Categories
b. Competition and Co-operation

Competition & Co-operation

According to ecological theory, the population of a species will grow until it becomes constrained by the available resources. These resources then become insufficient to satisfy the needs of all members of the species, and they will compete for them. This is a natural evolutionary process and applies as much to humanity as it does to any other species.

However, competition is of two types: negative and positive. Negative competition involves preventing a competitor from achieving their aims. In a running race, for example, competitors who engage in negative competition will attempt to trip one another up. Clearly, when taken to extreme, this can lead to conflict. Positive competition, on the other hand, involves each competitor striving to be superior to the other. In the example of a running race, each strives to be first to reach the finish line.

Counter-intuitively, positive competition can lead to co-operation, and thus, to human organisation. This form of competition reveals the most competent individual for a particular task. Other competitors, providing they are not engaging in negative competition, recognise that the task is best carried out by that person. They also recognise that there is benefit in excelling in their own niche and trading its outputs with those who most efficiently occupy others.  For example, whoever is best at hunting will be recognised as the hunter, whoever best at fishing recognised as the fisherman, and the two will trade fish for meat to the advantage of both. Thus, an efficient “division of labour” emerges, with everyone doing what they do best, and each task being done by whoever is most competent to do it. In the absence of negative competition, trust also emerges, and everyone benefits through a process of trade.

Leadership is just one necessary task in human organisation. In general systems theory it is referred to as requisite hierarchy. It involves organizing the tasks carried out by a group of people to achieve a common goal, identifying who is most suited to each task, amicably resolving any disagreements, and discouraging any negative competition. The most competent leader is also revealed by positive competition. Through a process of trust and trade, e.g., fish and meat for leadership effort, the others come to accept him or her. With a leader and a division of labour in place, an organisation can be said to have formed.

Clearly, positive competition is socially beneficial, and negative competition socially harmful. In the running race, positive competition results in it being won in the shortest possible time, i.e., most efficiently. Negative competition, on the other hand, can lead to it never being won at all, if the participants descend to trading blows at the halfway point. Obviously, the benefits of positive competition described above seem rather idealistic. In practice, all human beings continuously balance their immediate interests with their longer-term interests gained from the support of a co-operative group. We all engage in both positive and negative competition to varying degrees. So, there are many ways in which human organisation can fail and I will discuss some of them in future articles.

Historically, humanity has extensively engaged in negative competition. Like many animals, early man competed aggressively for territory and the resources it contained. However, again like many animals, co-operation probably originated in small family groups. Unlike other animals, however, a virtuous circle, or positive feedback loop, developed.  When two organized groups engage in positive competition, they begin to co-operate, and form a yet larger organized group. This, in turn, leads to ever greater skill and efficiency in acquiring resources and, thus, ever greater population. The process scales up. Thus, tribes formed kingdoms, kingdoms formed  nations, and nations formed cultural groups, until we arrived at the world we see today.

Some, who feel that they cannot succeed in positive competition, will resort to negative competition. So, to reduce this within organized groups, norms, i.e., codes of acceptable behaviour, and methods of enforcement were established. In smaller groups, such as tribes, this would have been the word of the leader. However, as the membership of organized groups became ever larger, it became necessary to generalize and formalise these norms as laws, and to delegate their enforcement. In the world today, laws exist in all nations. Enforcement also exists, to a greater or lesser extent, and this has a strong bearing on a nation’s success or failure.

Negative competition has always existed between organized groups, from the tribal to the national scale. Hence the wars that we have seen in the past. It could even be argued that the two go hand in hand, because positive competition would result in tribes and nations merging to form larger organized groups. To a large extent this negative competition still exists today and, although they are becoming rarer, wars continue to take place. Unfortunately, control over negative competition between nations is still in its infancy, and many of the existential threats that humanity faces are global in nature. Suggestions as to how to take this forward are, therefore, given in a future article.

Categories
a. An Introduction to Organisations

An Introduction to Organisations

To carry out communal activities at any scale, we form what I will describe, generically, as “organisations”. These are formal or informal groups of individuals that have their own culture and purpose. They can be religious, political, economic, or have some other function.

All human organisations are self-maintaining systems. As an organisation comes into existence and develops, so too does a hierarchy within it. For the organisation to function efficiently and effectively, its members must specialise. This, in turn, requires the co-ordination of their activities. For example, a typical commercial enterprise comprises a managing director followed by directors, senior managers, middle managers, junior managers, and ordinary employees. A typical religion might be organised with a god at the top, followed by “his representative on earth”, and so on down to the lay population. Such hierarchies exist everywhere in society, albeit with different names for the various strata, and we take this for granted.

However, the type of hierarchy in an organisation depends on the extent to which it relies on leadership or power for control. A person with leadership attributes gains high status by virtue of skills in directing a group of individuals to an agreed common goal. Generally, these skills are recognised by the subordinates, and the leader’s status is held with their consent. On the other hand, a person with power attributes has skills in directing a group of individuals to a goal set by him, her or those above. He or she does not necessarily hold their status with their subordinates’ consent. Individuals in a hierarchy generally hold a combination of both attributes, each manifesting to a greater or lesser degree. Unfortunately, there has been a history of power masquerading as leadership, and the term “leader” is used to describe both those who exercise power and those who exercise genuine leadership. In this series of articles, I will, therefore, use the terms “highest status”, “high status”, “low status”, “lowest status”, “senior” and “junior” when referring to the members of a hierarchy.

Control and adaptation mechanisms in an organisation or sub-organisation depend on the highest status individuals receiving information from those of lower status and issuing instructions to them. The balance of leadership and power attributes can vary from organisation to organisation and from sub-organisation to sub-organisation. It is normally a reflection of the attributes of its highest status members and can become entrenched as a culture.

In the same way as systems, all organisations contain sub-organisations and are part of yet larger ones. A commercial organisation, for example, may comprise departments and teams. It may also belong to a sector, i.e., a group of commercial organisations with similar purpose. Thus, organisations are themselves structured hierarchically. An outline of this hierarchy from the top down is:

  • Earth’s Ecology
  • Global Human Organisation
  • Cultural Alliances of Nations
  • Individual Nations
  • National Elites
  • Sectors (both formal and informal)
  • Named Organisations
  • Departments
  • Teams
  • Individuals

The term “organisation” is used generically to describe any one of these.

Organisations exist to facilitate the co-operation of individuals for a common purpose. Usually, they are a means of satisfying the needs and avoiding the contra-needs of a group of individuals. However, their purpose can also be to satisfy the needs and avoid the contra-needs of one or more other organisations. It is also possible for organisations to come into being with the specific purpose of creating contra-satisfiers for others, or to obstruct their satisfiers. So, in the way that it impacts on others, an organisation can be a satisfier or contra-satisfier of a type described by Max Neef.

All organisations are open systems with inputs, processes, and outputs. They have needs and contra-needs. Their needs are to carry out their function and grow, and their contra-needs are an inability to do so. Satisfiers are the inputs and internal organisation necessary for them to carry out their processes. Contra-satisfiers are anything that prevents this.

Organisations interact with one another to provide inputs and outputs. When one organisation provides the outputs needed by another, it is a satisfier of the latter’s needs. However, it can also act as a contra-satisfier, either deliberately or unintentionally. Organisations will also compete with one another for the inputs or resources required to satisfy their needs. These interactions are not necessarily at the same level in the hierarchy of organisations. For example, an individual interacts with a commercial organisation for payment or other benefits in return for his labour. He also interacts with many organisations for products and services in return for money. In general, individuals and organisations will be attracted to organisations they believe will satisfy their needs. A form of risk-benefit-cost analysis is carried out and equitable reciprocation is expected.

Finally, all organisations come into existence, carry out their function for a time, and then either expire or alter their purpose. As I discuss organisations and hierarchies in more detail, I will follow this order.

Categories
n. Top-down and Bottom-up representation

Top-down / Bottom-up Representation

The command component of an organisation can be selected by bottom-up or top-down representation, i.e., by subordinate components or by the command component of parent or grandparent organisations.

Ultimately, each organisation is led by a single individual, although that individual may be beholden to the leader of a parent or grandparent organisation. Thus, organisations have a command hierarchy whose size is proportional to the size of the organisation.

Top-down representation permits greater focus on the objectives of the relevant organisation and its stakeholders, but this focus can be redirected in the personal interest of the leader. Bottom-up representation, on the other hand, allows greater flexibility in selecting the appropriate command style for the prevailing circumstances, but can result in a focus on the personal objectives of subordinates. Ideally therefore, those who populate command components should be selected by negotiation between the two interests, and both should monitor the decisions and commands of leaders to ensure that they are aligned with communal interests.

It is notable, however, that top-down hierarchies corrupt bottom-up democracies. In the UK, voluntary organisations tend to be run “democratically” by committees or boards of elected lay members. They also employ staff to support them. Whilst the lay side is democratic, the staff side comprises a hierarchy with a single leader at the top, much like a typical business. Despite the existence of a democratic lay side and claims that these organisations are run by the membership, in practice, the single individual leading the staff side almost always runs the organisation and sets its agenda. Obviously, he or she controls the staff side, and via leader/ follower trading arrangements, they become compliant to his or her wishes. The staff side also develop strategies to persuade lay members to support their leader’s agenda. They learn what a lay member wants, typically, this is position and status, and use their influence in the organisation to provide it in return for support. In this way, lay members obtain leadership positions which are beholden to the top-down structure of the staff side and bottom-up democracy is diluted or lost.

I have personal experience of this process in two entirely different voluntary sector organisations. One is a trade union. Unsurprisingly, most UK unions have now merged into very large, centrally controlled organisations with highly paid, high-profile leaders. This is a far cry from the original, small, local, and genuinely member led organisations that trade unions once were. The other was a medium sized ethical society where the same process was steadily taking place. This problem is scalable to government, where top-down business hierarchies can influence bottom-up government in a similar way. Bottom-up representation cannot survive contact with top-down representation, unless strong controls such as transparency, and a genuinely policed code of ethics are in place.

Message from the Author

From the examples given in this and the preceding articles, there is no doubt that General Systems theory is potentially an extremely powerful tool for understanding human nature and society. It can enable us to discover the root causes of the social and environmental problems we face and can help in identifying solutions. However, the subject is not as well developed in Rational-Understanding’s area of interest as I had hoped. Much work is required before I can make further posts on the topic.

I will, therefore, now move on to the next topic, “How Organisations and Hierarchies Arise”. In parallel, I plan to put in the necessary work on General Systems Theory and will publish pdfs on the website as this progresses. I will, of course, let you know when a pdf has been published and will provide a link. The links will also be added to the website index page.

Categories
m. Quality of Implementation of Commands

Quality of Implementation of Commands

Organisations are recursive, i.e., within any organisation there are component organisations. The same is true of the command and subordinate components of an organisation. Thus, within any command component or any subordinate component there are lesser command and subordinate components.  This recursion continues until we arrive at a single individual, and so, every organisation is structured hierarchically. When an individual is a command component they are referred to as a leader. When a subordinate component, they are referred to as a follower. In practice, hierarchies exist throughout human society, and all but a very few individuals are both leader and follower. Thus, when a command is given to a subordinate component it is the command component of that subordinate component, and ultimately an individual, who is responsible for implementing it.

Both the follower and the leader have a complex of needs, and each is looking to the other to help satisfy them. Thus, the leader / follower relationship is negotiated and, if successful, provides emotional benefits to both parties. Some individuals, however, have higher followership tendencies than others. This depends on their genetic inheritance, upbringing, education, and experience. The relative influence of each factor varies from individual to individual. In practice, an understanding of human society is beyond our individual cognitive ability, and so we often simplify. Simplification can involve following a trusted leader, or following a trusted ideology, philosophy, or religion. A high follower tendency can be due to low cognitive skills, or training such as that in an army or domestic service. It can also be due to a high level of trust in the leader, gained from experience or by feedback from one’s peer group. If satisfiers have been identified and exchanged between the follower and the leader to the satisfaction of both, then mutual trust also develops.

If an individual has a high follower tendency, then they will unquestioningly implement commands. However, if they do not, then the process is as follows.

To incentivise the follower, the leader will have offered motivators in return for carrying out their command, or will have threatened motivators in return for not doing so. However, it is the follower’s interpretation of these motivators that is important. Errors can arise in communicating the leader’s offer and, normally, offers of reward are latent, i.e., deferred until completion of the task. These facts can be deliberately exploited by the leader as a rationale for not fulfilling their promise, but this does, of course, diminish the follower’s trust.

To attract followers, the leader will also have displayed a willingness and ability to provide such motivators. The more the follower trusts the leader, the more he will believe these displays. On the other hand, the more he distrusts the leader, the less he will believe them.

If the leader’s motives for issuing the command are self-serving or culturally non-compliant, then he will attempt mitigation strategies. These take the form of false displays of culturally acceptable motivation, explanations, rationales, distractions, etc. They are criticised by the follower and either believed or not. If the follower trusts the leader, then he is more likely to believe them. The follower then compares his beliefs about the command for compliance with the culture in which the organisation operates. For this to be possible the follower must have a cultural schema and an accurate knowledge of that culture.

The more the follower role is wanted, the greater the follower displays their willingness and ability to co-operate. This can take the form of voluntary feedback and displays of support for the leader. The type of leader that people choose to follow depends on the prevailing circumstances, i.e., whether we face an existential threat, a non-existential threat, or there is a period of stability. On the other hand, the less the follower role is wanted, the more they will avoid making such displays, and the more they will avoid placing themselves in a position to receive such commands.

The follower interprets the leader’s command, instruction, request, or implied wish. Such commands can have a positive or negative emotional impact. They are positive if they happen to coincide with action needed to provide the follower with personal satisfiers. Mostly, however, they are negative, require personal effort to implement, and yield no benefit other than positive feedback to the leader.

The promise of reward has a positive emotional impact on the follower. Its magnitude will depend on the relative priority of the follower’s needs at the time. However, the more the follower believes the leader has the will and ability to provide the motivator, the greater the overall benefit. Providing there is an overall benefit, the follower will seek to acquire these rewards by carrying out the leader’s commands. The more the follower benefits in this way, the more he will wish to remain a follower.

Threats of punishment, on the other hand, have a negative emotional impact. The follower will seek to remove them, either by carrying out the leader’s command or, if possible, by ceasing to be a follower. The greater the follower’s belief in the willingness and ability of the leader to implement such threats, and the greater the net disbenefits of following the leader’s commands, the less willing he will be to continue as a follower.

The follower uses a form of emotion-based risk/benefit/cost analysis to assess the overall impact of carrying out the leader’s command, taking the following into account:

  1. The greater the positive emotional impact of acquiring the promised motivators or of avoiding the threatened motivators, the greater the overall benefits.
  2. The greater the follower’s belief in the willingness and ability of the leader to provide those motivators, the greater the overall benefits.
  3. The more the resources available to the follower, and the fewer needed to implement the command, the greater the overall benefits.
  4. The nature of the follower’s peer group also has a part to play. The more compliant it is with the wishes of the leader, the greater the overall benefits.
  5. If the follower accepts that the leader’s motives for issuing the instruction are culturally compliant, this will increase the overall benefits. If the follower does not, then due to the risk of social censure, this will decrease the overall benefits.
  6. Finally, any other risks are taken into account.

A decision is then made based on this analysis. If a course of action has a positive overall emotional benefit, then the command will normally be implemented. If it has a negative one, then it will not. If implementation does not comply with cultural values and norms, then mitigation, in a form borrowed from the leader, will be necessary. The resources required will have been taken into account in the risk/benefit/cost analysis.

The consequences of implementing or not implementing a leader’s command depend on the nature of the command. Clearly, if it is harmful from a utilitarian perspective, then there are benefits to the organisation’s stakeholders in not carrying it out. Not all self-serving or culturally non-compliant commands are harmful in this way, and so these in themselves are not criteria for failing to implement a command. Rather, difficulties arise due to blind followership, a lack of criticism of the leader’s mitigation strategies, and failure to understand the culture and the ethics that underpin its values and norms. Almost without exception, we all have a follower role and a significant part to play in constraining a leader’s excesses. We should therefore treat the role seriously, and develop appropriate skills.

Categories
l. Quality of Decision-making and Command (2)

Quality of Decision-making and Command (Part 2)

For a command to be issued, opportunities and threats which provide motivators to the command component or the organisation and its stakeholders must exist.  Normally, there are several at any one time and the command component will grasp the opportunity or avoid the threat which yields greatest emotional benefit, leaving others for later. However, what is regarded as the highest priority opportunity or threat depends upon the command components traits as described in the previous article. For example, a self-serving attitude will favour personal opportunities and threats over organisational ones.

A potential solution is then identified, and the resources required for its implementation are compared with those available. As explained in a previous article, the use of resources has a negative emotional impact. However, the greater their availability, the less this impact.

The potential solution is also compared for compliance with the command component’s understanding of the culture in which the organisation operates, i.e., social values, norms, and beliefs. Understanding of this culture can vary from a full understanding to none at all, or it can be misinterpreted. Normally, the less compliant the proposed solution, the greater the disbenefits of acting on it. However, self-serving command components can have no cultural schema, a distorted one, or may simply ignore it.

The trustworthiness of the subordinate components or followers selected to implement the command is a risk that is also assessed. This will normally be based on feedback on their past performance and a perception of whether they share mutual interests with the command component or the organisation and its stakeholders. The more trustworthy the subordinates, the greater the benefits of implementing the proposed solution.

Other risks are also considered, for example, the failure of the proposed solution to deliver the benefits anticipated, or the use of greater resources than anticipated.

A risk/benefit/cost analysis is then carried out. If carried out by an individual, it is usually based entirely on emotional impacts. However, in larger organisations it can be a more formal process. Ultimately, however, even the most thorough formal analysis is founded on emotional impacts. The analysis yields an overall emotional benefit or disbenefit by adding together the positive emotional value of the benefits sought, the negative emotional value of the resources used, and the negative emotional value of any cultural non-compliance. The trustworthiness of the followers chosen to implement the solution and any other risk factors increase or decrease these individual values.

Based on this analysis, a decision is then taken on whether to implement the proposed solution. If the analysis shows a positive overall emotional benefit, then it will normally be implemented, and the command component will then consider the next highest priority opportunity or threat. However, if it has an overall emotional disbenefit, it will not. An alternative solution will be proposed, and the process will repeat until a satisfactory solution is found, or it is concluded that there is none. Thus, one of two feedback loops will occur, depending on this decision.

If it has been decided to proceed with a solution, then a command will normally be issued. Motivators, i.e., satisfiers, may also be offered to encourage the follower to implement the command. The resources required for these motivators will have been taken into account during the risk/benefit/cost analysis. However, if the follower has previously proven unwilling or if the use of resources can be reduced, then a coercive approach involving contra-satisfiers may be threatened.

Finally, if it has been decided to implement a course of action which does not comply with cultural values and norms, e.g., if the command component’s motives are entirely self-serving, then mitigation will be necessary. In the case of an individual leader, this can take the form of false displays of culturally acceptable motivation, explanations, rationales, distractions, etc. In the case of a business organisation, mitigation services are provided by public relations consultants, advertising consultants and business psychologists. As also stated by H.G. Wells, “Advertising is legitimised lying”. In the case of a political organisation, advice can be provided by spin doctors. In the extreme it can become propaganda and the silencing of dissenting voices. Again, the resources needed for this will have been taken into account in the risk/benefit/cost analysis. It is interesting to note that a surfeit of self-serving leaders leads to a surfeit of mitigation. This, in turn, leads to much social confusion regarding the truth, and thus, to mental ill health. Positive psychology and mindfulness merely treat the symptoms and not the cause. Furthermore, they distract us from dealing with the cause.

Categories
k. Quality of Decision-making and Command (1)

Quality of Decision-making and Command (Part 1)

Command is a generic term and can mean instructions, requests, or implied wishes.

Quality of decision-making and command determines whether decisions yield maximum utility for the stakeholders of an organisation, fail in this, or provide utility only for its leaders. A stakeholder is not merely a person or organisation with a financial interest, but one who is affected by it, directly or indirectly, in any way.

Individuals or organisations can either seek or seek to avoid command roles. Whether an individual seeks a command role depends on his genetic inheritance, upbringing, education, and experience, but the relative influence of each is not known. Ultimately, every organisation from a small club to a group of nations is commanded by a single individual. Thus, the factors which influence an individual’s attitude also affect any organisation he or she commands. There are many examples of a leader of one nation wishing to extend its influence over others.

The command component/ subordinate component relationship is known as the leader/ follower relationship when applied to individuals. Because each organisation and component organisation is led by an individual, the relationship is normally negotiated between individuals and provides emotional benefits to both. An individual’s needs are for survival/procreation, relatedness, and growth and it is the satisfaction of these needs which is the subject of negotiation. The needs of larger organisations are similar, i.e., they wish to survive, have a positive relationship with the society in which they operate, and grow. These organisational needs are interpreted by individuals when negotiations between organisations, from individual to international level, take place. However, the priorities we give to both individual and organisational needs change with time, and so too do the priorities we give to their satisfiers. Relationships can therefore alter. They can be newly established, adapt, become more or less satisfactory, or fail.

Any organisation or individual that seeks a command or leadership role will, either honestly or dishonestly, display an ability to supply motivators to potential subordinate organisations or followers. These motivators may be rewards or satisfiers of their followers’ needs. Thus, a potential individual leader will make displays of wealth, for example an expensive lifestyle, or of influence, for example name dropping. A larger potential command component will also make displays of wealth and influence. Alternatively, motivators may comprise contra-satisfiers or punishments, i.e., those things we are motivated to avoid. In this case, a potential individual leader will display power through physical strength, bullying, size of following, control over the satisfiers of potential followers, etc. A larger organisation may threaten legal action and a nation may threaten war.

The quality of any command depends on the following traits of the command component. In the case of individuals, each trait is caused by a combination of genetic inheritance, upbringing, education, and experience, but the relative influence of each is unknown. Again, because organisations are ultimately led by an individual, these traits will affect any larger decision-making body.

  1. The competence of the command component to make decisions, e.g., whether they have experience and understanding of the relevant field, and whether they have the cognitive skills to make appropriate decisions. Their focus is frequently relatively narrow. In practice, an understanding of human society is beyond our individual cognitive ability, and so we often simplify, focusing only on the particular organisation commanded and its immediate stakeholders. The more extensive the impact of the organisation, the more problematic this becomes. Thus for example, governing a nation needs to be supported by complex systems modelling of the type described at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/systems-thinking-for-civil-servants
  2. Whether the command component has a self-serving attitude or a collectivist one, i.e., a concern for themselves alone or for the organisation and its stakeholders as a whole. As explained in previous articles, we are social animals, and our individual interest strongly derives from that of our community. Usually, therefore, leaders will balance short term personal interests with longer term collectivist ones. However, this is not always the case, and some individuals will focus solely, or to a very large extent on immediate personal interest. Due to leader/ follower negotiations, this attitude can cascade down through an organisation and even affect whole nations. Ways of avoiding this will be discussed in a subsequent article.
  3. Whether the command component tends to centralise decision making upon itself or is willing to delegate it to subordinates. If the attitude is a self-serving one, then decisions will, of course, be centralised to ensure that they are in the interest of the decision-makers. If it is collectivist, then more delegation will take place. However, the more a decision is centralised, the more overloaded decision-makers will become. On the other hand, the more it can be in the interest of all stakeholders. The more it is delegated, the less likely it will be that decision makers become overloaded. On the other hand, the more likely it is to be in the interest of the sub-ordinates to whom it is delegated. Neither extreme is satisfactory. A balance needs to be struck, therefore, with monitoring and policing of decisions by both parties.
  4. Whether the command style is authoritarian or consultative. A consultative style requires time for consultation. Overloaded decision makers will, therefore, become more authoritarian, and less likely to fully acquaint themselves with the circumstances surrounding the decision. Due to this lack of information and criticism from more knowledgeable subordinates, authoritarian decisions are likely to be of lower utility than consultative ones. Self-serving decisions require mitigations such as justifying rationales. This also requires time and effort. Self-serving decision-makers will, therefore, also become more authoritarian. Those with more time or the interests of the organisation and its stakeholders at heart are more likely to be consultative.
  5. Whether the command component is informed or uninformed about the relevant issue. This includes the quality of information received from sub-ordinate components and from the environment. High quality information enables good decisions but requires resources to gather, verify and police.

Any one of these traits is sufficient to affect the quality of decision making. However, several can combine either to have a greater effect or to cancel one another out. The traits are also inter-related with one being sufficient but not necessary to cause the other. For example, a self-serving attitude leads to a tendency to centralise decision making. This in turn can lead to overload. Due to a lack of time to persuade, overload can lead to an authoritarian attitude. This, in turn, due to a lack of consultation, can lead to uninformed decisions. All these factors lead to poor decision making. Furthermore, because there is a causal time lag, their impact steadily degrades the quality of decision making over time. Thus, a self-serving attitude is a highly significant factor in poor decision making, whose effect grows with time. This causal cascade means that leaders, who may initially have only a slightly self-interested attitude, can over time slide down a slippery slope into despotism. A partial solution may be to place a time limit on any command role, as in a true electoral democracy. However, more is required to ensure that we are not ruled by the excessively self-serving.

Categories
j. Identifying Desirable Changes in Human Organisation

Identifying Desirable Changes in Human Organisation

This article is the introduction to a series of five. If you would like to read them all, a pdf containing them can be downloaded here.

Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.

H.G.Wells from “When the Sleeper Wakes”, 1899.

The description of an organisation given in the previous posts is relatively simple. However, there are very many organisations in the world, and each can interact with others in a variety of ways. This leads to enormous complexity and unpredictability, which can be daunting. Fortunately, human organisation has a recursive structure, comprising organisations within organisations, and each organisation has a limited number of variables. These are:

  • The quality of decision making and commands (discussed in more detail in the next two articles).
  • The quality of implementation of commands (discussed in more detail in a future article).
  • The quality of communication of commands.
  • The extent to which those with command responsibility are chosen by top-down or bottom-up representation (discussed in more detail in a future article).
  • The extent to which an organisation adapts internally to changes in its inputs, as opposed to influencing its environment to maintain them.
  • The attitude of the organisation in its relationships with others.
  • The proportion of the organisation’s inputs spent on self-maintenance, as opposed to producing outputs.
  • The extent to which the organisation is efficient.
  • The extent to which the organisation contains redundancies and is resilient.

To help understand these variables, I have designed causal diagrams which can be downloaded here. These diagrams can be translated into the natural language explanations given in the following articles. It is recommended that the reader downloads the diagrams and follows them as he or she reads each article. This will give a better understanding of both the diagrams and the text.

Desirable changes to organisational behaviour can be identified in several ways. However, each involves asking the following three questions:

  • What do we wish to achieve?
  • What key changes in basic organisational behaviour will achieve that?
  • How do we go about making those changes?

A simple root cause analysis can be carried out. This involves identifying an undesirable event, repetitively asking the question “why?”, and backtracking through the diagrams from effect to cause.

The diagrams can also be translated into Symbolic Logic. This enables formal deductions and inductions to be carried out. The method of translation can be downloaded here, and the methods for carrying out deductions and inductions are described in my book, “The Mathematics of Language and Thought”, which can be downloaded here.

Theoretically, system dynamics can also be applied to the diagrams. However, this would require numerical quantification of the variables. Unfortunately, the quantification of human beliefs and attitudes is fraught with difficulty. Thus, much research effort would first be needed before a systems dynamics approach to human organisation was practicable.

Categories
Admin Uncategorized

Rational Understanding’s First Birthday

On 4th June, 2022, I will have been posting articles on rational-understanding.com for a year. To celebrate, I have compiled the first 42 Articles into a small pdf booklet that you can download at https://rational-understanding.com/my-books#allarticles.

Categories
i. A Systems Model of Human Organisation (Part 3)

A Systems Model of Human Organisation (Part 3)

This post is the final part of the article posted over the last two weeks. Due to its length, I have split the article down into three posts, but if you would like to read it in one sitting a copy can be downloaded here https://rational-understanding.com/my-books#systems-model.

Redundancy

The components of an organisation have designated functions and act together to achieve its overall purpose. Organisations which have evolved frequently contain redundant components which compete with one another. Although this competition leads to inefficiencies, redundancy does make an organisation more resilient. Furthermore, competition, if positive, can reveal which component is best suited to a role. Because we aim for efficiency, an organisation which has been designed rarely contains redundancies. It is also the case that subsequent design often eliminates them, but there is of course, a downside.

This also applies to the command component. In some cases, there is redundancy of potential command, i.e., alternative command components that can step in when necessary. In other cases, there is none. In a democracy for example, there is considerable redundancy of potential command in the form of political parties and much competition between them. However, this allows the selection of a command style suited to the circumstances, or the replacement of an ineffective one. In an authoritarian state or other organisation, there is often little redundancy of potential command. This makes the organisation less adaptable to changing circumstances.

Top-down & Bottom-up Representation

The command component of an organisation may comprise individuals selected by:

  • the individual who ultimately leads that organisation; or by
  • the command component of a parent or grandparent organisation.

This is top-down representation. Alternatively, it may comprise individuals selected by those in a subordinate position, i.e., bottom-up representation. There are advantages and disadvantages in both methods. The former permits greater focus on the objectives of the relevant parent organisation, but this focus can be redirected in the personal interest of the leadership. The latter allows greater flexibility in selecting the appropriate command style for the prevailing circumstances but can result in a focus on the personal objectives of subordinates. Ideally, therefore, those who populate command components should be selected by negotiation between the two interests.

Decision Making Style

The decision-making style of a command component can vary on a scale from consultative to authoritarian. The consultative approach yields the best decisions, albeit more slowly and with greater effort. However, consultative leaders can become authoritarian for two main reasons.

  • Out of efficiency. It is quicker and easier to issue instructions than to consult and negotiate.
  • To resist replacement. Leaders have their own personal goals, as well as the goals of the organisation in mind. They may rely on status to achieve the former which can conflict with the latter. In resisting replacement, they may provide misinformation to sub-ordinates, select supportive subordinates, and engage in negative competition with potential rivals. In the case of government, a new human right may be a way of preventing top-down misinformation.

Finally, a style of command can become established in the culture of an organisation, whether a business or a nation. Once established, there is a tendency for the organisation to revert to it after a change in command, i.e., command style can be subject to homeostasis.

Use of the Model

This model can be used to understand human interactions in specific circumstances. Owing to complexity, it is not able to predict those interactions, however. It can also be used to identify behavioural changes which might lead to social improvements, such as the prevention of conflict and the alleviation of poverty.

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h. A Systems Model of Human Organisation (Part 2)

A Systems Model of Human Organisation (Part 2)

This post is part two of the article begun last week. Due to its length, I have split the article down into three posts, but if you would like to read it in one sitting a copy can be downloaded here https://rational-understanding.com/my-books#systems-model.

Internal Feedback

Adapting internal processes involves an internal feedback loop in which the command component’s role is to:

  1. gather information from subordinate components. This information is subject to darkness and miscommunication. Darkness implies that the full picture can never be known. Miscommunication may involve subordinate components providing  misinformation or failing to supply relevant facts. Thus, the role of the command component is also to ensure that the supply of information is relevant and policed.
  2. issue instructions, laws, rules, regulations, norms, etc. to subordinate components and to police them. As will be explained later, ideally, this should also include rules to prevent negative competition. There can be difficulties when a command component polices itself, and thus, in a democracy for example, law-making and enforcement are separated.

External Feedback

Influencing the organisation’s external environment also involves a feedback loop. Outputs from the organisation act as inputs to other organisations in the environment. These may then be processed to yield the original organisation’s desired inputs. At its simplest level, an individual may pay for, or in some other way trade for food. At a higher level, a business may lobby government for reduced taxation or regulation. These external feedback loops are what bond levels in the organizational hierarchy together into society.

Each component organisation’s demand for inputs is a motivator. If, at the level in which external feedback occurs, other component organisations share the same motivator, they can act in one of three ways:

  1. Negative Unilateralism. The organisation acts unilaterally and in negative competition with others. The terms unilateral and multilateral are normally associated with international affairs, but here they are used more generically. Negative competition involves preventing competitors from achieving their goals. In this scenario, each organisation strives for its inputs from what may be a limited resource, and no functioning parent organisation emerges. Because negative competition leads to inefficiencies, the full potential benefits are unlikely to be achieved. Finally, open conflict can arise. It is notable that this largely reflects the state of global organisation today.
  2. Positive Unilateralism. The organisation acts unilaterally and in positive competition with others. Positive competition occurs when competitors each strive to be the best, as in the case of a running race. It leads to a  recognition of which component is best suited to what function. This, in turn, leads to co-operation. Each component finds the niche to which it is best suited and/or in which it is the most efficient. Thus, a functioning parent organisation with a command component ultimately evolves. On average, each component organisation will gain greater benefits than the previous option. However, sub-optimisation applies, and the benefits may not be as great as for those who are overwhelmingly successful in negative competition.
  3. Multilateralism. The organisation acts in co-operation with others. In this case a parent organisation with a command component is designed. The European Union is an example. However, because each component organisation strives for efficiency, there is a risk that they will exploit others, rather than contribute to the common effort. This would reduce the benefits for all.

In practice, the above options exist as points on a scale. There are numerous intermediate points between options a and b, and between options b and c, which depend on the attitudes and decisions of the component organisations.

Because we are a eusocial species, we must balance individual or unilateral action in our short-term interest with communal or multilateral action yielding longer-term benefits. For every organisation, there is an optimum efficiency which can be achieved by using positive unilateralism or multilateralism where appropriate. Nations with conflict between the political left, who favour collectivism, and the right, who favour individualism, should take note.

Optimisation applies to an organisation that acts unilaterally. If an organisation acts multilaterally, then we must rise up through the hierarchy until we reach either the global system or a parent or grandparent acting unilaterally. The requirement for optimization then cascades down through component and sub-component organisations, which may then need to operate sub-optimally.

When influencing its external environment, the role of the command component of an organisation is to:

  1. gather information from the external environment. In the systems model, this information is an input, which itself must be sought by influencing the external environment.
  2. make decisions in the interest of the relevant organisation as a whole. The relevant organisation may be the one commanded, its parent, or its grandparent, whichever operates unilaterally.
  3. manage the balance between unilateral and multilateral action to optimise the efficiency of the relevant organisation.
  4. issue commands to sub-ordinate components for the necessary outputs.

This article will conclude with part 3 next week.