Saturday, March 10, 2012

Loose ties and sufficient organisation (or why start-ups work)

The panel discussion that followed my keynote at CeBIT on Thursday set me thinking about how best to describe the effectiveness of self-organisation (which is what that presentation concludes is the web-inspired future).

The first thing to expand on is that self-organisation does not equal no organisation. Does self-organisation offer the better elements of anarchy? Quite possibly. Wastefully chaotic? No.

Self-organisation instead delivers fast, accurate, effective response to need in a way that centrally-organised models can't match.
One example is last summer's people-powered response to the London Riots - #riotcleanup. There is a slide on this in my deck for CeBIT and a link to that in my previous blog post.

In short, Londoner's organised around a twitter hashtag and took to the streets with their brooms in a scale, at a pace and with an accuracy of fit with need that a Government-organised response could not hope to equal, in fact could not equal.

But self organised need not be short-lived. Look to Nature - as @gregorylent is fond of saying - and you'll find The Great Barrier Reef. Self-organised interpendence has created an oasis of innovation on a grand scale. It offers biodiversity which makes the open ocean look desert-like in comparison.

Another vast example, brilliant at innovation to meet actual need accurately, fast and effectively, is of course the web.

In all these cases there is self-organisation. The individual elements engaged are sufficiently organised. No more. No less. Ties are just strong enough to deliver shared value, just weak enough to allow adhoc aggregation of focus based on need and purpose identified for ourselves.

Think also of start up businesses. Each is an innovation - a response to a perceived need. And at their start they are effectively self-organised - very flat. All hands to the pump.

They are sufficiently organised to be effective together without being directly organised from the centre. Impose too much organisation and growth and innovation get stifled, too little and the parties will drift apart to try to fend for themselves.

What delivers the loose ties of sufficient organisation. Well, it could be contracts. But they count for nothing when money gets really tight. It could be our human nature to band together. But why with this group of people, and why here and now?

No, the thing that delivers the sufficient tie is the idea - the shared belief.
All organisations are improved by a Why. Sufficiently organised ones demand one.

The rate of change is so rapid it's difficult for one person to keep up to speed. Let's pool our thoughts, share our reactions and, who knows, even reach some shared conclusions worth arriving at?