Development through Alternation

9.4 Implications for organization

Anthony Judge

Organizations tend to assume that the world would be a far better place if the bodies that oppose them did not exist. This is a necessary consequence of their specificity. The arguments of this paper suggest that not only do organizations need opposition to fulfil their functions in relation to healthy human and social development, but in a healthy organization opposition to policies must necessarily be internalized. The question is then how to bring this about without tearing such a system apart or simply paralyzing it. The response would seem to be a more conscious use of time to enable alternative policies to hold sway in different phases of a policy cycle.

The danger with any particular policy, as this paper has argued, is that it must necessarily have inherent limitations in order to be practical and comprehensible to those who must implement it. When "discovered" these limitations must necessarily be ignored by its advocates, who must necessarily stress the limitations of the policy it is intended to supplant. In conventional organization major switches in policy are usually accompanied by the rejection of those responsible for the old policy as "incompetent" or "out-of-date" and the triumphant entry of the "young tigers" to implement the new one for which they have successfully campaigned. The newcomers tend to ignore the fact that the limitations of their policy will subsequently become apparent and that they in turn will be rejected. (If they are conscious of this they may well devote much of their efforts to profiting personally from their temporary advantage.)

Such policy swings are evident in relation to most polarized issues: centralization/decentralization, ecology/industry, labour/employers, right/left, science/culture, grass-roots/global, freedom/constraint, etc. In each case a policy stressing one extreme must eventually prove self-defeating. The swing towards a policy extreme is however essential to the healthy dynamics of an organization, provided that such swings occur within a cycle. The respiratory cycle of inspiration/expiration provides a useful analogy - especially in the light of attempts to terminate it by "holding one's breath". Each portion of the cycle counteracts the excesses or absorbs the "negative" by-products of other portions of the cycle, just as in the case of crop rotation (discussed earlier). A cycle of this kind is self-stabilizing as opposed to monopolar policies which are essentially uncontrolled. The violent dynamics of issue polarization can only be effectively contained by policy cycles involving alternatives over time. (In mechanics the two-body problem can only be contained by rotation.)

From a developmental point of view, the advantage of policy cycles is that they enable individuals who identify with one portion of the cycle to move with it whilst they are "winning" and then to renew their approach whilst they are "losing" - having been made aware of their limitations (cf. the Democrats following the 19S1 USA elections). Lasting development results from the cycle as a whole (cf the Cannot work cycle) and not simply from some particular part of it. A policy cycle also has the built in variability to enable it to respond to a changing environment.

The question is then how to enable such policy cycles to emerge within an organization. In fact they are implicit in the policy struggles of any organization. The problem is how to enable the cycle to operate through a succession of phases which need to be rendered more explicit. This needs to be explored in a separate study but simple thought experiments can be envisaged for the initial explorations of this possibility. For example an organization could decide to further decentralization policies for a fixed period, then switch to centralization policies for a corresponding period, then repeat the cycle. Many organizations do this anyway but only as a somewhat spastic succession of responses to external conditions or perceived incompetence. In organizations such switches are often the only way that staff can maintain the impression that "something is happening" and that they can further their careers by riding with (or opposing) the policy shift.

The creative challenge in organizations of the future should be to find better cycles, not to maintain one's grasp on a particular phase of a cycle as at present. The question becomes more interesting when such cycles are perceived as having more than two phases, and even more so when a number of such cycles are "co-operating". In fact it is the interlocking of such cycles, through their mutual "entrainment", which should lead to more powerful forms of multi-phase cyclic organization. A metaphor illustrating the increasing stabilization resulting from such interlocking is that of the series monocycle, bicycle, tricycle....(possibly starting with the pogostick). In the first there are severe problems of balance making it difficult for non-experts to ride. The second can be ridden after a limited learning experience, whilst the third requires only minimal experience. With each new member of the series the question of direction acquires more importance than that of balance. (The metaphor also suggests the question as to how many "cycles" are involved in the design of an automobile, a helicopter, etc.)

It is in this respect that Buckminster Fuller's work is very suggestive because a good way to model such interlocking is by perceiving the cycles as sharing a common centre around a sphere. In organizational terms the points of interlock between different cycles then emerge as functions and strategies which are "violently" opposed from some other interlock points, strongly supported from others, and of little importance to others.

The lines of mutual support can then be modelled by the continuous network around a spherical tensegrity as discussed elsewhere (99). Such a network is of a different quality to that of many contemporary "networks" engaged in "networking", for these are too often characterized by "flabbiness" (100). A network of the kind envisaged might be better described as a "resonance network" having an inherent development dynamic.

Organizations of this type may well exist already. One could even argue that the powers behind any political scene cynically accept or encourage policy alternation as a way of controlling and "culling" the ambitious "hot heads" who emerge in connection with any particular policy. Such a model may indeed be an appropriate way to describe a healthy community which has emerged organically without having been deliberately designed. The problem is that our perceptual/conceptual habits impede our recognition of more integrated patterns of this kind.

It is for this reason that there is great need for a new use of computers to stablize the conceptual "scaffolding" whilst such cylically based organization is brought into operation - or until our comprehension can adapt to understanding existing organizations in this light. Computer assistance is required to order the detailed communication pathways and protect the conceptual or organizational "ley lines" until new habits have been developed. Computers need to be used to continually re-encode the organization structure so that it remains comprehensible. The classical organization hierarchy chart (used by most intergovernmental bodies and ministries) is a severe handicap which reinforces dangerous misconceptions of organizational reality and possibilities for development.

Boulding suggests that the urban revolution and the rise of civilization may have been produced more by social invention in the field of organization than by any associated material inventions. The first of these innovations was the specification of roles linked by a structure of communication and the second was the development of multi-layered organizational hierarchies (152, pp. 212-5). Given the present institutional "allometric" crisis, the question is how any further innovation might be conceived in the light of the above comments. The response may well lie in rendering dynamic the static concept of role (and the associated notion of job "slot"). Any role could then be redefined as the intersect of one or more learning phases which can be conceived as potentially organizable into nested levels of learning cycles by which uncertainty is more or less successfully contained.

Finally, as argued elsewhere with regard to the possibility of tensegrity conferences, a cyclic approach of this kind could be of great significance in the design of more effective meetings - as temporary organizations. There is much to be said for enabling the assembled human resources to interweave in a more integrated manner designed to facilitate transformations in the conceptual or organizational response to any set of problems. Here too computers could be of assistance, especially given the short time available. There is even a case for envisaging meetings in which the art of "casting" is computer assisted to ensure that the conflicting tendencies stressed by the powerful personalities assembled can interweave "dramatically" to engender a correlated set of transformative cycles - counteracting the excesses of each and providing space for the emergence of their individual and collective wisdom. Presumably the art of personnel selection, testing and management is moving in this direction.