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.