feature. I don't think it is common. Jon's wirearchy site treats comments more like posts, that is where I would look for such a thing to exist.

The sequence of the last four comments is really quite something, it's hard to add just a little. We are talking about self-organizing systems, not dis-organized systems. There is structure, but it is connected to the structure of the task or mission. The servent/managers are the connecting glue of the virtual organization. Much more information flows around and through them than any person could completely manage. In software development they sometimes talk of the surgical team as an analogy (again the emphasis on specialization), but that doesn't account for the generalists like me who know a wide number of things reasonably deeply. I've come to think of this as the designers role, to connect many kinds of ideas and knowledge from many professional and artistic domains into some sort of integrated whole. You can't account for the importance of this type of person with People seem to like categories and categorization, which helps them instantiate quickly and also gets them off the hook for having to think critically and constructively, which is actually freakin' hard work designing work processes and teams.

My friend George's paper comparing the Linux development process and teams to those of Microsoft are instructive. There is a role based hierarchy in the Linux process, there is a small team who actually make updates to the main development branches, and decisions of what to include or not are made by that small team with defference to Linus who started it and still leads the effort. The difference is that the entire process is transparent, and the widest group of contributors, and even those of us who just use it all and don't contribute even bug reports can read the mailing list and see how the decisions were made (assuming time and interest). The transparency is directly related to maintaining the meritocracy. Everyone can see who is and is not effective, and apply their own standards for important traits.


Hey, thanks, Gerry, that was very helpful. You are the one "insider" in this gifthub to the world of open source. Obviously that culture works. "Self-organized," not "dis-organized," very helpful way to put it. "Meritocracy" and a core team at the center. Yes, I get that. Like editors of a key poetry journal who make the final decisions about whom to publish, though everyone gets together in the Parisian cafes at night and reads their work, makes friends, hangs out with lovers, and has a good time. You can have a wide open creative culture of cussedly individualistic minds and still have a "school," "movement," "tradition," or "scene."

I really get what you are saying about such groups having a few key figures, like Pound was in Paris before the first world war. They are like focal points, or nodes, or strange attractors, where the chaos forms a new pattern.

Sometimes to get that core group going, to give the chaos an "attractor," you have to withdraw, with a few core people, who can swirl their networks together, and hash out a common theme, vocabulary, set of goals, communications centers and strategies. That is what I am doing now with gifthub, deep in conversation in small groups, offline, with key figures who can get it done. The goal is to get our networks to come together in a little vortex or tornado. We have right and left, funders and advisors, independent advisors and big companies, established figures and emerging. Intuitively, I know we have to work out the "kernal" in small conversations so we can circulate drafts and get serious, and really deal with the differences of ends in view and means to those ends. At the same time, though, I am rewriting these private communications and publishing the gist here, so that anyone who wants can join in. Nothing is being said offline that is not summarized here, except specific names of people who may not want the publiclicity.

Likewise, I hope that you and Julie get something going on emerging futures, and that, as you do, we can re-connect the hubs, spokes, nodes in a network that serve multiple purposes, within shared ideals.

Thanks, the "meritocracy" thing is mission-critical. "Excellence." A hiearchy based on proven competence. The combination of that with a democratic, transparent, open system.

You know, maybe it works so well in coding, because the code runs or not, and a coder can tell elegant code by looking at it. In civics, it is that much harder, because the informed my be opaque to the uninformed, and the uninformed may be the most popular for that reason, or by dint of sensationalism. I guess, I am at the point where "meritocracy," or "excellence," seems the point to emphasize. Maybe it is implicit, in fact I know it is, in the word "flourish." An open space for giving to flourish, is different than merely to gain market share, or spread. Flourish implies health, or excellence, in fact is drawn from Aristotle on virtue. Any teacher has to hold that dear, else he or she is just a showman.

So, thanks, you have helped me see that "open source" too has its pecking order with the best at the top, as poets might rate poets, and vote for someone whose work has only been published by handpress in editions of 12.

Jon Husband

Gerry and Phil ... wonderful dialogue. I am guessing this must rival many of the best examples of deepening conversation found in graduate school seminars anywhere.

Thanks, gerry for noting what you and I probably agree on - the comments sections of blogs where there is an active community of interest is the real ore body, I think. I'll bet as blogging evolves this will become more apparent ... so, an even further refinement away from the brochure-mindedness of what's presented on the home page, and an ongoing deepening in a community, even if it is very small (at first).

Notions of meritocracy and excellence have been around for quite a while and where conditions are open enough yet maintain some of the key necessities of structure, thetwo in combination really shine.

I would suggestthat we have not been able to discover this reality in the way(s) we have in the past decade because the interconnectedness in its full breadth, as we experience it today, did not exist.

It offers significant exciting potentiality, and also threatens to disrupt forever many established ways of doing things ... as we (I?) have pontificated about on this thread, the control (which was often a main purpose of structure) comes from a different place, and often for a different reason.


A pecking order, of course, in fact, the energy of that is quite immature with engineers in general. The forces of nature do not compromise and show no favor. If your solution is wrong you and others might pay with your life.

I think, for a meritocracy to function, the work product must be ultimately transparent. That's what we have with OSS, the work product is the code and it is a shared artifact. There is no necessity to connect virtual authors with real world identities, but the process and action need to be as transparent as possible.

One thing that you non-techies who are involved in these transformations should understand is how identity and authority (the constituents of systems control) in these processes. Transparency means the "read" authority is given to everyone, and with the most open systems (e.g. blogs) no authentication is required for that. The core group is established by granting the authority to commit changes to the codebase, or to perform other roles on the system. If this is made more granular, the authority can be distrubuted more widely, it is like putting locks on each appartment of a multi-unit structure. On a system, you can think of the 'root' priviledge often called the SuperUser, is like having a master key to all the locks in a building or group of buildings.

Like managing the keys and security for a large building, doing it well is difficult, and the more flexible you are, the more complex the administrative task. To make matters worse, it isn't a purely technical challenge. Kevin Mitnik used social engineering much more than technical cracking to game the system. That's both a challenge and an opportunity, and the opportunity side leans towards user controlled identity and reputation systems that are grounded in webs of real and virtual world person-to-person connections. We need multidisciplinary teams to tackle the design problems because the social issues are just as critical as the technical ones and all if it needs to be right if we are to trust these systems to handle our sensitive information and relationships.

What was the question? Sorry I got lost there a bit. One thing important to add about the communicatins paths. Submitting to the public lists is generally uncontrolled (well probably spam filtered, or only those on the list perhaps), which is to say that the wider public has access to the core group in the public forums. Digital masks are easy, so you can be private, but you have to be responsive to the public to warrent a role in the core groups.

Finally, an important aspect of this will be how the networks of networks are established and organized. In the open source world, this is a market-like anarchy where all of the individual projects compete for attention of developers and users. This market is not at all of equals, there are some major projects that are important to almost everyone (Linux kernel, for example, or Apache, Mozilla and all the core tools from Free Software Foundation), and others that struggle to get any attention at all. Some of the core tools are dormant not because they are not needed but because they do everything the community needs from them and are mostly bug-free. Others are somebodies personal project with no users or developers.

I would say that this is actually a weak area of open source and may be instructive for some projects this network wants to persue. It's hard to find existing projects and whether they might address your need. There is a lot of ad hoc communications and sometimes the right connections get made and other times they miss. Matching the giver and the right giving situation is probably similar.

Jon, I don't think we should focus on the points of resistance from the established order. We need to prove the viability of the new order of work. We know instinctively that creative work responds most vigorously to this sort of change, so we should concentrate there first. The powers that be will get it or not at their own peril, and we must keep our eye on not being co-opted into mediocracy.


Interesting, Gerry. When I got involved in "philanthropy," I courted figures on the "inside" and was (and still am) pleased to be admitted as guest inside their closed meetings of "core groups," who do not generally allow financial people, or un-wealthy people in.

Recently, though, it has become apparent that the really creative and lively and potentially world-changing coversation about giving is happening in public and semi-public places among mostly outsiders: givingspace.org, the open space meeting, the social venture orgs, Omidyar's discussion board, and all around the web. I am afraid that the energies have swept past the established hierarchical totemic foundations. They still have billions, they still make grants within their purview of interest, but they seem less and less relevant to real change.

Now, I am beginning to see some of the established figures begin to wander over and join our conversation. Names I heard from or heard about in "legit" philanthropy are now popping up in the wild on line world, listening, beginning to contribute.

So, rather than differentiating ourselves and getting into "them" (the hiresiarchs") and us ("the emergents"), I agree that we want to stress points of common interest and new ways to collaborate.


Jon, "excellence" in cultural matters is a high church kind of thing, in many ways. "Good taste," "good breeding," "good manners," "good family," "good schools," all that works to exclude the working class people with the wrong accents in England, and here too in the Waspy ways of the old guard. That much is elitist. We used to talk about it at Oxford, behind our closed gates, in our commonors gowns, calling ourselves "egalitarian" by contrast.

But today something more sinisters is afoot. The best and the brightest do market surveys to decide what kind of pap to create for popular taste. Survivor? Or a show on "uplift"? Everything is dumbed down, until it becomes a spectacle, with big lies in the midst of it. Whehter you get there via Leo Strauss, or Leo Burnett, the moral is the same: "Impersonate the fool to gull the fool, or get his attention, vote or money." Here "excellence" is measured by the number of dolts you con, please, or placate. That is dangerous. Excellence is the machiavel who creates crap to gain a following.

We have reached the point, I think, were excellence is now a form of dissidence, as it was in the days of Samizdat. Excellence is what gets you busted for being a trouble maker. Mediocrity gets you promoted, and full on monstrosity gets you famous.

So, in speakintg up for excellence, I mean it as Joseph Brodskey did when he asked Amherst kids, "Who has read Ovid?" When it was apparent that none had, he said, "You have been swindled." Excellence, not mediocrity is our patrimony. As a successful knave, to promulgate moron spectacle for morons is the worst cure for the disease of which you are then a part. Rich and poor alike deserve better.

Jon Husband

"the moral is the same: "Impersonate the fool to gull the fool, or get his attention, vote or money." Here "excellence" is measured by the number of dolts you con, please, or placate. That is dangerous."

I sincerely could not agree more. I think you know the stand I have taken, which is tonot participate in that aim.

I think (hope) that I meant excellence with the same meaning you have offered, although I lack the refinement to offer it in your inimitable style.

I haven't read Ovid, and do feel swindled ... and will add it to my short-term reading list.


Jon, thanks. To work at the limit of your own craft, whether lit, philanthropic coaching, or executive coaching can be isolating. Comes a point, as you experienced, where you outgrow the accepted schtick. What "consumers" want and what they, as human beings most deeply need may not be the same. How to awaken their better angel? Rather than exploit their demons.

Robinson Mukhtar

Dear in Christ!
Greeting you all from The Light16 Ministry in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ!The wonderful name in the world!!
The Light16 Ministry works on self bases in rural areas for Deprived and orphan,Street,Abused,Labour children.We are promoting education for them through different ways like informal education and formal education that they can read the bible to know about the savior of their lives.Thrice a time we have events where gifts are distributed among the children and adults from local community we get in small numbers and others get through very hard work to share the christian love with them.
One of them is our big event"Christmas" we need gifts for poor families and children too.Pakistani Christian do not have solid economic condition.A lot of people can not buy some Christmas gifts for their children,they work on daily wages to drive their families with very hardships.We pray to God when our nation will be prosper like others so we need christmas gifts if the spirit of the Lord will lead you for Pakistani Children!!Show your Christian love with them on Christmas eve!!Jesus said give your clothe who has no clothe,give one bread who has no bread to eat"
We would like to request you in Christ's love for these children.We can not purchase any gift.We shall pray for you and for this request.Please tell us when we have to apply and how we can do it.Thanks a lot

In His Great Service!!
Robinson Mukhtar
The Ligh1t6 Ministry
House no16.Str#2.Fatehabad(East)
Satyana Raod.Faisalabad38090
Email: [email protected]

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