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May 2010

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« Newsmastering for Professional Development 2.0 Dashboard: Online Community Management Aggregator and Report | Main | My Treo Can Find A New Life on the Frontlines of Global Health, But What Should I Replace It With? »


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Emily Davis

I love this idea of cloud communication. YNPN San Diego is run almost entirely's a lot of work in some ways, but also provides the benefits of being easily accessible for volunteers. Leadership models change a bit under this system as well which is something to be very sensitive about.

Valerie Lambert

Can Nonprofit Organizations Work More Like Clouds? How?

I think that the taller – and broader – the tower is, the more resistant it will be to “cloud mentality.” On the other hand, the recession is prime breeding ground for clouds, since quite a few small and medium towers are collapsing…or at least toppling.

This reminds me of why/how Dilbert became so popular: people collectively rejected the notion of sitting like drones in cubes, obeying the spewings of the “pointy-haired-boss,” without regard to logic. Scott Adams’ philosophy all along has been that employees should leave corporate America and find their own way, start their own companies, etc.

Just as there are some orgs who are still afraid of what their employees “might do” if they were to allow telecommuting, etc., those same people are afraid to release “control” to their constituents in social media. (Who knows what they might SAY about the organization if we didn’t have our finger constantly on the [permit post] or [delete] button? GASP!)

The organizations that encourage departments to work TOGETHER, rather than pit them against one another (IT vs Communications, Mail vs. Web, Development vs. Membership, etc.) will see the clouds form more naturally, instead of everyone working in the silos that erupt in classic tower formation.

Ruth McLean Dawson

We have some clouds floating over and around the silos where the work is getting done. It can be frustrating when meetings are silo based and you begin to feel as if you have been there and done that on discussions. We need to recognize our clouds and integrate them into the system.

dave tinker

The cloud image above reminds me of a mesh computer network rather than a company organizational flow chart. It also seems to be more organic than button down.

That said my nonprofit is working more like a cloud by allowing for more open communication, continuing to foster new ideas from staff at all levels.

We already have used cloud computing for some time and continue to expand it's use internally

Wendy Kloiber

Hey Beth - I want to win your book, and read it, and then give it to our (tiny rural) library.


Wendy Kloiber

forgot to answer.

from my perspective (org. development consultant for several nonprofits) nobody knows. in real life, half my folks are barely proficient at web 1.0.

meanwhile, i am running projects in clouds, without starting the nonprofits i might have started 10 years ago.

this may be about disruption rather than transformation - i.e.; towers not falling but shrinking in proportion to work being done in clouds.


Hi, Beth -I'm a Museum Studies person who has just about finished her MA. In a recent paper, I developed a framework for a theoretical museum (which should become real in the next 6 months), and the organizational chart I made was a series of circles. At the center I put the community we will serve, next circle was the mission, and all the staff/directors were in the next circle, not connected. All activities look towards serving the community through the mission. The next circle out is the Director and the Advisory council, who are accountable for the inner circles, and the last outer circle is the Board, who have accountability for all of it. The circle with all the staff - education, collections, operations, exhibits, marketing and development - is where we will develop a cloud infrastructure. I need your book to map out our cloud(s)!


In my experience, cloud organisations best empower the expertise and initiative of each individual, much more so than hierarchial structures. However, cloud structures also pose management chalanges in terms of overall coordination and strategy consolidation. I believe they require consistent key communicators to bring the whole thing together in a cohesive, effective manner.

Jon Boroshok

Interesting premise. It's a major shift in the communications model from a PR standpoint, where the traditional focus has always been about controlling what is said, and who gets to say it.

Can we communications folks provide enough internal "guidance" first, to let us feel comfortable in relinquish control? Will we have enough confidence in the rest of the team to at least delude ourselves into thinking that we're "delegating?"

We need to find a way to make communications professionals rethink the control model into more of an honest interaction model.

Jon Boroshok

Maybe I should have used the term "culture" instead of "model." Up to now, communication has been done by those authorized to speak, write, etc. We've been trained to stay on message or keep spokespeople on message. Things were scripted, contrived, controlled, etc.

Only designated spokespeople were allowed to voice an opinion in any situation that could result in media coverage, customer relations, etc. Empowering "regular" employees to think/speak/react (go off message) was considered risky.

Now with social media, Web 2.0, and every interactive technology, anyone can be a publisher. The technology becomes the great equalizer, so that culture (or model) will change, by choice or by evolution. Can we as communications practitioners adapt and "sell" management on the concept?

Henry C. Kyle III, MPA, CAE

I am not sure what the statement means. Having managed associations for over thirty years that associations are anything but white fluffy organizations. They are entities of volunteers all of which have nothing but their own personal agenda's to fulfill. Coming together for the greater good has long been dead and not longer part of the nonprofit mantra.

Jill Savage

Hi Beth,

I'd love to have the book because this discussion fascinates me, but I don't understand it at all. I'm not familiar with the concept of "cloud model" at all. This is the first time I've heard of it. But I'm thinking it would work for Hearts at Home (, the non-profit I founded and lead. I'd like to explore this more!

Jamie Favreau

I will be educating a group of people at a college alumni association on the importance of using Social Media to reach alumni. They are trying to get involved but I guess the main issue is the time investment. I have little loop holes with them because they are a smaller part of the organization as a whole.

People need to be able to trust their employees. I think this is a problem like someone stated above with telecommuting they don't trust that their work will get done. The silos aren't working in this day and age and technology has been created to avoid them.

It is going to take a lot of training and proof to break these channels. I do believe if you are in an organization with great communication it is the best thing in the world.

People need to realize that team work is essential to get the movement across for your organization. If you have many ambassadors instead of just the marketing dept you are able to talk to more people. Which are in favor of what you are doing. I think this makes more sense then the old model.


There’s a similar topic thats related to this in Yahoo Answers, I think. I’ll find the link and post it back here. It might be of interest to you.

Ken Okel

I love the cloud concept. Too many nonprofits are concerned with leadership trees and business cards rather than effectively serving the public. A successful organization needs a lot of employee cross training and idea cultivation. It's good for job titles and functions to blur a bit. If everyone has an understanding of other positions and responsibilities, the organization will function that much better.

Kinanti Wicaksono

Hi Beth,

My name is Kinanti from Indonesia. I've been an active member and working with ProFauna for the past 5 years. ProFauna is a Non-Profit that seeks to protect Indonesian wildlife and their habitats, and I have observed the gradual transformation of the organization from a Web 1.0 citizen to harnessing the powers of Web 2.0.

From just a non-interactive website where information was centered around one person, ProFauna has evolved to using more interactive channels of communications through several of its staff and members (i.e. Facebook) to announce its press gatherings, releases, campaigns, videos, and even moments when it is to be featured on electronic media. I can see that ProFauna is gradually transforming into a wirearchy by channeling the voices and opinions of its members directly to the larger public.

I love the idea of cloud organizations and wirearchy. And I'd really like to read your book to understand more about how it can be measured and sustained. Thanks!

Bobbie Lewis

I like the idea of each person being the center of his/her personal 'cloud." My organization is pretty easy-going when it comes to avoiding silos. Most folks feel free to contact anyone else whatever level they are in the organization. But some managers are not happy with staff deciding on their own how to use their time. And as a manager, I like to know what's going on, even while encouraging my staff to work independently.

Lucy Bernholz


First of all, let me say that this post took me forever to read because I had to go to every link included, and spent several minutes on each associated site. I don't know if that is a measurable metric of a great blog post (# links clicked, time spent on links, items downloaded from links, etc) but if it is, this post just set a whole new standard for great information provided.

That said, I find myself wishing to know more about those who mention their "virtually entirely virtual" organizations. These seem to me the closest we can come to a "model" for a cloud org that we could then try to compare to a "tower" org in terms of really different work behaviors. Does keeping everything in the cloud actually require/encourage more idea sharing, less turf-ness, flatter decision making, greater voice across the org? Or not? One of the things I asked in my NTEN presentation was whether or not we can - at this time - immediately correlate keeping data in the cloud with more open and sharing work behaviors. We tend to talk as if these are automatic corollaries, but I'm not sure that is right, especially in these super-early days of cloud based stuff during which security and control over access is such a high priority.

Clouds and more openness may indeed come to be near synonyms, but I think it's premature to start with that assumption.

Those who discuss the clouds within their towers are probably living the most common experience - we seem to be at a true transition point in org behavior in terms of open sharing and closed control.

Thanks for this post - my metric (usefulness) gives this a 10!


Morgan Sully

Morgan Scully

"I think so. But it has to be built into the DNA of the organization. In the next few years, I think we'll start to see a massive shift in this.

Regarding operating without a hierarchy, is a creative new media arts community that's been doing this at least since 2001. Open source is the core of what they do - built into the very DNA of how they/we operate. They aren't a non-profit, but they're doing what you wrote about above, successfully.

Dell also has a Digital Nomads project they are working on too:

Really love the idea of a wirearchy to tie all this together theoretically. Now what? How do we aggregate the resources in these networks? Who manages this (or how do we ensure that they are manageable)? Do they need to be managed?

What if it was just the machines that ran it?

I also think Kinanti had the best thing to say in the comments:)"

Peggy Hoffman

Bingo - again Beth. Great posting & agree with Lucy that is metrics about how many internal links are clicked and how long we're on a posting is any indication - this ones successful.

Right now we're working with an association that is revamping its chapter network into what will look at lot more like a cloud. We're building circles that connect members into pods, into larger teams, into regional connections, into national force. One of the stumbling blocks I'm seeing is discomfort. Not so much control but discomfort. (I remember watching discomfort with using microwaves too - so we can get over it!)

Account Deleted

Beth, this is such a great post and I'm happy to be introduced this week to this new term, "wirearchy." I've been pondering all week a piece published by Jeff Jarvis in Business Week, May 8. Opening line reads, "In the company of nudists, no one is naked." Blogged about that myself this week.

I think Jeff's piece hits many issues keeping individuals and organizations of all kinds from diving into "wirearchy." The piece is about Openness and the Internet. In one place Jarvis homes in on the difference between privacy and control. You and your readers here might want to take a look at it:

I'm loving this conversation! Good luck with your move!

Jon Husband

Beth, thanks for noticing the concept (and perhaps some of the writing) about "wirearchy".

I often muse on the point offered by Wendy Kloiber ...

from my perspective (org. development consultant for several nonprofits) nobody knows. in real life, half my folks are barely proficient at web 1.0.

meanwhile, i am running projects in clouds, without starting the nonprofits i might have started 10 years ago.

this may be about disruption rather than transformation - i.e.; towers not falling but shrinking in proportion to work being done in clouds.

I find this ironic and compelling, as (in my opinion) the emergence of wirearchy, or structuring and coordinating the work of organizations as "clouds" highlights and enhances the importance of OD principles (starting with Trist and Emery, if not further back in time ie, Simone Weil and others and stretching through the 60's, 70's, 80' and 90's ... all pre-Internet but hinting at the issues and impacts of whole systems and socio-tech and cybernetics, etc.).

Gary Hamel wrote a book about a year or so ago titled The Future of Management, in which he argued that there has been no substantive management innovation for at least 75 years or so. He suggestes in it that what "management" may come to be may be informed by and resemble the dynamics of what's called "Web 2.0".

In an article titled "Will Enterprise 2.0 Drive Management innovation?" I politely offered a nuance disagreement with Hamel, suggesting that there actually has been management innovation, it's just not framed as or seen as "management". If we took, for example, the argument offered by Marvin Weisbord in "Productive Workplaces - Organizing and Managing for Dignity, Meaning, and Community" that there is a new and different way to "manage" (both for for-profit and not-for-profit organizations and combined that with what we are now learning about how people can organize and activiate online (and off-line) in a webby world ... well, we'd then have a new "management" paradigm operating alongside or within a new organizing principle (wirearchy) that encompasses both hierarchy (where useful and effective) and networks (where useful and effective).

Anyway, in my opinion OD practitioners and OD-oriented people who are still operating in the "thin-air" world of email and web sites will benefit quickly and in important ways from getting deeper and wider into the purpose(s) and functional dynamics of online networks, and the potential therein for creating sustainable and constructive positive change.

Just my $0.02, and apologies if necessary if it seems I am hyping the "wirearchy" notion.

Oh, and by the way ... Meri's points about transparency and "nakedness" ... Don Tapscott wrote a book about 4 or 5 years ago titled "The Naked Corporation - How the Age of Transparency Will Revolutionize Business".

This "stuff" has been all around us for at least 5 years (longer if you've been deeper in it), and the large-scale shifts are just beginning. Surprising at times how long the wide-spread uptake (notably by organizations) has been taking.

BTW, there's a dark side to "wirearchy" ... it will still be an outcome of the "archy" of being "wired" together if the Powers That Be and the mainstream information peddlers and telcomms manage to obtain effective control of the Internets, and continue to deepen the exercise of sophisticated forms of electronic surveillance, etc.

Beth Kanter

More commentary here

Jon Thompson

I think we are beginning to look slighty more cloud-like with the roll out of our new internal microblog:

I will definitely read Mark Pesce's piece.
Thanks for a great blog.
Jon Thompson

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