Of Patches and Nodes

How most of us work and how we naturally operate are two different things.

The dominant hierarchical model of the past century has been great to put us in boxes that determine how we work, who we work with, when and for how long. But in an evermore rapidly evolving world, new situations arrise more and more often, new problems are encountered every day, and the response we often come up with is to add a new box, write new work procedures, creating more complexity and nourishing a vicious circle with this complexity creating more problems.

Organisations were invented to reduce the cost of transaction between separate entities. You don’t need an organisation to build a car, but this car will cost you much less if you structure and synchronise properly all the relations that are necessary to build that car, from the designers and engineers that conceive it, the tire and wheel and horn and mirrors and seat manufacturers, the car salesmen network, to the clients that will drive it.

Though most organisation charts might seem sensical or appropriate on the paper, we tend to forget that the real forces that hold the machinery together in reality are more along the lines of passions and aspirations, psychological conflicts, loyalty and perfidy, integrity, hard and lazy work, and so on.

The truly valuable connections are not the ones that exist within a box of the org chart but the ones that connect different parts of the organisation, different individuals that often have very different intents. They are the ones that create an opportunity to learn something and come up with new ideas. Today, the highly performing organisations are those that have developed strategies and mechanisms to collaborate across the structure, thus by-passing the hierarchical order.

Bringing this “organicness” back into organisations is the challenge we set ourselves. Our organisations have become extremely efficient in crushing individual talents and wasting collective genius. We believe that the opportunity is here to set new terms for our relations at work and with work, an opportunity to free our organisations from the hierarchical paradigm, to unleash the potential of its people, for the benefit of the entire system.

So how do we work with Patches and Nodes?

A system of Patches and Nodes is organic, and self-sustaining for no-one drives it, controls it or owns it. It is not a structure, it is not a process, it is a phenomena governed by the laws of cybernetics.

A Patchwork is a set of Patches and the sum of connections between all of them. You measure the efficacy of a system and the quality of dialogue through the density and effectiveness of its connectivity. Imagine an hyper-connected organisation where information circulate seaminglessy and is constantly amplified as it goes.

A Patch is a community of intent. A group of people that gather to accomplish a specific task like in a Business Unit or a project, to serve a common purpose like in a political or religious movement, or that simply share a common experience of being together like our tribes: friends, family, compatriots.etc.

The Nodes are each and one of us, individuals. Nodes are ultimately empowered to connect. We live and contribute to our patch and we reach out to other individuals, that often belong to other patches. We create one-to-one connections to go beyond our own patch because we think it could be beneficial to us or to our patch.

There are three simple rules that make a patchwork work:

1. Ship what you learn: every time you learn something or uncover new insights, share it in a targeted way with those you think could benefit from knowing it

2. Use what you get: leverage everything you know, uncover, and learn, in all you do.

3. Optimise your patch: leverage all the skills and competencies within your patch; share the activities and responsibilities across the patch in a way that gets the most of its members.

Despite their simplicity, those 3 rules are universal and remarkably impactful.

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2 responses to “Of Patches and Nodes

  1. Guiz"

    I heard Andrew McAffee a couple of month ago talking about sharing ideas and drive innovation by “Noding with other patches”.
    To find ways to let the good ideas flow, he tells “forget about your strong ties and go & share with weak & potential ties” (guys from other patches).

    But I prefer this more systemic approach of Patches & nodes ; )

  2. Todd Johnston

    Company or community wide meetings, offsites, conferences, etc. can be very good places to experiment and practice with patch and node architecture and a place to begin a rollout of this type of organizational form.

    Also, for readers new to Patch Theory, check out Stuart Kauffman’s At Home in the Universe, which is, to my knowledge, the first articulation of it.

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