Believing that money creation and allocation is the root cause of environmental desecration, social injustice and inequality, I was delighted when introduced recently to someone who had previously worked for the World Bank. On raising the topic, it soon became obvious that either I understood money better that he did or I was so far off-track that there was no point him trying to explain to an idiot. That made me think. Next time around I took steps to resolve the matter.
It transpired that his position at the World Bank concerned foreign culture, not money. His doctorate in Foreign Languages and Culture was acquired at Moscow University and he lectures on Organisational Culture at one of the American Ivy Leagues, Kent State University.
I knew absolutely nothing about organisational culture, having never heard the term before. But it set another bee in my bonnet buzzing. For some time now I’ve worried about how civil society organisations are managed.
Dee Hock’s book, ‘Birth of the Chaordic Age’, clarified for me why organisations and institutes never seem to fulfil their potential. In that book he asks:
Why are organisations, everywhere, whether political, commercial, or social, increasingly unable to manage their affairs?
Why are individuals, everywhere, increasingly in conflict with and alienated from the organisations of which they are a part?
He points out that:
We’re in an accelerating, global epidemic of institutional failure.
Schools that can’t teach
Universities far from universal
Corporations that neither cooperate nor compete, only consolidate
Unhealthy health-care systems
Welfare systems in which no one fairs well
Farming systems that destroy the soil and poison food
Families far from familial
Police that can’t enforce the law
Judicial systems without justice
Governments that can’t govern
Economies that can’t economise.
The reason, he suggests, is because we manage our organisations from a dated Cartesian/Newtonian worldview, based on the idea that the whole is equal to the sum of its parts and that effects are the result of infinitely divisible, linear causes. But we know from science that nothing is merely the sum of its parts; parts have meaning only in reference to a greater whole in which everything is related to everything else.
Having this in my head has made me uncomfortable with most of the organisations I’ve been involved with. Though I could probably say why, if pushed, I couldn’t say precisely what could or should be done about it. Imagine trying to have that conversation with the CEO or the Leader of any of our Local Authorities.
So I asked my friend to recommend some reading material on organisational culture. He suggested ‘Reinventing Organisations’ by Frederic Laloux. I’ve just finished reading it and it’s been a revelation.
The author points out that the progress we have made over the last few centuries, from living constantly at the brink of famine and death to relative comfort and security, has come about because we collaborate with each other in organisations. As our conscience has evolved, so have the organisations we formed. Every time we have changed the way we think about the world, we have come up with different types of organisations.
If we are primarily impulsive – I want it now – we organise like wolf packs with a powerful leader ruthlessly enforcing obedience – think warlords, street gangs and mafias. When we are compliant and see the word as stable, we organise in a long chain of subversive hierarchy , like the religions or the military; commander-in-chief, field marshals, generals, brigade commanders, colonels, lieutenants and so on.
As we came to see the world as having natural laws that can be investigated and understood, our organisations started to focus on achievement – getting ahead with whatever cards we are dealt for the highest possible outcome. From this perspective, all individuals should be free to pursue their goals and make it to the top. Modern global corporations are the embodiment of this level of consciousness, glorifying desicive leadership. Look at what they are doing to the planet.
But there is more to life than success or failure. What about fairness, equality, harmony, community, cooperation and consensus? This is the realm of pluralistic thinking that champions woman’s liberation, the abolition of slavery, freedom of religion, separating religion from the state and democracy. Organisations operating from this perspective value relationships above outcomes and insist that, in light of continuing inequality, poverty and discrimination, there must be more to life than a self-centred pursuit of career and success. They see leaders to be in service to those they lead.
Beyond the line of thinking that considers our worldview to be the only valid one, there is an evolution in consciousness towards ever more complex and refined ways of dealing with the world. To quote from the book; Slowly, this shift is making profound inroads in different fields, from management to education, from psychology to health care—starting with the premise that, as human beings, we are not problems waiting to be solved, but potential waiting to unfold.
There is a lot more to this book than I can attempt to clarify in a blog post. He goes on the describe in detail how organisations based on this new perspective (some employing huge numbers) operate on a self-management principal that allows those organisations to contribute positively rather than negatively to the world and gives meaningful employment to the people within those organisations, where they are able to fulfil their humanistic potential and contribute positively to life in general.
There is a world of difference between a business set up to make its founder and shareholders rich and one set up for entirely altruistic purposes, needing the best of everyone concerned to make it a viable reality.
I used to think business was the problem not the answer. Now I’m having a rethink.