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The conditions for creative evolution
Recognizing how the social environment plays an immense role in the evolution of individuals, Randall Whitaker, a human factors engineer, tells us why Nature's principles of self-organization are popular themes for the social sciences and for consultants to enterprise. By enterprise, I mean the whole range of human activity where organization is required, including companies, self-managed teams, strategic alliances, supplier/client partnerships, and the like.
In an abstract on Nature's self-organizing principles, Whitaker writes, "There is now widespread interest in applying theories of self-organization to analysis and (re-) engineering of enterprises. 'Enterprise' is used here to denote purposeful social collectives of any scale. This term is employed for two reasons: (a) it carries the dual connotation of 'the actors' and 'the activity', and (b) its usage avoids confusion with the very specific usage of the term 'organization' "37
He explains seven key ideas that derive from the concept of self-organization. I've added an eighth and ninth - self-awareness and self-empowerment - to his list because they also exist in human organizational systems.
Since the 1940's, management and social sciences have viewed human enterprise as something more than the mere sum of its parts. Looking at its many spheres of activity, studies found that enterprise does not function as a separate, passive, discreet and rigid entity. Enterprise is a whole, and its configuration and behaviors evolve during the normal course of operations. The precise way it evolves is largely determined by the enterprise itself, and by the individuals who make up its creative capital.
Observations in Nature reveal how existence is a single living system, created from other systems, in a dynamic exchange of great complexity. Forms (like rocks, reefs, trees, tacos, birds, brains or mush) are composed of smaller bits (like molecules, atoms, sub-atomic particles, waves of energy, causal forces, etc.) Forms are also component parts of larger systems (like tissue, mammal, biosphere, star, galaxy and super-clusters of galaxies, in a unified field of limitless oscillations of vibrating energy - l.o.v.e.).
37. Randall Whitaker. Self-Organization, Autopoiesis, and Enterprises. Abstract, 1995. www.acm.org/sigois/auto/main.html.
PRINCIPLES OF SELF-ORGANIZATION :
ATTRIBUTES OF COMPLEX SYSTEMS
Self-organization refers to a series of attributes found in complex systems:
1. Self-creation - the notion that a system's origin is determined by its character or the specific circumstances in which it exists
2. Self-configuration - the notion that a system actively determines the arrangement of its constituent parts
3. Self-regulation - the notion that a system actively controls the course of its internal transformations
4. Self-steering - the notion that a system actively controls its own course of activity within an external environment
5. Self-maintenance - the notion that a system actively preserves itself, its form, and its functionality over time
6. Self-(re-)production - the notion that a system regenerates itself or produces other systems identical to itself
7. Self-reference - the notion that the significance of a system's character or behavior is meaningful only with respect to itself
8. Self-awareness - the notion that a system has a sense of its own character or behavior
9. Self-empowerment - the notion that a system that is self-aware can change its own character or behavior
Self-organization means self-creation in the sense that the universal Intelligence creating the whole system has determined how certain forms of life will emerge or self-create at specific levels of complexity. In other words, when conditions, or organized complexity, are ripe for a life form to emerge, it is spontaneously created. Like magic.
The ideal conditions from which life emerges were pre-determined. Dramatic examples are all around us. When yeast meets watery soup of grains and sugars, presto! Alcohol is formed. When a human sperm meets an egg, presto! A complex human begins. Necessity may be the mother of invention, but creative intent is its father. When the atmosphere of Earth was conducive to supporting life, life emerged. First created as simple bacteria, they mutated...
into increasingly complex organizations: fungi, flora, fauna, hominid and Homo sapiens. If conditions are right, we continue to evolve into Homo sapiens sapiens ("I am aware of "awareness."). And then we can consciously change our mind and be creative.
Species can spontaneously evolve when the environment is appropriate, and will spontaneously extinguish when it is no longer. This self-creation aspect of how life is organized gives us another amazing power. It says that if we put in place the conditions for being lucky, presto! We get lucky. Like magic!
My partner Suzy and I participated in the transformation of Canada's largest employer - from a cash-cow and bureaucratic monopoly to a major player in the new digital marketplace - by training thousands of managers and leadership trainees on the ins and outs of the creative self-empowerment process. We had plenty of opportunity to observe how most people resist taking power and how few have a great variety of opinions on what personal power really means.
The company is scattered across the land, so we trained people in different locations, most often meeting with groups of fifteen to twenty participants. It never failed to amaze us to see a seemingly homogenous group divide into its paradigmatic parts. When procedural permissions were discussed, for example, you would have thought that the participants all worked for different companies! While some employees were certain their bosses would grant whatever permission was needed, others were convinced their bosses would be against an initiative that was totally against company rules or policy.
Time and again we saw groups obey Nature's rules of self-configuration. Simply stated, the mind is a closed loop, and ideas outside that loop cannot be perceived as O.K. by the inside. That's where personal power comes into play. The stronger our sense of I am, the less we feel the need to seek permissions from out there.
In a fascinating and delightful read, Howard Bloom describes realizations that show why we have trouble coming to terms with our I am-ness, or our universal identity. His book The Lucifer Principle examines the forces in history that contributed to our primitive and bloody past. He shows how we are indeed hardwired in ways that are far removed from our potential.
A renaissance thinker, Bloom discusses five concepts that helped shape human destiny. He described the first as a particular aspect of self-organization called the genetic replicator, which allows...
...living systems like bacteria, genes and people to duplicate. This first concept shows the ease with which Nature can replicate living systems and it makes any one of us shockingly expendable.
He describes the second concept as the superorganism where every system is part of a larger organizing system. We are less individualistic than we like to think. Like cogs in a dominant order, we are components of larger social groups that tend to bury our individuality by demanding group-think of its members.
Bloom introduces a third concept called a meme, which means "a cluster of ideas". Memes are buzzwords that are shared by group members. Dentists have their own jargon, as do pilots, mechanics and sorcerers. A psychotronic phenomenon, memes describe the symbols and codes that bind us into cultures and cults. They are the collection of neural pathways that separate us from them like rallying words and slogans; memes have the same power as a national flag or an anthem.
His fourth idea is called the neural net. This refers to the collection of neural pathways that developed to become our tribal mind. Bloom says there is a price to pay for the tribal hard-wiring in our brains. "Its [ ] eccentric mode of operation manipulates our emotions and turns us into components of a massive learning machine." 38
Our tribal neural nets make us easy subjects for manipulation by waking our fear of ostracism. If you don't stand up for your National Anthem, you are instantly suspect. If you call their flag "a rag", you'll stoke their group into a frenzy. Once group identity is fired up, we look for cues from leaders in the larger super-organism to see how to react. Group-mind overpowers the personal mind because when we are afraid we react poorly and thus need strong leaders. The tactic most used by manipulators is to first divide the tribe into the people who are with them and those who are against them, and then to feed the people with them with fear so they want to be led.
The fifth concept is called the pecking order. Also known as the social hierarchy, the pecking order describes how power is distributed throughout Nature. It can be observed in the posturing between groups or nations and in all societies down through the food chain. The Rock 'n' Roll song explains it as everybody wants to rule the world.
38. Howard Bloom. The Lucifer Principle. Boston: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1997.
From our alpha male grunts to the codes of behavior adopted by society's elite, we are already divided into us and them. We see the world though our roles and social classes: me and my VIP group, the lucky receivers of privileges and perks, and the rest of us. We are divided linguistically, by religion, by color and all its shades, by ethnicity and culture, by geo- and local politics, by tribal feuds and sports rivalries, and by which side of the track we were born on. We have damaged egos.
The predatory practices we learned in our tribal past are still being used today, except now we say business is business, or we may use terms like "North-South dialog" to soften their real import on human lives. Our wars are ostensibly conceived to liberate and help, but take a look at the complaints lodged with the United Nations to figure out who the top dogs and bullies are in the schoolyard of nationhood. Take a run down to any playground to see how early the pecking order is developed, and then visit an old boys' network to see how perks and privileges are bandied about in your neighborhood.
Bloom's five ideas show how Nature churns out life in order of increasing complexity and how that process leads to a human tendency for barbarism. 1) Life must replicate to survive; 2) Groups survive better than loners; 3) X, Y, Z is what defines our group from others; 4) We believe that God is on our side and if you are not with us you must be against God and us. And then, brutally, 5) Our group is being oppressed by 'them' and we must exercise our God-given right to attack them and defend ourselves.
History shows that a group's fortunes change over time, and Bloom says that this explains why a government's foreign policies are so often wrong. He also says that group-think concentrates might and power into anyone who manipulates those five ideas. Recent events certainly confirm his thesis. When people are faced with an uncertain future, they more easily surrender their individual rights to group-think.
Fear makes us come together for protection where we more quickly gel into a mob. When the mob spills out into the street to riot after the home team loses a match, or when we scream for bloody revenge for some wrong we've suffered, we are embodying The Lucifer Principle.
Individuals who are overwhelmed by primitive emotion (e-motion from energy-in-motion) and driven by mob-memes will commit atrocities. I got a profound understanding of Bloom's...
thesis as I was reading it. I saw a televised interview with a girl in the aftermath of the bloodbath in Rwanda. Fourteen years old and pregnant, she had been part of a village mob who had killed all its neighbors. She had personally hacked another fourteen year-old pregnant girl to death, but could now only offer a few empty slogans and regrets to rationalize her behavior. She said she didn't know why she had done what she did, except that she was caught up in fear and by the frenzy of the crowd.
To claim individuality means to accept that we have to break with the primitive antics of the super-organism&emdash;the crowd. We have to think beyond the tribal brain. Acquiring that courage is possible because human beings can self-regulate.
Discipline is needed, because in the same way stronger personalities in a group will tend to dominate circumstances and exercise more influence on the larger system, past behavior will influence future potential. Since our habits tend to overwhelm any newer resolves we make, self-empowerment requires diligence and repeated action.
Our self-steering capabilities help us decide on a course of action. Even our momentum is caught up by external circumstances. While we don't always have a say in what events may affect our life, self-steering lets us choose how to participate in those circumstances, or not to participate at all. Self-steering is the saving grace that lets us quit one organizational system and adopt another. We don't have to surrender to the tribal think. By not participating in the self-pity and pain that accompanied my accident, for example, I was freed to pursue my own empowerment. And that shift in focus changed everything.
The concept of self-maintenance is born from observing what the instinct for survival unleashes. Contrary to what might be supposed, self-maintenance is an ability to adapt over time in order to remain viable and vital. My years of activism on disability issues allowed me to see how a committee will often give primary consideration to protecting and extending its own mandate. Look at many bureaucracies and you'll find obscure subgroups managing obscure ideas that have little to do with anything relevant today. Committees are founded when there is a need, and then become installed.
Organizational self-reference shouldn't become a bias that allows a structure to focus in on itself and remain blinded to the...
larger whole in which it exists. In human terms, self-reference now requires that we see ourselves in more global ways, as spheres of personal awareness in a larger biosphere.
Self-awareness allows complex systems of organization to take inventory, to chart ideals and to generate options, opinions and directions.Self-awareness also lets the human organism understand itself so that its individuality and subjective will can emerge. Self-empowerment then means making the kinds of decisions that result in a creative and actualized life. Our tendency to sabotage ourselves by getting caught up in old tribal battles and all kinds of petty interests have pushed the hands on the Doomsday Clock to where we are now, at the edge of chaos.
Take a good look around. Consider the petty politics and shortsighted planning around personal interests right where you are. Now think of the world's egocentric despots and the organizations they lead as a black hole surrounded by a hierarchy of shades of gray. Consider what the phrase right livelihood means, and then think about how you fit into the overall scheme of things. Are you grayish? Where do you fit in your own organizational hierarchy? Does any part of your job description need a makeover?
Innovation by self-organized design
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