The big idea we need

art by 108 in Italy

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

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

Why are society and the biosphere increasingly in disarray?

I suppressed my desire to control the future, and tried to create the conditions by which new concepts might emerge.

What if ownership was in the form of irrevocable right of participation rather than stock?

What if it were self-organizing?

What if power and function were distributive, with no power vested in or function performed by any part that could reasonably be exercised by any more peripheral part?

What if governance were distributive?

What if it could seamlessly blend cooperation and competition?

What if it were infinitely malleable, yet extremely durable?

Educe — to bring or draw forth something already present in a latent, or undeveloped form. It can be contrasted with induce, meaning ‘to prevail upon; move by persuasion or influence—to impel, incite, or urge’

This endless compression of float, whether of life forms, money, information, technology, time, space, or anything else, can be combined and thought of as the disappearance of ‘change float’—the time between what was and what is to be—between past and future.

There has been no loss of institutional float.

Although their size and power have vastly increased, although we constantly tinker with their form, although we change their labels, there has been no new, commonly accepted idea of organizations since the concepts of corporation, nation-state, and university emerged, the newest of which is centuries old.

They are no longer, not even indirectly, an instrument of the societies they affect, but an instrument of the few who control the ever-increasing power and wealth they command.

When a corporation rips from the Earth irreplaceable energy or resources, no matter how much it pays for them; 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 gain.

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 gain. It is tearing the physical world apart, and most people as well.

We wanted to give you something that you could keep for the remainder of your life as a reminder of this day. On one cufflink [this was the ‘70s, after all] is half of the world surrounded with the Latin phrase ‘Stadium ad prosperandum’—the will to succeed. On the second cufflink is the other half of the world surrounded with ‘Voluntas in conveniendum’—the grace to compromise. We meet tomorrow for the final time to disband the effort after an arduous two years. There is no possibility of compromise. As organizing agent, we have one last request. Will you please bring your cufflinks to the meeting in the morning? When it ends, each of us will take them with us as a reminder for the remainder of our lives that the world can never be united through us because we lacked the will to succeed and the grace to compromise. But if, by some miracle, our differences can dissolve before morning, this gift will remind us to the day we die that the world was united because we had the will to succeed and the grace to compromise.”

Science has traditionally operated in the provinces of data, information, and knowledge … theology philosophy, literature and art have traditionally operated in the provinces of understanding and wisdom.

Today 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.

The concept of organizations composed of semi-autonomous equals affiliated for common purpose, such as Visa, the Internet, and Linux software, has intensified the endless debate as to whether competition or cooperation should rule the day. Each has passionate messiahs to preach its virtue. Both are wrong. Competition and cooperation are not contraries. They have no opposite meaning. They are complementary. 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…. every cell in our bodies vigorously competes for every atom of nutrient we swallow and every atom of oxygen we breathe, 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 cannot reach its highest potential, in fact, cannot exist without a harmonious blend of competition and cooperation.

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’… whether it will eventually lead to yet another age characterized by an extension of ethical and spiritual power is a much more compelling question…

In organizations of the future the centuries-old effort to eliminate judgement 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 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 circumventing the mindless, sticky web of rules and regulations by which people are necessarily bound.

The first and paramount responsibility of anyone who purports to manage is to manage self: one’s own integrity, character, ethics, knowledge, wisdom, temperament, words, and acts … without management of self no one is fit for authority no matter how much they acquire, for the more authority they acquire the more dangerous they become. It is the management of self that should occupy 50 percent of our time and the best of our ability. And when we do that, the ethical, moral and spiritual elements of management are inescapable.
The second responsibility is to manage those who have authority over us: bosses, supervisors, directors, regulators, ad infinitum. Without their consent and support, how can we follow conviction, exercise judgment, use creative ability, achieve constructive results or create conditions by which others can do the same? Managing superiors is essential. Devoting 25 percent of our time and ability to that effort is not too much.
The third responsibility is to manage one’s peers — those over whom we have no authority and who have no authority over us — associates, competitors, suppliers, customers — one’s entire environment if you will. Without their respect and confidence little or nothing can be accomplished. Our environment and peers can make a small heaven or hell of our life. Is it not wise to devote at least 20 percent of our time, energy, and ingenuity to managing them?
The fourth responsibility is to manage those over whom we have authority. The common response is that all one’s time will be consumed managing self, superiors and peers. There will be no time to manage subordinates. Exactly! One need only select decent people, introduce them to the concept, induce them to practice it, and enjoy the process. If those over whom we have authority properly manage themselves, manage us, manage their peers, and replicate the process with those they employ, what is there to do but see they are properly recognized, rewarded — and stay out of their

You don’t have a health-care problem. You have an institutional problem, and until you deal with it, things will get progressively worse.

Any one of you will set out virtually anywhere in the world with a small rectangle of blue, white and gold polyvinyl-chloride in your pocket with complete confidence that you will be transported, housed, fed, clothed and entertained, with all the complex information that requires—currency conversions, language translations, and financial settlements—handled within seconds with complete privacy and 99.99 percent accuracy.

How can it be that you cannot provide anything remotely comparable if I walk down the hall or across the street between medical practitioners, hospitals, or laboratories, let alone have the temerity to become ill or involved in an accident in another town or country?

How can it be that you can understand and deal effectively with the most intricate, complex, systemic structure that trillions of years of evolution could create, the human body, yet remain in the dark ages when it comes to organizing yourselves into an effective, systemic structure for the benefit of those you purport to serve, even when doing so would serve your interests equally well?

Can such a massive change of consciousness occur? Of course it can! In the great sweep of history, it often has. Will it occur in time to ameliorate the epidemic of institutional failure that is everywhere apparent and minimize the resulting environmental and social carnage that is enveloping us all? Ah, that is another question entirely…I turn to the classics for guidance…

One can find no better answer than the words of Camus:
Great ideas come into the world as quietly as doves. Perhaps then, if we listen attentively, we shall hear the faint fluttering of wings, the gentle stirring of life and hope. Some will say this hope lies in a nation, others, in a man. I believe rather that it is awakened, revived, nourished by millions of individuals whose deeds and works every day negate frontiers and the crudest implications of history. Each and every one builds for all.

Each and every one builds for all.

Business has long been ruled by the short-term demands of Wall Street investors: quarterly earning results, a rising share price. But when you think about it, that’s really a taker’s attitude. An maybe that’s starting to change.



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