Rod Collins: Peer-to-Peer Networks and the future of organizations

During The Hive Nation Ep. 12 podcast Rod Collins shared his thoughts on “Creating Serendipity with Hybrid Work Models“.

The release of the podcast coincided with Part 3 of our series on Hybrid Work. Rod `also shared his insights on a host of other topics we felt were worth sharing in a separate post, three of which we will explore in this post:

  1. Peer-to-Peer Networks crush Traditional Hierarchies
  2. The Importance of Delivering Value Over Time Spent
  3. Shifting from Control to Consciousness in Organizations

I first met Rod in January 2013 in Boulder, CO, as we worked together on an executive leadership learning pathway for ICAgile. In the year or so that followed, I was fortunate to have had monthly calls with Rod as we discussed all things leadership and collective intelligence. I thought of him as a mentor who, while listening and allowing me to share my thoughts on those and many other topics, guided me toward a new perspective on the role of leaders and leadership that was both profound and way ahead of what everyone else was talking about at the time. Like any true mentor, he was generous and kind with his time and made me feel like I was on his level, and while I most certainly was not, I am eternally grateful for his generosity.

Rod developed his view of what organizations could be, and more importantly, what leaders ought to be if they want to create resilient and sustainable organizations, while he was the Chief Operating Executive for the Blue-Cross Blue-Shield Federal Employee Insurance Program in the late 1900s and early 2000s.

In his first book Leadership in a Wiki World: Leveraging Collective Knowledge To Make the Leap To Extraordinary Performance, he explored two main ideas based on his experiences during that period.

  1. When human organizations have the processes to leverage collective knowledge, nobody is smarter or faster than everybody
  2. In the smartest and fastest organizations, leaders do not have the authority to issue orders nor to expect compliance

His second book Wiki Management: A Revolutionary New Model for a Rapidly Changing and Collaborative World in which he so graciously invited me to be a reviewer, presented fifty practices leaders can use to realize the two ideas from his first book:

  • Leverage your organization’s collective intelligence
  • Effectively integrate diverse points of view within your company
  • Transition leaders from the role of “bosses” to that of facilitators
  • Prioritize “delighting customers” over pleasing superiors
  • Achieve a shared and actionable understanding of the key drivers of business success

His third book, which is already off to his agent, called Everybody is smarter than anybody, continues his exploration of the power and role of collective intelligence to transform organizations for the better.

Besides sharing his insight and wisdom in books and keynotes, Rod delivers workshops on leveraging collective intelligence to achieve breakthrough innovation and performance. We are pleased he will also be providing his services to clients through The Hive Professional Network in the near future.

Peer-to-Peer Networks crush Traditional Hierarchies

Throughout the podcast Rod discussed the benefits of peer-to-peer networks in the workplace. He argued that informal networks of politically savvy individuals who know how to bend rules for the benefit of the company already exists in every organization. In contrast to a traditional hierarchy, a peer-to-peer network is not necessarily led by one designated leader, and decisions can be made by teams of leaders based on their strengths.

Rod cited the airline industry where the shift from a top-down hierarchy to a peer-to-peer network improved decision-making, reduced the number of air crashes, and saved thousands of lives. The existing cockpit management system, in which the captain made all decisions, was identified as a major contributor to plane crashes due to pilot errors in the 1970s and 1980s. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) suggested the peer-to-peer model developed by NASA be used instead as it eliminated unconscious biases, blind spots, and unknown unknowns by leveraging the strengths of the entire cockpit team.

Airlines began providing simulated training for pilots to emphasize the importance of teamwork during a crisis and encourage the captain to act as a facilitator and cultivator, bringing together the strengths of the crew to more effectively manage a crisis situation. While a network still has hierarchies, they are not a priori or permanent. In a network, the hierarchy can shift depending on the situation and the needs of the team.

In business, peer-to-peer networks help avoid the drawbacks of command-and-control structures which often amplify unconscious biases and hinder innovation. It also requires a different kind of leadership.

Effective Team-Based Leadership in a Dynamic Environment

Closely related to the premise of peer-to-peer networks is the role of effective leadership in dynamic environments, as it requires leaders to relinquish control and embrace adaptability. In my book, Leadership Agility: Enabling Sustainable Organizations, of which Rod was a contributor, I referred to this leadership trait as purposeful adaptiveness – while we must be purposeful in our actions, we must be open to what the evidence or the situation is telling us and adjust what we do next accordingly. Traditional plan-based approaches focus on doing what is in the plan, rather than acknowledging what reality is trying to tell us.

Leaders should recognize that no one person can control everything if their business is going to be agile enough to respond to change. According to Collins, this can be achieved through teamwork and shared leadership, encouraging diverse opinions as well as reasoned dissent. By doing so, leaders can create a more engaged workforce that promotes serendipitous innovation. The goal of leadership should be to create a culture of open communication and input, leading to better decision-making and hence a more adaptable organization.

Rod cited Alan Mulally’s leadership at Ford Motor Company where he transformed senior leadership into a highly effective team that made decisions together. They held weekly meetings to openly raise and discuss problems. He helped his leadership establish a disciplined approach where team members combined their collective strengths to solve their problems. Collins notes that the more successful leaders use network dynamics instead of hierarchical dynamics to manage through crises.

Collins suggests success in management is not solely about what happens within an organization or its structure but in how well it delivers value to customers and leverages continuous learning to stay ahead of the competition; Continuous learning is everyday and in the moment. As we discussed in our previous post, Quiet Hiring: Transition employees from jobs that suck to ones they love, the primary purpose of a business should be to create customer value, rather than solely creating shareholder wealth. Shareholder wealth is the reward for delivering customer value. To adapt to change, the focus should be on customer value, as customers are often more in touch with change and may provide valuable insights.

This is closely related to the next insight – the importance of focusing on delivering value rather than the amount of time spent working.

The Importance of Delivering Value Over Time Spent

Collins is a strong advocate for self-managed teams to determine their own work schedule, as long as high-value is being delivered to the organization and its customers.

Collins emphasizes that people should be paid for the value they deliver, not the time they put in. The traditional focus on time dates back to the Henry Ford assembly line era that Frederick Taylor’s systematized in his scientific management theory which positioned workers as interchangeable cogs in a machine. Collins believes it should be updated to reflect the importance of delivering value over simply executing prescribed tasks. He says self-managed teams are best positioned to figure out the time they need to complete their work, which is the pathway to maximizing their productivity and efficiency.

He also noted the benefits of remote work, where employees have more control over their time which enables them to work more efficiently by finding their work rhythms and achieving work-life balance; Enabling people to work remotely puts them in charge of their time and schedule. Interestingly, and counter to mostly anecdotal evidence cited by many CEOs, studies show that people who work remotely often end up working more hours. This is because they save time on commuting and can work in blocks that recognize their most productive hours, as whether they are morning or evening people, being able to work hours more suited to their preferences maximizes their time and wok efficiency and hence output.

Creating an organization that can focus on value over time spent also means shifting from one that has a very different set of power dynamics.

Shifting from Control to Consciousness in Organizations

There are significant differences in the power dynamics in hierarchies versus networks. Collins shared that where the latter relies on power as force and is controlled by a select few, leading to disengagement among the majority, networks distribute power as energy, allowing everyone to have a voice and participate in decision-making. He suggests that the future of successful companies lies in intelligent organizations that focus on expanding organizational consciousness and utilizing the collective intelligence of its people to enable faster and better decision-making. He is a strong advocate for organizations to move away from control-oriented models towards more conscious ones that tap into the distributed knowledge of its people supported by data for making smarter decisions faster.

To illustrate Collins shared the story of Blockbuster and Netflix.

Blockbuster was once the largest video vendor in the United States until a missed opportunity cost the company its future; The co-founders of Netflix approached the Blockbuster CEO with an offer to sell their company for $50 million and set up a streaming service called However, in a 45-minute meeting, the Netflix CEO dismissed the idea, believing that the internet would never have any impact on their industry. He was convinced that Blockbuster’s current business model was unbeatable and that they should continue as the king of video. Unfortunately, the CEO’s unconscious bias caused him to miss the unknown unknowns and the changes that were to come.

If Blockbuster had been more organized as a network and had not given a single person the authority to make such a significant decision, the company would have been worth $6 billion. This missed opportunity to embrace new technology and evolving consumer behaviour cost the company its chance to grow 50-fold. Even though some individuals within Blockbuster knew that streaming was the future, there was no way for their knowledge to reach the senior leadership. This is where collective intelligence becomes essential, as networks can leverage the intelligence of the many and not just the elite few. Had Blockbuster employed this strategy, it may have been able to navigate the unknown unknowns and adapt to the changing market, resulting in a very different outcome for the company and its shareholders.

Collins believes that companies adapting to hybrid work need to shift toward network structures to empower hybrid teams with decision-making authority. He highlights Amazon’s approach of distinguishing between Type 1 decisions which are irreversible once made and Type 2 decisions which are reversible, allowing employees to make more decisions without senior involvement.

W. L. Gore and Associates, a company with 11,000 employees and no bosses, is another example as they have achieved consistent and long-lasting market leadership through self-organization. Gore refers to Amazon’s Type 1 and Type 2 decisions as below the waterline (i.e. sink the ship) and above the waterline respectively, and ensures no single executive can make sink-the-ship decisions.

He argues that team decision-making is crucial to avoiding blind spots and making faster decisions in a rapidly changing world. Collins recommends encouraging self-organization and cross-functional team collaboration while avoiding the pitfalls of unilateral decision-making. He emphasizes that team decision-making enables teams to avoid blind spots and make faster decisions in a rapidly changing world. He says successful companies like Gore serve as inspiration, showing that it’s possible to lead the market (now over fifty years and counting) without traditional hierarchical structures.


The origins of peer-to-peer networks in the airline industry highlighted how the shift from a top-down hierarchy to a peer-to-peer network improved decision-making, reduced air crashes, and saved thousands of lives. Peer-to-peer networks can also enable companies to avoid the drawbacks of command-and-control structures, and promote serendipitous innovation, but it does rely on a different kind of leadership, one that requires leaders to relinquish control and embrace adaptability, encourage diverse opinions, as well as reasoned dissent.

The primary focus of a business should be to create customer value, and success lies in how well it delivers value to customers and leverages continuous learning to stay ahead of the competition. Collins is a strong advocate for self-managed teams to determine their own work schedule and be paid for the value they deliver rather than the time they put in. Shifting from control-oriented models to more conscious ones that tap into distributed knowledge and data for smarter decisions is the future of successful companies.

While the story of Blockbuster and Netflix illustrated how a missed opportunity cost Blockbuster its future, thereby highlighting the importance of being adaptable and open to new ideas, Gore offers and alternative approach to ensure no single executive can make sink-the-ship decisions.

What about your company? Do they embrace peer-to-peer networks and collective intelligence? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments

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Podcast Summary by

Larry Cooper is the Chief Strategy Officer and A/CTO at The Hive Professional Network.

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