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e. 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.

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.