Sunday, June 27, 2010

Leadership and Self-Organization

In my previous blogs, I've been arguing that our society relies too much on social organization based on leadership and followership. I also suggested that: we have too many leaders, we unjustly praise and blame them for the successes and failures of others, we over-pay them, and bestow way too much media exposure upon them. So what's the alternative? My answer "self-organized social systems."I'll be the first to admit that this sounds fishy. Let me try to clean out the fish tank a bit.

First of all, I am not advocating anarchy. We humans are social animals, and therefore, we will always "organize" ourselves in order to achieve various ends by via various means. Hence, human organizations are irrevocably teleological (goal-directed). Libertarians argue that long-term survival of any organization is contingent upon functionality: the ability to achieve its goal. Moreover, I also fully acknowledge that our natural instincts propel us to play "following the leader." My argument is simply that this leader-follower organizational structure doesn't work anymore. What's the alternative? Self-organization. So what would this alternative system look like?

Let's start off with a few empirical observations concerning the nature of ALL human organizations. 1.) All organizations emerge out of complex human social interactions. 2.) Historically, they are organized on the basis of leadership and followership. 3.) All organizations emerge and adapt to changing environments, and eventually suffer extinction. 4.)Over the course of an organization's finite lifetime, leaders influence followers and followers influence leaders. 5.) Over an organization's lifetime, sub-organizations emerge that seek change either organizational ends, means, or both. 6.) Organizations are also influenced by other external organizations within their environment. Some are cooperative some are competitive in the quest for members and/or resources. In other words, ALL ORGANIZATIONS ARE COMPLEX ADAPTIVE SYSTEMS. Human organizations differ from other natural systems insofar as they can be either self-organized (from the bottom up) or leader-organized (from the top down).

Now what are self-organized systems? Self-organized organizations lack a master-control mechanism. The best example of a self-organized system is an ecological system. Because no one controls what's going on at the lower levels, ecosystems can easily adapt to environmental change via variation and selection. For human organizations, adaptation is contingent upon the ability of members to freely enter or exit that organization; that is join, maintain membership, or quit. All organizations cooperate with and/or compete with one other for members and resources based on information provided to members and non-members relating to ends and means. Rational human beings do not join an organization, if they don't know (Trust) what it does or how it does it.

Organizations that cannot maintain membership and/or resources must either revise their organizational ends or means in order to survive. Mother Nature "creatively destroys" organizational dysfunctionality, if-and-only-if, members are rational and are free to enter or exit. So why are there so many dysfunctional organizations? Dysfunctional organizations can extend their lives by short-circuiting the process of "creative destruction." There are three manifulative strategies: threats, enticements, and disinformation.

Many, if not most human organizations are leader-organized from the top down where followers are simply manipulated by leaders. How? Human beings are naturally attracted to pleasure and repulsed by pain. We prefer pleasure and fear pain. Thus, the most common strategy for propping up dysfunctional organizations is to either threaten (pain) members with coercive force or offer an enticement (pleasure). Organizational survival based on threats is obviously contingent upon the ability of organizational leaders to carry out those threats. Another, related strategy is to use physical barriers such as walls or fences that control entry or exit, which must deal with tunnels, aircraft, and ships.

Dysfunctional organizations can also survive by offering enticements, which attract and retain membership transactionally; that is, by giving (or taking away) something members value. The Robin Hood Strategy involves taking away the property of some members and giving it to other members. The problem here is how to take from the "haves" without them exiting the organization, and how to decide how much to give to the "have nots." One effective strategy is to disquise both the identity of the beneficiaries and the contributers.

But the most common strategy for maintaining dysfunctional organizations is to control the flow of "information" within the system and outside the system. Informational control involves manipulation of the beliefs of members (and or non-members) by deliberately obscuring or disguising organizational means or ends: propaganda or ideology. Organizations also tend to disguise information relating to actual benefactors and beneficiaries; usually by disguising costs and/or benefits of being a member. For example, you might be a member of group that you believe is committed to achieving praiseworthy goals (save the whales) via praiseworthy means (exposing the impending extinction of the species), but later discover that this organization uses its resources to support terrorist activity in Afghanistan. Of course, (in the absence of coercive force) if and when this information is exposed, most whale lovers head for the exits and other potential whale lovers look for alternatives. Unfortunately, whale lovers that support terrorism might choose to remain and new terrorists might also join.

Now, here is the crux of my argument. There are two different kinds of organizations: private organizations and public organizations. Public organizations survive or suffer extinction via the use of legalized threats, enticements, and disinformation. Private organizations survive or suffer extinction without the benefit use of LEGALITY. This is not to say that dysfunctional private organizations are by definition non-transactional or less ideological than public organizations. Many are coercive (think gangs). But their use of coercion and manipulation is limited by competition with other organizations. In other words, it is much more difficult for private, voluntary organizations to survive because we naturally prefer voluntary over-non-voluntary organizations. Two caveats: 1.) We don't always exit organizations that threaten or seize the property of others, therefore, organizations are often threatened by external organizations. 2.)Sometimes more powerful organizations intervene on behalf of members of other organizations.

Nevertheless, over the long run, private, non-coercive, voluntary organizations tend to be more adaptive. Mother Nature punishes organizations that employ coercive force or tell lies. So again, why hasn't this behavior been weeded out by creative destruction? Non-voluntary organizations survive by controlling the flow of energy and information within and between organizations. The cultural evolution of weaponry and information technology tend to undermine creative destruction of dysfunctionality. Survival, therefore, becomes contingent upon weaponry and media access. Thus competition is shifted from the ability to attract and keep voluntary members to the ability to effectively employ coercive force and tell lies. This accounts for the rise and durability of nation states as the dominating political entity in the world today. Generally speaking, there are very few "failed nation states." All nation states are more or less coercive, anthough their methods vary significantly. All employ propaganda. Coercive organizations that can raise and maintain an army and/or control information can survive.


So what does all this say about leadership and followership? Modern organizations that rely primarily on the ability of leaders to attract and maintain followers via threats, lies,or transactions, are doomed to fail; especially in environments where members can avoid threats, detect lies, or resist payoffs. Libertarians argue that we must guard ourselves against coercive and deceptive organizations. Anarcho-capitalist libertarians argue that this requires the dismantling of the nation state. Once this is done, they argue, creative destruction will purge the world of aggression and theft. I'm not quite that idealistic. Minarchists, like myself, argue that we need a degree of monopolized coercive force (government) to protect voluntary organizations from coercive force and deception. Although anarcho-capitalists and minarchists disagree over the MEANS of protecting self-organization, we at least agree that the process must be protected. We also agree that "good organizations" embrace moral rules against aggression, theft, and lies; and that, over the long-run, modern organizations that are not open to the forces of "creative destruction" find themselves on "The Road to Serfdom."

Throughout most of human history, human organizations have been held together by fear and lies. Although that worked well enough for most of human history, it will not work any more, unless we want to revert back to Pleistocene life styles.

1 comment:

Brandi Bryant said...

We look to the president or organized based leadership to help with the bigger decisions for our nation. This is contingent upon functionality? I agree with you, this does not work any more because playing follow the leader, well first you have to have one. Secondly the leaders must not have to be educated and the followers don't have a choice but to listen to what the president says. Dysfunctional is a good word. Organized leadership does start from the top, however the leader needs to have the want to lead with confidence, not back down with lies and the first sign of trouble. -Brandi Bryant