PREFACE

Essays will be posted from time to time, some taken from oft-quoted speeches, some from the book, Birth of the Chaordic Age, and some newly published.  All were formulated and appeared in slightly different form during the last quarter of the twentieth century.  They are intended for new readers, as well as those wishing to find a familiar quote in original context.  To the extent possible, oft-quoted phrases will be highlighted.  

The essays will not appear in any particular order.  Although each was written to stand alone, all are deeply interrelated and can best be understood in concert with the others.  All arose from a lifelong search for the answer to three questions.

Why are organizations everywhere, whether political, commercial or social, increasingly unable to manage their affairs?

Why are people, everywhere, increasingly alienated from, and in conflict with, the organizations of which they are part?

Why are society and the biosphere increasingly in disarray?

Searching for the answers required trying to master four ways of looking at things: As they were, as they are, as they might become, and as they ought to be.  Each essay will be from one or more of those perspectives.  On the whole, they are primarily concerned with the future, with how things ought to be.  

EPIDEMIC OF INSTITUTIONAL FAILURE

Twenty years ago, in my book, Birth of The Chaordic Age, I wrote of three questions that emerged in my mind a half century ago.  They had everything to do with the creation of the organizations, systems, products, and services now known as VISA Inc. They also gave rise to a life-long search for answers reflected in numerous speeches, three books, and thousands of pages of writing.   

The questions, listed in the preface, were fascinating when they emerged.  They were compelling as the century ended and the new millennium began.  They are critical today.

Today, it should be apparent to everyone that we are in the midst of a global epidemic of institutional failure.  Not just failure in the sense of collapse, but the more common and pernicious form--organizations unable to achieve the purpose for which they were created, yet continuing to exist as they devour resources, demean the human spirit, and destroy the environment. 

 

Unhealthy health care systems,

Welfare systems in which no one fares well,

 Schools that cannot educate,

Corporations that cannot cooperate or compete,

Universities that are far from universal,

Agriculture that destroys soil, poisons water, and degrades food,

Police that cannot enforce the laws,

Unjust judicial systems, 

Governments that cannot govern, and

Economies that cannot economize.

 

Such universal, ever-accelerating, institutional failure suggests that there are deep pervasive questions we have not asked, and some fundamental flaw in the ordering of societal relationships of which we are unaware.  No matter how much we shuffle control and responsibility back and forth from one industrial-age organization to another-- government to private enterprise, democracy to socialism, monarchy to republic, national to municipal government, planned economy to free market, non-profit to for-profit-- social and environmental problems continue to accelerate.  No matter how we try to solve them with industrial-age, mechanistic management techniques, the problems re-emerge in different form and dress more virulent than ever.

Something is deeply, fundamentally wrong.  No matter how many technological miracles we perform. No matter how sophisticated the virtual worlds we create.  No matter how many atoms we crack, how much genetic code we alter, how many space probes we launch, how much new science we discover, how many new drugs we produce, problems grow progressively worse.  

In truth, there are no problems "out there."  And there are no experts "out there" that could solve them if there were.  The problem is "in here";  in the consciousness of you and me.  In the depths of the collective consciousness of our species.  

At bottom, it is a wrong concept of organization and leadership based upon a false metaphor with which we must deal.  When our consciousness begins to understand and grapple with the destructive, industrial-age, concepts of organization and management to which it clings; when we are willing to risk loosening the hold of those concepts and the lust for control they inevitably bring;  when we are willing to embrace new, chaordic concepts more in harmony with the human spirit and biosphere, then, and only then, will the complex societal and environmental problems yield.

In truth, we already know how to solve these intractable problems. What we do not know is how to implement the solutions within our archaic, cumbersome, mechanistic concept of organization and leadership.  We are, in a profound sense, victims of our own success.

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More, much more, in subsequent essays..          

SEPARABILITY OR HOMOGENEITY

How and why did we begin to break everything apart in the rational mind?  Is there any way to break things apart in the mind without eventually breaking them apart physically?  Does the one breaking inevitably result in the other?  Just who or what determines this breaking apart, locking our thoughts and lives into ever more confining boxes of specialization and particularity? Why and how did we begin efforts to make men behave like machines and to make machines behave like men?  When and why did we begin to think of the earth as separate from mankind?  To think of it as a warehouse of free material to make gadgets for consumption in a mechanistic, money economy?  To consider it a free dump for billions of tons of poisons and waste which it cannot recycle?  

What if the very concept of separability, such as mind or body, cause or effect,  man or nature, competition or cooperation, public or private,  man or woman, or you or me, is a grand delusion of Western civilization, epitomized by the Industrial Age; no doubt useful in certain scientific ways of knowing, but fundamentally flawed with respect to understanding and wisdom?  What if our notions of separability, particularity, and measurement, useful as they may be in certain circumstances, are just a momentary, mental aberration in the mysterious evolution of consciousness?      

I have long been amused  at the absurd notion that mind, body, and spirit are separate things, like cogs, cams, and springs of a clock.  Science has insisted for two hundred years that the few pounds of gray matter in the bone box on my shoulders is nothing but electrical and chemical impulses flickering about between separate particles of matter in obedience to rigid, universal laws of cause and effect.  I don’t think so.  For all the wonders of modern science and its obsession with measurement, life will never surrender its secrets to a yardstick.  Body, mind, and spirit are inseparably one, and they are one with all else in the universe.  We should not be seduced by mechanistic notions to the contrary.  Nor am I persuaded  that machines, people, and nature are as separate as Newton, Descartes, and the science they spawned would have us believe.  Is it possible that in the deepest sense, everything is its opposite; that all things define, thus conceive, one another.  It seems impossible to conceive of "thing" without the concept of "nothing."  Is there no yes without no?  Is there no night without day?  Is there no me without you?  Are there no borders except in the mind? 

If the universe is truly a meaningless, mechanism composed of separable, physical particles acting on one another with precise, linear laws of cause and effect, as Newtonian science has demanded we believe for several hundred years past, whence came these eternal questions which so fascinate me?  Why, at long, long last, can't science explain such simple things as love, trust, generosity, and honor? 

Science, in the past few decades, has moved away from such mechanistic, cause-and-effect, linear ways of describing reality, yet the new holistic, relational science has not penetrated the mechanistic consciousness and internal model of reality so deeply embedded in each of us by the old science, based on which we conceived our present notions of nation state, corporation, university, and other societal organizations.  It is far past the time we should have examined our old consciousness and archaic notions of societal organizations with a more critical eye and opened our mind to new Chaordic concepts more in harmony with the human spirit and biosphere.

THE MACHINE METAPHOR

The DNA of our present societal forms of organization is lost in antiquity, going back to Aristotle, Plato, and even before.  However, it was Newtonian science and Cartesian philosophy which breathed life into them and fathered the concepts of hierarchical, command-and-control organizations, giving rise to the machine metaphor.  That metaphor has since dominated our thinking, the nature of our organizations, and the structure of Industrial society to an extent few fully realize.

It led us to believe that the universe and everything in it, whether physical, biological, or social, could only be understood as clock-like mechanisms composed of separable parts acting upon one another with precise, linear laws of cause and effect.  It maintained that if we could once understand the parts of something and the laws governing them, we could reconstruct the whole into a predictable, controllable mechanism operating in accordance with our desires.  

We have, for more than three centuries, worked diligently to organize society in accordance with that concept, believing that with ever more reductionist, scientific knowledge, ever more specialization, ever more technology, ever more efficiency, ever more linear education, ever more rules and regulations, ever more command-and-control management, we could engineer societal organizations in which we could issue commands at one place and get precise results at another, and know with certainly which commands to issue for which results.  Never mind that human beings must be made to behave as cogs and wheels in the process.

We have, for more than three centuries, been engineering organizations, political, commercial and social, and issuing commands in accordance with that belief.  We have ignored the fact that expected results may or may not occur, but the unexpected always do.  Even when we have experienced expected results, they have never been enduring.  Over time, what we have gotten is all too obvious--obscene maldistribution of wealth and power, environmental devastation, and crumbling societies.

Just as Newtonian science and Cartesian philosophy were the fathers of of today's organizational concepts, the Industrial age was the mother.  The unique processes of the age of hand-crafting were largely abandoned as the industrial age emerged, and replaced with machine-crafting.  The renewable energy of human and animal muscle, along with rudimentary devices for capturing a bit of energy from wind and water, were replaced with engineered machines burning finite, fossil fuel.

The primacy of guilds for commercial organization and kingdoms for political organization were abandoned in favor of mechanistic, command-and-control nations, cities, corporations, and universities.  In order to produce huge quantities of goods, services, knowledge, and people, those organizations amassed resources, centralized authority, routinized practices, and enforced conformity.  This created a class of managers expert at reducing variability and diversity to uniform, repetitive, assembly-line processes endlessly repeated with ever increasing efficiency. Thus, the Industrial age became the age of managers.  

It also became the age of the physical scientist whose primary function was to replace holistic ways of understanding with particularized, specialized knowledge through uniform, repetitive laboratory processes endlessly repeated with ever-increasing precision.  In time, universities obtained an oligopoly on training, accreditation, and production of both scientists and managers.

It has led to one of those immense paradoxes of which the universe is infinitely capable.  One which is having profound effect.  The highest levels of management in all organizations, commercial, political, educational and social, are now formed of an interchangeable, cognitive elite with immense self-interest in preservation of existing forms of organization, and the ever-increasing concentration of power and wealth that they inevitably bring.  

At the same time, those organizations are spawning an incredible array of scientific and technological innovation;  immense engines of change which has created enormous diversity and complexity in the way people live, work, and play, which, in turn, requires chaordic concepts of organization that can more equitably distribute power and wealth, unshackle human ingenuity, and restore harmony between societal organizations, the human spirit, and the biosphere.  

The essential thing to remember is not that we became a world of expert managers and specialists, but that the nature of our expertise became the creation and control of uniformity and efficiency, while the need has become the understanding and coordination of variability and complexity---the very process of change itself.

It is not complicated.  The nature of our organizations, management, and scientific expertise is not only increasingly irrelevant to our enormous, societal and and environmental problems, it is a primary cause of them.         

LEADING AND FOLLOWING

Lead and follow are ordinary words.  We accept and use them as though one explains the other and neither can be misunderstood.  But are they so simple after all?  I think not.  Leader presumes follower.  Follower presumes leader.  But presumption is a dangerous thing.  There is an old saying,  "Father, am I today guilty of the sin of assumption?"  

Leader and follower imply the continual freedom and independent judgement of both.  A true leader cannot be bound to lead.  A true follower cannot be bound to follow.  The moment they are bound, they are no longer leader and follower.  One who is coerced to the purpose, objective, or preference of another is not a follower in any sense of the word, but becomes an object of manipulation.  Nor is the leader a true leader of those so manipulated.  If the behavior of either is bound, whether by circumstance, force, economic necessity, or contractual arrangement, the relationship is altered to one of superior/subordinate, or manager/employee, or master/servant, or owner/slave.  All such relationships are materially different than leader/follower, for they assume the use of authority to direct or control the behavior of others.  All such relationships, to one degree or another, are based on compulsion or necessity; to be more precise, on tyranny.

The best definition of "Lead"  I have ever found is said to have originated in a four-hundred-year old Scottish dictionary: "To go before and show the way."  Follow, of necessity, then means to go where someone has gone before and shown the way.  That perspective of lead and follow brings forth a marvelous word that has fallen into disuse: "Educe /eh-d-yuce."  It means "to bring or draw forth something already present in a latent, or undeveloped form."  It can be contrasted with "Induce," which means "to prevail upon; move by persuasion or influence -- to impel, incite, or urge."  Where behavior is educed, their lies leadership.  Where behavior is induced, there lies manipulation.  Where behavior is compelled, there lies tyranny.  

Over the years, I've enjoyed hundreds of discussions with groups at every level of a wide variety of organizations about management---either aspirations to it, dissatisfaction with it, or confusion about it. To avoid ambiguity, each person is asked to describe the single, most important responsibility of any manager.  The incredibly diverse responses have one thing in common: they are downward  looking. They have to do with exercise of authority---with selecting employees, motivating them, training them, appraising them, organizing them, directing them, controlling them.   That perception is dead wrong.

The first and paramount responsibility of anyone who purports to manage is to manage self.  One's own integrity, character, ethics, knowledge, temperament, words, and acts.  It is never-ending, difficult work, largely ignored in most circumstances.  The reason it is ignored is not complicated.  It is precisely because it is much more difficult than prescribing and controlling the behavior of others.

Without exceptional management of self, no one is fit for authority, no matter how much they acquire. In fact, the more authority they acquire the more dangerous they become.  It is management of self that should occupy a substantial portion of our energy, time, and ability.  In the process, the ethical, moral, and spiritual dimensions of self are inescapable.  When they think deeply enough about it, it is rare when anyone fails to accept that management of self is the paramount responsibility?  Should it not have thirty-five percent of our time and ability? 

Asked to identify the second responsibility elicits equally diverse responses,  again downward looking.  Another mistake.  The second responsibility is to manage those with authority over us: bosses, supervisors, directors, regulators ad infinitum.  Without their support, how can we follow conviction, exercise judgement, use creative ability, achieve constructive results, or create conditions by which others can do the same?  Devoting twenty-five percent of our time and ability to managing those with authority over us is not too much.  

Asked for the third responsibility, people become a bit uneasy and uncertain, yet their thoughts remain on subordinates.  Another mistake.  The third responsibility is to manage peers--those over whom we have no authority, and who have no authority over us--associates, competitors, suppliers, customers.   Without their respect and confidence little can be accomplished.  Peers can make a small heaven or hell of our life.  Is it not wise to devote twenty-five percent of our time and energy to management of peers?

Asked for the fourth responsibility, people have difficulty coming up with an answer.  They are now wary of thinking of subordinates but there is no one left.  This time they are right.  The fourth responsibility is to manage those over whom we have authority.  The common response is that most of their time and energy will be consumed managing self, superiors, and peers. There will be little left to manage subordinates.  Precisely right!  

But what if one selects people of good character, introduces them to the concept, educes them to practice it, and to replicate it with those they in turn employ?  If those over whom we have authority properly manage themselves, properly manage us, properly manage their peers and teach those they employ to do the same, what is there to do but see that they are properly recognized and rewarded, and stay out of their way?  

The obvious question then always erupts.  How can you manage bosses and peers without authority over them?  The answer is equally obvious.  You cannot!  But can you understand them?  Can you persuade them?  Can you motivate them?  Can you disturb them?  Can you influence them?  Can you forgive them?  Can you set them an example?  Eventually the word will emerge.  Can you lead them? Can you go before and show the way? 

Of course you can, provided only that you have properly led yourself.  There are no rules and regulations so rigorous, no organization so hierarchical, no bosses so domineering, that they can prevent such use of your energy, ingenuity, and ability.  The real power is yours, not theirs.

Forget management.  Lead yourself, lead your superiors, lead your peers, employ good people and free them to do the same. All else is trivia!

If you fail, the responsibility is entirely your own.  There is no one to blame but yourself.  At first that seems an impossible burden to bear.  Upon reflection, it is neither to be feared nor avoided.  Success, while it may provide encouragement, build confidence, and be joyful indeed, teaches an insidious lesson--to have too high an opinion of self.  It is from failure that amazing growth and grace so often come, provided only that one can recognize it, admit it, learn from it, rise above it, and try again. There is no reason to be discouraged by shortcomings.  True leadership presumes a standard quite beyond human perfectibility, and that is quite right.  The only question of importance is whether one is steadily rising in the scale. 

It is easy to test this concept.  Reflect a moment on group endeavors of which you are an observer rather than participant.  If your interest runs to sports you can undoubtedly remember when a team seemed to rise above the ability of the players and achieve a magical, seemingly effortless performance.  "In the zone' in the parlance of sports.  The same phenomenon can be observed in the ballet, the theater, the symphony, in fact any group endeavor, including business and government.

Every choreographer, conductor and coach, or for that matter, corporation executive has tried to distill the essence of such performance.  Countless others have tried to explain and reduce to a controlled measurable, repeatable process.  That has never been done and never will be.  It is easily observed, universally admired and occasionally experienced.  It is rarely long sustained but can occasionally be repeated.  It arises spontaneously from the relationships and interaction of the individuals who compose the group.  Some groups seem able to achieve it with some consistency, just as some leaders are able to create the conditions under which it can occur in different organizations.  But none of them can predict when or how it will happen.  

To be precises, one cannot speak of causing organizations to achieve superlative performance, for no one can cause it to happen.  Leaders can only recognize and modify conditions that prevent it; perceive and articulate a sense of community and vision of the future, along with a body of principles of behavior in pursuit of that vision, to which people can become passionately committed, then encourage and enable them to bring forth the the extraordinary capabilities that lie trapped in everyone waiting to be educed. 

Without question, the most abundant, least expensive, most underutilized and constantly abused resource in the world today is human ingenuity.  The source of that abuse is mechanistic, Industrial Age, hierarchical, domination concepts of organization and the management practices they spawn.      

It is instructive to look into the nature of leaders who have had a profound affect on the direction of society.  Buddha, Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, Christ, Mohammed, Galileo, Lao Tzu, Newton, Thoreau--the list goes on and on, from every race, in every field of endeavor.  Few came from positions of wealth and power.  Few were born to families of fame or fortune.  Few were great orators.  None were elected to do what they did.  None had permission to do what they did.  Most were met with contempt and derision.  Yet, somehow, their lives had profound affect on the consciousness of mankind.  

What they had in common was uncommon ability to get beyond how things were, how they are, and how they might become, and immerse themselves in how they ought to be.  But even a clear vision of how things ought to be was not the essential thing.  The essential thing was conviction that the world as they believed ought to be already existed in the minds and hearts of all people and could be educed if one lived in accordance with that belief.  

They did not do so in pursuit of fame, money, power or material gain.  They did so because they could not do otherwise, because it was what they had become.  They lived lives of such authenticity that it gave what they then had to say compelling force and effect.  The way they lived their lives educed behavior that lies buried in everyone, waiting to come forth.  They went before and showed the way.

One must also examine corrupt leaders who have induced or compelled abominable behavior:  Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Idi Amin and a host of others throughout history.  What they had in common is not difficult to see.   Lust for power, wealth, and fame, together with a willingness to ruthlessly use force and barbarity to bend others to their will.  What differentiates the despotic from the beneficent leader is values; the moral, ethical, and spiritual content of the purpose and principles from which they derive their being.  Corrupt leaders believe in a world as they want it to become, not as it ought to be, and believe such a world is also in existence, buried in everyone, waiting for someone powerful enough to bend them to his will. 

The answer to what may be the greatest question of the millennium is resting in the heart and soul of every person alive today, especially the young, waiting to be educed, or compelled.  What will be their consciousness, their perception, their values, their internal model of reality?  Will it be beneficent, pacific, equitable, and just?  Or will it be destructive, violent, inequitable and unjust?  What will be their becoming?  Change of consciousness and a different internal model of reality is the foundation without which beneficent institutional change is impossible, and with which it is inevitable.  To do so is not the sole prerogative of famous leaders.  They are, for all their accomplishments and notoriety, accidents  of time and circumstance.  Everyone is a born leader.  Everyone has power to lead themselves, lead their superiors, lead their peers, and free others to do the same.  No one is without influence. Everyone has choices to make about where they will lead, and where they will be led.  No one is without power to choose wisely and well.

We must examine the concept of leader and follower with new eyes.  We must examine the concept of superior and subordinate with increasing skepticism.  We must examine the concept of management and labor with new perspective.  And we must examine the nature of organizations that demand such archaic concepts with entirely different consciousness.    

It is true leadership; leadership by everyone; leadership in, up, around and down this world so badly needs, and domination management it so sadly gets. 

   

DESIRE FOR CONTROL AND CERTAINTY

For decades, I have puzzled over mankind's desire for certainty and control and its worship of science and rationality as the path to their realization. Eventually it led to a fascinating question.

What would it be like if one had perfect infinite, absolute control and what would be required to achieve it?

To begin with, it would require omniscience about past, present, and future. Knowledge of every entity that has ever been or ever could be, along with knowledge of when, where, and how they acted or would act, and every nuance of the results of their actions.  One could never control that which could not be known until after it happened.  Mystery and surprise would be intolerable and would have to be eliminated.  

Such perfect knowledge of entities and events would not be enough.  It would be necessary to know the thoughts, emotions, and desires of every human being and other living entity; all their hopes, fears, joys, and urges.  Not just other people, but everything that oneself might ever think, know, imagine or experience.  Even beyond that, it would be necessary to be rid of all emotions and feelings for such things that can catch us unaware and affect our behavior.  Compassion must go, love must go, admiration, envy, desire, hate, nostalgia, and hope, along with every aesthetic sensibility.   Perfect control would also require that one be the sole possessor of such infinite knowledge and personal composure.  

But all this reveals little, for it leaves unanswered the important part of the question.  What would it be like to be the sole possessor of total, infinite absolute control?  At first it seems as though it would be akin to being a god, at least as gods are normally conceived to be.  But what would one's life be like under such circumstances. Suddenly it hit like a bolt of lightning!  It would be death.  Absolute, perfect control is in the coffin. 

Life is uncertainty, surprise, hate, wonder, speculation, love, joy, pain, mystery, beauty, and a thousand other things, some we can't even imagine.  Control requires denial of life.  Life is not about certainty or controlling.  It's not about getting.  It's not about having.  It's not about knowing.  It's not even about being.  Life is eternal perpetual becoming or it is nothing.  Becoming is not a thing to be known, commanded, or controlled.  It is a magnificent, mysterious, odyssey to be experienced.  At bottom, desire to command and control is a deadly destructive compulsion to rob oneself and others of the joys of living.  

Is it any wonder that a society whose world view and internal model of reality is that the universe and all therein should be mechanistic, hierarchical and controllable, should turn destructive?  Is it any wonder that a society that worships the primacy of measurement, prediction, command, and control should result in massive destruction of the environment, gross mal-distribution of wealth and power, enormous destruction of species, the Holocaust, the hydrogen bomb, genocide, and countless other horrors?  How could it be otherwise when we have conditioned ourselves for centuries to seek ever more powerful notions of domination, engineered solutions, mechanistic societal organizations, compelled behavior, and separable self interest?

Tyranny is tyranny no matter how well intended, cleverly rationalized, or unconsciously perpetrated.  It is that to which we have persuaded ourselves for centuries, day after day, month after month, year after year, generation after generation, in thousands of subtle ways.  It need not have been so in the past.  It need not be so now.  It cannot be so in any livable future.  A livable future requires a new, very different, chaordic model of reality firmly entrenched in the mind and heart of every person on the planet.  It is there that the essential change must take place as a necessary precursor for the emergence of more beneficent, effective societal institutions and leadership.  One can only move firmly in that direction and hope. 

THE NATURE AND REALITY OF ORGANIZATIONS


The effort to diagnose the epidemic of institutional failure sweeping the world and consider what might be done about it requires mastering four ways of looking at things;  as they were, as they are, as they might become, and as they ought to be.  To do so requires considerable thought about what an institution or organization really is.  

Imagine yourself a Homo sapiens in that shadowy world which preceded governments, corporations, institutions, tribes, perhaps even family.  A thinking animal in a world teeming with carnivores rich in tooth and claw, seeking to fill their bellies with your tender flesh.  Experience would soon teach you, if common sense did not, that failure to differentiate between the nature of a bear and a rabbit, a lion and a gazelle, or a cobra and a mouse would result in a short, nasty life.  If you did not understand the nature of the beasts, it would be of little use to know the mechanics of their anatomy.

Today, we are living in a world in which the filling of bellies by tooth and claw has been enormously diminished through the use of institutions – family, city, county, state, nation, church, corporation, school, association-- millions of every size and description, accepted with as little thought as we accept the changing seasons.  Yet those institutions, which came into being to benefit us, can also demean, damage, impoverish, or destroy us as certainly and capriciously as any predatory animal.  And they can do so with technological, psychological, and economic instruments infinitely more destructive than tooth and claw.

Institutions are not a law of nature, nor did they spring full-blown from the head of Zeus.  In the great sweep of evolution they are, for all their size and complexity, newly born, primitive, aberrant, and often uncivilized.  People are not the creatures of institutions;  institutions are the creations of people, yet they increasingly seem as much beyond our control as the turning of the Earth and the burning of the sun.  We endlessly tinker with their anatomy and bear up under their abuse, but how well do we understand the intrinsic nature of the institutional beast?

Not well at all.  The problem arises from the pervasive habit of perceiving an institution as having tangible, physical reality, such as a building, a tree, or a machine.  It does not.  Fix the company you work for or any other organization of which you are part firmly in your mind.  Not its physical manifestations such as its name, logo, employees, buildings, products or services, but the entity itself.  Put all other thoughts aside and concentrate on the  organization you know so well.

Surely you have seen it.  What color is it?  No?  Well, then, you must have smelled it from time to time.  Describe its odor.  No?  Then surely you've tasted it.  Is it sweet or sour, tart or bland? You can’t taste it?  Well, you must have touched it often.  Is it hot or cold, hard or soft?  No?  Then, without doubt you have heard it.  Make its sound.  No?

Can you perceive the company you work for, or any other organization, whether political, social or commercial, with any of your senses?  Obviously you cannot.  If you can't perceive an organization with any of your senses, does it have any reality at all?  Perhaps it simply does not exist.  But that explanation defies common sense.  

The truth is that a corporation, or any organization for that matter, has no reality save in the mind.  It is nothing but an idea; a mental construct to which people are drawn in pursuit of common purpose; a conceptual embodiment of a very old, very powerful idea called community.  

All organizations can be no more and no less than the moving force of the minds, hearts, and spirit of people, without which all assets are just so much inert mineral, chemical, or vegetable matter, by the law of entropy, steadily decaying to a stable state.  Constitutions, certificates of incorporation, by laws, regulations and all other organizing and institutional documents are nothing but a description of relationships which people are born into, forced to submit to, or are voluntarily drawn.   

Healthy organizations are a mental concept of relationship to which people are drawn by hope, vision, values, and meaning, along with the liberty to cooperatively pursue them.  Healthy organizations educe behavior.  Educed behavior is inherently constructive.  Unhealthy organizations are no less a mental concept of relationship, but one to which people are compelled by accident of birth, necessity, or force.  Unhealthy organizations compel behavior.  Compelled behavior is inherently destructive. 

Since the strength and reality of every organization lies in the sense of community of the people of which it is composed, its success for good or evil has enormously more to do with clarity of a shared purpose, common principles, and strength of belief in them, than to money, material assets, or management practices, important as they may be.

When an organization loses its shared vision and principles, its sense of community, its meaning and values, it is already in the process of decay and dissolution, even though it may linger with the outward appearance of success for some time.  Businesses, as well as nations, races, and tribes die out or become irrelevant not when defeated or suppressed, but rather when they lose shared vision, principles, meaning, and values.  

Without deeply held, commonly shared purpose that gives meaning to their lives; without deeply held, commonly shared, ethical values and beliefs about conduct in pursuit of a purpose that all may trust and rely upon, communities steadily disintegrate, and organizations progressively become instruments of tyranny.

To the direct degree that clarity of shared purpose and principles and strength of belief in them exist, constructive, harmonious behavior may be educed.  To the direct degree they do not exist, behavior is inevitably compelled.  It is not complicated.  The alternative to shared belief in beneficent purpose and principles is tyranny.  And tyranny, whether petty or grand, whether commercial, political, or social, is invariably destructive.  

People deprived of self-organization and self-governance are inherently ungovernable. And that is increasingly the situation in today's societies, even in the most liberal of those we call democratic.  

CORPORATIONS: SOCIALIZATION OF COST AND CAPITALIZATION OF PROFIT

Moving from an understanding of organizations and institutions as nothing but mental constructs has led to the exploration of the nature of the various forms they have taken, particularly the for-profit corporations.  They have become so ubiquitous, so much a part of us from the moment of birth, that we accept them with as little thought as the air we breath and the water we drink.  Corporations are not natural phenomena.  They are creations of man.  Understanding them as they were, as they are, as they might become, and as they ought to be, is an interesting journey. 

The dry husks one finds in the dusty closets of dictionary and encyclopedia do not reveal a great deal.  Black's Law Dictionary tells us that a corporation is “an artificial person or legal entity created by or under the authority of the laws of a state or nation . . . ordinarily consisting of an association of numerous individuals.  Such entity . . . is regarded in law as having a personality and existence distinct from that of its several members . . . vested with the capacity of continuous succession irrespective of changes in its membership, either in perpetuity or for a limited term of years” etc.   Mr. Black was obviously struggling, along with the rest of us, to make something understandable out of the mental abstraction called “corporation.” 

Corporations as they were bear little resemblance to corporations as they now are.  The original concept of corporation was a collective entity intended to attract people and resources needed to realize a desired social objective beyond the ability or resources of a single individual.  It was created through the power of  government and authorized to exist as a pseudo-individual with limited, carefully prescribed rights and obligations.  It was to be chartered for a limited time, to realize a limited public purpose, in a limited area. It was to be open to rigorous social and governmental surveillance.  Its “natural” death in time was specified in the charter.  Actions in excess of, or inadequate to the purpose, would be punished by revocation of the charter.

The proliferation of the corporate concept of organization as a pseudo-person was given great impetus in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries by the huge, imperialist expansion of western nation-states through subjugation of people on other continents.  The increase in geographic scale, the attendant risk, and the capital that imperialist expansion required fueled individual desire for limited personal liability, limited responsibility for risk, and unlimited opportunity for gain. 

The corporate form of organization became a useful instrument for government plunder.  It is not to be wondered that it soon became an instrument for private plunder as well.  Pursuit of limitations on personal liability and unrestrained opportunity for personal gain became a conflagration burning ever hotter from the seventeenth century to the present day.

In the United States, the first general corporation-for-profit statute was enacted by New York State in 1811, with other states gradually following its lead.  The corporation as a business mechanism came into prominence during and after the Civil War, again as an instrument of government for achieving its purpose in a time of great civil strife and expense.  The statutes governing corporations have been liberalized, broadened, and made more detailed in their provisions ever since, gradually moving away from the interests of government and society to the interests of monetary shareholders and management.

In the beginning, no one dreamed that a small aggregation of wealth and power legalized in the form of a pseudo-person to achieve a social purpose would persistently grind away social and legislative mandates that controlled corporate purpose, restricted its territory, confined its growth, and curbed its behavior.  But that is what happened.  The for-profit, monetized, shareholder form of corporation has demanded and received perpetual life.  It has demanded and received the right to define its own purpose and act solely for self-defined self-interest.  It has demanded and received release from the revocation of its charter for inept or antisocial acts.  It has demanded and received revocation of limitations on its size.  It has demanded and received unlimited geographic reach.  It has demanded and received rights to plunder the earth of resources and use the biosphere for repository of its poisons and waste.  It has demanded and received virtually unlimited relief from criminal and civil penalties for the acts of its directors, managers, and shareholders.  It has demanded and received unlimited power to propagandize.  It has demanded and received immense power to influence and control election of public officials and legislation.

The roles of giant, transnational corporations and government have slowly reversed. Government is now more an instrument of such corporations, than the corporations are instruments of government.  They are no longer, not even indirectly, an instrument of the populace they affect.  In effect, they are free from civic duty.  

They have become an instrument of the few who control the ever increasing power and wealth they command.  The purpose of wealth is to acquire power.  The purpose of  power is to protect wealth.  The purpose of wealth and power combined is to acquire more wealth and power.  The use of commercial corporate form for that purpose has become paramount.  Social good has become incidental.  

The monetized, commercial form of corporation has steadily become an instrument of few with surplus money (capital) and those with surplus power (management) to reward themselves at the expense of the community, the biosphere, and the many without surplus wealth or power, commonly called “consumers” and “human resources."   (Demeaning but revealing phrases.)   Thus, “human resources” are used, worn out, and discarded with little more consideration on the part of monetary stockholders and management than they might give to a load of ore or a pile of lumber.   Consumers are molded, manipulated, and exploited with the same lack of concern.  

Nor is corporate power restricted to power over employees and consumers.  Global corporations now have implicit sovereignty over people throughout the world, since they are beyond the reach of any single nation-state.  They hold government and its instrumentalities to ransom for use of land, for reprieve from taxation, for access to natural resources far below cost, for direct monetary subsidization, and for use of land, air, and water as a repository for refuse.  They do so by the simple expedient of bargaining one government against another for the claimed economic benefit of their presence.  Under the guise of free markets, they are now able to move their money, their operations, their products and their management at will worldwide.  No government, community, or individual can do so.

Not only are they creating a global market for government in which they are the sole buyers, they have become a superb instrument for the capitalization of profit and socialization of cost.  When a corporation rips from the earth irreplaceable energy or resources, no matter how much it pays for them, or when it uses any resources more rapidly than they can be replaced, or at less than full replacement cost, it has socialized the cost (spread it to society as a whole/the people at large) and capitalized the resultant profit (limited to management and shareholders).

When a corporation “downsizes” workers, abandons a community, or pays less than a living wage; when it creates and dumps waste in the process of manufacturing or marketing a product, or at the end of its useful life; when it receives a subsidy, guarantee, or relief from taxation by government; it has socialized cost and capitalized profit.  When a corporation uses highways, railroads, airlines, postal departments or other public infrastructure at less than their full cost; when it uses the military, the CIA, or any other government instrumentality to protect its interests; when it diminishes topsoil, depletes the water table, or pollutes and poisons any biological system on which life depends; it has socialized loss and capitalized profit.  When a corporation engages in unsound lending or currency speculation and looks to government to bail it out, it has socialized cost and capitalized profit.  The possibilities for socializing cost and capitalizing profit are endless, as those who hold power or wealth within monetized corporations have discovered to their endless benefit.

This effect of this vast corporate socialization of cost and capitalization of profit is no longer limited to the current generation.  Liability for the socialized loss is transferred to the lives of the young and to generations yet unborn through countless government guarantees and instruments of long-term debt.  Interest is added to such debt and, when collected, paid to the same people who hold most shares in corporations, for it is their surplus wealth that is borrowed by government to fund the debt that future generations must pay.

Round and round goes the merry-go-round-- as fewer and fewer people get richer and richer and more powerful, more and more people fall into poverty and despair, and generations unborn are placed deeper in bondage to voracious appetites of the few for ever more power and wealth.  The fascinating thing about the whole of it is that there are no evil people who wish it so, or who have conspired to make it happen.  All are victimized by a false metaphor, a wrong concept of organization, an internal model of reality which is no longer relevant, and a consciousness of reality neither whole nor wholesome.  

The rationalizations they use and we too often believe ring hollow.  “That some have, is evidence that all may get.”   “Power and wealth result from superior intelligence, effort, and ability.”  “Poverty results from lack of determination and character.”  “That some rise to the top is proof that all others could if they had sufficient intelligence, and will.”   “Unlimited pursuit of self interest (the “invisible hand”) will result in the greatest good for all.”  “A rising tide lifts all boats.” 

When we trumpet the glories of monetary capitalism and praise the fiction of free markets while decrying the evils of socialism we are engaging in cant and hypocrisy.  Clearly, we make love to socialism in the balance-sheet bedroom called cost, and make love to capitalism in the bedroom called profit.  It is tearing the physical world apart and most people as well.  

If the purpose of each corporation is not primarily the health and well being of the earth and all life thereon, if its principles are not based on equitable distribution of power and wealth, if it avoids responsibility for the sustenance of family, community and place, if it has no belief system, or one devoid of ethical and moral content, it is difficult to see why it should have the sanction and protection of society through the arm of government.

We know how monetized corporations were.  We know how they are.  We know what they are becoming, and it is not a happy prospect for the earth and the vast majority of people on it.  It is far past time to examine how such corporations ought to be and find ways in which they can evolve into a more constructive order of things.  There can be no doubt that the people at the head of such corporations should be foremost in such transformation.   If they profess to be leaders, they should "go before and show the way."

AGREEMENT AS ORGANIZATION

The Oxford Dictionary of English informs us among other things that an organism is “a whole with interdependent parts compared to a living being.’’  It claims that to organize is “to give an orderly structure to.”  Under organization we find, ‘‘systemic arrangement.”  Other dictionaries, as well as the Oxford, contain a variety of similar declarations and variations.  All entries in all lexicons is an attempt to bring precision to a word.  Language, by its very nature, is fraught with ambiguity.  Every word, to a greater or lessor degree, is ambiguous.  All entries in all dictionaries are attempts to bring precision to ambiguity by the use of other words which are infected with the same disease. The word, organ, is basic to organization.  The Oxford tells us (leaving out all references to musical instruments) that an organ is “a self-contained part of an organism having a special, vital function”

Is it possible the most concise definition of organization is simply “agreement”?  Wherever there is need for agreement, there has to be either ambiguity, or differing points of view, else there is nothing to agree about.  There also has to be desire for clarity, and  reconciliation of the differing views.  When two people engage in such a process and agree, is that the essence of organization, however small in scale and transitory in time?  

Agreement contains the essence of both difference and commonality.  If there is no difference, there is nothing about which to agree.  With agreement, comes at least some degree of commonality.  If two individuals meet and agree, the agreement contains the essence of organization.  They are, no matter how briefly or for what purpose, organized.  The agreement also contains the essence of self-governance, for each must rely on the self-induced behavior of the other to act in accordance with the understanding.

Agreement is always dynamic, imperfect and malleable.  Language, with all its vagaries and nuances, is the primary tool with which to reach agreement.  Its use is complicated by the fact that every word uttered or written is conditioned in the mind of the originator by one set of beliefs, emotions, expectations and experiences, and conditioned in the mind of the recipient by quite another.  Reaching and sustaining agreement is a continual process, as alive as the people involved.  It does not admit of certainty or perpetuity, especially in the particulars. Relationships between even two people who live or work together is far too complex to allow agreement much beyond intent, sense of direction and principles of conduct.

This reveals other essential elements of agreement such as tolerance, trust and mutual caring. One must accept that the behavior of another can never be reduced to the kind of specificity that science proposes and contracts attempt to provide, or that the behavior of another can ever conform entirely to any single understanding of words, sentences and paragraphs.  No agreement can provide for all particulars, and particulars will never conform to any agreement. Yet, certainty and conformity are what present institutions, in fact, the whole of society, have been organized to try to create.     

In the constructive sense of the word, organizations, and governance of organizations, should be based on clarity of shared intent and trust in expected behavior, heavily seasoned with common sense tolerance and caring for others as a fellow human beings.  This is not to say that contracts, laws and regulations do not serve a purpose.  Rather, it is to point out that they can never achieve the mechanistic certainty and control we crave.  Rules and regulations, laws and contracts, can never replace clarity of shared purpose and clear, deeply held principles about conduct in pursuit of that purpose.  

Principles are never capable of ultimate achievement, for they presume constant evolution and change.  "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you," is a true principle, for it says nothing about how it must be done.  It presumes unlimited ability of people to evolve in accordance with their values, experience and relations with others.

True governance is based on understanding that even simple societies are far too complex to expect that there can be agreement in the particular.  Systems of self-governance, in the individual and at every scale beyond, are based on understanding that ordinances, orders and enforcement deal with an absence of true governance.  They are an attempt to compel the kind of behavior that organizations fail to educe.

Ordinances, orders and enforcement are simply different words for control, command, and tyranny.  Force is the ultimate tool of tyranny.  Those who rise in a tyrannical world are those least capable of self-governance, whether of themselves, or inducement of it in others,  else they would not engage in tyranny.  When they rise, it is axiomatic that self-governance will decline and government will gradually be for the benefit of the few and subjugation of the many.  It will inexorably become destructive.  Ultimately, there will be no limit to that destruction, for there appears to be no limit to the ability of science and the rational mind to create devices to alter or destroy all life forms and all aspects of the physical world.

There is no way to give people purpose and principles, yet there can be no self organizing, self governance without them.  The only  possibility is to evoke a gift of self-governance from the people themselves.  It is there that a true leader may be useful, perhaps even essential.  There is a choice to be made.  We now live in a world of such complexity, diversity and multiplicity of scales that there is little possibility of achieving constructive, sustained governance with existing concepts of organization.  

People everywhere are growing desperate for renewed sense of community.  Deeply held, commonly shared purpose and principles leading to new Chaordic concepts of self organization and governance scaled from the individual to the global that restore and enhance the sense of community are essential of there is to be a livable world in future. 

COMMUNITY AND THE EXCHANGE OF VALUE

Examine, if you will, an ancient, fundamental idea, the idea of community.  The essence of community, its very heart and soul, is the non-monetary exchange of value.  The things we do and things we share because we care for others and for the good of the place.  Not just physical things, but things for which we keep no record and ask no recompense. Things that can be given without stint, yet are never a loss to the giver.  Such things as respect, tolerance, love, trust, generosity and empathy, the supply of which is unbounded and unlimited.

The non-monetary exchange of value is the most effective, constructive, system ever devised. Evolution and nature have been perfecting it for thousands of millennia.  It requires no currency, contracts, government, laws, courts, police, economists, lawyers, or accountants.  It does not require certified experts of any kind.  It requires only ordinary, caring people.

The non-monetary exchange of value does not arise solely from altruistic motives.  It also arises from deep, intuitive understanding that self-interest is inseparably connected with community interest;  that individual good is inseparable from the good of the whole.  It arises from intuitive understanding that all people and things are simultaneously independent, interdependent, and intradependent;  that the singular me is distinguishable yet inseparable from the plural we.  

In a true community, unity of the singular me and the plural we applies as well to beliefs, purposes and principles.  Some we hold in common with all others in the community.  Some we hold with some and not with others.  Some we hold independently.  In true community, the values of others we do not hold are nonetheless respected and tolerated, either because we realize that some of our beliefs will require respect and tolerance in return, or because we know those with different beliefs and values well enough to understand and respect the common humanity that transcends such differences.  

True community also requires proximity---continual, direct interaction between people, place and things.  Scale is thus extremely important. Proximity declines as scale increases.  When direct, continual interaction is no longer possible the essence of community is lost.  To call large agglomerations of people, place and things a community where proximity is impossible is to rob the word of all meaning.

Throughout history, the quintessential community, the fundamental building block of society. has been the family.  It is there that the greatest non-monetary exchange of value takes place.  It is there that the most powerful, non-material values can be created and exchanged.  It is from family as community that all other societal entities are formed, whether for better or for worse

Without the three essentials, proximity, non-material value, and non-monetary exchange of value, no true community ever existed or ever will.  If any of the three weaken, community begins to decline.  If we were to set out to deliberately design an efficient system for the methodical destruction of community, we could not do better than our present efforts to monetize all value, mechanize all societal organizations and reduce life to the tyranny of mathematical measurement, markets and the ever increasing centralization of power and wealth that result.  Money, mechanism, measurement and markets have their place.  They are useful tools indeed.  We should use them carefully for beneficent ends.  But useful tools are all they are.  They do not deserve the deification the apostles of unrestrained acquisition insist that we give them.  Only fools worship their tools.  

There can be no civil society worthy of the name without true community.  In fact, there can be no life without it.  All life and all earthly systems ore closed cycles of giving and receiving, of the non-monetary exchange of value, save only that gift of energy that comes from the sun. 

When we monetize value, we have a means of measurement however misleading that allows us to calculate the relative efficiency of each part of the system.  It doesn't occur to us that efficiency is often ineffective;  that we may be destroying an extremely effective system whose values we cannot measure in order to calculate the efficiency of ineffective systems.  It doesn't occur to us that attempting to engineer mechanistic societies and institutions based on mathematical measurement may be fundamentally flawed.  As the popular dictum declares, "What gets measured is what gets done."  That is precisely the problem, for it requires that much more important values be ignored.

Giving and receiving can't be measured in any meaningful sense.  A gift with expectation of return is no gift at all.  It is a bargain.  In a non-monetary exchange of value, giving and receiving is not a bargain, it is an offer and an acceptance.  In nature, when cycles of giving and receiving  are out of balance, equilibrium is lost and disability and devastation soon arise.  It is no different in society.  

When money's rant is on, we come to believe that life is a right which comes bearing a right which is the right of getting.  Life is not a right.  Life is a gift that comes bearing a gift which is the art of giving. Community is the place were we give our gifts and receive the gifts of others. When our individual and collective consciousness becomes receptive to new, chaordic concepts of organization, societal organizations may yet come into harmony with the human spirit and the biosphere.  When those concepts resonate in the minds and hearts of enough people, beneficent institutional change is not only possible, it is inevitable.  

INTERNAL MODEL OF REALITY

 

If we are to consciously create innovative, beneficent change in our societal institutions, it is prudent to look more deeply into what that requires. To begin with, it requires a clear understanding of how both self and societal institutions were, and how they are.  That is largely a matter of history, data, information, and knowledge.  Much more intense concentration on how they might become, and above all, how they ought to be, is required before material change can occur.

How they might become requires us to formulate both constructive and destructive possibilities which takes us beyond knowledge and deeply into understanding. How they ought to be brings us hard up against subjective values of ethics, morality, equity, and justice.  That is where wisdom becomes paramount.    

Making good judgements and acting wisely when one has complete data, facts and information is not leadership.  It's not even management.  It’s bookkeeping.  Leadership is the ability to make wise decisions, and act responsibly upon them, when one has little more than a clear sense of direction,  proper values, and some understanding of the forces driving change.  It requires true leadership.  It requires those who can go before and show the way.  It requires educing the inherent integrity and virtue that lies within everyone waiting to be aroused and brought into play. How might that be done?  

We are all embedded in an increasingly complex, diverse number of communities–cities, states, nations, governments, churches, corporations, schools, neighborhoods and countless other societal entities, to say nothing of the natural world.  Within those communities, at the superficial, sensory level, we continually act, experience the results of those acts, learn from the experience, make decisions based on that learning, and act again.  This does not happen in linear, singular manner, but in a continuous, integrated flow of countless events, second by second, minute by minute, and hour by hour.  

This flow of acting, experiencing, learning, and deciding cannot be completely voluntary nor controlled, since countless other people and organizations are doing the same.  We are affected by their acts, experiences, and judgements, and must respond.  At the same time, myriad living entities and physical things composing the natural world are continually acting and reacting.  We must respond to them as well. All of us have some autonomy, yet no one is separably autonomous from all else.

At a deeper, partially subliminal level, we assimilate experience, relate it to other experience, attempt to understand the relevance, and make projections about the future based on that understanding.  It is those projections which largely determine the decisions we make, the acts we take, and the results we experience.

At a much deeper level, usually without awareness, we inevitably construct a concept of reality---a world view, an internal model of reality--- against which we compare current experience in order to create meaning.  It is how we make sense of the external world, our place in it, ourselves, and our actions.  It is, or at least ought to be, the home of wisdom.

When there is an explosion in the capacity to receive, store, utilize, transform, and transmit information, the external world changes at a rate enormously greater than the rate at which our internal model evolves.  Nothing behaves as we think it should.  Nothing makes sense.  At times the world appears to be staging a madhouse.  It is never a madhouse.  It is merely the great tide of evolution in temporary flood, moving this way and that, piling up against that which obstructs its flow, trying to break loose and sweep away that which opposes it.  At such times, we experience extreme dissonance and stress. 

At the heart of that dissonance and stress is paradox.  The more powerful and entrenched our internal model of reality, the more difficult it is to perceive and understand the fundamental nature of the changed world we experience.  Yet without such perception, it is extremely difficult to understand and change our internal model.

This is precisely where we are today, and it is rapidly getting worse.  Deep in most of us, below our awareness, indelibly implanted there by three centuries of the Industrial Age, is the mechanistic, separatist, cause-and-effect, command-and-control, machine model of reality. 

People are more than machines.  The universe is more than a clock.  Nature is more than a sequence of cogs and wheels.  Nor is it a collection of bits and bytes.  Numbers are not values.  Mathematics can never be the measure of all things.  Words and syllables are not reality.  And science is not a deity.  All knowledge is an approximation.

When our internal model of reality is in conflict with rapidly changing external realities, there are three ways to respond:

First, we can cling to our old internal model and attempt to impose it on external conditions in a futile attempt to make them conform to our expectations.  That is what our present mechanistic societal institutions compel us to attempt, and what we continually dissipate our ingenuity and ability trying to achieve.  Attempting to impose an archaic internal model on a changed external world is futile. 

Second, we can engage in denial.  We can refuse to accept the new external reality.  We can pretend that external changes are not as profound as they really are.  We can deny that we have an internal model, or that it bears examination.  When the world about us appears to be irrational, erratic and irresponsible, it is all too easy to blame others for the unpleasant, destructive things we experience.  It is equally easy to  abandon meaning, engage in fantasy, and engage in erratic behavior.  Such denial is also futile. 

Third, we can attempt to understand and change our internal model of reality.  That is the least common alternative, and for good reason.  Changing an internal model of reality is extremely difficult, terrifying, and complex.  It requires a meticulous, painful examination of beliefs.  It requires a fundamental understanding of consciousness and how it must change.  It destroys our sense of time and place.  It calls into question our very identity.  We can never be sure of our place, or our value, in a new order of things.  We may lose sight of who and what we are.  

Changing our internal model of reality requires an enormous act of faith, for it requires time to develop, and we require time to grow into it.  Yet it is the only workable answer.

Those with the greatest power and wealth and the most prominent place in the old order of things have the most to lose.  It is, therefore, understandable that so many of them close their minds to different possibilities and cling tenaciously to the old order of things.  It is understandable that they engage in cosmetic change to palliate their discomfort and placate critics.  It is understandable that they seek one another and merge the institutions they control to amass more and more power and wealth in order to perpetuate that to which they cling.  It is understandable that they blind themselves to the fact that they are attempting to preserve the form of things long after its form no longer serves function, a certain formula for failure, since the closest thing to a law of nature in the organizational world is that form has an affinity for expense, while function has an affinity for income. 

Those in positions of power, wealth, and prestige who tenaciously cling to the present order of things deserve understanding, not condemnation, for they intuitively sense what Machiavelli discovered five centuries ago when he wrote:  "Nothing is more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct or more uncertain of success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things." 

No one should be condemned for failure to welcome change.  It is a pervasive problem which plagues us all.  Dostoevski put it into perspective in the last century when he wrote:  "Taking a new step, uttering a new word is what people fear most."  

The undeniable fact is that we have created the greatest explosion of capacity to receive, store, utilize, transform, and transmit information in history and that is causing an even greater explosion in societal diversity and complexity.  There is no way to turn back.  Whether we recognize it or not, whether we will it or not, whether we welcome it or not, we are caught up in the most profound change in the history of civilization.  

PERCEPTION AND PERSPECTIVE

Over the years of reading and trying to master the four ways of thinking about organizations, as they were, as they are, as they might become, and as they ought to be, I began to think of “ought” in the inductive sense of a preferred, ethically better condition, rather than in the compulsory sense of an instructive command.  It is not likely that synthesizing those four ways of thinking about things into a compelling, new concept of organizations as they ought to be in future will ever be a singular work of genius. 

It is much more likely to arise spontaneously in many minds using different words and metaphors, then coalesce into a unified concept capable of broad understanding; a concept that has infinite durability in purpose and principles, yet is infinitely malleability in form and function.  Creating organizations based on that new concept and bringing them into universal acceptance and use will be an evolutionary process—a cooperative work of the genius that lies buried in everyone, patiently waiting to be educed.  All life on earth, consciously or unconsciously, cries out that it should be done.

Since the past can never be more than preparatory and the present no more than a point of departure, it is the future that should have our best thoughts and energy, though it seldom does in the stress and strain of modern life.  If one examines organizations as they might become or as they ought to be, the specifics of that which we know must yield to the abstracts of that which we can conceive.  Perception is the primary means by which we cast up such concepts. Therein lies a serious problem.

Somewhere in the middle of perception is the fun-house mirror of perspective.  It distorts and discolors everything we know, think or imagine.  Therefore, when considering the future, one’s viewpoint, one’s frame of reference, one’s internal model of reality, in a word, the perspective that experience indelibly implants in each of us is all-important.  It is our individual perspective that discolors and distorts our perception, blinding us to how things might become, or conceiving of how they ought to be.

Out of the lumber of things we are taught, the gravel and cement of our experience and the nails of things we observe, we slowly erect an internal edifice, an internal temple of reality, gradually filling it with the furniture of habit, custom, preference, belief and bias.  We get comfortable there.  It's our sanctuary.  Through its windows, warped though the glass may  be, we view society and the world.  Our internal model of reality is how we make sense of the world.  And it can be a badly built place indeed.  Even if it is well constructed, it may have become archaic.  Everything that gave rise to it may have changed.  Society and the natural world are never stagnant.  They are constantly becoming.

When it becomes necessary to develop a new perception of things, a new internal model of reality, the problem is never to get new ideas in, the problem is to get old ideas out.  Every mind is filled with old furniture.  It's familiar.  It's comfortable.  We hate to throw it out.  The old maxim so often applied to the physical world, "nature abhors a vacuum", is much more applicable to the mental world.  Clear any room in your mind of old perspectives, and new perceptions will rush in.  Yet, there is nothing we fear more.  It is our individual perspective, the view from our internal temple of reality, that constantly discolors and distorts our perception, blinding us to how things might become, or conceiving of how they ought to be.  Perspective is the Achilles heel of the mind. 

In a very real sense, we are our ideas, concepts and perceptions.  Giving up any part of our internal model of reality is as bad as losing a finger or an eye.  Part of us no longer exists. Fortunately, unlike most organs of the physical body, internal concepts of reality can be regenerated, although never as they were.  It is  a joyful and enervating in the end, but frightening and painful in the process.  I was a long time realizing I had one.  Even longer realizing how mechanistic it was and how archaic it had become.  Oh, how I hated to give it up.  

It’s gone now.  New and much more stimulating concepts are rushing in.  As I gain more experience with them, a much more beautiful temple of reality is rising within.  The view through its windows of society and its institutions becomes clearer every day, and as it does, the complexity and diversity of the Chaordic Age is less forbidding.  It makes more sense.  And it is rich with promise of a more beneficent future in harmony with the human spirit and biosphere    

THE ORDEAL OF CHANGE

 


 Again and again the same questions return, demanding an answer:

Why are institutions, everywhere, whether commercial, political and social, increasingly unable to manage their affairs?

Why are individuals, everywhere, increasingly in conflict with and alienated from the institutions of which they are part?

Why are society and the biosphere increasingly in disarray?

The answer cannot be found without understanding compression of time and events.  Some readers may recall the nineteen fifties when a check might take two weeks to find its way through the banking system.  Bankers called it float. Today, most people are aware  aware of the incredible speed and volatility with which money in the form of electronic date moves instantaneously  throughout the world and the profound effect it has on us all.  Money float has virtually disappeared.

However, we ignore vastly more important compression of time and events.  Consider life itself. The first life forms appeared approximately 4.5 billion years ago.  It took evolution about half that time, 2.2 billion years, to make the first tiny step from the non-nucleated cell to the nucleated cell.  It took only half that time, a billion years, to create the first simple vertebrate, then only a half billion years to produce primitive fish and reptiles.  Then, in only 200 million years, evolution produced dinosaurs, birds and complex plants, then mammals in only 100 million years. 

Each change reducing by more than half the time required to produce the next exponential leap in the diversity and complexity of organisms, right on through to the creature writing this book. There is no reason to believe this exponential reduction of time to create more complex, diverse organisms will not continue.  In fact, with the advent of genetic engineering, the time required for creation of new species may literally collapse into a matter of months, or even weeks.

The same pattern is apparent with respect to information.  As the futurist James Burke pointed out, it took centuries for information about the smelting of ore to creep across a single continent and bring about the Iron Age.  During the time of sailing ships, it took decades for that which became known, to become that which was shared.  When man set foot on the moon, it was known and seen in every corner of the globe 1.4 seconds later.  Yet that is hopelessly slow by today’s standards. Countless events anywhere can be heard and seen everywhere in micro seconds.

Even more important is the compression of scientific and technological float:  the time between the discovery of new knowledge, the resultant technology, and its universal application.  It took centuries one of the first bits of technology, the wheel, to gain universal acceptance. It took decades for the steam engine, electric light, and automobile.   It took years for radio and television.  Today, countless micro chip devices sweep around the earth like the light of the sun into universal use.

The same is true of culture.  For the better part of recorded history, it took centuries for the customs of one culture to materially affect another. Today, that which becomes popular in one country can sweep through others within weeks.  Nor is language an exception.  Words from one language used to require generations to take root in another.  Common words now emerge from the global culture simultaneously in all languages, while English is rapidly becoming a universal tongue, as anyone who has listened to pilots and controllers at any airport in the world is bound to note.

It is no different with space.  Within a couple of long lifetimes we went from the speed of the horse to the speed of interstellar travel.  Men and material now move in minutes where they used to move in months, while services based on information do so in a fraction of a second.
    
This endless compression of time between major change whether of life forms, money, information, technology, time, space, or anything else, can be combined and thought of as tremendous acceleration of change---the time between what was and what is to be---between past and future.  Only a few generations ago, the present stretched relatively unaltered from a distant past into a dim future. Today, the past is ever less predictive, the future ever less predictable, and the present scarcely exists at all.  

Everything is accelerating change, with one incredibly important exception. There has been no compression of institutional change. Although their size and power have vastly increased,  although we constantly tinker with their form and change their labels, there has been no new, commonly accepted idea of societal organization since the concepts of corporation, nation-state and university emerged with the advent of the industrial revolution.  

The simple fact is that we are attempting to manage the constantly changing, immensely more complex and diverse world of mind crafting with archaic, mechanistic, concepts of organization and management unique suited to an age which is dying, the industrial age of machine crafting. It is an exercise in futility.  

THE NATURE OF INFORMATION


    

Trying to understand information and its relevance to organizations raises a great many questions.  What is the significance of the inform part of the word information?  What is the nature of that which is received from external sources and forms us within?  What is the nature of that which forms within us that we then feel compelled to transmit to others.  How does it form others within when it is received?  How does information come into being?  What permits it to endure unaltered, yet, be available at any time for use and transformation in infinite ways?  

Why and from where came the universal, perpetual urge to receive and transmit information, the incessant desire to communicate?  Is it an urge at all, or is it an unavoidable necessity, an integral component of life itself?  Could information be the raw material of some dispersed form of intelligence; some fundamental, formative essence that causes dispersed energy to condense into material form; some fundamental part of an inseparably whole universe?    

It helps to think what information is not.  Certainly information is far more than digits and data. They may be components of it, the shape it sometimes takes.  They may be of it, but they are not it.  Certainly information is not just another finite, physical entity.  

Gregory Bateson, in a rare insight, proposed that "information is a difference that makes a difference."   If something is perceived which cannot be differentiated or, if once differentiated, it makes no difference, he asserts it is just noise.  Bateson’s perception is helpful, but what about information as it might become, or ought to be?  What are its inherent characteristics? How might they change. 

Unlike finite physical resources, information is not depleted by use.  Information transmitted is gain to the recipient but is no loss to the source. Information can be utilized by everyone without loss to anyone.  As far as we know, the supply of information is infinite, therefore, it does not obey any of our industrial age concepts or laws of scarcity.  It obeys only concepts and principles of infinite abundance, infinite utilization, and infinite recombination.  

Projecting onto information our old notions of property, thus turning it into a method by which one person can extract wealth from another, neither reveals nor changes the extraordinary nature of information.  It reveals only the limited nature of man; of his lack of awareness of his internal model of reality; of his reluctance to change it when awareness of it dawns; of the degree to which it shapes beliefs and external behavior.

Information is a miser of energy.  It can endlessly replicate, move ubiquitously at the speed of light, and massively condense in minute space, all at minuscule expense of energy, in other words, cost.  In countless ways, it is becoming a replacement for our present enormously wasteful use of matter.  To the extent that we increase the value of the mental content of goods and services, we can reduce the value of the physical content.  We can make them lighter, more durable, more recyclable, more versatile and more transportable. 

Information breeds.  When one bit of information is combined with another, the result is new information.  Information knows no boundaries.  It cannot be contained.  No matter what constraints we try to put on information, it will become the slave and property of no one.   Efforts to make information conform to archaic notions of scarcity, ownership and finite physical quantity –  concepts that grew out of the agricultural and industrial age – merely lock mankind into old, mental boxes of constraint and exploitation.  Information is ethically neutral.  Its immense power is as applicable to destructive, inequitable, violent ends as it is to constructive, equitable, peaceful ends.  

The history of modern science has been an effort to divorce the ethical dimensions of life from the physical; to divorce subjective values from objective observations; to divorce spirituality from rationality.  The effect has been the deification of the rational, physical, objective content of information as ultimate truth, and dismissing the subjective, ethical and spiritual content as superstition, delusion or ignorance.

Thinking about a society based on information and one based on physicality requires radically different perspective and consciousness. We to often prefer to ignore the fundamental differences and carry over into the  Age of Mind Crafting  idea, values, concepts and assumptions which proved useful in the Age of Machine Crafting---concepts such as ownership, finite supply, obsolescence, loss by conveyance, containment, scarcity, separability, quantifiable measurement, and command-and-control management.

Products, services and organizations in which the value of the mental content begins to dwarf the value of the physical content require wise people of deep understanding.  To endlessly add to the quantity of mechanistic information, knowledge and technology without similar evolution of values and wisdom is not only foolish, it is dangerous.  To massively develop means and act in accordance with what those means permit, without careful consideration of ends in the context of values is a grossly foolish misuse of information.

The emergence of this new age based on information, whatever we choose to label it, calls into question virtually every concept of societal organization, management and conduct on which we have come to rely.  Clinging too rigorously to old concepts, dismissing new concepts too lightly, protecting old forms which resulted from those concepts too fiercely, imposing those forms on a changing society too resolutely, are a certain path to failure.  As Sir Francis Bacon put it precisely centuries ago in admonishing those who clung tenaciously to the guilds and practices of the Age of Hand Crafting and opposed the scientific revolution and the Age of Machine crafting:  

    "They that reverence too much the old times are but a scorn to the new."
    
The new concepts he so ably defended with that assertion are excruciatingly old today.  They have become the concepts we now revere too much as we rush headlong into the Age of Mind Crafting 

CRUSTTI

  
In time, a new perception gradually emerged, based upon trying to understand the history and effect of a single, fascinating capacity:  The Capacity to Receive, Utilize, Store, Transform and Transmit Information (for the adherents of brevity in the form of acronyms, CRUSTTI ).  

Not information from the common misperception of alphanumeric data, but from Gregory Bateson's perspective that "information is a difference that makes a difference."  If something perceived cannot be distinguished from its surroundings in a relevant way, it's just noise.  If it can be differentiated and truly makes a difference, then it becomes information.  As such, it is capable of informing us, of forming us within, and allowing us to formulate differences that can make a difference to others. 

To understand CRUSTTI, it is essential to start at the beginning.  If one examines early examples of single-celled life, it is apparent they possess the Capacity to Receive, Store, Utilize, Transform and Transmit Information.  In fact, it precedes even such simple forms, for to do so is the very essence of DNA.  It even precedes DNA, for when physicists attempt to examine the smallest known particles of matter, the particles change their behavior.  And when they do, the physicists change their behavior in response.  Particle and physicist find themselves in a fascinating, quantum, cosmic dance.  Clearly each is perceiving a "difference that makes a difference."  They are exchanging information.

In ways we haven't begun to understand, information escapes particles, transcends them and binds them together into more complex systems within which all particles constantly exchange information.  It seems a principle of evolution, perhaps the fundamental principle, that the greater the capacity to receive, store, utilize, transform and transmit information, the more diverse and complex the entity.  It holds true from neutrino, to nucleus, to atom, to amino acids, to proteins, to molecules, to cells, to organs, to organisms.  From bacteria, to bees, to bats, to birds, to buffalo, right on through to baseball players.

CRUSTTI didn't stop there.  In time, information transcended the boundaries of organisms and led to communication between them. Whether the dance of the bees, the pheromone of ants, the sonar of bats, the song of birds, or the language of people, once that capacity transcended organisms, there was immediate evolution of complex communities of organisms – hives, flocks, packs, colonies, herds and tribes.

Let’s follow that capacity with respect to our species.  Throughout history, many of our finest minds have argued that the two characteristics that most distinguish the human species are memory and language.  Memory, but the ability to store and recall images.  Language, but the means to share those images.

Over the centuries, we have ascended a ladder of diversity and complexity.  With language, information escaped the boundaries of a single mind and experience became shared.  Immediately, there was a corresponding leap in societal diversity and complexity.  With written language, came expansion to that which could be manually recorded and personally transported.  Another leap in capacity---another leap in societal diversity and complexity.

Leap followed leap, each exponentially greater and more frequent.  With mathematics came expansion to that which could be commonly understood by means of a global language.  With the printing press came expansion to that which could be mechanically recorded and transported.  A library, after all, is nothing more than the collective memory of the species.  With the telegraph came electronic-alphanumeric capacity.  With the telephone came phonic capacity.  With television came visual capacity, followed by  multimedia capacity.  Each was immediately followed by an even greater leap in societal diversity and complexity.

One could paraphrase Einstein's most famous equation as follows:  

The capacity to receive, utilize, store, transform and transmit information equals societal diversity times societal complexity squared.

Then it happened!  Suddenly, with the explosion of microelectronic technology in the last quarter of the twentieth century we developed a thousand times better algorithms, a million time more computing capacity per individual, and a billion times more mobility of information.  Software to efficiently navigate that immensity of information rapidly emerged.  The entire collective memory of the species will soon be no more than a few keystrokes away.  We haven't begun to understand the significance of that, let alone the societal diversity it will unleash, or the institutional change it will demand.  

But that is nothing compared to what lies ahead.  Already present are other revolutions of enormously greater significance, such as nano- and biotechnology.  Simply stated, nanotechnology is the engineering of self-replicating assemblers and computers so tiny they can manipulate atoms, the basic building blocks of nature, as though they were bricks.  The necessary science has already been discovered.  What remains to be done is the engineering of tools at the atomic scale which is already well along.

In his book Engines of Creation, K. Eric Drexler, a pioneer in the field, wrote:  "When biochemists need complex molecular machines, they have to borrow them from cells...advanced molecular technology will eventually let them build nano circuits and nano machines as easily as engineers now build micro circuits or washing machines."  In answer to the question,  "What could we build with these atom-stacking mechanisms?" Marvin Minsky, Professor of Science at MIT, wrote:  "...we could manufacture assembly machines much smaller even than living cells...make materials stronger and lighter than any available today, hence, better spacecraft, hence, tiny devices that can travel along capillaries to enter and repair living cells."

The possibilities are profound.  Efficient solar collectors durable enough to re-pave highways and parking lots or to surface buildings.  The ability to create large structures on-site swiftly at little cost from material as common as dirt and air by arranging atoms into a desired object.  Even more important, the deconstruction into atoms of garbage, industrial waste, and atmospheric pollutants, thus, turning them into abundant, cheap, raw material.

There is nothing new in all this.  It is the fundamental technique which nature has used to create everything since the beginning of time, whether trees, monkeys to climb in them, or people who cut them down.  Information in the form of DNA is endlessly replicated at no cost and distributed in seeds.  A process of replication driven by the power of the sun begins.  Molecules and cells assemble on the spot into known patterns from atoms of surrounding air, soil, and water.  In the case of animals, it happens not only on the spot, but on the move.  

When such creations are no longer viable, nature breaks them down into atoms once again for re-creation into something new and useful –  a never-ending, effective, non-polluting chain of events of ever-evolving diversity and complexity.  No factories, no waste, no despoiled resources, no pollution, no mechanistic organization and no command and control.  Nature does it all with a complex, diverse flow of information which  mobilizes physical materials into both animate and inanimate forms.  You can search in vain the universe, the earth it contains, and all of nature for hierarchical, mechanistic, command and control organizations such as those we created to control and manage the Industrial Age--organizations that now dominate our lives.

How soon and how likely are such things?  One need only remember that a few decades ago the atomic bomb was scarcely a theory, travel to the moon a fantasy, television the dream of a few odd engineers, a plastic card for the global exchange of value unthinkable, and genetic engineering securely locked up in the secrets of DNA.  Yet none of these had a better theoretical or scientific foundation than nanotechnology or biotechnology have today, and none were being driven by the incredible forces of change now common throughout the world.  

As micro technology builds down and nanotechnology and molecular biology build up, they will come together.  Within two or three decades, for better or worse, we will be constructing products and services from the atom up, and the capacity to receive, store, utilize, transform and transmit information will be at the heart of it.  The message is simple.  Fasten your seat belts; the turbulence has scarcely begun.  We are in the midst of an explosion of societal diversity and complexity much greater than we can imagine.    

And we're going to manage such an explosion of societal diversity and complexity with archaic, seventeenth-century, mechanistic, industrial-age concepts of organization and management?   Not the chance of a snowball in the Sahara.  Within a few decades, either we will look on our present methods of organization and management as quaint relics of an archaic Industrial Age, or our descendants will be forced to live through a period of social carnage and environmental devastation too horrible to contemplate.

If you think to perpetuate the old ways, try to recall the last time evolution rang your number to ask your consent.  In the words of T. S. Elliot, we must  "come full circle to the place from which we set out and see it for the first time." (Emphasis added)

DATA TO WISDOM


Words and concepts are thrown about interchangeably with little thought of their relationship or meaning when the subjects of cognition and learning arise-- knowledge, data, wisdom, information, understanding-- all directly involved in the The Capacity to Receive, Utilize, Store, Transform and Transmit Information. (See essay entitled CRUSTTI).

It will pay us to examine the essential nature and distinguishing characteristics of each, and relate them in order of quantity and quality, knowing that such distinction, while useful, can never extinguish the essential wholeness of that which they compose.  

We must begin with noise.  Noise, in its broadest sense, is any undifferentiated thing which assaults the senses.  It is pervasive and ubiquitous, whether auditory, visual, or textural.  The supply of noise is infinite.

Noise becomes data when it transcends the purely sensual and has cognitive pattern; when it can be discerned and differentiated by the mind.

Data, in turn, becomes information when it is assembled into a coherent whole which can be related to other information in a way that adds meaning.   (Bateson's definition of information as “a difference that makes a difference.”)  

Information becomes knowledge when it is integrated with other information in a form that is useful for deciding, acting, or composing new knowledge.  

Knowledge becomes understanding when related to other knowledge in a manner that is useful in conceiving, anticipating, evaluating, and judging matters beyond the reach of information.  

Understanding becomes wisdom when informed by ethical, moral, and beneficent purpose and principle, along with memory of the past, and projection into the future.  

The fundamental characteristics of the opposite ends of this spectrum are very different.  Data, on one end of the spectrum, is separable, objective, linear, mechanistic, and abundant.  On the other end of the spectrum, wisdom is holistic, subjective, spiritual, conceptual, creative and scarce.

Science has traditionally operated in the provinces of data, information, and knowledge, where measurement, particularity, specialization, and rationality are particularly useful.  It has largely ignored the provinces of understanding and wisdom.  The same is true of mechanistic, command-and-control corporations, states, and nations.  Universities have steadily abandoned education in favor of training experts in ever more narrow specialties.  They no longer see their responsibility as educing from individuals the qualities that allow the development of understanding and wisdom.  We are increasingly a nation of people educated beyond our own understanding.   

Theology, philosophy, literature, and art have traditionally operated in the provinces of understanding and wisdom, where subjectivity, spirituality, and values are particularly valuable.  We are now at a point in time when the ability to receive, utilize, store, transform, and transmit information (the lower cognitive forms) has literally exploded beyond comprehension, thus inundating understanding and wisdom.  We are drowning in a raging flood of new data and information, and the raft of wisdom to which we desperately cling is breaking up beneath us. 

In time, with enough effort and attention, data may become information, information may become knowledge,  knowledge may become understanding and  understanding may become wisdom.  Unfortunately, time is a luxury we no longer have and effort and attention are sadly lacking. 

Native societies, which endured for centuries with little increase in the capacity to receive, store, utilize, transform, and transmit information, had time to develop a very high ratio of  of understanding and wisdom to data and information.  They may not have known a great deal by today's standards, but they understood a very great deal about what they knew.  They were enormously wise in relation to the extent to which they were informed, and their information was conditioned by an extremely high ratio of social, economic, and spiritual value.

In contrast, our society understands very little about what it knows.  It has ever less understanding and wisdom in relation to the data, information, and knowledge it commands.  The immensity of data and information which assaults our lives is not conditioned by a similar increase in social, economic and spiritual values--in a word, wisdom.   Our vast scientific, technological, and economic power is thus unleashed with inadequate understanding of its systemic propensity for destruction, or sufficient wisdom to guide its evolution and use.

Thus we remain confined within our archaic, seventeenth century concepts of organization and leadership, and our isolated specialties with their ever narrowing perspectives, while in millions of rational, insular acts we pour billions of tons of 70,000 man-made chemicals into the biosphere that it cannot recycle.  We allow them to accumulate with little perception of how they are systemically combining to affect all living things.  We punch holes in the ozone layer of the atmosphere, dissipate and alter genetic material, destroy species by the thousands, denude the land of tens of millions of acres of trees and plants essential to maintenance of the chemical balance of the atmosphere, destroy topsoil at thousands of times the rate at which it can be replaced, create and hopelessly try to contain countless tons of virulent poisons, some with a half-life of twenty-four thousand years, tolerate increasing genocide, and starve to death twenty thousand people every day. 

Who could have imagined that such a wealth of information, science, and technology could have resulted in collective madness, but so it has. It never needed to be so.  It does not need to be so now.  If there is not a similar explosion of understanding and wisdom in order to restore proper balance between the higher cognitive capacities and the lower, a livable future becomes ever more tenuous and remote.     

 

PHYSICAL TO MENTAL CONTENT

Over the past few decades, a quiet inversion has taken place that few notice.  During the industrial age, the value of the physical content of goods was enormous compared to the value of the mental content. The bending of steel and other metals, the welding or bolting of them together, the processes of replication-- the smelting, pounding, twisting, stretching, cutting, assembling-- and sheer amount of metal, other material, and labor required to produce a typewriter, automobile or other product dwarfed the value of design or other mental content.

With the advent of computers and other micro-electronic technology, the value of the mental content of products and services began to grow in relation to the value of the physical content.  The value of the mental content of a micro-chip is enormously greater than the value of the physical content.  The value of the mental content of a computer or a smart phone is enormously greater than the value of the physical content.

Over the course of a half-century, the value of physical content to value of mental content of most products and services steadily approached a median point, crossed, and has now reversed.  We have no idea what this means for societal organization or environmental relationship in future, though it is certain to be huge.      

ACCOUNTING FOR A CHAORDIC WORLD


Exploration into the nature of information, organization, and change leads inexorably to the phenomenon of accounting, a profession and practice that plays a dominant role in our present societal structures.  In the deepest sense, there is no such thing as "accounting."  Accountants are merely a modern version of the tribal story teller, whose role was to accurately portray their tribal community as it was, as it is, as it might become, and as it ought to be, thus shaping its evolution and future.  

That tribes have since been organized into social aggregations now called corporation, nation, university, church, or any other appellation is irrelevant.  That the primary languages used to inform those tribes are now mathematics and accounting is relevant only to the degree they help explain how the organization was, how it is, how it might become, and how it ought to be. Therein lies another conundrum.      

It was well put in an article in the Journal of Cost Management by H. Thomas Johnson, an economic historian, CPA, and former President of the Academy of Accounting Historians.  He wrote: 

        "The Cartesian/Newtonian world view has influenced thought far beyond the physical sciences, and accounting is no exception. Double entry bookkeeping and the systems of income and wealth measurement that evolved from it since the 16th century are eminently Cartesian and Newtonian. They are predicated on ideas such as the whole being equal to the sum of the parts and effects being the result of infinitely divisible, linear causes...Quantum physicists and evolutionary biologists, among others, now believe that it is best to describe reality as a web of interconnected relationships that give rise to an ever-changing and evolving universe of objects that we perceive only partially with our limited senses.  In that "Systemic" view of the world, nothing is merely the sum of the parts; parts have meaning only in reference to a greater whole in which everything is related to everything else...Why should accountants continue to believe that human organizations behave like machines if the scientists from whom they borrowed that mechanistic world view now see the universe from a very different perspective?

The language of financial accounting merely asserts answers, it does not invite inquiry.  In particular it leaves unchallenged the world view that underlies [the way] organizations operate. Thus, management accounting has served as a barrier to genuine organizational learning...Never again should management accounting be seen as a tool to drive people with measures.  Its purpose must be to promote inquiry into the relationships, patterns, and processes that give rise to accounting measures."  

Mr. Johnson’s perspective with respect to the role of accounting in a chaordic world is spot-on. In the years ahead we must get beyond numbers and the language of mathematics to understand, evaluate, and account for such intangibles as learning, intellectual capital, community, beliefs, and principles, or else the stories we tell of the value and prospects of our institutions will be increasingly false.  

We must understand, evaluate, and account for wholly new, non-monetary forms of ownership, and assets of great value that have extraordinary effect, but no tangible market price or mathematical means of measurement, such as participatory rights, alliances, systemic interdependence, and defined relationships, or else the stories we tell of our institutions will be increasingly archaic and misleading.

We must understand, evaluate, and account for everything removed from, or returned to the earth, the biosphere, or the atmosphere, including reversion to natural elements in the original proportions and balance, or our stories will result in environmental catastrophe. 

We must conceive of and implement wholly new forms of ownership, financial systems, and measurements free of the attempt to monetize all values which binds institutions to next quarter's bottom line and results in gross mal-distribution of wealth and power, degradation of people, and desolation of the ecosphere, or our stories will be increasingly immoral and destructive.

And we must interconnect our stories with those of all other institutions in order to integrate them into a new, intelligible, larger story to inform the global community, now emerging, or else our stories will continue to set societal institutions against one another in ever greater economic, social, and physical combat.

We are not helpless victims in the grasp of some supernatural force.  We were active participants in the creation of our present consciousness.  From that consciousness we created our present internal model of reality.  From that internal model we created our present concepts of organization and accounting.  With those concepts we created our present society. We did it!  All of us!

We know that we must do better.  We know that we must do it together.   And we must come to understand that “together” must transcend all present boundaries and allow self-organization and governance at every scale, from the smallest form of life to the living Earth itself.  It will take intense though and effort for decades to come.  It will require great respect for the past, vast understanding and tolerance in the present, and even greater belief and trust in the future.  It calls out to us louder every year.  We must answer the call with the the best in us, one and all.  

CHAORDIC AGE ORGANIZATIONS

We are emerging from a society based upon industrial production, for more than a century dominated by the separatist, mechanistic concepts of corporation and nation state, into an extraordinarily complex, diverse, global technocracy, wherein it is increasingly possible to produce at any point on the globe a unique product or service for a single individual located at any other point.

The production of goods and services has progressed from the Age of Hand-crafting through the Industrial Age, more accurately thought of as the Age of Machine-crafting, into the so-called Information Age, which can best be understood as the Age of Mind-crafting, (or as I prefer to call it, the Chaordic Age,) since information is nothing but the raw material of that incredible processor we call mind and the pseudo-mind we call computer.  Soft-ware, the tool with which we shape information, can be best understood as thought-ware since it is clearly a product of the mind.  The Age of Machine-crafting was primarily an extension of muscle power. The Chaordic Age is primarily an extension of mental power.

The very foundation of such a society, its neural networks, are the intricately webbed, global data communication systems now rapidly emerging.  Just as the human body is organized around biological, neural systems so complex as to defy description, so too are increasingly complex, global, electronic, neural networks evolving and interconnecting.

In the Age of Hand-crafting, the dominant forms of organization were the all powerful churches, kingdoms and, hand-craftsmen guilds.  Just as the Age of Machine-Crafting ended their dominance in favor of hierarchical nation states and corporations,  the Chaordic Age must end the dominance of today's societal structures and give rise to new ones more in harmony with the human spirit and biosphere.   

Changes in existing organizations and the evolution of wholly new ones will have many characteristics in common.  Just as the human body is not a vertical hierarchy with each part superior to another in ascending, linear order, organizations of the future will not be so structured.  Great pyramids of superiors and subordinates will yield to affiliations of semi-independent equals, whether they be individuals within an organization, or organizations within a larger whole.  This is not to say that all present industrial organizations are doomed. Evolution is rarely so cruel.  It is patient, though inexorable.  Most will evolve, however slowly and painfully, into a form in which power, wealth and information are more widely dispersed and commonly shared.

The concept of organizations composed of semi-autonomous equals affiliated for common purpose, such as Visa, the Internet, Linux software, The United Religions Initiative and Wicipedia, has intensified the endless debate as to whether competition or cooperation should rule the day.  Each has passionate messiahs to preach its virtue.  The messiahs on both sides are wrong.  Competition and cooperation are not contraries.  They have no opposite meaning. They are complimentary.  In every aspect of life, we do both.  Schools are highly cooperative endeavors within which scholars vigorously compete.  The Olympic Games combine immense cooperation in structure and rules with intense competition in events.  As the runners leap from the blocks, competition and cooperation are occurring in a single, indistinguishable blur.  Every cell in our bodies vigorously competes for every atom of nutrient swallowed and every atom of oxygen inhaled, yet every cell can sense when the good of the whole requires they cooperate by relinquishing their demands when the need of other cells is greater.  Life simply cannot exist, let alone reach its highest potential, without harmonious existence of competition and cooperation. 

No societal, commercial or governmental endeavor has ever existed without at least some combination of the two.  Human history has always been a race without a victor between combat and compromise; between concepts of power and concepts of service.  Cooperation gone mad results in the mindless pursuit of equality, then uniformity, use of centralized force to achieve it, ever increasing coercion, and eventual slavery.  Competition gone mad results in the mindless pursuit of self-interest, abuse of others, retaliation, accelerating anarchy, and eventual chaos.  Only in a much more harmonious, oscillating dance of both competition and cooperation, can the extremes of control and chaos be avoided, and peaceful, permanent, societal order be found.  If relative harmony is maintained between the two, they drive one another.  The more we compete, the more we need to cooperate.  The more we cooperate, the more and better we can compete.  

In organizations of the future, it will be much more important to have a clear, compelling purpose and sound principles within which many specific, short-term objectives can be quickly achieved, than a long-range plan with fixed, measurable  objectives.  Such plans often lead to futile attempts to control events in order to make them fit the plan, rather than understanding events so as to advance by all means in the desired direction.  In time of rapid, radical change, long-term plans are often so generally stated as to require endless interpretation, in which case they are no plan at all, or they become so rigid that they diminish thought, obscure vision and muffle advocacy of other, more innovative views.

In organizations of the future the centuries-old effort to eliminate judgment and intuition, art if you will, from the conduct of institutions will change.  Organizations have too long aped the traditional mechanistic, military model wherein obedience to orders is paramount and individual behavior or independent thinking frowned upon, if not altogether forbidden.  It will be necessary at every level to have people capable of discernment, of making fine judgments and acting sensibly upon them.  The Industrial Age trend toward stultifying, degrading, rote work that gradually reduces people to the compliant, subordinate behavior one expects from a well trained horse cannot continue.

It extends far beyond a factory worker on an assembly line.  Vast white-collar bureaucracies exist everywhere, with mountains of procedure manuals depressing minds, avalanches of directives burying judgment, forests of reports obscuring perception, floods of studies inundating initiative, oceans of committees submerging responsibility and drowning decisions. You  know what I mean.  You have endlessly suffered through it and, worse yet, may be inflicting it on others.  It has created a society of people alienated from their work and from the organizations in which they are enmeshed.  Far too much ingenuity, effort and intelligence go into conforming to or circumventing the mindless, sticky web of rules and regulations by which people are needlessly bound. 

Without question, the most abundant, least expensive, must underutilized and constantly abused resource in the world today is human ingenuity.   

During the next fifty years, an infinite variety of Chaordic organizations must emerge---economic, political and social.  Organizations capable of restoring and maintaining harmony between themselves, the environment, and the human spirit.  Organizations suitable to the enormous increase in societal diversity and complexity brought about by the explosion of the capacity to receive, utilize, store, transform and transmit information.  Organization which more equitably distribute power and wealth.  Organization that can ensure the health and well being of all people, and the biosphere.  Organizations which resolve differences without recourse to economic, psychological, or physical violence.  

It will require radical change in our individual  perspectives, our internal model of reality, and our present concepts of organization and management.  It will require a huge increase in wisdom, spirituality and imagination.  If we fail at this task, the alternative is one no caring person should wish to contemplate---social carnage and environmental devastation beyond imagining.