Categories
d. Social Interactions Part 2

Social Interactions (Part 2)

Inter-organisational Interactions

Three main factors affect whether an organisation interacts co-operatively with another, or engages in positive or negative competition. The same principles apply to individuals except that they are their own leader. These are:

  1. Leadership. Organisations reflect their leadership. Their behaviour differs according to whether the leader acts in his or her personal interest or in that of the organisation. Usually, there is a balance between the two.
  2. Resources. If a necessary input or resource is plentiful, then there will normally be co-operation or positive competition for it. On the other hand, if it is, or is becoming, insufficient to satisfy all parties, then negative competition will result. The planning, establishment, existence, or growth of an organisation can act as negative motivator to another that, either directly or indirectly, needs the same resource. If a threatened organisation already exists, it will engage in negative competition. If it does not, then one may be established with the same result. When two organisations are in negative competition, then the belief system and culture of each is progressively strengthened and becomes more selfish. Positive feedback then occurs, in which stronger identity and self-interest leads to greater perceived threat, which in turn leads to stronger identity and self-interest. Ultimately, conflict can result. Usually, both parties lose, but negative competition can also lead to some maintaining or even improving their situation, whilst making the situation worse for others.
  3. Distance. The effect that one organisation can have on another depends on distance, i.e., how many causally connected organisations form a chain. Clearly, if there is a chain of such connections between organisations, then it is also possible for there to be positive, negative, or regulating feedback. The example of negatively competing organisations given above embodies positive feedback. With just one organisation in a causal chain, feedback must, by definition, exist, i.e., the organisation’s outputs become its inputs. This is the basis of self-maintenance and growth. For example, a business normally reinvests some of its income. If there are two organisations in a chain, then the outputs from one form inputs for the other. As explained above, the former’s outputs may be necessary for the latter, or there may be other organisations providing the same inputs, i.e., redundancy, and this makes the recipient more resilient. A particular input may also be necessary, but not sufficient, and others are usually required for an organisation to carry out its function. Thus, the relationships on the input side of an organisation are more like a tree, with several organisations providing inputs for one, several also providing inputs to each of those, and so on. Nevertheless, a chain exists between any two organisations in this tree. For example, a farmer provides flour to a wholesaler, who refines it and supplies it to a baker, who in turn supplies bread to a supermarket. In general, the longer the chain, the more likely it is that redundancies will occur, and the less influence a supplier at one end will have over a consumer at the other. Nevertheless, there may still exist critical suppliers or consumers whose failure will either directly impact on an organisation or indirectly via the demise of others in the chain. For example, a critical supplier may source resources unethically, or a critical consumer may cause pollution, thereby generating opposition and their ultimate demise. So, longer term organisational survival depends on the identification of any such critical external organisations, and the introduction of changes or redundancies.

Intra-organisational Interactions

Social intra-organisational interactions are not possible for individuals. For an individual, internal interactions are biological. Thus, social interactions apply only to organisations comprising two people or more.

The same three factors, i.e., leadership, resources, and distance, affect intra-organisational interactions. Their impact is, however, via the attributes necessary for an organisation to carry out its purpose or function successfully. These are:

  1. The purpose or function of the organisation:
    • relates to an external demand or need;
    • is agreed by members of the organisation, i.e., individuals and component organisations;
    • is clearly defined and communicated;
    • has the commitment of members of the organisation; and
    • is consistent with the culture of the organisation.
  2. Organisational structure:
    • is effectively divided into component functions;
    • includes effective operational systems;
    • includes effective interaction between component functions, including the transmission of information; and
    • includes an acceptable balance of effort vs. reward for individuals and sub-organisations.
  3. Leadership:
    • has the appropriate skills;
    • is effectively structured; and
    • comprises effective management, monitoring, and control.
  4. Resources.
    • There is adequate availability of the necessary resources.

If all these attributes exist, then attitudes will be ones of of co-operation or positive competition. However, negative competition can arise if just one is deficient. There are causal relationships between these attributes, and a deficiency in one can lead to negative competition, which, in turn, can lead to a deficiency in another. For example, if the purpose of the organisation is not clearly defined and communicated, then competing opinions can arise. If these are expressed in the form of positive competition, then ultimately there will be agreement on the better option. However, if competition becomes negative, then members of the organisation will commit to one or the other, interactions between parts of the organisation will be less effective, and so on. There are many possibilities, and the range is too great to list here.

Extra-organisational Interactions

Positive extra-organisational competition is the natural order, i.e., both the natural world and humanity are evolving, in different ways, thereby improving our likelihood of survival. The outcome is unknown but, as mentioned in a previous article, the direction of travel seems to be one of subsuming the natural environment into the human economy.

For the present at least, the non-human environment generally lacks agency, and any agency that it does have cannot successfully compete with that of humanity. The natural world cannot engage in negative competition, therefore. Any apparent pushback, e.g., viral pandemics, is simply a matter of evolutionary adaptation to the existence of humanity.

We rely on the environment for our continued existence, and any environmental damage, depletion of resources, or other form of misuse ultimately has an adverse effect on us. If extra-organisational interactions comprise negative competition, i.e., if we prevent our environment from carrying out its function, then people will see this as a threat and engage in negative competition on the environment’s behalf.

On the other hand, if extra-organisational interactions are co-operative, then this leads to stable and sustainable relationships with the environment, in which both are able to pursue their destiny without the one impeding the other. The environment is unable to actively co-operate with humanity and help us in this. However, the reverse is not true and is the path that I would advocate.

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c. Social Interactions Part 1

Social Interactions (Part 1)

Introduction

Any organisation, when treated as a system, comprises inputs, internal processes, and outputs. Inputs are external interactions that comprise the passing of space/place, matter, energy, and information from some unspecified source to the organisation. It is a causal relationship, but the cause is not specified. Outputs comprise the passage of the same from the organisation to an unspecified recipient. It is a causal relationship in which the effect is not stated. Finally, the organisation’s processes comprise internal systems, some of which are child organisations such as departments, others of which are physical processes such as production machinery, and the relationships between them. The latter are also causal relationships.

Although this system concept is helpful in focusing on the internal behaviour of an organisation, it does have its drawbacks. Typically, for example, it can result in the effects of an organisation’s outputs being neglected, resulting, for example, in social or environmental harms. It can also result in the sources of its inputs not being fully appreciated, resulting, for example, in their loss. A more wholistic approach to the management of an organisation is suggested in the section entitled “Distance” in my next article.

The functioning of an organisation can therefore be regarded as a matter of complex causality. Several inputs, i.e., causes, may be necessary, but only together may they be sufficient for the organisation to function, and thus, persist. If there is only one source of a necessary input, then the organisation is dependent on that source, and the one producing it has power over the one receiving it. A topical example is Europe’s current dependence on Russian gas. However, if there are several sources, then this power is much diminished.

Likewise, an organisation’s outputs can form the inputs of just one organisation, or of several. Clearly, if there is just one, and if the inputs are unnecessary or if there are several suppliers, then the customer has power over the supplier.

Interactions

Organisations, in a very general sense and including individuals, are the elementary entities in social systems. However, it is their interactions that are important for social systems theory. They are what forms society. These interactions are of three types:

  1. Intra-organisational Interactions or Processes, i.e., interactions between an organisation and a familial organisation. These interactions can be vertical, i.e., parent/child, or horizontal, i.e., sibling/sibling.
  2. Inter-organisational Interactions, i.e., interactions between separate organisations.
  3. Extra-organisational Interactions or Environmental Impacts, i.e.,interactions between organisations and the non-human environment.

They all pass space/place, matter, energy, or information from one place to another and are, therefore, causal relationships.

In a previous article it was explained that organisations can interact with others in their environment in one of three ways: co-operation, positive competition in which each competitor strives to excel, and negative competition in which each competitor strives to prevent the other from achieving their aims. Thus, interactions are two dimensional as follows:

Asymmetrical Interactions

The discussion above assumes that all interactions are symmetrical, i.e., that the attitude of both parties is either co-operative, positively competitive, or negatively competitive. However, asymmetrical interactions are also possible, in the short term at least.

Co-operation or positive competition can deteriorate and become negative via asymmetrical interaction. If one party to co-operation feels under threat, or if one party engaging in positive competition feels they will lose, they may begin to engage in negative competition. If this is overt, then, unless the other party has ethical objections, they will reciprocate. Negative competition can, of course, be carried out covertly, whilst maintaining a façade of co-operation or positive competition. If so, then the interaction becomes asymmetrical, i.e., one party engaging in negative competition and the other in genuine co-operation or positive competition. Usually, however, the interaction becomes symmetrically negative when the deceit is discovered.

Theoretically, the reverse is also possible, i.e., negative competition can become positive or cooperative, but this requires reciprocal de-escalation, whilst the interaction remains symmetrical. If one party de-escalates unilaterally, they will lose.

Organisational Inputs and Outputs

The basis for inter- and intra-organisational interactions is the reciprocal trading of satisfiers, or in some cases contra-satisfiers. Such satisfiers or contra-satisfiers comprise outputs from one organisation, in the form of space/place, matter, energy or information, and inputs to the other.

In a co-operative interaction, satisfiers are exchanged by mutual agreement to the benefit of both parties. In a positively competitive interaction, there is no trade between the two. However, space/place, matter, energy, or information can be passed, inadvertently, from one to the other. Finally, negatively competitive interactions involve the provision of contra-satisfiers by one to the other and vice versa, as in the case of war. This is to the detriment of both, although one party may ultimately prevail. Negatively competitive interactions can also involve the extraction of satisfiers without reciprocation or with the threat of contra-satisfiers, e.g., robbery at gunpoint.

Clearly, feedback loops are involved. For example, organisation A may provide a satisfier for organisation B, which in turn provides a satisfier for organisation A. However, in the modern world, organisational distance is a significant factor. For example, if organisation A provides a satisfier to organisation B, then the latter may be unable to reciprocate with physical satisfiers. A much larger and more complex arrangement of feedback loops, comprising many organisations, may be necessary for the equitable satisfaction of all parties. Clearly, such complexity can become unmanageable, and so, money has been introduced as a token of exchange in markets, thereby forming the basis of economics.

Categories
b. Basic Social Systems Theory

Basic Social Systems Theory

Introduction

The term “Social Systems Theory” has been used to describe the sociologist, Niklas Luhmann’s theory, but the one presented here differs in important respects. In this article I will describe its core principles.

Firstly, we use different terminology in different fields of study, but as can be seen from the table below it is all the same thing really. So, please refer to this table if in any doubt about the meaning of a term.

The Social Systems Concept

The basic framework of social systems theory can be described as follows:

  1. A general system comprises inputs, processes, and outputs. Processes, in turn, comprise components and their interactions. These components are also systems.
  2. Humanity is a social system which follows the same structure and rules as a general system. Its components are organisations. The reader may recall that, in these articles, an organisation is defined as any group of people who work together for a common purpose. Thus, an organisation may be a single individual, a club, a nation, or all of humanity.
  3. The interactions between organisations are the trade of satisfiers and contra-satisfiers between them. The satisfiers and contra-satisfiers traded take the form of information, matter, and energy. In more familiar terms, they comprise raw materials, products or artifacts, services and, as a general token of exchange, money.
  4. The satisfiers exchanged are related to the needs of the organisations concerned which, in general terms, are existence, relatedness and growth.

So, organisations are the elementary entities in social systems theory. At the next level of complexity up, i.e., ecology, the elementary entity is the species. Humanity is one such species and its inputs and outputs are those things that it takes from and gives to the natural ecosystem.  At the next level of complexity down, i.e., biology, the elementary entity it is the organ. The domain of social systems theory lies between these two boundaries.

The most notable aspect of organisational behaviour is its similarity to that of individual people. This is not because organisations have a “group mind”, but rather because every organisation is ultimately led by a single individual, and its specialist activities are also carried out by individuals. There are, however, important variations in the behaviour of both individuals and organisations which depend on their time, place, and size. These common features and the ways in which they vary are summarised below.

Theory

The following core principles apply to all organisations no matter what their size, location, or era. They are therefore universal and constant. They will be explained in more detail in future articles and only a simplified summary is given below.

  • Agency. All organisations have agency. They have choices available to them, they process information and act on it.
  • Purpose. All organisations have a purpose or function.
  • Needs. All organisations have needs which when prioritised form a hierarchy.
  • Satisfiers, Contra-satisfiers, and Motivators. Every organisation is affected by these and, together with its knowledge and needs, they influence its behaviour.
  • Inputs, Processes and Outputs. All organisations require inputs to carry out their function, which is to produce outputs. These inputs and outputs comprise materials, services, and/or information. However, information must always form a part.
  • Self-maintenance. All organisations are self-maintaining, i.e., they use a proportion of their inputs in self-maintenance as opposed to producing outputs.
  • Recursiveness. All organisations are recursive. Every organisation, except an individual person, comprises a number of component organisations and is a component of larger organisations.
  • Specialisation. All organisations comprise specialised sub-organisations or individuals. This is commonly known as a division of labour.
  • Co-ordination. All organisations require a control component, i.e., leaders, to co-ordinate specialised activities. This is carried out via an internal feedback loop with information passing upwards and instructions downwards.
  • Culture. Every organisation has a culture comprising values, norms, beliefs, operational knowledge, and symbols.
  • Schemata. Every organisation holds knowledge in schemata which are resistant to change. These include a schema for worldview/purpose, an internal ethical schema, external ethical schema, operating schemata, self-image, etc.
  • Misinformation. All organisations are capable of concealing information from others or supplying misinformation to them.
  • Adaptation. In response to both internal and external change, all organisations adapt their processes, attempt to adapt their environment, or both. Without adaptation, an organisation will eventually fail.
  • Evolution. The laws of evolution apply to organisations of all sizes, i.e., random mutation occurs within them, and natural selection occurs through the way in which they and their environment interact.
  • Inter-organisational Distance. Ultimately, every organisation interacts with every other. In some cases, they interact directly. In others there is no direct interaction. Rather any interaction is via a chain of direct connections.
  • Competition/Co-operation. The choice between co-operation, positive competition and negative competition always applies when one organisation interacts with another.

Some relationships between organisations, and thus, social systems theories, change with size, time, and place. These changes are due to:

  • Availability of Resources. The availability of resources varies from time to time and from place to place. This affects culture, which also then varies in the same way. Culture in turn affects knowledge, the relative priorities of needs, satisfiers, motivators, and attitudes towards relationships, i.e., whether co-operation, positive competition, or negative competition is favoured.
  • Knowledge. This, including knowledge of social systems, is part of an organisation’s culture. Because knowledge is one component affecting behaviour, the latter also alters from place to place. Knowledge can also be gained or lost, and so varies with time. If new knowledge is gained this can alter culture, and thus, social theory. However, progress is not inevitable, shocks can occur, and knowledge can be lost, e.g., the collapse of the Roman Empire and the subsequent Dark Ages. Loss of knowledge can cause an organisation or society to revert to behaviours similar to those of earlier years.
  • Redundancy. The amount of redundancy, i.e., duplicated capability, in an organisation, and thus its resilience, varies depending on factors such as whether an organisation has been designed or has evolved. This includes redundancy of potential command.
  • Size. As organisations increase in size the following characteristics alter and affect their efficiency. The interaction of efficiencies and inefficiencies of scale usually results in an optimum organisational size.
    • Specialisation, Departmentalisation, and the Formalisation of roles generally increase. Departmentalisation is the collection of specialised tasks into groups under a leader. Formalisation is the specification of tasks and the introduction of rules and regulations regarding the way in which they are carried out.
    • Informal Innovation generally decreases.
    • Hierarchy, i.e., the number of levels of command, generally increases.
    • Distance of Intra-organisational Communication, including Leadership Distance and Peer Distance, i.e., the lengths of chains of communication, generally increase, and along with them, the likelihood of communication errors.
    • Decentralisation, i.e., the delegation of power and control, generally becomes increasingly necessary.
    • The relative amount of Self-maintenance or Administration generally increases.
    • Speed of Decision-making generally decreases.
    • Cultural Entrenchment, i.e., the unchangeability or otherwise of an organisation’s culture, generally increases.
    • Cultural Homogeneity, i.e., whether all members of an organisation share a common culture, generally decreases.
    • Frequency of Restructuring, i.e., reorganisation, generally decreases.
    • Social Traffic, i.e., irrelevant communication, generally increases.

Explanation/Prediction/Design

The theory of social systems can be used to explain society, but not to predict it with certainty or to design an ideal system. This is because there are approximately seven and a half billion people in the world. So, the vast number of relationships between organisations, including individuals, leads to great complexity. Added to this is the vast number of relationships with the non-human environment. We do not have the mental capacity to understand such complexity. Even if we were able to model the human social system, then our understanding of it would change, and so too would its behaviour. Furthermore, predictability would diminish due to a build-up of un-anticipatable random events. The best we can do, therefore, is imagine relatively small, closed, sections of society, and make predictions about them, with reasonable confidence but no certainty, a short distance into the future.

Categories
a. Are the Social Sciences Scientific?

Are the Social Sciences Scientific?

Scientific inquiry is a process that enables us to gain new knowledge with greatest likelihood of it being correct. As a starting point, a hypothesis, i.e., a proposed explanation of a phenomenon based on limited evidence, is proposed. This hypothesis is then tested by experiment, by gathering data, or by reference to existing experiments and data. If this supports the hypothesis, then it is proposed as a theory, the research is written up, subjected to peer review or checks by other specialists in the field, and published.

Together, the accepted theories and the way in which they are developed form a paradigm. Wikipedia defines a paradigm as “a distinct set of concepts or thought patterns, including theories, research methods, postulates, and standards for what constitute legitimate contributions to a field.” An initial hypothesis is usually consistent with other theories in the prevailing paradigm, but sometimes not.

The philosopher of science, Thomas Kuhn, argued that science does not progress in a linear manner, but that the prevailing paradigm is relatively resistant to change, and undergoes periodic revolutions when the amount of contradictory evidence reaches a critical mass. In part, this resistance is brought about by human nature. I think it is fair to say that scientists and academic organisations are more objective than most. Nevertheless, they are still human, and the following traits will tend to introduce a bias in favour of the existing paradigm.

At the level of the individual, considerable effort is put into developing a theory. It becomes a part of his or her mental schema and is resistant to change. Furthermore, reputation and livelihood depend on any theory promoted as being correct. There will, therefore, be a personal vested interest in its acceptance and a resistance to any challenges. Obviously, acceptance is more likely if it is consistent with the prevailing paradigm.

Every organisation, including academia, is organised hierarchically, i.e., there are higher status individuals who command groups of lower status ones, and this assembles into a pyramidical structure. This structure is maintained by a process of trade or negotiation. Typically, a senior may delegate some of his power, influence, reputation, wealth, etc. in return for a subordinate’s support. Status is gained from the resources we control, and so, if one has many supporting subordinates, then one has greater status. With increasing status comes increasing power, influence, reputation, and wealth. Thus, there can be a personal vested interest in a theory and in the prevailing paradigm. Independence can be had by refusing to trade, but obviously this will result in a personal loss.

Experimental proof must be reproducible, and data must be readily accessible, so that others can check it. However, in the social sciences, there are several difficulties with this:

  1. Variables in the social sciences are often qualitative rather than quantitative, i.e., they are either true or not. Even if a variable is quantitative, there can be difficulties in measuring it. In physics it is relatively easy to determine the mass of an object and apply a number to it. However, in the social sciences, there are, for example, no objective ways of quantifying personality traits. These are probably more acquired than inherited, and so, more to do with the brain’s software than its hardware. This means, that they are unlikely to be revealed by MRI scans, etc. There are also issues with the reliability of questionnaires in which we report on our own personality.
  2. Experimental proof based on historical analysis can be flawed. History comprises reports and interpretations that can be highly subjective. In addition, there are often only a small number of examples to which we can refer.
  3. Experimental proof which relies on direct experience can also be highly subjective and is not reproducible.
  4. Experimental design is constrained by ethical considerations. For example, if one wished to prove that an event x always causes war, then it would be unethical to cause such an event.
  5. Finally, culture can have a strong influence on both hypotheses and the evidence used in their proof. For this reason, cross-cultural studies are becoming increasingly common. It is also the case that knowledge is a part of culture and so, new knowledge can alter culture. Thus, a feedback loop exists, i.e., culture affects social theory, which can, in turn, affect culture.

So, the paradigm for the physical sciences is very different to that for the social sciences. An analogy might be to regard the former as a criminal law case in which it is necessary to prove the defendant guilty. The latter can be regarded as a civil case, that is judged on the balance of evidence. This does, of course, mean that theories in the social sciences are less likely to be true than those in the physical sciences. Nevertheless, their pursuit is worthwhile because an understanding of human nature does, in general, and in the long term at least, appear to lead to an improvement in our circumstances.

Categories
n. The Acquisition of Status

The Acquisition of Status

Those who rise to the top of an organisation are not necessarily those whose skills are associated with its intended function. Rather, they can be those whose skill is the acquisition of status. People who achieve high social status often show some or all of the following characteristics.

Ambition. As well as carrying out a community function, organisations also satisfy the needs of their members. For example, normal employment provides a salary, social interaction, etc. In a voluntary organisation, it provides for more social and psychological needs. To be ambitious one must have a pressing need to satisfy. The more pressing the need, the more vigorously we will pursue its satisfaction, and thus, the more likely we are to succeed.

Negotiating skills. To acquire status, one must trade support for it. Some are more skilled in this than others. We may, for example, have learned these skills during our upbringing or from a role model. Imbalances in trading skills will eventually lead to a situation in which those with greater skills have greater status than others.

Skill in Selecting an Existing Hierarchy to Climb. A point worth noting is that it is far easier to climb an existing hierarchy than to create a new one with oneself at the pinnacle. The latter requires genuine leadership skills and much effort. This is not a universal rule, of course. There are, for example, politicians, press magnates, businessmen, and celebrities who have achieved high status with the help of a silver spoon from their parents.

Displays of Status. Clearly, those who aspire to higher social status must be seen to have something to trade with potential supporters. They must, therefore, overtly display the attributes of leadership and/or power. Irrespective of the role that they fill, the more successful they are in this, the more support they will receive. Conversely, those of lower status must display a willingness and ability to provide support.

Status is displayed through symbols, e.g., material goods such as clothing, cars, houses, etc. They are also displayed through communication, e.g., “name dropping”. A common strategy for acquiring social status, leadership and power is therefore the false display of such symbols and communications. People will create an impression of status by creating an impression of power or influence. Potential supporters will respond accordingly, and thus, status comes to those who appear to have it.

Within a very large hierarchy such as a nation, the various strata may be so large that they form their own distinct culture, for example the social classes in the UK. Displaying the values, norms, symbols, and beliefs of a higher status culture are often necessary to enhance one’s social status. Again, this can be learnt through upbringing or the emulation of a role model. However, it is more difficult to do so if one has been raised in a lower stratum of society. This reinforces the strata in a hierarchy, making movement between them more difficult.

Displays of Competence. Leadership skills will attract followers, thus enhancing social status. However, such skills also need to be overtly displayed.

Displays of Altruism. People who aspire to climb a hierarchy can be altruistic only to the extent necessary for others to support them. A common strategy among those who would lead is to give the impression that it is the needs of the group which are valued most highly whilst, in reality, it may be personal needs. However, the individual will take care that this is not recognised by the group until his or her status is established, or convincingly faked.

Emulation of Role Models. To attract followers, members of the higher strata will display the trappings of their status to those in the lower ones. In many cases they will become a role model to those in the lower strata. Note that people learn both leadership skills and the use of power from role models. There are formal leadership courses but none for managing power.

Cultural Adaptation. If a higher status individual is seen to be behaving in a way contrary to the conscience or self-concept of a lower status one, then the latter may conclude that there is something wrong with their conscience or self-concept and modify it. Even if the behaviour of the higher status individual is believed to be wrong, the lower status one may value membership of the group to such an extent that, rather than risk rejection, they will adopt a strategy for dealing with internal conflicts, such as rationalisation, repression, or denial. Often a rationale will be provided by the organisation, which the lower status individual accepts and adopts.

Expansionism.  The larger a group, the greater the power of those in the highest stratum. Thus, there is a natural tendency for the latter to seek to expand their organisation or part of it. This applies whether the group is a department, business organisation, religion, or nation. Such expansion is not necessarily in the interest of the group as a whole, however, and may be solely in the interest of the highest stratum.

Chance, luck, or fortune. Finally, Imbalances in chance, luck, or fortune will inevitably lead to some individuals achieving greater social status than others.

Categories
m. Trading Status for Support and Vice Versa

Trading Status for Support and Vice Versa

In any organisation people advance their position by trading status for support. The process typically involves a higher status, or senior, individual identifying lower status, or junior, individuals who are likely to support their aspirations, whatever those aspirations may be. Many lower status individuals, in turn, signal their willingness to participate in such a process. They may for example, offer vocal support at meetings, act out the culture of their seniors, and so on. If a successful partnership appears to be possible, then the senior will delegate some of his or her status to the junior in return for their support. Thus, promotions within a hierarchy often have more to do with “politics” than aptitude.

Social exchange theory holds that the negotiation is based on a risk/cost/benefit analysis for both parties, as described in a previous article. A relationship will be successful if it provides a net benefit for both parties, but will fail if it provides a net disbenefit for one or the other. The former can even apply when the junior partner is coerced, if the disbenefit of the punishment exceeds that of compliance. The relationship is not based solely on the ability of the senior partner to provide something that the junior partner desires, therefore. Rather it is an aggregate of the rewards and punishments that the former can dispense. The same is true of the junior partner, of course, but the options to mete out disbenefits to a senior are often much reduced and, unless done covertly, may prompt reciprocal action.

This form of trading is so commonplace in human society that it is often carried out unconsciously.

Other forms of trading can take place within an organisation, of course, e.g., bribery, corruption, sexual services, etc. Fortunately, however, some forms of social interaction can be tempered by social norms, i.e., what forms of interaction are acceptable and what are not.

In a stratified organisation, the greater the support an individual can provide to the higher strata, the greater the delegated status they receive in return. The higher an individual is in the hierarchy, the more resources they control, the greater the support they can provide and the greater their ability to trade. Conversely, the higher they are in the hierarchy, the greater the threat they can pose, and the greater the adverse reaction if they do so. Thus, they will be more cautious not to upset the status quo.

Trading tends to take place between people in adjacent strata. Those in the stratum immediately below are the most familiar individuals and have the greatest support to offer to those in the stratum above. Those in the lowest strata tend to be of least consequence to those in the highest, and opportunities for trading between these strata are fewer, therefore.

In practice, a balance is often negotiated between the strata. This results in the lower strata being sufficiently satisfied to support the organisation, even though they are denied its full potential benefits. Conversely, the upper strata are denied the full potential benefit that they might otherwise take, in return for a stability which ensures that their benefits are sustained. Thus, degrees of egalitarianism and stratification within organisations can vary.

Categories
l. Power

Power

Leadership and power are two different aspects of social status, and there is a constant interplay between them. Leadership maintains group cohesion and purpose and enables us to adapt in a changing environment. Power, on the other hand, is the ability to direct the resources of sub-ordinates to some purpose.

Many people actively seek social status which, as well as holding leadership obligations, also conveys power. The reasons are diverse and vary from individual to individual. For example, it might be a consequence of lacking a feeling of safety, the influence of upbringing, or the influence of a role model. However, the principal motivators are thought to be:

  1. A desire to be in control of one’s own affairs and freedom from social demands. Power enables one to enjoy the benefits of a co-operative society without the associated effort of negotiating and compromising with large numbers of other people. Rather, it is easier to negotiate with just a few in a hierarchy. Those who seek power for this reason can often be identified by their retiring nature, e.g., living in homes surrounded by security fencing and avoiding the media.
  2. A desire for control over the affairs of others as a means of obtaining positive regard. Such seekers of power have a tendency towards narcissism and publicity seeking. They enjoy their status and having others look up to them.
  3. The pursuit of resources. When people believe that they have insufficient resources to satisfy, and sustain the satisfaction of their personal needs, they will attempt to control the resources of others: i.e., their time, physical effort, mental effort, and property. We seek to satisfy our needs as efficiently as possible. From a personal perspective it is more efficient to do so using the resources of others, rather than our own. Although communities rely on reciprocal trading for the equitable satisfaction of their members’ needs, some members will use strategies to tilt the balance of reciprocation in their favour. They will, therefore, benefit inequitably from the resources of the group.

The drive to acquire social status is a natural part of the human psyche and the consequence of millions of years of evolution. In the past, it has enabled us to survive and prosper. It is a part of human nature. Without it we would be less than human, and we certainly lack the skills to design a better psyche. However, one component of social status, the drive to acquire power, now poses a threat to the future of humanity. The answer, however, is not to attempt to remove it by technical or psychological means. Nor is the answer the replacement of one ideology by another. Nor is it the replacement of particular individuals or groups by others, e.g., men by women, or the elite by the working class. This is because we all seek power to a greater or lesser degree. Rather, the answer is to put in place social controls and attitudes which will ensure that power does not eclipse the other aspect of social status, leadership. In this way requisite hierarchy can be made to benefit all of humanity and life on earth.

Categories
k. Why We Follow a Leader

Why We Follow a Leader

Much has been written about leadership, particularly concerning what constitutes a “good” or “effective” leader. However, the topic of why people follow a leader has been relatively neglected. For historical reasons, in the West, there are strong positive connotations associated with being a leader and negative connotations with being a follower. This was brought about by a historical tendency for the powerful, e.g., royalty, the church, the Nazi party, etc., to seize control, and for people who dared to challenge them to suffer. High status individuals have also received, and in many cases continue to receive, a disproportionate reward from society, in the form of prestige and wealth. There is now such a strong cultural assumption that followers are passive subordinates, and less competent than leaders, that many of us are not even aware that it exists. I hope to dispel this assumption because it does not serve us well.

The systems theory explanation for why we follow a leader is as follows. Human organisations are self-maintaining adaptive systems, and subject therefore to the principle of requisite hierarchy. In essence, leaders are a command sub-system that maintains group cohesion and purpose, and that enables us to adapt to a changing environment.

The evolutionary explanation for why we follow a leader is as follows. Tribes which have greater co-ordination, co-operation, and innovative thinking have a greater chance of surviving and prospering than those without these characteristics. The former requires a social structure in the form of leaders and followers. However, human beings are less hierarchical than other primates and tend to shy away from authoritarian leadership. Rather, in a successful tribe, one person with skills, e.g., hunting, or emotional intelligence, that are relevant to the problem to be solved, chooses to lead and the others to follow. This, of course suggests that both leaders and followers have a role in determining what the hierarchy should be. It also suggests that the hierarchy should alter according to circumstances, if the tribe is to be successful. In general systems theory this is known as redundancy of potential command. Providing the interests of both the leader and the followers are aligned, which unfortunately is not always the case, leadership is a process of mutual influence in which leaders and followers work together towards a common goal.

The psychological explanation is as follows. The leader/follower relationship is one of trade and depends on the pressing needs of the two individuals concerned. A follower may follow a leader who provides for his existence, connectedness, or growth needs as a part of the trade. A leader can, for example, offer certainty, which is a growth need. On the other hand, a leader may lack the resources to achieve a particular goal on his own and, thus, may need the support of followers.

In a non-authoritarian regime, there are three types of followers: passive, active, and non-followers. These are not necessarily personality types. People can move from one to another depending on the style of leadership required. Passive followers are content to be obedient; non-followers avoid involvement; but active followers make a constructive contribution to the leadership process. If necessary, the latter can challenge decisions, and work with the leader to devise more effective or appropriate courses of action. Thus, there are feedback loops in which leaders influence followers who, in turn, influence leaders. These loops can be negative, causing behaviours to be extinguished, or positive, causing them to be amplified.

Many people can switch role from follower to leader, and vice versa, but unfortunately, historical beliefs still hamper this. In the past, Western culture has favoured established hierarchies and reward structures. However, society is now so complex that a single individual is incapable of leading in all circumstances. It can be argued that in the modern world, followers are beginning, once more, to select their leaders. Certainly, this is true in democratic politics. However, it is less the case in business.

There are two main ways in which we assess a leader or potential leader:

  1. System-1 is an automatic system that operates quickly, with little or no effort, and in which emotion, beliefs, and past experience have a part to play. This system is informal and leaders tend to emerge naturally. Unfortunately, when selecting or continuing to follow a leader, we tend to attribute outcomes to the leader rather than to complex processes.
  2. System-2 is a more formal reasoned response and requires the time, attention, focus, and effort needed for complex mental activities, e.g., calculations.

The relationship between a leader and a follower is, also, of two types:

  1. distant, such as that between a politician and the electorate, and
  2. close, such as that between a manager and a worker.

The decision whether to follow a close leader is usually a system-2 inference and based on associating the leader’s behaviour and decisions with results. However, the decision on whether to follow a distant leader is a system-1 inference. Distant leaders tend to articulate ideals and visions and to use “symbolism, mysticism, imaging and fantasy”. Distant followers have little knowledge of his or her actual character and performance and relatively few clues as to what it may be. Followers may, for example, be impressed by the leader’s rhetoric or public life story.

In the case of a distant relationship, the type of leader that a follower selects depends on the following.

  1. When people face an existential threat, e.g., war or terrorism, the need for safety comes to the fore. Followers will favour a leader perceived as strong, wise, and competent, i.e., an authoritarian, protective, and often right-wing figure. This tendency is cross-cultural. It is thought to originate from our long childhood, during which most of us relied on our parents for safety.
  2. In circumstances where a non-existential threat is perceived, but the cause is complex and difficult to identify, people from all cultures will become stressed by the situation. They will follow a leader, particularly a charismatic one, who is able to provide an easily understood explanation. Often this explanation is overly simple and incorrect, but it is the need for certainty and the reduction in distress that the follower is seeking. In recent years, such leaders have been described as “populist”.
  3. Finally, during a period of stability, the need for identity and belonging comes to the fore. Followers will seek a leader who gives meaning to their social identity by acting as a symbol of their culture. Unlike the above, this is a culture specific response, and the characteristics of the chosen leader will differ from one culture to the next.

Clearly, from the above, it is possible for individuals to pursue personal objectives by presenting themselves as a leader of the type that followers seek. Particularly in the case of distant leaders, there is little evidence to confirm that the leader’s objectives are truly aligned with those of the follower, and they may, in fact, be personal but disguised. Improving followers’ skills in choosing leaders, and limiting their willingness to follow, would therefore improve the quality of leadership everywhere, but especially in the political, social, and ideological realms.

Categories
j. Hierarchy Emergence - Introduction

Hierarchy Emergence – Introduction

A person’s social status in an organisation, from a club to a nation, is a measure of their attributes of leadership and power. Social status takes the form of a pyramidical hierarchy. Each level in the hierarchy is known as a stratum. Those in a higher stratum are normally fewer in number and have greater social status than those in a lower stratum. Such hierarchies are ubiquitous. Even organisations whose stated aims are socialist and progressive have hierarchies within them. The perception of relative status is important in determining how people interact with one another. Those of higher status will trade delegated status for the support of those of lower status, and vice versa. However, they will often compete with those of similar status.

An understanding of how status hierarchies arise can be gained by considering very small groups of individuals. In a group of just two people, the attributes of leadership and power in both are often similar. This leads to an equitable balance in social status. It is only where the attributes of one are greater than those of the other that differences emerge. For example, if person A clearly has more knowledge of how to tackle a situation than person B, then, in their mutual interest, B may defer to A. Similarly, if person B is more dominant through reasons of personality, physical strength, economic power, etc., then person A, in his own interest, may defer to B.

However, in a group of three, a hierarchy is almost inevitable. If person A clearly has greater attributes of leadership and power than B & C combined, then they will usually defer to him. However, if the attributes of A & C are roughly equal but greater than those of B, then there will be competition between A & C. Person B may acknowledge the higher status of both, but to avoid lowest status, may support whoever offers him greatest benefit in return, e.g., A. The attributes of an alliance of two are usually greater than those of one alone. The result is, therefore, that A gains highest status, followed by his supporter B, and C has lowest status. As a rule, the hierarchy ABC will offer greater benefit to every member than would be the case if each operated in isolation, and so, it may be accepted.

Another strategy for B is to remain neutral and encourage competition between A & C. B can then either wait for one of the others to negotiate with him, or alternatively, approach the person least confident of winning the competition.

Even at this very small scale, it is not necessarily the most competent leader who achieves highest status. Much depends on how highly the group members value competent leadership over personal interest. Unfortunately, it is also the case that power tends to trump leadership. A social hierarchy can, therefore, often be based on the former rather than the latter.

Although the interactions described above are between two or three individuals, they take place on a day-to-day basis between members of much larger organisations, the organisations themselves, and sub-organisations within them. Ultimately, a highest status individual, whose motives may or may not be the same as those of the organisation, either emerges from it or joins it.

However, hierarchies in very small groups can be dynamic, whilst those in larger groups are more entrenched. Small organisations tend to be informal and influenced by the character of particular individuals. Thus, when individuals or circumstances change, then so too does the nature of the hierarchy. However, as hierarchies become larger and more complex, they increasingly need a formal structure, with titles and reporting lines. These enable people to better understand their roles and co-operate. In formal hierarchies, roles and reporting lines are independent of individuals, who may change from time to time.

Categories
i. Belief System Emergence - Ideology

Belief System Emergence – Ideology

Ideology is a significant form of belief system. The term was first coined by the French philosopher Antoine Destutt de Tracy, in 1796, during the French Revolution. In response to the chaos it brought about, he originally used the term to describe a science of ideas. However, with time, it has come to mean the following, as described in the Encyclopedia Britannica:

  1. an explanatory theory, of a more or less comprehensive kind, about human experience and the external world;
  2. a program, in generalized and abstract terms, of social and political organization;
  3. entailing a struggle for the realization of this program;
  4. seeking not merely to persuade, but to recruit loyal adherents, demanding what is sometimes called commitment;
  5. addressing a wide public but tending to confer some special role of leadership on intellectuals.

    An ideology is a form of culture, and so, unites people into a group via its values, norms, beliefs, and symbols. Ideologies can be political, economic, business, social, or religious. The former four lay claim, correctly or incorrectly, to being rational and worldly, whilst the latter includes a significant element of superstition. An ideology can also be regarded as a collection of information, in the same way as a schema, paradigm or meme. Thus, it comprises, information which may be objectively true or false, information which satisfies the needs of an individual or group, and rationales which make it a consistent body of information.

    Individuals will follow an ideology for the following reasons:

    1. It may provide a pre-established explanation of the world in which we live and, thus, satisfy our need for understanding.
    2. It is much easier to adopt and understand a convincing ideology than it is to develop one’s own worldview.
    3. It may be expounded by a role model.
    4. Its acceptance may be necessary to satisfy the social need of belonging to a group.

    Unsurprisingly, people accept ideologies which appear to explain their condition and to be capable of providing satisfiers for their needs. Ideologies can also act as cognitive satisfiers by providing beliefs which are consistent with particular inherited predispositions and/or personality traits. Thus, people with a shared predisposition or personality trait, or people with a particular unsatisfied need, will often join an organisation that supports and promotes an ideology. This can result in a feedback process: the ideology attracts particular individuals who then modify, reinforce, support and promote it. Ideologies are not necessarily “bad” and in many cases they can be socially positive. However, this feedback process can lead to some extreme ideologies which diverge substantially from natural morality and ethics.

    Ideologies usually offer overly simplistic explanations. Furthermore, they can be dogmatic rather than realistic, unwilling to accept criticism, and resistant to change. They can be unwilling to accept views which challenge their dogma, and so, make attempts to undermine them.

    Everyone holds an ideology to some extent. Problems only arise when it is held strongly, and there is an unwillingness to change one’s view in the face of reality. The advantage of not holding an ideology strongly is that this frees the mind to alter one’s schemata so that they are consistent with the world that we actually observe. In this way, less effort is needed to psychologically manage any inconsistencies, resulting in greater mental wellbeing. More cognitive effort is, of course, needed to work out our own worldview, but this has the advantage of developing our cognitive skills and creativity.