Craig Burton

Logs, Links, Life and Lexicon: and Code

Craig Burton header image 2

The Inverted Pyramid—Change under the radar

September 21st, 2009 · 4 Comments · Daily Thesis, Essays


Tradition and common practices are tough things to alter. While lots of people talk about and think about “change” as a way to get things done. The fact is, most people avoid change like the plague. Change is disruptive. Status quo is easy. There has to be a significant amount of pain being felt for an organization or person to want to change the way things are done.

Or so it seems. Another way change comes about is “under the radar.” Subtle change. Painless change. Or change so easy and so compelling that it just happens almost organically.

The world wide web is a good example of this organic like change. No one knew what they were missing before the world wide web. No one had really experienced anything like that, how could it be missed. Nobody was in pain without it before it happened. It just snuck up on us under the radar.

The Inverted Pyramid—More under the radar change to come

Following the browser and surfing and shopping online, more changes are afoot that we didn’t know about, didn’t think about, and probably had no idea could occur—at least not in our lifetimes.

One of these changes I refer to as “The Inverted Pyramid.” Here is what I mean by the inverted pyramid. Think of traditional communications from organization to individual as “top-down.” Like a regular pyramid. At the top of the pyramid are a few communicating information to many at the bottom of the pyramid.

Before I go on, let me explain what I mean by “organization.” In this little essay, an organization refers to a group that isn’t represented by just one individual. A company, are government, a religious group—you get the picture. When I refer to an individual—I am referring to people who are not represented by a group.

Figure 1 shows the flow of information in the traditional top down model. I call this the “Organizational Communication Model (OCM).” Organizations have used all sorts of mechanisms to communicate to individuals using this traditional top-down approach. The most common method we are inundated by is advertising.


Figure 1: Top Down Pyramid

Advertising is—by necessity—seldom targeted to the individual. An advertising message at best is targeted to some demographic like “affluent teens between the ages of 12 and 14.”

This impersonal approach of communication flow from organization to individual is less than friendly and many times annoying or intrusive and even sometimes abusive. SPAM is the worst case of top-down communication abuse.

Enter the CRM

Many organizations have sought to be more proactive about personalizing the OCM by creating programs that gather information about customers or potential customers into a management system often referred to as Customer Relationship Management. A good example of an automated CRM system can be experienced at Amazon. Amazon tries to be proactive about knowing your buying habits and predicting what you might like to see or buy next based on those habits.

While this is better than not being proactive, it also demonstrates some of the problems of CRM. Amazon only knows your buying habits when it comes to what you purchased from Amazon. Amazon’s CRM system critically—maybe not fatally but critically—crippled by its ability to have only a small shapshot of practices on any given individual.

While CRM systems are better than nothing, they don’t change the communication model between organization and individual much, and often times can make it even more impersonal and abusive.

The advent of a new model—The Personal Communication Model

For a long time, advocates of changing the status quo of the Organizational Communication Model have been striving to use the Internet and other medium to invert the model and make individual in charge of what is communicated to the organization.

The most well known advocate of this thinking is Doc Searls with his Vendor Relationship Management (VRM) movement. Doc has been so successful in promoting this thinking that he is now a Berkman Fellow and has some limited funding for doing research and producing some examples of VRM.

I refer to this individual to organization communication approach as the Personal Communications Model (PCM). The the PCM, the flow of communications is inverted to the top-down model. This “bottom-model” can be thought of as an inverted pyramid. Figure 2 shows this bottom-up communications flow.


Figure 2: Bottom Up Pyramid

Mutually Exclusive or Mutually Beneficial?

There are those that see the bottom-up approach to communication “replacing” the traditional top-down model. I see these two models actually benefiting each other. One does not need to go away for the other to succeed. They can both operate independently and jointly without damaging the other.

Think of this mutually beneficial coexistence as visually appearing like the inverted pyramid art piece in the Louvre. Figure 3 shows the inverted pyramid combined with the traditional top down pyramid. (Instead of using the Louvre inverted pyramid, I made my own with huge moon and everything.)


Figure 3: Inverted Pyramid

Information flow in the traditional model from the top down from organizations to individuals and—at the same time—bottom up from the individual to the organization.

This dual model approach with give individuals more power and control about what they want to see and what they want to pay for and how they pay for it. At the same time, organizations can choose to know more about the individual without spying or invading privacy.


Beyond the existence of these two models coexisting is emerging technology that can automate and amplify the conjoin. Of course this will cause some change. Change we perhaps didn’t know about or anticipate. But like the world wide web, once the change occurs, we will wonder how the world lived without out it.

Look for my next essay as I cover the technology infrastructure for the automation of the Personal Communication Model.

Tags: ·

  • Catalog Printers

    Thanks for this very detailed article. I definitely agree with you that there is still quite a lot of under the radar change that we have yet to see, and it will involve some form of coexistence between the current models. I'll be looking forward to reading your next essay about the PCM.

  • iainhenderson

    Great stuff Craig, yes I like your picture with the big moon more than my complex spaghetti diagrams!!!!



  • craigburton

    They are yours for the asking.

  • Nike shoes !

    Change we perhaps didn’t know about or anticipate. But like the world wide web, once the change occurs, we will wonder how the world lived without out it.