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
i. The Behavioural Loop or Cycle

The Behavioural Loop or Cycle

Our behaviour is always ongoing. When one need is satisfied or contra-need avoided, we move on to another. In every case, we make our decisions in a similar way, and there is, therefore, a behavioural loop or cycle as follows.

  1. Our most pressing needs or contra-needs are identified through their impact on our emotions. That is, we identify the greatest cause of dis-satisfaction.
  2. Potential options for acquiring satisfiers and avoiding contra-satisfiers are identified, drawing on individual or group knowledge and experience.
  3. The resources needed to acquire those satisfiers or avoid those contra-satisfiers are assessed, again drawing on individual or group knowledge and experience.
  4. The resources that we control are assessed. These resources may be our own or those of others.
  5. Possible courses of action are assessed for their potential impact on our emotional state, taking into account the following:
    • All affected personal needs and contra-needs.
    • All affected needs and contra-needs of significant others.
    • Whether we will receive positive or negative regard, and what is needed to enhance the former or mitigate the latter.
    • Whether we will feel psychological satisfaction or guilt, and what is needed to enhance the former or mitigate the latter.
    • If the likelihood of achieving the desired result is uncertain, we also assess the impact of not achieving it. Whether we proceed with a course of action will depend on the benefit we hope to achieve, the likelihood and consequences of failure, and our personality.  Most people, for example, will not use all their available resources in a single high risk, high return activity.
  6. Generally, when seeking a satisfier, we have two potential routes. We may wait until an opportunity arises by chance or attempt to create one. Similarly, when seeking to avoid a contra-satisfier we have the options of waiting until it arises or seeking to pre-empt it. Which route we choose depends on the net emotional benefit gained. This in turn depends heavily on the resources required to create an opportunity or pre-empt a contra-satisfier.
  7. Those actions that are within the resources available to us and which have an emotional benefit are implemented. We do not normally seek to optimise our choices, because this, in itself, requires substantial resources. Rather, we choose an option which is both satisfactory and sufficient and reject options which have an overall disbenefit. This is known as “satisficing”, a term coined by the American political scientist, Herbert A. Simon, in 1956.
  8. The outcome of the action is observed and remembered for the future. If it has been successful, then this will reinforce the behaviour, i.e., we are more likely to repeat it in similar circumstances. If it has failed, then the behaviour involved is less likely to be repeated. Repetitive failure will cause it to become extinguished.
  9. The entire process is then repeated indefinitely. However, as time progresses our needs and contra-needs alter, and different ones come to the fore. For example, the physiological needs for food and sleep increase in priority if not satisfied. We can also learn from experience and become more adept at choosing efficient and successful forms of behaviour.

Research has shown that emotions can carry over from one decision to the next without us being aware of it. These incidental emotions can be difficult to detach and can influence subsequent decisions. For example, people who previously experienced anger are more prone to blame others in subsequent decisions, and people who previously experienced sadness are more prone to blame general circumstances. Fearful people make more pessimistic judgements about the future, and angry people are more optimistic. It is thought that the best way to avoid this emotional carry over is to develop greater emotional awareness.

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g. The Evaluation of Satisfiers and Contra-satisfiers

The Evaluation of Satisfiers and Contra-satisfiers

Positive emotions attach to satisfiers and, thus, to our needs. We wish to satisfy our needs and so make decisions intended to increase our positive emotional state. Negative emotions, on the other hand, attach to contra-satisfiers which in turn attach to our contra-needs. We wish to avoid the latter, and so, make decisions intended to decrease our negative emotional state.

Before we act, we make decisions about behaviour based on a form of risk/benefit/cost assessment. In this article I will describe the benefit part of this assessment in more detail. The terminology used is explained in the images below.

Satisfiers and contra-satisfiers are evaluated based on the changes that they make to our emotional state. In every situation, our emotional state depends on the extent to which our needs and those of others are satisfied. It also depends on the extent to which our contra-needs and those of others are avoided. This emotional state comprises the sum of the values associated with each existing satisfier and contra-satisfier. Both our behaviour and changes in our situation alter the status of these satisfiers and contra-satisfiers. This, in turn, results in changes to our emotional state. We regard such changes as benefits if our emotional state is improved, or dis-benefits if it is worsened.

MaxNeef recognised that satisfiers can be “synergic”*, and satisfy several needs, or singular, and satisfy just one. Furthermore, what can act as a satisfier for one person or need may, at the same time, act as a contra-satisfier for another. Thus, the emotional value of a satisfier or contra-satisfier may depend on several needs or contra-needs and those of several people. When the impact of a possible action is assessed, its impact on all needs and contra-needs is, therefore, considered. (*Note that this term is given as a quote because, if taken literally, it would mean several satisfiers working together to satisfy a need, rather than the definition given.)

When making decisions about behaviour we also consult our group ethical schema, i.e., our understanding of acceptable social behaviour, to determine whether we will receive positive or negative regard from others. Regard is, of course, a satisfier for a relatedness need. Ways of enhancing the positive regard or mitigating negative regard are identified, and the overall benefit or dis-benefit considered.

We also consult our personal ethical schema for psychological acceptability, i.e., the psychological satisfaction or pain we will experience because of the proposed behaviour. Again, ways of enhancing the former or mitigating the latter are identified and the overall benefit or dis-benefit considered.

The emotional value of each satisfier or contra-satisfier depends on its status, i.e., whether it is absent, latent (capable of manifesting), precarious (present but insecure), or entrenched (present, solidly established, and unchangeable).

It also depends on our beliefs. There are several ways in which we come to believe that a satisfier or contra-satisfier will influence our needs or contra-needs. Examples include: experience; learning from parents and other members of our community; observation of role models; advertising; and so on. These beliefs may be correct, or they may not. Nevertheless, they are what influences our decision making.

Finally, the emotional value of a satisfier or contra-satisfier depends on various factors associated with the needs and contra-needs that it affects. Among the latter are:

  1. Relative Priority, i.e., the importance to the individual of a need or contra-need in comparison with all others. The greater its relative priority the greater the emotional value of its satisfier or contra-satisfier. For example, if we are hungry and, also, wish to socialise, then we may regard sustenance as having a higher value than a visit to friends.
  2. Extent. Some satisfiers only partially satisfy a need. The less satisfied a need, the greater the value we will place on an additional satisfier. For example, if we are very hungry but only have one sandwich, then we will place a greater value on more food than if we have two. Conversely, some contra-satisfiers only partially impact on a contra-need. The lower this impact the greater the negative value we place on other contra-satisfiers.
  3. Relatedness. People care not only about their own needs and contra-needs, but also about those of others. The extent to which we value satisfiers and contra-satisfiers for others, depends on how closely related they are to us. Richard Dawkins, in his book “The Selfish Gene”, postulates that we value them according to the percentage of the variable human genome we believe those others to share with us. However, our support depends not only on genetic relatedness, but also on shared culture. This is because we rely on the support of other members of our culture for the satisfaction of our own needs. In general, relatedness decreases in the following order: ourselves, a member of our nuclear family, a member of our extended family, a friend, colleague or other ingroup member, a member of our society, a more distant person, an animal. This can, however, vary from individual to individual.
  4. Levels of Altruism and Co-operation. In general, the needs and contra-needs of others are less significant for us than our own. However, the difference depends on our personal levels of altruism or co-operation. If we have high levels, the difference will be less than if we have relatively low levels.

These factors introduce considerable complexity. It may be that the benefits and dis-benefits of satisfiers and contra-satisfiers could be modelled mathematically, to a certain extent, but this is clearly not something we can do in our heads. Thus, we rely on emotion.

Categories
f. Emotions and Decision Making

Emotions and Decision Making

For the following discussion, I will define a “positive situation” as one in which a need is addressed by a latent, precarious, or entrenched satisfier, and contra-satisfiers are absent. A “negative situation”, on the other hand, is one in which a need is not addressed by a satisfier or there is a latent, precarious, or entrenched contra-satisfier.

If a need is important to us, then negative situations cause negative feelings, for example, dis-satisfaction, frustration, anxiety, and fear. Conversely, positive situations cause positive emotions, for example, satisfaction, pleasure, and exhilaration. However, the latter are only felt when positive situations are first attained, and they last for a limited time. To motivate our behaviour, we must have satisfiers to seek and contra-satisfiers to avoid. Without these we would be inactive. The short duration of positive emotions ensures, therefore, that we attend to other needs once more pressing ones have been satisfied and secured. We can, therefore, only feel fully satisfied for a relatively short time.

Positive emotions do however reinforce our desire to behave or act in a way that generates that emotion. Conversely, negative emotions make us less likely to do so.

Knowledge has a part to play in our emotional state. What we perceive to be positive or negative situations are based on unconscious attitudes and beliefs. Many of these attitudes and beliefs are gained from our society, peers, advertising, etc., and we may not be consciously aware of them.

The feedback loop which causes us to be conscious has a part to play in our decisions and behaviour. For example, our unconscious mind may conclude that saying something potentially hurtful to another person will satisfy our needs. If so, then before acting we may consciously attempt to predict that person’s reaction via empathy or our knowledge of them. This may have an emotional effect on us which might cause us to reject or modify our unconscious mind’s conclusion.

What we perceive as satisfiers or contra-satisfiers, and thus, what we perceive as positive or negative situations, has a bearing on our level of stress. Stress has an emotional component, which can be positive or negative, and a biological component. The emotional component is negative when we experience feelings of frustration, anxiety, or fear, in a negative situation. It is positive when, for example, we experience exhilaration on first acquiring a satisfier. The biological component of stress is arousal, or a heightening of the physical ability to seize opportunities and avoid threats. It will occur when a situation is significant.

What we perceive as satisfiers and contra-satisfiers, and the value that we place on them, are important in valuing social institutions. Satisfiers and contra-satisfiers have a value to the individual, and the value that society places on its institutions is the aggregate of the value that each individual places on them. For example, the UK’s National Health Service has a very high social value because it is a satisfier of the existence and procreation needs of so many. This will be explored further when I discuss politics.

The value that we place on satisfiers and contra-satisfiers also has a bearing on what we hold to be good or bad, our morals, and ethics. For example, the aggregate impact of our behaviour on others, in terms of the satisfiers and contra-satisfiers that it invokes, forms the basis of utilitarianism. This will be explored further when I discuss ethics.

In the next article, I will describe how place a value on satisfiers and contra-satisfiers and in the following article how we use this to make our decisions.

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d. Satisfiers and Contra-satisfiers

Satisfiers and Contra-satisfiers

In the 1990’s, to address some of the limitations of Maslow’s theory, the Chilean economist Manfred Max-Neef and his colleagues developed an alternative way of categorising human needs. Details can be found in their 1995 book “Human Scale Development”.

Max-Neef’s principal contribution, however, was the identification of “satisfiers”. These are external things which assuage our needs. Examples include physical things, such as rice and houses, or actions by others, such as medical treatment. Max-Neef explained that external things, such as food and shelter, should not be seen as needs, but rather as external satisfiers of an internal need for subsistence. On the micro-scale, satisfiers can be the goods and services that form the basis of economics. On the macro-scale, they can be the institutions that form the basis of politics. Satisfiers can, therefore, also be provided by organisations, by the way in which society is organised, or by its culture. For example, education is a satisfier of the need for understanding, and healthcare a satisfier of the need for protection.

As an economist, Max-Neef’s focus was mainly on physical and cultural satisfiers. However, there are also psychological satisfiers, such as the various belief systems on offer.

Max-Neef held that fundamental human needs are a constant, but that societies alter the satisfiers of those needs. Thus, satisfiers may differ from nation to nation, culture to culture, and time to time. He also held that there is not necessarily a single satisfier for any one need. Rather, several different things may satisfy it. Nor is a satisfier necessarily associated with a single need. Rather, it may assuage several needs. He cited the example of a mother breastfeeding her baby and argued that this can satisfy the baby’s need for subsistence, protection, affection, and identity all at the same time.

Although anything can be a satisfier, not everything is a satisfier. Max-Neef used the following classification:

  1. “Synergic Satisfiers”* satisfy a given need, whilst simultaneously contributing to the satisfaction of other needs. They are generally those chosen by the individuals concerned as best satisfying their complex of needs, rather than those chosen by any external agency, particularly an authoritarian one, whose motives often differ. (*Note that this term is given as a quote because, if taken literally, it would mean several satisfiers working together to satisfy a need rather than the definition given.)
  2. Singular Satisfiers satisfy only one need and are neutral in respect of other needs. They are often a consequence of well-meaning, but remotely planned interventions by voluntary, private sector, or government organisations. Examples include food and housing programmes.
  3. Inhibiting Satisfiers over-satisfy a particular need. They can become addictive, and so, prevent a person from satisfying other, higher needs. Max-Neef and his colleagues believe that inhibiting satisfiers originate in deep rooted customs, habits, and rituals. An example is the addictive pursuit of wealth among those who already have sufficient to meet their needs. This can lead to a failure to move on to other needs such as raising a family. Another example is drug addiction which becomes an artificial existence need and prevents an individual from adequately addressing higher needs.
  4. Pseudo Satisfiers claim to be satisfying a need, but really provide little or no satisfaction. They are often associated with advertising. Products may, for example, be marketed as glamour or lifestyle accessories, with the implication that they will improve the purchaser’s self-esteem.
  5. Violators are things which, although they are claimed to satisfy a need, actually make it more difficult to do so. Max-Neef used the example of a drink advertised as being thirst quenching but which, due to its ingredients, causes dehydration. By their nature, violators are also often associated with the consumer economy and marketing.

Satisfiers can, of course, satisfy some needs or the needs of some whilst reducing the satisfaction of other needs or the needs of others. Overall, the reaction of any individual to a satisfier depends on the extent to which it satisfies their needs, the needs of those close to them, and the extent to which it acts as a contra-satisfier. The reaction may also be determined by collective needs which apply to us as a species and also to those which apply to the natural environment.

Contra-satisfiers were not identified by Max-Neef but are those things which cause the contra-needs we wish to avoid. For example, crime and war can lead to insecurity, injury, and death.

In my next post, I will describe some of the ways in which the priorities we give to our needs can change with generation and age group.