The inside is the outside: The Möbius strip and Klein bottle as metaphors for the future of organizations


In a number of my recent keynotes, including at Connected Enterprise and the CIO Summit, I have discussed the blurring of the inside and outside as a critical facet of the future of organizations.

The Möbius strip is a simple strip of paper folded once and pasted so that it has only one side. A Klein bottle is its (hypothetical) three-dimensional equivalent, where the outside and inside of the bottle are the one and the same.

This is a powerful and highly relevant metaphor for the successful organizations of today and tomorrow.

Organizations are networks, and the high-performance organizations of today are those that are the better networked in swiftly connecting resources with opportunities.

Some companies have been very effective at using social media and other tools of connection to engage external communities including their customers.

Others have used social software and the tools of Enterprise 2.0 internally to build rich conversations and fruitful collaboration.

A small minority of organizations have proved to be good at both internal and external connection. These are the ones that will lead their industries in the years to come.

The challenge – and the opportunity – is to apply internal network capabilities to the outside world of customers, suppliers, and partners, and use experience in external engagement in building better connectivity inside.

For the successful organizations of the future, the inside and outside will be indistinguishable. Employees and crowdsourced external talent will connect through the same networks. Internal and external customers will be engaged in the same mechanisms of value creation.

Marketing and HR functions will mirror and learn from each others’ experience and capabilities, because they are doing the same job. Perhaps in more sophisticated organizations Marketing and HR will eventually merge into a single integrated function.

If you can clearly discern the distinction between the internal and external focus of a company, it will face major challenges ahead. The most successful organizations will be those where the inside and the outside are the one and the same.

Thanks to Dominique Turcq‘s The Fractal Nature of Enterprise 2.0 for the Möbius strip and Klein bottle metaphor.