Networked Norms: How Tech Startups and Teen Practices Challenge Organizational Boundaries

At the ASTD TechKnowledge conference, I was asked to reflect on networked learning and how tomorrow’s workers will challenge today’s organizations. I did some reflecting on this topic and decided to draw on two strands of my research over the last decade – startup culture and youth culture – to talk about how those outside of traditional organizational culture are calling into question the norms of bounded corporate enterprises. The piece is more of a provocation than a recipe for going forward, but you might enjoy the crib of my talk none-the-less:

“Networked Norms: How Tech Startups and Teen Practices Challenge Organizational Boundaries”

(Image courtesy of victuallers2)


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2 thoughts on “Networked Norms: How Tech Startups and Teen Practices Challenge Organizational Boundaries

  1. Mitch Skinner

    Great stuff! As someone who has worked in startups but not in a bigcorp, I’m happy seeing you articulate some things that I’ve felt but haven’t put into words.

    I’d be fascinated to see your turn your anthropological lens around and focus it on bigcorp behavior. And maybe write it up for an audience of people like me, who you seem to understand well. With the startup/VC pendulum turning away from consumer-focused companies and toward enterprise-focused companies, I bet there are a lot of startup-types who would love to understand bigcorps better.

  2. Mark

    A very nice talk/article, danah, and an interesting intersection with my research and current practice. Your descriptions of the transformation of organizational dynamics that are consistent with start-up cultures and youth lived-experience in both traditional and non-traditional organizations are spot-on. One of the major impediments to incorporating the types of changes that seem to be thrust into the organizational mix these days is the long-socialized, traditional view of the need for bureaucracy, hierarchies, and administrative controls in order for organizations to be successful. But more than that, I suggest that the entire notion that organizations are necessarily externally bounded itself is a fundamental stumbling block to effective transformation.

    In the experience of those who have grown up never not knowing the Internet and its complex relational dynamics, groups that emerge on 4chan, reddit, and even via Facebook and Twitter are autopoietic. More than that, they are also dissipative structures (existing in a sort of homeostasis for as long as energy flows through the emergent group) with a form of cognition (perception, process, and response, a la Maturana and Varela).

    To be consistent with contemporary experience, our notion of “organization” must also change from the traditionally conceived, purposeful, externally structured entity that has lived in Western society since the middle ages, to one that is better corresponds to the way of the contemporary world. Only when we collectively begin thinking of organizations according to theory that incorporates these ideas and complex, structuring dynamics will we be able to figure out the true present and future of workplaces.

    (For more info, this is my work on Valence Theory that actually does what I mention: )

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