j. Sectors


A nation and, increasingly, the global community is a complex of interacting organisations. The greater the resources that an organisation controls, the greater the power of its upper stratum. A collection of similar organisations that co-operate to acquire yet greater power and status forms what is described as a sector. Sectors are also organisations and the same principles apply to them. Sectors are of particular importance as they control or influence the institutions of a nation, and thus, its general culture. When they exist in an influential nation, they can also impact on multinational or global culture and affairs. They are therefore discussed in some detail here.

Sectors differ from nation to nation, and from era to era. The way that nations were organised in the past, are organised in the present, and, to a limited extent, how they will be organised in the future can be explained using the concept of sectors. To do so we need to understand the ways in which sectors interact. Of particular interest is their impact on government, the nation’s controlling sub-system.

All organisations are hierarchical, and all organisations are a part of yet greater ones. Thus, high status in one organisation often confers status in a parent organisation. Within the parent organisation, the high status individuals of a child organisation can negotiate with others for yet higher status. This is done by offering support in return for status. This support often takes the form of wealth and influence. The larger a person’s status base, the more resources he controls, the greater the support he can provide, the greater his trading ability, and the higher the status he is likely to achieve in the parent organisation.

This process is recursive. So, an individual with high status in a business can, by trading the support of that business with others, achieve high status in a sector, and by trading the support of that sector, achieve high status in the national establishment. The national establishment comprises high status members of many sectors including government. Thus, trading can take place between high status representatives of a sector and government. Of particular concern is the ability to influence government decisions. Unfortunately, this influence is often not in the interest of the nation but rather in the interest of the sector, the business, or even the individual representing them.

To acquire status in the establishment members must overtly appear to have something to trade. This explains the very high salaries and often ostentatious lifestyles of the leaders of many organisations. The purpose of such high salaries is not to satisfy the needs of the recipient nor, as some would argue, to attract and reward those with the necessary skills and talents. Rather it is to enable the upper strata to make overt displays to their peers in the establishment and, thus, better enable them to trade for status and influence. Unfortunately, this trade within the establishment requires ever greater displays of status, particularly wealth and power, which in turn leads to ever greater income inequality.

The interplay of sectors, through their representatives in the national establishment, plays a very large part in shaping the governance, culture, and beliefs of a nation. Each sector will carry with it a worldview suited to the needs of its members, or of its upper stratum. Through trading in the establishment, it is possible for the leaders of organisations in one sector to influence the decisions of the leaders of organisations in another. This influence includes not only decisions favouring a particular sector, but also the propagation of the latter’s worldview and the suppression of other, possibly more rational ones. In extreme cases, one sector can usurp the leadership of another, for example the takeover of the industrial commercial sector in the West by the financial sector and the imposition of a “bottom-line” ideology. A sector can also take control of government, as in the case of military dictatorships and theocracies.

i Maintaining Hierarchies and Social Status

Maintaining Hierarchies and Social Status

An organisation is a self-maintaining system. Thus, a large proportion of its inputs can be used to maintain its processes, rather than delivering outputs. This means that an organisation can satisfy not only the needs of people in its environment, but also the needs of its members. So, once an organisation is established, it will maintain and defend itself through the attitudes and actions of its members, and seek to grow.

Maintenance of the supporting hierarchy. For an individual to maintain his social status, the priority must be to maintain his supporting hierarchy. Without it there is no social status. Thus, if an organisation satisfies a member’s needs, he will adopt a conservative attitude towards it, protect it, defend it, and resist any change which might impact on its function as a personal satisfier.

Adaptation. Because an organisation is a self-maintaining system, its continued existence takes priority over its purpose. Like all self-maintaining systems organisations adapt to their environment. The purpose of the organisation can, therefore, be altered by its upper strata if changes in the environment become a threat to its existence.

Sustaining a hierarchy is more important than sustaining its purpose. A hierarchy can grow out of a shared purpose but, once it is established, sustaining the hierarchy becomes more important to its members than pursuing its purpose. Ultimately, the rewards for status become more important than the purpose that underpins it. For example, China and Russia both largely abandoned the communist ideology, but retained its hierarchy.

Falsification or exaggeration of importance. To justify and sustain an organisation’s continued existence, its higher strata can falsify or exaggerate its purpose. For example, to gain popular support, the benefits that an organisation brings to society or the environment can be exaggerated.

Peer Group appointments & nepotism. A peer group is a group of people with similar characteristics, e.g., members of the same family, gender, class, race, religion, educational background, sexual orientation, and so on. Members of the same peer group share a culture and are, therefore, more likely to understand and support one another. When selecting potential supporters in an organisation there is a tendency, therefore, for the leader to choose those from his or her own peer group. However, if taken to excess this can become self-propagating, leading to one peer group dominating an organisation, and a glass ceiling for those who are not members of it.

Norms and values of obedience. Secular organisations often maintain their hierarchy by incorporating norms and values of obedience to authority into their culture. Religious organisations do the same, but the norms and values of obedience can be much stronger. They include, for example, placing a god or gods at the top of the hierarchy, demanding unquestioning faith in his existence, and requiring unquestioning obedience to his will. Of course, the individuals who claim to know the will of this god are the true heads of the hierarchy and benefit the most from it.  In some cases, an organisation may be both secular and religious. In the past, it was common for kings to claim authority by divine right, and today there remain several nations with theocratic governments.

f. Culture, Sub-cultures and Cultural Evolution

Culture, Sub-cultures, and Cultural Evolution


As mentioned in a previous article, an organisation is any group of people who work together with a common purpose. Every organisation has a culture comprising values, norms, beliefs, operational knowledge, and symbols.


In common parlance during the 1960’s, the word “sub-culture” was associated with rebellious, western, youth cultures. More recently, it has become associated with style-based cultures, predicated on fashions in music and clothing. However, these are merely the most overtly expressed sub-cultures. The more general definition used in this article is a group of individuals within a parent culture who, whilst largely subscribing to the latter, deviate from some of its norms, values, beliefs, and symbols in an identifiable way.

The parent culture can be that of an organisation of any scale, from a club, through a nation, to the global community. However, we most often tend to think of sub-cultures as being relative to national culture. The most significant national sub-cultures are political, ethnic, religious, regional, gender based, age based, occupation based, class based, and so on.

How Sub-cultures Arise

There are three main ways in which a sub-culture can arise.

  1. Organisational Emergence. A sub-culture can arise in the same way as any other organisation. A group of individuals who identify a common threat or opportunity come together with a common purpose. Within such a group, a common culture arises, and a leadership hierarchy can also arise. It is worth noting, however, that there also exist interest based sub-cultures, e.g., sports and hobbies, which do not necessarily become organized. Thus, whilst an organisation always has a culture, a culture is not necessarily part of an organisation.
  2. Cultural Migration. The anthropologist, Roland B Dixon, noted that ethnic migration can also result in cultural change. However, more general cultural migrations can also occur, for example, when one business is taken over or merged with another.
  3. Top-down Design. Present day marketing specialists are well aware of the importance of sub-cultures as consumers, and are capable of promoting a designed sub-culture via the internet and social media. Many, but not all, Western sub-cultures are now consumer based, therefore. This is an example of how an improved knowledge of social systems can alter a culture.


In extreme cases, the parent culture can be regarded as a threat by a group of individuals. So, they may come together to form a counter-culture, which seeks to radically alter the parent culture. Counter-cultures are normally political in nature and organised.

Sub-cultures and Cultural Evolution

Sub-cultures play an important part in cultural evolution. A sub-culture may be relatively minor at first, but can grow and ultimately become absorbed by the parent culture. Recent examples in the West include the absorption of the following sub-cultures: women’s rights, LGBT rights, ethnic minority rights, religious rights and so on.

Historically, due to the prevalence of authoritarian regimes, sub-cultures tended to emerge in hiding at first. This is because authoritarian regimes tended to regard them as a threat to the status quo, and because sub-cultures were, initially, relatively powerless and easily eradicated. For example, in the dark ages, people who did not conform to religious norms, or who questioned the social hierarchy, could be burnt at the stake. However, the Renaissance sub-culture later emerged. It sought the reinstatement of knowledge lost following the collapse of the Roman Empire. This ultimately led to a more rational approach to theology, the natural world, and the arts. The Renaissance was followed by the Reformation, a reaction against the Catholic Church’s doctrine. It led not only to religious change but also to more general social change. It highlighted corruption in the Catholic Church hierarchy, afforded women a greater role in society, helped to spread literacy, and weakened the relationship between church and state. The subsequent Age of Enlightenment, in which philosophy, logic, and reason flourished, resulted in major political changes that formed the liberal democracies that we see in the Western world today. All of these changes originated with a sub-culture.

Alongside the decline of authoritarianism, there has been growing tolerance for sub-cultures.  Increasingly, they have been allowed to grow or expire with relatively little interference from established institutions. The effect of this has been to increase the pace of cultural evolution.

Despite this growing tolerance, social pressures remain. We all hold our culture in mental schemata, and these can cause us to behave towards others in a way that encourages them to adopt the same culture. That is, we aim for cultural homogeneity or the sharing of a common culture. Inevitably, the likelihood of such homogeneity decreases with organizational size.

On the other hand, cultural entrenchment, i.e., the unchangeability of an organisation’s culture, generally increases with size. Our cultural schema can also cause us to regard people who hold a different culture or sub-culture as a threat and we can, therefore, attempt to stifle emerging sub-cultures. The larger the group of people who hold a culture the more successful this will tend to be.

e. Knowledge, Language and Organisational Culture

Knowledge, Language and Organisational Culture

Organisations, in the general sense, include individuals, clubs, nations, and what are referred to in anthropology as “cultures”.

We gain knowledge from both the natural and social environment. However, mistakes are possible, all organisations are capable of concealing information from others, and of supplying misinformation to them.

Culture comprises norms, values, knowledge or beliefs, and symbols. Thus, knowledge is part of an organisation’s culture. It is held in schemata which include not only an understanding of the environment and an operating schema, but also a schema for worldview or purpose, a social systems schema, an internal ethical schema, an external ethical schema, a self-image, and so on.

The American anthropologist, Roland B Dixon, in his 1928 book, “The Building of Cultures”, explained that the natural environment has greatest influence on formation of culture. The main factors are topography, climate, and the availability of raw materials and other resources, all of which vary from time to time and from place to place. Thus, our knowledge of these factors varies in the same way, and so too does the culture of which it is a part. Religion has a significant but lesser effect, and it too may be influenced by the natural environment.

This anthropological explanation is relevant for “cultures”, i.e., tribes and nations whose main external interactions are with their natural environment. For organisations and individuals within a “culture”, the environment must also include society.

There are two important points to note about knowledge and its influence on culture. Firstly, as knowledge of society is gained, this can alter both culture and social theory. Secondly, progress is not inevitable, shocks can occur, and knowledge can be lost. For example, the collapse of the Roman Empire and the subsequent Dark Ages. Such losses can cause an organisation or society to revert to a culture and behaviours similar to those of earlier years.

Culture, in turn, is a part of what in a very general sense can be called “the mind” of an organisation. An individual’s mind is his brain. In larger organisations, it is the brains of its members linked via language. In both cases, however, the mind comprises schemata which, as Bartlett explained, are resistant to change. Existing knowledge effects the ability of both individuals and organisations to correctly absorb new knowledge. It also effects the relative priorities of their needs, what they regard as satisfiers, their motivators, their attitudes towards social interactions, and whether they behave in a co-operative, positively competitive, or negatively competitive manner.

Language and the individual mind are very closely interrelated. Vyvyan Evans, Professor of Linguistics at Bangor University, Wales, UK, in his article at, explains that recent research has shown that language is processed everywhere in the brain. There is no distinct processing centre. He suggests, therefore, that language and our co-operative minds have co-evolved. This, in turn, suggests that they are reflections of one another. Language has evolved, and may still be evolving, to link minds into a single system, albeit rather unsatisfactorily at present. This provides a control system for organisations that is equivalent to the way in which an individual’s mind controls his body.

Evans describes a “Golden Triangle” comprising mind, language, and culture (of which knowledge is a part). This concept differs from the unidirectional Saphir-Whorf hypothesis that language influences the way that we think about reality. Rather, it includes the possibility that how we think about reality also influences our language.

The behaviour of an organisation, including communication, is directed by its multi-mind and language based control system, and this behaviour affects the environment. Thus, there is a feedback process in which:

  • the environment affects knowledge,
  • knowledge affects culture,
  • culture affects the multi-mind and language based control system,
  • the multi-mind and language based control system affects organisational behaviour, and
  • organisational behaviour affects the environment.

During this process, knowledge is continually updated and sometimes lost.

Anthropology reveals other ways in which cultural change can occur. Roland B Dixon, noted that ethnic migration can also result in cultural change, i.e., the introduction of those with a different culture, into an organisation or its environment. Whilst this has an anthropological basis, it can also be applied, more generally, to organisations of all sizes and might better be described as cultural, rather than ethnic, migration.

The concepts described in this article are summarised in the diagram below.

c. Organisational Motivators, Satisfiers and Decisions

Organisational Motivators, Satisfiers, and Decisions

Organisational Satisfiers and Contra-satisfiers

If an organisation is treated as a system, then its satisfiers are its inputs, its processes are its function, and its outputs are satisfiers or contra-satisfiers for others. Note that these others can be a part of the organisation, another familial organisation, or a non-familial organisation. A business which manufactures ice cream requires inputs such as milk, sugar, premises, equipment, electricity, employees, recipes, and so on. These are its satisfiers. Its outputs are ice cream which satisfies the needs of distributors, retailers, and customers. A contra-satisfier for this organisation might, for example, be an outbreak of listeria in the factory.

Organisational Motivators

The behaviour of an organisation is governed by its motivators. These are the status of its satisfiers and contra-satisfiers, i.e., whether a satisfier or contra-satisfier is absent, latent, precarious, or entrenched. An organisation is self-maintaining, and its aim is to ensure that all satisfiers are entrenched and all contra-satisfiers absent. In the case of satisfiers, the organisation responds to opportunities. In the case of contra-satisfiers, it responds to threats or risks. There is an industry of consultants providing business organisations with a plethora of strategies for doing so. These can be researched on the internet, and I will not therefore go into detail here.

In summary, however, the source of satisfiers and contra-satisfiers is the organisation’s environment, and the organisation will either:

  1. adapt to changes in its environment, e.g., by altering its function;
  2. attempt to extend its environment, e.g., through globalization; or
  3. attempt to alter its environment, e.g., through advertising, moving to another country, or offshoring.

In doing so it alters its environment which, of course, includes other organisations. They too will adapt to any changes, further alter the environment, and a complex dynamic situation can result.

Organisational Decisions

Individuals make their initial decisions sub-consciously, using improvements to their overall emotional state as a basis. However, before acting, they consciously criticize their initial decision in a more rational way, and if it is unsatisfactory, tell the sub-conscious mind to go back and think again. The same is true of organisations but with some differences.

  1. The initial decision may be by a leader or other member of the organisation who has already gone through the individual decision-making process. Significantly, there may be several competing initial decisions from different sources.
  2. Initial decisions must be communicated and there are many ways in which this can fail. The decisions may simply not be communicated; they may contain information that is false at source; they may contain deliberately false information; they may be expressed inaccurately; they may be transmitted inaccurately; they may be interpreted inaccurately; the recipients may suffer information overload; or the recipients may modify them to fit their existing schemata. Many of these problems do not arise when an individual is deciding on their own personal actions.
  3. The initial decisions are subject to conscious review by other members of the organisation. Any found to be unsatisfactory are rejected, and the originator is either asked to think again, or a satisfactory competing decision is accepted. Individuals may  consider competing options in this way, but only when the decision is highly significant. On a day-to-day basis, individuals act on the first option recognised to be both satisfactory and sufficient. However, organisations have a greater tendency to seek optimal solutions. Decision making in organisations is generally less emotional and more rational, because individuals tasked with decision-making are responsible to one another and must justify and explain their decisions. Justifying rationales are possible, however.
  4. Organisational decision-making is a considerably slower process than that of an individual. The larger the organisation the slower the process.
  5. Several organizational decisions can be in progress at any one time. In some ways this is the same for individuals, as we do try to satisfy multiple needs with a single action. However, in an individual, this process is well coordinated, whereas in an organisation it may not be, and contradictions can arise.
  6. There can be contradictions between a leader’s needs, which may have a greater personal and emotional basis, and the organisation’s needs. In individuals this contradiction does not exist, except perhaps for those with a mental illness. Individuals are masters of their own actions. Organisations are not.
  7. The principle of sub-optimisation recognises that a focus on optimising the performance of one component of an organisation can lead to greater inefficiency in the organisation as a whole. This is because efficiencies for one part of the organisation can lead to inefficiencies in another. Rather the whole organisation must be optimised if it is to perform at maximum efficiency, and individual components must sometimes operate sub-optimally.
b. Why Hierarchy is Necessary in Organisations

Why Hierarchy is Necessary in Organisations

In his book “General System Theory”, the biologist Ludwig von Bertalanffy describes three processes which play an important role in biology. They are progressive mechanization, progressive centralization, and progressive individualization.

Bertalanffy uses the example of an embryo to describe progressive mechanization. At a very early stage in its life, all cells play the same role. The embryo is merely a collection of identical cells bound together. However, as its development continues the cells begin to exhibit differences and take on specialised roles according to their location. As the embryo’s development continues, the cells then assemble into different organs.

Progressive centralization often goes hand in hand with progressive mechanization. The various component parts of an organism become subordinated under dominant parts, which serve to co-ordinate their activities. In an embryo for example, the dominant part is the nervous system, which, in turn, is subordinated to the brain.

Finally, progressive individualization describes the way in which an organism becomes more unified and individual. In the early stages of an embryo, for example, when individualization has not begun, any splitting of the collection of cells results in identical twins. However, the embryo becomes progressively more complex, and progressively more a system in which the whole is more than the sum of its parts. It cannot be broken down into its separate parts without losing the feature that makes it a living individual, i.e., without dying.

These three processes, which appear to be a natural feature of life, extend into organisations, i.e., groups of people with a common purpose. Organisations emulate as far as they can an individual organism. They comprise specialists, managed by a hierarchy, under the ultimate control of a leader, and have an individual identity. However, we are not telepathic and have no group mind. Thus, the leadership role must be taken on by an individual and communication is via language. Whilst the mind of an individual is capable of controlling their own body, an organisation is more complex, and we are, therefore, less able to comprehend and control it. So, a hierarchy becomes necessary.

As we ascend the hierarchy, information is simplified by subordinate leaders for those of higher status. This enables the latter to comprehend and co-ordinate the activities of the specialists under their control. The number of specialists and degree of complexity that must be managed increases as we ascend the hierarchy. So too is the amount of simplification needed. At each stage, as information is passed up the hierarchy, some of it is lost. Commands coming down must also be interpreted in more detail by leaders of lower status. So, the reverse occurs and, at each stage descending the hierarchy, information is added to any communications. Clearly, the more levels there are in a hierarchy, the greater the risk that critical information will be lost, or misinformation gained. Ultimately, to avoid mistakes becoming too frequent or too serious, it becomes necessary for decentralization to take place.

In summary, hierarchy is a natural feature of life. Leaders exist because of the need to co-ordinate specialists. They form a hierarchy because progressive simplification is needed to deal with increasing complexity, as the number of specialists under a leader’s ultimate control increases.

This natural system can, however, break down because the people who populate a hierarchy are determined by the trading of status for support and can act in their personal interest rather than that of the organisation.

Organisational Attraction

Individuals and organisations are attracted to other individuals or organisations that they believe will satisfy their needs. This applies to:

  1. Normal human needs. Thus, people will seek employment by an organisation as a satisfier of those needs.
  2. Normal organisational needs. For example, a business may be attracted to a political party whose ideology supports its purpose.
  3. The need for inner consistency. Thus, people and organisations with a particular view will join others with the same or similar views. This enables them to hold that view, whilst at the same time satisfying the need for relatedness.
  4. Antisocial needs. People will join an organisation which appears to provide opportunities to satisfy these. In the case of an individual, it may, for example, be easy access to money. However, organisations can also have anti-social needs, and are attracted to parent organisations which facilitate their satisfaction, e.g., groups of mercenaries.
c. Social Interactions Part 1

Social Interactions (Part 1)


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.


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.

b. Basic Social Systems Theory

Basic Social Systems Theory


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.


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.


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.

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.

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.