Innovation in Organizational Design: Pragmatic Discussion of Ring Cone Theory

Submitted by Sudhir Kade on Wed, 03/04/2009 - 16:26.

I've oft mentioned one of my favorite new theory pieces in the realm of Organizational Design, Ring Cone Theory (2004)- but to this point have not been fully cognizant of the fact that some have found the paper I've referred to,  to be a bit complex and academically-oriented for the pragmatic.  To resolve this issue I thought I'd break down the key elements of this work and hopefully inspire local organizations to reach out and request some assistance with these once-idealized and now seemingly essential shifts in paradigm and framework.

Let's start the first chapter in short and sweet fashion, simply sharing the core organizational form.  This speaks to a paradigm shift, where there was initially much resistance to change - a fundamental shift from the traditional organizational heirarchies which still prevail in today's organizations.  The shift expected, since this was first proposed in 2004 - and won the Thompson Hine award at Research ShowCASE that year - has started to happen, more out of financial and organizational need - as economic incentives and disincentives have aligned to precipitate new modes of collaboration between organizations.  It is somewhat redeeming to see conditions in our civic space align to favor such models.   This model and innovation was also detailed in a one-hour presentation to REI at Weatherhead, then-led by regional and open-source economic development guru Ed Morrisson.

Per the diagram above, we are speaking about a model in which core organizational divisions - and on a greater system level - organizational collaborations can be best facilitated toward sustainable positive change.  The concept is simple - mitigate risk and cost, and organize in such a chaordic fashion, that locus of control issues are likewise mitigated.  Propose an alternative to traditional organizational hierarchies which are often slow to adapt, feature distinct information assymetries, and often maintain a culture pervaded by negative behaviors like backbiting, currying of favor, or maintaining a lack of transparency and information sharing.  In prevailing hierarchies such behaviors become common, unless a nearly-unrealisitic level of integrity and trust is maintained in such a hierarchal structure - the typical corporate ladder.

So as we see above, a ring of rings is available which allows better accessibility to leadership - access which is simply represented by the radius of the structure above, from true center to outermost ring of the structure, as it evolves.  Note the hub-and-spoke design, in which the hubs represent servant leadership positions held by individuals who transcend ego to truly consider the best for the whole, and  in specific, the needs of respective constituent ring members.   This helps maintain the necessary modeling, in leading by example, by respective ring leaders.  

The respective ring members retain a level of accountability and authority over ring leaders (facilitators) - somewhat topsy-turvy considering today's command-and-contro,  top-down organizational designs.  Compensation differentials in traditional hierarchies often exceed a ratio of 200 to 1 , top to bottom, in the prevailing paradigm.  Yet first-moving organizations like Ben and Jerry's and others have demonstrated significant cultural and organizational advantages in embracing paradigms which restrict such a differential to 5 to 1 or less.

The simple fact is that traditional and now-antiquated structural and functional paradigms perpetuate a tendency toward assymetric information - that is - particulars key to organizational strategy, direction, and so forth are often isolated and restricted to all organizational members, thus curtailing maximal synergy building and information sharing.  We can evolve as both individuals and organizations to embrace truly collaborative, interdependent, and inter-connected organizational forms such as this one.  The fact that this form is symmetric and simple gives it much credence, as the KISS (Keep it Simple, Stupid) maxim has long maintained.

It is my hope and belief that more organizations and collaborations of organizations (one system level up) will embrace such a model as the new prevailing paradigm over time.  There is much to share along the way, as to the way organizations can move toward such a structure - imagine organizations 'fattening' (adding more members to each hierarchal level), then 'flattening' (like a collapsable camping-cup) to meet this outcome.  The inherent synergies become apparent - as organizations share information across previously siloed sectors and divisons over time to create new intersections of value and enrich the Whole through this information sharing from diverse sources between the equally-valued people-assets (the most important assets) of the organization.

This model serves as a strong example of other intersecting values under a frame of information sharing, trust, and transparency.  Look at the top-of-page taxonomy - and picture each diverse domain as each of these:  arts, education, environment, economy, health, and technology.  These same six spheres can be represented pictorially here, in the ring-of-rings design above (each sphere = each ring).  This is also, in community terms, a holistic representation of six spheres encompassing and integrating to represent quality of life and place.  So on the community development level - we can equate community and economic development over time, applying this model, by framing efforts with a shared vision for significant, if not transformational, quality of life and place improvement.  Many of our great organizational development minds are starting to reach beyond a framework based on sustainability - which speaks to setting a status-quo - to something far more generative.

Keep in mind this structural framework can best be supported by an adequately aligned culture.  So we are speaking to a transcendental mindshift amongst organizational members, where ego is mitigated, service and learning prosper, and is diveristy is embraced and integrated.  But even if members are not ready for such a shift, they should have adequate incentive to embrace such a model - because as the whole prospers, prosperity comes back proportionately and increasingly over time to each individual.   It takes a special mindset to not embrace a system where one's perpetuated belief in superiority and ego prevail.  So key approaches to get there need to be employed, and a compact adhered to organizationally by all stakeholders.

The added dimension, if you will, to this model - is the cone-of-cones concept - hence the term 'ring cone theory'.   To best visualize and understand this extension-of-concept - picture each of the ring 'hubs' (centers) elevated in the minds of the constituent ring members.  If we do so, we see that each of the rings become cones - and ultimately the structure takes the form of one cone.  This is a form of hierarchy, yes - but an idealized and ideological one and not a physical one.  It essentially speaks to the reverent attitude of ring members for their self-selected leader.  It also alludes to the power of collectives and a deep respect for servant leadership - one, which I must say with emphasis, is sorely lacking when considering the leadership effectiveness in this region and world today. So to better clarify the shift in this idealistic sense (a 3-Dimentional sense that complements the 2-Dimensional ring of rings frame)  we can visualize this as follows:


I appeal to our community here in NEO to take a leaderhip role and embracing such a design, within and between organizations, for the betterment of our community, in a chaotic and oft-unpredictable economic climate.  It begins to make more sense - over time, as we extrapolate the projected path we are currently traversing.  Let's do this together, NEO - and world.  Comments, thoughts, contributions always welcome.   As always, I've shared these concepts freely on realneo for our whole community and its benefit.  Let's work to get there from here - and take a leadership role globally and sustainably in the process.   The timing is finally right !

It is my belief that the highest standards of citizenship, governance, and social responsibility can best be achieved if the organization can successfully implement critical functional changes to facilitate a culture of collaboration and interdependence.  This culture can best be implemented when associated with a structure that best enables the implementation of these principles. Today’s organizations are hindered in many cases by steeply tiered hierarchies which foster characteristics (individualism, information asymmetry, high power culture, inaccessibility, destructive competition) which mitigate the organization’s true potential for stewardship and citizenship. The structural inefficiency of traditional corporate hierarchies and the culture which often predominates within create impediments and costs which restrict the implementation of positive functional change.  Here I present an organizational structure adapted to suit these functions, suggested to facilitate a collaborative and synergistic culture capable of better freeing up resources, which can be better directed to enrich internal and external stakeholders, so that the highest standard of sustainability and community stewardship is achieved.

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  A little light reading


A little light reading while I enjoy my coffee and bagel Sudhir.



B.T. Bowman

"I'll make up my mind about my novels being funny or serious when God makes up his" - Tom Robbins

Thanks Bri - I think, lol

Brian, good to hear from you - enjoy your IDR day and perhaps we'll rendezvous for a cold one later at the ET.

Furthering the Piece

Also consider so many applications of this - virtual rings of rings - Drupal, Wordpress, Joomla, Ning .. you name it.  The framework cultivates the synergy that drives sustainability - and all the values inherent above!

Maybe I'm thickheaded

or maybe I'm just not a cone-head... but I guess I don't get it.

The ideals you espouse are different than the status quo, but the structure is the same old same old.

In fact, the diagrams look just like the org chart at the last company I worked for -- only in three dimensions and shinier.

thickheaded is y genita loves you

thickheaded is y genita loves you

everybody i know loves your head-i didn't mean it that way

your a cone head also - whats a cone head?

question authority head

your a head


don't get ahead of yourself, yog

just trying to keep mine above water.

(it's a dog eat hotdog world.)

mind straight to mouthful is not always mindful.
find treats in mouseholes that gotaway behind walls.

For Jeff

I never called you thickheaded, Jeff S. - I like you and think you are quite bright.  But this model, when proposed in 2004, was unique, especially with the full poster presentation that won Thompson Hine over.   One can argue there is no absolutely new knowledge - but nobody, at that time, had ever conceived of an organizational form, with marriage of form, function, and structure, just like this-especially the cone version.  You are also missing the additional components, all verified by Dr. Cooperrider, Hilary Bradbury, and Northwestern's best to be spot on and bonafide and original in toto.  So when you look at the piece on the Hitchcock Center, you see novel consulting model and application.  Six funding streams come to each of our six top-of-page taxonomic tags.   Six stakeholder supply chains pertain to each of these.  Many in town validate and like this in concept and as an absolutely unique consulting methodology.  What is there to get? You worked for a company a year ago working just like this - I proposed this FIVE years ago.

Thought leadership - locked forever.

Peace, my man - the model is on its way to implementation - Big time!  To save the most underserved communities in the world.

blah blah blah

My point wasn't about that company -- it was that most corporate hierarchical org charts look like this. I'm calling myself thickheaded because I obviously don't see what you're on about.

Sure, Six has its own magic, as does every # -- that we should recognize, respect, and use properly -- but it doesn't get us straight to the goals you speak of [and that many strive for,] like ego transcendence or leading by example -- nor does modeling the same old hierarchy in a 3-dimensional fashion.

For example, having 6 departments or sub-orgs beneath her, (and so on,) or drawing the org-chart as a 3-d cone instead of a 2-d tree/graph does not create information symmetry between the CEO and her subordinates.

I'm sure there's an idea in there somewhere, and I know that [space/time/energy] are considerations in what you're sharing, but it looks to me like the same-old-same-old with a shiny exterior and a gi-normous leap of reasoning/faith to get to your goals.

the harmony of the cones

yes, I hear it, but seven would be more mellifluous

how does Cooperrider differ from Madame Blavatsky and the Golden Dawn movement?

is there much new, really?

No symmetry with 7


Symmetry is an Occidental failure

3, 5, 7 etc are much more natural than rectangles, squares, and hexagons....
The Waldorf Schools in Germany and elsewhere advocate odd polygonal room shapes.
Oriental gardens feature what we Westerners might see as imbalance. 
In human interactions, hierarchies only develop inefficiency and adversary.  

Completing the circle - a holistic methodology EVOLVES

There's more to this model, and it only gets better.  As mentioned in the Hitchcock Model, we can enhance this model by doing the following.  Label each of the six spheres with the top-of-page taxonomy tags I invented for realneo:  arts, education, environment, economy, health, technology.   The intersections of each of these, represented in the model, create new points of value and enrich the whole, ultimately at the SUPERNEXUS at the center of the structure.

This portion has already been validated by some of the best of the world, by the Open Roads Institute, and many more.

Cycle through these spheres iteratively and apply core change items within each sphere, that fit the client in question.  Case in point - check out the FB group for Collinwood Cafe - and see that application of this model, I posted there.  This works for any client, and as you iteratively cycle around, the 'bicycle wheel' of positive change shifts the system up an upward spiral of development and progress for the whole system in question.  A further development - as we take two adjacent 'ring of rings' structures, each representing physical (forum) and virtual (web) planes of development, respectively.  When this happens, and both rotate simultaneously - we have the equivalent of a cassette tape mechanism - and the result is a Figure 8 of uplift - or alternatively, an infinity loop of progress.  Web and real-world simultaneously develop, together, in harmony.   An infinite loop of positive progress.


Word.  We replicate - everywhere - soon.   NEO tranforms...  Now.


give it a shot, JS

no, I'm bored.


rotating polyhedrons rock!

rotating rocks polyhedron!

[All the little chicks with the crimson lips go]
Cleveland polyhedrons, Cleveland polyhedrons.

Who cares

...what the model looks like, or who gets credit for that matter--can we please just get something...anything...done in NEO? 

Laura - you have to share how something works to teach it


Six sustainable stakeholder supply-chains and six streams

alliteration, y'all.


Six streams of revenue funding, coming with six elite advisors driving the outcome.

An advisory council like none other.  Shared with every client in sight.

Sorry Sudhir

  I am going to have to agree with Jeff S.

Allow me to retort.

As you were.  To each their own.  I'll go with Org Dev experts.

here are six, topped by four


here are five, and an eyeball

Illuminati Symbol