Simon Terry

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Your Purpose in a Network

“All the value that we create is delivered for others and negotiated with others. We cannot escape the networks in our work. We are not an island widget producing output in a process. We are humans tackling increasingly complicated problems in webs of relationships that stretch through our organizations and out to the network where our purposes have their effects.”

We can’t escape networks as individuals and as organisations. We are embedded in a wirearchy that is far more powerful than we are aware. When avoidance is no longer a strategy we must engage. What is the purpose of your work and leadership in the networks around you?

There is no Island

Let’s say you were a traditionalist manager and you saw social communication as a distraction from the perfect order of your process driven life and neatly structured hierarchical silos. You can ban any form of networking in your organisation. You can ensure that employees never get together physically across the boundaries of teams. You can turn your organisation into closed cells in the name of efficiency. You can replace employees with robots to make the more compliant.

Except:

  • You still have customers and they are organised into networks that reach around into your organisation
  • Your competitors are leveraging networks to reach new customers, to learn, to solve challenges and to create new innovations
  • Your suppliers are using networks that involve your employees and customers to understand how best to create value too
  • Your employees still have phones & internet connections, friends (some of whom are customers), connections in the real world that may want to influence your organisation or even their own thoughts on what your organisation should be doing from their external community activity.
  • Even your robots will be networked in an era of the internet of things

Even if you wanted to ignore the network and focus solely on the performance of a hierarchical process driven organisation, you no longer can. The network has subverted the hierarchy.  The networks have always been there disrupting your efforts at perfection. They are just more visible and more capable than ever. Your employees, competitors, suppliers, customers and community have always been networked into groups large and small by human interaction. Now those conversations are global, mobile, persistent, transparent and real time.

Purpose in a Network

Welcome to the wirearchy. It doesn’t replace the hierarchy. It works with it, shaping your actions and the actions of others in your organisation with its ‘dynamic two way flow of information, trust and authority’. 

The wirearchy challenges you to consider your purpose. Your purpose guides how your actions reach out into the networks around you and have an effect on others.  That effect on others is what determines the information you receive, the authority you are given and the trust you earn. Improving these things takes work. It cannot be delivered by management fiat or a great personal or corporate brand campaign in the era of networks.

In a wirearchy, we each have the opportunity to improve our information, authority and trust. We each have the opportunity to lead. Unlike traditional management this is an opportunity, not a requirement. Fail to use it when required and the network will route around you taking away your hard won gains. The network doesn’t require your participation; it simply values it.

The Purpose is in the Work

The purpose is in the work. You won’t find it in a job, a manager’s opinion or in a book. Choose the work that you like to do and go have an impact in your networks doing that. Your role in the wirearchy will be surfaced by action. You will also get a better sense of the value that you create for others, helping you to better appreciate your performance in the network. 

The simplest purposeful actions that each of us can take are those that create value for others in our networks:

  • Connect People: Help others find their path & communities in the network
  • Share our Work and our Passions: work out loud on the activities going on in your life to let others learn and help
  • Solve Challenges with and for others to share your expertise, experience and capabilities
  • Innovate and Experiment to create new value together

Start where you feel comfortable. Start where you feel you can make a difference. Your networks and your purpose will guide your leadership work from there.


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