Competency Network

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Jorn Bettin:

"The competency network is the only social structure that directly supports the purpose of an organisation. Whilst some parts of the competency network may bear similarities with the official and unofficial hierarchies, many parts will diverge significantly from the official structure.

As another concrete example, in my local community, I may have a preferred dentist and may know a few less preferred dentists, and my neighbour may have a different preferred dentist. Of course I would not engage my preferred dentist to solve plumbing problems or transportation problems – all competency ratings are domain specific.

The existence of competency networks represents an inconvenient truth for all authorities, it contradicts the simplistic claim that a lack of hierarchy leads to chaos and dysfunction. However, removal of an established hierarchy does not automatically result in a well-oiled competency network. Cultural inertia can keep fear, mistrust, and in-group competition alive, and easily leads to the emergence of new oppressive hierarchical structures.

As far as I can tell, all those who claim that hierarchical organisation is an inevitable result of [human] nature confuse unofficial hierarchies with competency networks. Only the former roughly correspond to trees. The latter tend to be much more complex graphs that are not governed by any simple one-dimensional ranking. It can be argued that in terms of resilience and adaptiveness, unofficial hierarchies are as least as counter-productive as official hierarchies.

All healthy and resilient communities have a well-functioning competency network. If a healthy community also claims to have a hierarchical structure, the hierarchy tends not to be associated with significant decision making power." (


Jorn Bettin on Competence vs authority:

Looking under the hood of any hierarchical organisation and analysing communication and collaboration patterns reveals three social structures:

  • The official hierarchy as specified in an organisation chart or similar artefact, which defines the scope of various “authorities” within the organisation.
  • The unofficial hierarchy, which reflects the actual coercive power structure, which inevitably emerges within all hierarchical structures, and serves as the career climbing ladder within the hierarchical structure.
  • The competency network within the organisation, which is the union of all the multi-dimensional domain-specific competency rankings that individuals allocate to the other members within the group. Whilst this network includes social rankings, each individual independently allocates competency rankings to other group members, leading to a multi-dimensional network rather than a tree based on a unidimensional ranking."



Trust vs capital

Jorn Bettin:

"A good way to understand competency networks is via the notion of trustworthiness and the nurturing and maintenance of trusted relationships. Trust is a meta-belief that allows propagation and installation of beliefs in a network of agents.

Trust between two agents develops through an ongoing process of maintaining shared understanding, and it correlates with the intensity and duration of maintaining shared understanding.

A competency network is the graph of experience-based pair-wise trustworthiness ratings in relation to various domains between the members of a group.

Trustworthiness ratings are tied to specific pairs of individuals; they are not directly transferable and they can not easily be aggregated. This limitation probably was one of the key reasons for the small size of pre-historic hunter-gatherer societies.

The invention of money was a more or less “successful” attempt to decouple trustworthiness ratings from specific pairs of individuals. Throughout history money has been used as a proxy for trust. The relationship between money and trustworthiness has always been on very shaky ground, regularly leading to (a) wars – the option that showcases collective human stupidity, and (b) debt jubilees – the option that showcases some level of human self-understanding and empathy.

Modern capital, even in its digitised form, including cryptocurrencies, still suffers from the flawed assumption that somehow it is possible to divorce trustworthiness ratings from specific pairs of individuals, and to aggregate and liquidate such ratings. Yes the social delusion seems to work, but in a world of exponentially accelerating transactions, only over increasingly short time horizons.

The real opportunity for human society lies not in the invention of ever smarter forms of liquid capital and in-group competition, but in the recognition of human cognitive limits, and in the recognition of the extreme value that resides in competency networks.

The age of digital networks for the first time gives us the opportunity to construct cognitive assistants that help us to nurture and maintain globally distributed human scale (= small) competency networks – networks of mutual trust.

Humans knew how to build and maintain mutual trust many hundreds of thousands of years ago, and our brains are still designed to operate on mutual trust. It is time to tap into this potential and to combine it with the potential of zero-marginal cost global communication and collaboration." (