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Bring Anonymous’s War on Daesh to the Enterprise By @TheEbizWizard | @DevOpsSummit #DevOps

Traditional hierarchical command-and-control organizational models simply do not perform in disruptive environments

Anonymous's self-organization gives it power, resilience, and above all, agility - in fact, far more than traditional organizations with vastly superior resources. On the other hand, its efforts are often capricious, and once a particular target loses its appeal, Anonymous's attention tends to wander elsewhere.

As the war against Daesh (formerly ISIS or ISIL) heats up following the terrorist attacks in Paris, the hacker group Anonymous has taken a leadership position in the global effort. Its battleground isn't in Europe, the Middle East, or any other location on earth. Anonymous is battling Daesh in cyberspace.

Anonymous has already taken down thousands of Twitter accounts and other social media Daesh uses for communication, propaganda, and recruiting. Furthermore, the secretive group is actually leveraging this operation, dubbed #OpsParis or #OpsISIS, to fire up its own recruiting efforts.

The result: the membership of Anonymous is exploding. Hackers of all experience levels are joining the cause - without going to a recruitment center, signing any enlistment papers, or even identifying themselves. In other words, Anonymous is self-organized.

Welcome to the modern digital world. Not only is technology transforming our lives directly, but it is also transforming our organizational structures. Anonymous is merely a harbinger of further disruption on the horizon.

Today, as technological and organizational disruption hit the enterprise, more people are realizing that self-organization is the key to success in the face of such disruption. Should businesses take a closer look at Anonymous as an example of successful self-organization? What lessons - both positive and negative - can we learn?

Understanding the Lessons of Anonymous
Anonymous's self-organization is unquestionably the group's most important characteristic. No one person is in charge. Anyone can join, and in reality, anyone can call themselves Anonymous, and there is no one to officially dispute such a claim. (To learn more about the history of Anonymous, I recommend this Wired article by Quinn Norton.)

Because anyone in Anonymous can propose a goal, over the years its goals have been varied and occasionally contradictory. Some of its activities have been blatantly illegal, while other efforts, albeit often illegal, have a Robin Hood-like altruism to them. Perhaps its most successful efforts, however, have political motivations - as does the current battle against Daesh.

The rules it follows are likewise up for discussion - and different members or subgroups may follow different rules. Perhaps the only universal rules are the eponymous call for anonymity, as well as a Fight Club-like call not to talk about Anonymous. However, even these rules are made to be broken.

Anonymous's self-organization gives it power, resilience, and above all, agility - in fact, far more than traditional organizations with vastly superior resources. On the other hand, its efforts are often capricious, and once a particular target loses its appeal, Anonymous's attention tends to wander elsewhere.

Enterprises, in contrast, generally have clear, long-term goals - profitability, growth, customer satisfaction and the like, while Anonymous is deeply anarchic. Understanding how the members of Anonymous choose their goals, however, provides a measure of insight into self-organization for enterprises.

Why, then, does Anonymous choose to organize around particular principles and not others? Why go after Daesh instead of, say, becoming a self-interested criminal organization intent on stealing money from the financial system?

While its internally-generated rules are always in flux, the reason Anonymous points in one direction rather than another is because of external constraints on the behavior of the organization. For example, enough members realize that if they pursue certain blatantly illegal activities, then law enforcement will actively pursue them.

In fact, the FBI turned Anonymous member Hector Xavier Monsegur, code name Sabu into an informant, eventually bringing several members to justice. Subsequently, every member of Anonymous now realizes both that certain illegal activities will attract the attention of law enforcement - and that their desired anonymity may not protect them.

In fact, the behavior of any self-organizing team, as well as its efficacy, always depends upon its goals as well as its constraints. Compare, for example, Anonymous on the one hand with self-organizing groups like the Underground Railroad or the French Resistance in World War II on the other.

Because Anonymous decides on its own goals, its behavior tends to be both chaotic and unpredictable. In contrast, the Underground Railroad and the French Resistance had clear goals. What drove each effort to self-organize in the manner they did were their respective explicit constraints: get caught and you get thrown in jail or executed.

Such drastically negative constraints led in both cases to the formation of semi-autonomous cells with limited inter-cell communication, so that the compromise of one cell wouldn't lead to the compromise of others. In the case of Anonymous, the fear of getting caught impacts the types of goals and activities each member is likely to pursue.

Bringing the Secret Sauce to the Enterprise
In the absence of externally imposed organization, groups of people will always organize themselves. Fundamentally, such self-organization is an inherent part of our behavior as social creatures. How self-organized teams behave, however, depends upon each team's goals and constraints. Change the goals or the constraints, and you'll change the behavior of the team.

The central challenge for enterprise executives, therefore, is to provide the appropriate goals and constraints without taking the common but unproductive additional step of organizing people. This task seems simple, but it is difficult to achieve in practice, as it goes against many commonly held beliefs about how to manage people.

Constraints in particular become the bane of self-organization, as traditional approaches to governance often limit or completely eliminate self-organizing behavior. Instead, people should think of constraints as boundary conditions - where as long as behavior stays away from the boundaries, then anything goes.

In practice, shifting governance from traditional approaches to maintaining compliance with constraints at the boundaries of allowed behavior becomes a core part of how we achieve business at velocity - an explicit goal of DevOps.

Today DevOps organizations focus on continuous development, continuous integration, and continuous delivery. To this list we must add continuous governance - leveraging automation to remove bottlenecks and other barriers to self-organization.

Anonymous, of course, doesn't have the luxury of continuous governance - or any other kind of governance, for that matter. The result is a level of chaotic behavior that limits the organization's ability to achieve its goals consistently.

But if we take the self-organization of Anonymous and add continuous governance, we have a model for enterprise self-organization that will empower large organizations to achieve their goals in the face of disruption.

The Intellyx Take
Self-organization is no longer optional, even in traditional enterprises - it's becoming mandatory. Traditional hierarchical command-and-control organizational models simply do not perform in disruptive environments - and today, most enterprises are experiencing unprecedented levels of disruption.

Fundamentally, self-organization is adaptive behavior - and in environments that are experiencing dramatic levels of change, adaptation is the key to survival. It's no surprise, therefore, that the twin efforts of digital transformation and DevOps both leverage self-organization to deal with disruption.

In the business sphere, companies that leverage self-organization to capitalize on disruption will out-innovate more traditional competitors, but such self-organization doesn't mean the chaos of Anonymous. The difference is how organizations deal with the constraints to self-organized behavior - in other words, governance.

Intellyx advises companies on their digital transformation initiatives and helps vendors communicate their agility stories. As of the time of writing, none of the organizations mentioned in this article are Intellyx customers. Image credit: Danijel James.

More Stories By Jason Bloomberg

Jason Bloomberg is a leading IT industry analyst, Forbes contributor, keynote speaker, and globally recognized expert on multiple disruptive trends in enterprise technology and digital transformation. He is ranked #5 on Onalytica’s list of top Digital Transformation influencers for 2018 and #15 on Jax’s list of top DevOps influencers for 2017, the only person to appear on both lists.

As founder and president of Agile Digital Transformation analyst firm Intellyx, he advises, writes, and speaks on a diverse set of topics, including digital transformation, artificial intelligence, cloud computing, devops, big data/analytics, cybersecurity, blockchain/bitcoin/cryptocurrency, no-code/low-code platforms and tools, organizational transformation, internet of things, enterprise architecture, SD-WAN/SDX, mainframes, hybrid IT, and legacy transformation, among other topics.

Mr. Bloomberg’s articles in Forbes are often viewed by more than 100,000 readers. During his career, he has published over 1,200 articles (over 200 for Forbes alone), spoken at over 400 conferences and webinars, and he has been quoted in the press and blogosphere over 2,000 times.

Mr. Bloomberg is the author or coauthor of four books: The Agile Architecture Revolution (Wiley, 2013), Service Orient or Be Doomed! How Service Orientation Will Change Your Business (Wiley, 2006), XML and Web Services Unleashed (SAMS Publishing, 2002), and Web Page Scripting Techniques (Hayden Books, 1996). His next book, Agile Digital Transformation, is due within the next year.

At SOA-focused industry analyst firm ZapThink from 2001 to 2013, Mr. Bloomberg created and delivered the Licensed ZapThink Architect (LZA) Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA) course and associated credential, certifying over 1,700 professionals worldwide. He is one of the original Managing Partners of ZapThink LLC, which was acquired by Dovel Technologies in 2011.

Prior to ZapThink, Mr. Bloomberg built a diverse background in eBusiness technology management and industry analysis, including serving as a senior analyst in IDC’s eBusiness Advisory group, as well as holding eBusiness management positions at USWeb/CKS (later marchFIRST) and WaveBend Solutions (now Hitachi Consulting), and several software and web development positions.

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