Are Organizations Alive?

Are Organizations Alive?

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Are Organizations Alive?

Is the evolution of technology transforming organizations into a new form of life? And if so, what role will humans play?

With each passing year, organizations act more and more like living entities thanks to the evolution of technology. In this brand new piece, I ask some provocative questions that have been gnawing at me for some time now. This article represents a shift in the focus of my writing.  But if you read it, you will see that it ultimately still ties back to the need to build businesses and other organizations in ways that stand for something more than just the quest for profit. In this sense, this piece just raises the stakes for doing that. 

This is a hypothesis, and so I am very interested in feedback on the ideas outlined here. No one knows the future. 

#artificialintelligence   #life   #organization  

cc: Jeff Sayre, Gregory Esau, Leland LeCuyer, John Kellden, Mark Traphagen, Drew Sowersby, Georgina Lester, Otto Hunt, Jeff Jockisch, David Amerland, RobotEnomics, Susanne Ramharter, Mark Bruce, Thomas Morffew, Thomas Vander Wal, Jessica Obermayer

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  1. Gideon Rosenblatt this looks more than just interesting. I will get back to it tonight as the day settles so I can respond intelligently. Thank you for pinging me here. 

  2. Ditto for me, Gideon Rosenblatt.  For now, I’ll start by asking what you mean by “alive”?  Of course, I know what the dictionary will say, so I’m looking a bit deeper here.  Also, consider the emotional impact of using this word to convey something else unsaid.

  3. Thanks David Amerland. I’ll look forward to that. And not to just peg you at “the semantic” guy, but I do believe there is a particularly important role that meaning will play in providing the integration I’m talking about here. 

  4. Really look forward to digging into this when I get back to the laptop, Gideon Rosenblatt !

  5. Thanks Malthus John. “Life” is very loaded term, to be sure. When you get to the article, you’ll see that I lean towards a systems perspective. When it comes to discerning life, I like the notion of “autopoiesis” – which essentially means the ability to create itself. And this will be something I will be building on in future pieces. As Leland LeCuyer also intuited last night, I will also be leaning heavily on “membranes” as a way to explore this edge of what is and is not living. 

    And yes, the emotional impact is a big part of this. It’s deliberate, though admittedly risky. 

  6. Thanks Gregory Esau. 

  7. This, and you’re whole direction sound very good, very exciting, Gideon Rosenblatt .

  8. Oh blimey – are we in tune! I have been compiling my thoughts on this too. So not too hard to give you a fairly long response! 😉

    My answer is YES! Organizations are living breathing entities in their own right. How they manifest their future though is up to those who are a part of the bigger body. WE have to remember that technology is merely a vehicle and a tool enabling us to paint different pictures to the ones we had before. For me it is enabling connectedness, empowerment and interdependence but it is not an end in itself.

    My feeling is that we are very definitely shifting from a the hefty albeit monumental pyramidal hierarchy provided by traditional corporate infrastructure to something that is much more fluid and perhaps not quite to so easy to define.

    In the pyramidal model, I sense that there are inherent dangers of ‘those at the top’ and the structure itself, including the technology being the elements that control outcomes.  it takes a strong leadership to ensure that it goes in the ‘right’ direction.

    Organisations are living bodies formed by the consciousness of the collective. The role of the individual is vital. If you want an organisation that is aligned with particular values, ethos and purpose then you have to make sure that as many of the people who are a part of that organisation are also aligned with those values, ethos and purpose. 

    Each individual is an important cell of a bigger body and the health, well-being and alignment of those separate people, will be mirrored in the health, well-being and alignment of the organisation as a whole.

    Then it is a case of harnessing the natural cycles as we embrace birth, death & regeneration. Breathing in and breathing out, contemplation and action, being and doing, expansion and contraction, and so on all form a part of a balanced entity.

    Key skills for the future of such organisations – empathic listening, focused intention, attention, facilitating creativity and innovation, relationship building, and so on. All of course based on trust, confidence, and a very real vision for the future.

  9. Gideon Rosenblatt This makes me want to change the Friday show to a 3 hour format… Oh the discussion we would have! 

    I think you are right on the mark with this. “The evolution of technology is so powerful, in fact, that it now rivals humans in organizing ourselves.”

    I think it’s allowed the individuals within corporate entities to stand out, to speak as both a part of their working collective and as a multi-faceted individual. Technology, (the web) has forced corporations to have a voice beyond the PR dept and CEO. As our social activity on the web evolved, the tech evolved to accommodate. Now, we demand a human connection to the brands we favor. We demand more than a one way conversation. 

    Corporations have started to respond.. for the sake of the profit margin.. but this is just the catalyst for the continued evolution of the corporate organism. 

    What has evolved at the global level is our ability to communicate with each other instantly, collectively, as 10 or 10 million. This is a change that affects us all. Corporations are evolving because of the humans within them as well as the humans that choose to purchase from them. 

    I truly hope that this trend in open corporate communication continues and is not squished by giants that have the money to do so. 

    Fantastic post. 

  10. I’m so glad that I pinged you to make sure you saw this, Georgina Lester. Yes, yes, and triple yes. To just riff off of one of the great points you make above, the point about hierarchy is something is so very, very relevant. Part of this relates to what Jon Husband calls the “wirearchy” – a kind of networked entity that relies less on traditional organizational structures to hold itself together. 

    One of the things I will be playing with in the weeks ahead is how the very definition of what is inside – and outside – the organization can no longer really be discerned by looking at org charts. It’s really about who is impacted by the work. And I think that the way things are going, we are going to see a huge hollowing out of traditional employee roles, as more people are pulled in to contribute from the outside. That was the little hint I was giving with the reference to WhatsApp. So, it really is about values alignment as well as a kind of shift in perspective in how the work is viewed. It’s no longer just about building the product or service, but about using it. And that new network will define the new edge of the organization. 

    Thanks so very much for the excellent thinking. I’m so pleased to see you’re moving along similar lines. 

  11. So cool to see all these great thoughts, and the stuff you’re bringing up, is so aligned John Ellis. It is that human connection that we want when we interact with companies, and the firms that don’t get that really run a risk of alienating their customers and other stakeholders as a result. The challenge, of course, is how to scale that real, human interaction, so that it’s not overwhelmed. 

    This is one of the reasons I find it so interesting that Amazon bought Zappos and appears to be letting them run quite autonomously. Amazon is all about automation, but Zappos has taken a deliberately different path, and I wonder to what degree it will positively influence it’s parent corp. 

    Part of where this goes centers around the question of what the organization does with the windfalls of automation. Does it simply pass on more profits to external shareholders, or does it invest in the business through things like allowing the tech to facilitate richer human connection through the process of the organization’s work? 

  12. Gideon Rosenblatt.. you know… sometimes it’s hard to respond when all you really have to say is, YES!. If you could see me, I’m standing, applauding, cheering.

    Does it simply pass on more profits to external shareholders, or does it invest in the business through things like allowing the tech to facilitate richer human connection through the process of the organization’s work?

    From a consumer point of view.. I know which ones I’ll be more willing to purchase from. Does that feedback loop force the change? 

  13. Of course what I didn’t say earlier is that I came onto G+  thinking about looking you up as I felt that you were doing something interesting.

    Which brings me on to other thoughts that I have been having with regard to this era of transcending old ways …

    I feel that we are fast moving into an era where academic intelligence as with practical expertise of the various industries are no long the only intelligences that we need to foster.

    For some organisations, emotional intelligence is already playing a part in fostering healthy relationships within vibrant sustainable and supportive communities.

    However I do feel that other intelligences are going to take precedence.

    Spiritual intelligence offering a sense of belonging but also working with personal life purpose (an eliminating any blocks that prevent them from living an aligned life).

    Creative intelligence facilitating innovation and innovative ways of finding new solutions.

    Social Intelligence and the ability to connect, read networks and engage with the right people.

    Visionary intelligence – the ability to create a bridge between what has been and what is in the future having already seen a very clear picture of it based on their knowledge of how industries and technology is evolving.

    And so on.

    We live in very interesting times where our world is transforming into a much more mufti-dimensional reality that is far less linear than we have so far experienced.

  14. PInging Nadine Hack 😉

  15. Georgina Lester – thank you for exposing me to this fascinating dialogue thread on the need for an evolution in thought and action on the very “being” of organizations & how they relate to “insiders” & “others.” As always, you are stimulating exploration into the many profound ways we all are interconnected.

  16. Great piece Gideon Rosenblatt and well described. Clearly organizations, or more generally, groups of people (or any things) have objectives, motivations, behaviors and constraints that are in (significant) ways different from the individual parts. To your point, an organization is unique and different (though constrained by) the sum of its parts. In your description, the sum of people and technology, a useful method of analysis.

    Your reference to biological systems and their ever more complex arrangement does seem a natural and useful method of explaining an organization… and in a sense the great leap here is understanding that just like all ‘contained’ (or internalized) biological constructs like a cell, etc. there are likely externalized constructs that are real, relevant and impact our world more and more – aka organizations that represent a new form of multi-extra-cellular ‘organisms’. 

  17. I wish I wasn’t working…but a resounding yesssss!! to this whole thread and participants!!

  18. I totally think of an organization as a type of life. As you point out, they are complex adaptive systems. i.e. they are more than a sum of their parts. That said, they are far from human. As we’ve spoke about before, I believe that l size is an important factor as to how human an organization can be. Technology can enable us to give a small group of people a very large megaphone. If we are able to keep that size small, the organization will more likely be able to retain it’s humanity. It was pointed out to me recently that when we get to unrestrained growth, the nearest analogy is that of a cancer. All types of organisms have an optimal size for their environment, but we also have a diversity of organism types too. I see that a company, based on it’s environment, has an optimal size. That size might change as it evolves, but not rapidly (though individual parts might change rapidly internally). Companies are getting smaller and hence more human. Perhaps it’ll eventually collapse down to the single digits one day. Perhaps as tech improves and companies get smaller, they become more intelligent (though not quite sentient).

    One final edit, we seem to be slowly shifting our language away from the industrial age mechanism model to an organism model. Machines are soulless things. We can’t keep on applying the rigidity of the machine over a living system

  19. Gideon Rosenblatt, many thanks for the ping into this fascinating post and discussion.  There are so many great thoughts and hopes here, as mentioned (for instance) by Georgina Lester and John Ellis  and I can only say YES to them. Thankfully, there are more examples of organizations that are breaking out of the typical Tayloristic, mechanistic mold, and the amount of automation and technology is mind boggling. 

    A wonderful example of such an ‘organization’ might even be the very platform we are on right now – Google+ is certainly a combination of human initiative, spirit, community and technology that, for those of us who use it regularly, has truly taken on a life of its own.

    But I also have to say NO. 

    Unfortunately, the vast majority of organizations is not only still caught up in the old top-down, us&them, hierarchical thinking, but the technology is excruciatingly bad. Oh there is all the management-new-speak and incredible systems and machines, but on a piece-meal basis, a band-aid here, a patch there. And ultimately, there are still 8 different departments putting together numbers for the yearly balance sheet, each from their own excel spreadsheets, which, oh wonder, don’t match with the numbers of the other 7 departments.

    Just as there are so many smart, well trained academics full of ideas and good will, who soon accept that in probably 98% of organizations, the old hierarchical model, based on fear (get those results or else!) and looking for short term results (rewards) still applies.

    Do I believe that things need to change – absolutely!

    Do I believe the ideas mentioned here are surely an improvement – definitely!

    Does a lot of this seem to be taking place here on G+ in our circles – Yes!

    But let’s not kid ourselves, there is still a long, long way to go.  The forces (both internal and external) that must be overcome to produce a noticeable systemic drift for most organizations seem to be insurmountable.

    Which doesn’t mean we should ever give up trying 😉

  20. Thanks John Ellis. I’m really looking forward to our conversation on Friday. This was what I was referring to w/ regard to the connection between human and tech w/in the organization. We will have lots to talk about, for sure.

    And to your point, I do think that people gravitate to those firms that offer the richer experience. The challenge is that we also gravitate towards convenience and speed and low cost. So, this is not an easy path to follow, I think.  

  21. Georgina Lester, this is precisely what I’m digging for. What are those elements of the human experience that are most important to imbue into whatever or organizations might become? Different takes on intelligence is a nice way to think about it, I think. And when you look at more modern takes on management theory, these things are absolutely emerging as central to organizations that create real value. 

  22. Nadine Hack, it’s good to connect – actually, I think it’s reconnect. I seem to have lost you in one of my over-zealous, over-automated circle cleanings I was doing last year. Now remedied. Thanks Georgina Lester, for remaking that connection. 

  23. Thanks for the thoughtful note, Rick Heil. There was something that I heard AI developer Benjamin Goertzel mention in a video recently: the notion of “embodied, goal-oriented systems.”

    I’m thinking that this may be one of the working definition I use for “life.” There are, of course, many. I raise this because a body implies a container of some sort, as you note, and it’s that edge between what is inside and outside the organism that I find particularly interesting. In cells, it’s the membrane. In organizations it’s something much more complex.

    One of the other related concepts here is that while what is inside can be said to be an “organism,” what is outside can be said to be an “ecosystem.” Geoffrey West’s work around metabolisms (which I point to in the article) seems to suggest an interesting difference between the two. Cities, in this case, would be the ecosystem and subject to super-linear scaling. Whereas organizations would be akin to organisms and subject to sub-linear scaling.  

    If that makes sense… 😉

  24. I’m reminded too of Dawkins work, The Selfish Gene and how evolution may be viewed as the genes, or more precisely DNA’s, drive for survival/promulgation  So in this context, the human body (or any organism), is merely the ‘organizational vessel’ to promulgate the genes destiny. And an Organization is merely the next order manifestation of the genes drive towards replication, order and ultimately higher capability (increasing entropy, aka information).

  25. Your raise some important issues, James O’Sullivan. The first is, is size of organization correlated with level of humanity? What constitutes humanity is hard to measure, of course, and I don’t know of any studies in this area though the book Firms of Endearment has a lot of good case studies and anecdotes of bigger companies that have succeeded on this front (Southwest Air, Costco, etc.). That said, as organizations scale in traditionally hierarchical ways, they’ve come to rely on process to maintain quality and overall control. Some of the more interesting applications of this kind of process are Kaizen at Toyota, which is very distributed. And this touches on some of the Agile issues that you are wrestling with yourself. So, I suppose my response is yes, size does seem to make it harder to retain the human element, but I keep wondering whether there ways to challenge that. That’s why the holarchy work is interesting. 

    Another key point you raise I think is whether we are moving away from big in our organizations. I think yes, and no. Network economics simultaneously allows for long-tail markets and for winner-take-all markets to take place at the same time. That’s the power law. The question I come back to is: will the small firms have access to the same sophistication of technology? And I think the answer is no, at least not initially. It raises some interesting questions when you start thinking about the application of AI. Amazon will clearly be out front and it may well be that the only way for smaller players to have access to this kind of technology is through partnering with them. At least in the shorter, longer-term. 😉

  26. Gideon Rosenblatt, are you acquainted with Arie de Geus’s book, The Living Company? This is one of my all-time favorite business books. De Geus, who served as head of corporate planning at Royal Dutch Shell, was much admired by Peter Senge, who was both influenced by and an influencer of de Geus. This 1997 book predates social media, in fact it practically predates the world wide web, yet it reads as if it was written yesterday about tomorrow. De Geus was most definitely thinking along the lines you are. The company is a living organism, one that must adapt to a changing environment to thrive.

    To give you a taste of de Geus’s starting point, I’ll quote from his Prologue where he identifies four factors that were common to all companies which were long-lived. All italics are in the original text.


    1. Sensitivity to the environment represents a company’s ability to learn and adapt.

    2. Cohesion and Identity, it is now clear, are aspects of a company’s innate ability to build a community and a persona for itself.

    3. Tolerance and its corollary, decentralization, are both symptoms of a company’s awareness of ecology: its ability to build constructive relationships with other entities, within and outside itself.

    4. And I now think of conservative financing as one element in a very critical corporate attribute: the ability to govern its own growth and evolution effectively.


    Your investigation of the technology behind the new hybrid company, Gideon, where services are provided by software as well as people, I’m confident will carry what de Geus intuited more than a few steps further. 

  27. An excellent reminder of the more common reality that most firms currently face, Susanne Ramharter, and this dovetails nicely with some of the points that James O’Sullivan and I are circling around. There is a vanguard of cutting-edge firms that are going to be way, way out front on the tech side of this. Most of them are tech firms themselves, or like Amazon, tech firms disguised as retailer or other more traditional sectors. In this bucket are the large, tech firms like Google, etc. and the small, scrappy startups that are getting trained by Lean Startup and other similar philosophies, but both types are operating with a similar set of cultural assumptions about what is possible with tech, and both are optimizing their processes based on that. Some just have more resources than others. 

    The rest of the older firms don’t have that culture, and it’s very, very hard to create that kind of organizational change. I saw this firsthand in the nonprofit organizations I tried to “tech-up” over a period of nearly 10 years, and it is a very real issue. Whether they will last depends a great deal upon the particulars of their market and how competitive it is (and how many newer culture orgs are breaking in). 

    So, that’s the tech aspect. The other aspect is what you do with the tech. There are some tech-savvy companies (probably most, actually), that are using the technology simply to more efficiently achieve what they assume is their primary purpose: maximizing returns for shareholders. And that leads us to a very different future for anything that might emerge from these new entities one day. A very different future than if we were to try to bake in the better angels of our nature. That’s my take anyway. 

  28. And there is C.S. Lewis’ Leland LeCuyer , his “This Hideous Strength.”  

  29. Hi Giddeon, I am so glad to see you writing on this subject.

     In my estimation yes, and not only are individual organizations displaying behaviors that seem lifelike, organizations interacting with each other, with their employees, with customers, with supporters, with vendors, with fans, all these entities communicating between themselves are, in my opinion, part of an emergent organization that has many aspects that liken the collective to something more along the lines of an (organism).

    I have a concept that I would like to run by you, for which it is nearly a requirement that the above idea be a preconceived notion.

    When taken at its essence, it is really an experiment to see what happens when you give the emergent organization (Global Brain for lack of a better term) a utility function, a sense of purpose if you will.

    The exciting thing about the concept is that as part of it’s function groups doing good work in the world will be enhanced through participation.

     I very much hope that you will tell me that you are interested to hear more about the concept, I’m not sure the comments are the best place to elucidate on the details however.

    Please contact me at looking forward to maybe getting your take on my idea 🙂

    Yours Truly ~~~ Hans Youngmann

  30. Wow, Leland LeCuyer, it’s like you’re somehow reading my mind. First the stuff about boundaries/membranes, and now this. No, I have not yet read The Living Company, but I did order it earlier this week and it is going to pop right to the top of my stack. One of the things I’m finding these days is that there are just so very many smart people who have thought so many important thoughts. The struggle is do you spend your time reading and learning all you can from them or do you work to develop your own thinking? There are sooo many tech and business books out there that it would be an endless process. And yet, you don’t want to reinvent the wheel or be ignorant of contributions that would allow you to stand on the shoulders of giants. In this particular case though, it’s clear that de Geus is required reading for me. I’m glad to hear that it was so good. 

  31. Phew. I was beginning to get anxious that I had unintentionally offended you, Gideon. Pointing out that someone else had this same idea fifteen years ago can, for some people, be very discouraging. As for myself, if I discover someone else had one of my ideas, it serves as an affirmation that I’m on the right track.

    You ARE on the right track.

    Furthermore, Gideon, from what I can see, you appear to be a better biologist than de Geus. I suspect that you already see more clearly than he did how life emerges out of complexity, creating something different and greater than the sum of its component parts.

    I’m totally excited by this new direction you are taking and, if I can help in any way, feel free to ask. (Or as John Hagel would say, “pull.”)

  32. Not at all, Leland LeCuyer. Not at all. And thanks so much for the positive feedback on this new direction. I make absolutely no claims to being much of a biologist. I probably would have loved that kind of work, but that was not the path I took. I am more of an integrator, a weaver of disciplines, with that inherent strengths and weaknesses that go with that position. 🙂

    Thanks again for the thoughts. I am excited about this new direction. It feels right. 

  33. Thanks for your comment, Hans Youngmann.  I would be interested in hearing more about what you’re talking about. 

    Because all of this work is so very speculative and deals with an uncertain future, I’m finding that I need to treat it as a kind of hypothesis. That’s hard, because I don’t have a science background and I’m not an academic. But I feel that it is in order. 

    So, one of the hypotheses that I have is that this may be less about the emergence of some global, unified brain and more about discrete, but connected sources of intelligence.  It kind of goes back to that phrase I heard from Benjamin Goertzel – “embodied, goal-oriented systems.”  That feels like more of how life handles intelligence, and so I guess I’m inclined to assume it will continue a similar, distributed design. Distributed, but connected, of course. Anyway, it’s just a hypothesis and so it’s important to hear other perspectives, and I would welcome yours. 

  34. Thanks +Gideon Rosenblatt, so very synchronistic of you to mention +Ben Goertzel, as it was in relation to some of his talks that played a major role in sparking the idea in my mind. I certainly relate to your thoughts about the difficulties of trying to get across these types of ideas when not coming from a space of academia, or formal training in some techno-scientific field. Having to start a conversation about a concept by asking a person to consider the world wide web as an intelligent entity is usually somewhat of a non-starter ( even if the definition of intelligence is narrowly stated as “any system capable of using reason to direct action which seeks to move the outcome of a particular situation toward a desired outcome 😉 it is this aspect of approaching a discussion from beyond the introductory level that has me very excited to converse with you about this. I have to give a shout to +Mark Bruce for the +1 Thanks Mark

  35. For me this is not a question its a fact.  In organizations are not living organisms then what are they?  Machines?  They are social organisms.  In the metacurrency project we believe this is the evolution from a scientific paradigm (object based reality) to a systems paradigm (systems based reality in other word flow based).  Think about our body. We have cells that have a high intelligence in communication and collaboration (receptor sites), they know what is happening in the organism all the time thus there is a dynamic relationship of the parts with the whole (collective intelligence call this property holopticism), thus they can act with more intelligence.  

    Lets think about flows, what happens if a  flow in your body stops? Very likely you will get sick, or die.  What happens if in an organization there is unhealthy flows? It gets sick or dies or kills the wider system. An example of this is how the lack of visibility of the flows of production and distribution are killing the planet by producing tons of waste and pollution.

    Technology is enabling us to have a new expressive capacity for this social organisms. Example, we can create holoptical tools to have a relationship with the whole, we are seeing the emergence of this. We are faster in communication (socialmedia, socialware) and we are beginning to understand that we need an open economy where money is not the universal medium and holder of wealth but that we can actually decide and create other mediums to generate patterns (flows) of well-being (wealth).  

    I love that you place a DNA as a picture because it is new DNA for our social organisms that can transform our current organizations into healthy social organisms capable of generating life and wealth (beyond money of course) to their employees, stakeholders, customers, providers, planet.  

    In my mind there is no doubt. Organizations are living organisms. 

  36. “No one knows the future.” Except the well-connected.

  37. Another wonderful piece, Gideon Rosenblatt!

    Here is my assessment:

    Science (biology specifically) has very salient definitions of what determines if an entity is a life form, of what it means to be alive. From a purely scientific definition, an organization, an entity that is basically an artificial construct defined and made possible by laws, will never be considered a living object.

    However, before you believe that I have popped your bubble, before you get deflated, let me alter your perspective slightly to show a possible way in which your excellent read and thought piece could be realigned in solid support of your basic premise. So as not to thread jack your OP, I’ve continued my tangent on a new blog post. You can find a link to that here: 

  38. Bushwhacked today…but am just coming back to all these great insights. Thanks everyone. 

    Ferananda Ibarra, thank you. I think the emphasis on flows is a really important perspective, and I’m planning to talk about that in future pieces with regard to how information flows into and out of the organization via an equivalent of a cellular membrane. There are so very many different approaches to defining life, and flow is an absolutely essential aspect of metabolism, which is one of those phenomenon that is so very closely wrapped into our understanding of life and open systems. 

  39. Gideon Rosenblatt This conversation is just exceptional. I’m very excited for our discussion tomorrow. You are so right about the two gravity wells. 🙂 

    Susanne Ramharter I hear you! I hit a wall with a company stuck in the dark ages this morning. Asking me to represent them without being allowed to have my own voice. Asking me to lie as far as I see it.. in order to “protect” their IP, to protect what they think is what they offer. They are killing themselves in an effort to stop being killed by the modern market instead of adapting to it. Many big ships will steer themselves into obsolescence this way in the coming years. I say, good riddance

    Love this discussion. 

  40. Mark Bruce, excellent thoughts. Thank you. Your timing on mentioning W. Brian Arthur’s The Nature of Technology: What it is and How it Evolves could not be more uncannily better. I just finished it this afternoon, and while the whole book has been a real treasure to read, the last portion of it has been particularly insightful. I want to quote one section in particular: 

    “I want to call attention to something else: words such as self-configuring, self-healing, and cognitive are not ones we would have associated with technology in the past. These are biological words. And they are telling us that as technology becomes more sophisticated, it is becoming more biological.”

    As for whether organizations are a form of technology, I suppose they are in the very broadest sense that all “capturing of phenomena and harnessing it to human purpose” is. But for me the relationship between technology and organization is more complex. I see it as very similar to the relationship that Arthur paints for technology and the economy. One is organism and one is ecosystem. Both interact with one another and shape one another through their very acts of relating. I see a similar relationship between technology, as organism, and organization as ecosystem. The technology, along with people, exist within the ecosystem of the organization. The organization shapes these entities and it is in turn shaped by them. This is still a rough idea that I will no doubt be turning into an article sometime soon. Arthur’s book has been very influential in my thinking. 

    Your point about memetic evolution is bang on. I’ve not read The Meme Machine, but it is going on “the list.” 

    On your last point, I think what we’re talking about here is to a large degree about volition. It also touches on creativity, and the ability to be truly generative, rather than simply mutate and generate selection pressures (which I’m betting will be one of the next steps in product creation). This is the part of the whole equation that is most dense and least transparent to me. 

  41. Bernard Vatant, what an interesting comment. Thank you. And the strange thing is, I swear that I did not read it until after I just replied to Mark Bruce’s comment (see my comment right above this). You’ll see that I’m making some of the same argument as you, despite having written a piece that is speculating about organizations being organisms. I don’t actually see this as a contradiction, but more a statement of the kind of holonic nature of the reality we are dealing with. From the perspective of individual people and pieces of technology, the organization can be said to be just one of many ecosystems within which they may exist. But when these entities come together, they create a kind of whole organism that fits within the next level in the holarchy, the market, or the broader economy.

    Your points about the blurry edges of these entities are really important. I have a very rough draft of an upcoming piece that is going to dive into this from the perspective of permeability and membranes. It would be great to get your eyes on that and your perspective to see whether it addresses some of what you’re talking about here. My goal here is not to create some sort of dogma, but to try to postulate some frames and see where they hold and where they break, so your perspective is greatly appreciated. Thanks for the thoughtful comment.   

  42. Peter da Silva – thanks. Just downloaded it based on your link and another reference from a friend via email today. 

  43. Well Gideon Rosenblatt , you’ve managed to spark so many discussions here that I cannot tie them together in one bon mot.  ;’)   As if . . . ;’) 

    I will say that I love the idea of systems theory generally speaking, because when one starts to think in that way, one must become open to all sorts of associative thinking that organizations built for the purpose of making money are not always going to want to hear.  

    I remember a conversation with our “semantic guy” ;’) (kidding)  (David Amerland ) where he talked about an actual job in a more hierarchical company that tried to overcome “the company guy” (male or female) by making sure there was someone at that person’s level whose job and power was about THE PEOPLE in the group, not the efficiencies.  If people were being harmed by such efficiencies, THAT person’s job was to make sure that the people got heard.  Their pain was lessened.

    Can’t remember the name they gave this person (Registrar?) (I know I would have been great at it) but the idea was to counter-act the very things that C.S. Lewis (and many others) are afraid of in top-down systems:  being efficient, and being humane do not always go together. 

    Lewis of course was afraid of evil itself infiltrating and making things work SO efficiently for some goal that it acted “like” an individual.  (And as we have all read in too many stories, when something is imitating a human being (but has no soul), the chances for mayhem are high.)

    I honestly do not think we are going to THINK our way out of our multi-lemmas.  I believe we are going to have to feel our way out of them.  But feeling rightly understood (mis-paraphrasing JJRousseau).  That is, feeling that is educated by experience, books, friendships, etc.


    One of my favorite metaphors about ideas was touched on by Drew Sowersby .  Let me say it another way.  

    If we pulled ourselves apart, atom by atom, science would never know we had ever BEEN a system, that we had ever BEEN alive.  A pile of atoms could say nothing about whatever “system” (a person) we had been.

    Science has limits.  And that is one big limit.  It can only address that which can be measured in space in time directly.  Heisenberg be damned (OK, we cannot measure everything).  And so we are left with our paltry gear, heading back out to Mordor (as ever) to throw the ring that would bind us so that we cannot be controlled.

    It is definitely mankind nearing a vital edge.  May we not have TOO many adventures.  As Susanne Ramharter said, “But let’s not kid ourselves, there is still a long, long way to go.  The forces (both internal and external) that must be overcome to produce a noticeable systemic drift for most organizations seem to be insurmountable.

    “Which doesn’t mean we should ever give up trying ;-)”

  44. Drew Sowersby, I take your point about larger organizations feeling more like organisms than smaller ones do, and I think it has something to do with precisely what I’m talking about here. Smaller organizations feel more like collaborations of people – they’re more like social constructs in this sense. The larger orgs, by contrast are much more complex. 

  45. Jeff Sayre, thanks once again for responding with that very thoughtful piece, which was very interesting in its own right, regardless of its ties to this piece. 

    A couple points for discussion. The first is that, while you have a background in biology and I most certainly do not, I’m not quite so sure that the definition of life is as settled as you seem to be implying. I think there are a lot of different takes on what constitutes it. This is part of what I will be digging into over the next few months. One of my favorite books on this matter is Tree of Knowledge by Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela:

    If you haven’t read it, I’d really recommend it to you. It’s a bit of slog, but nothing you’d have trouble with, I’m sure. 

    The other general point I’d make is that, while I think there is a holarchy at work here and that it is conceptually quite complex. Nature seems to love boundaries, and I think that there will likely be boundaries that still play an important role even in a fully connected world. A jet engine is an information system and it is getting more and more that way over time. And while that system is connecting with more and more systems within the airplane, and then through that possibly to other systems, you really need to control who/what has access to that system. Otherwise it gets very, very dangerous. Scale that up and you have the same kind of firewalls that will need to keep internal workings of organizations isolated from the world, except through very well-defined points of access. Call them APIs or what have you, but this is where I think the membrane analogy is very powerful and it’s where I’m going next in much of my future pieces. 

    Through that constrained connection with the outside world, the organism connects to the broader worlds that you’re talking about. That make sense? 

  46. I just would like to pop up here to say that the comments, posts, references and thoughts of Jeff Sayre and Mark Bruce particularly resonate with my sense of technology, living systems and the nature of the organization. Or I should say of organization.

    Fantastic thread here, Gideon Rosenblatt , and to all who have contributed!

  47. If you grow your organization like a bonsai tree, it will be like a bonsai tree: decorative and tortured.

    The difference between a tree and your colleagues is that a tree can not speak poorly of you.

  48. I like your zen koan, Thor King. Perhaps it would be better to grow an organization like an Aspen Grove, multiple shoots that grow into towering trees, yet connected to each other as a single organism?

  49. Unsurprisingly, Leland LeCuyer , that is exactly how I think of it. (And ‘Glia’)

  50. May be. I wouldn’t know since I’ve only watched trees, never grown them.

  51. Contrary to Meg Tufano’s assessment, I have not read every book ever written. As proof of this, I haven’t read C.S. Lewis’s That Hideous Strength. I don’t know what she (or C.S. Lewis) was trying to signify by use of this phrase, but I’ll take what Meg said as a compliment. Thank you. Perhaps I sometimes do make a cartoon of myself by leaving the impression that I am “Mr. Know-It-All” when, in fact, I much more closely resemble Bullwinkle, a bit slow on the uptake but always trying to fit in.

    Watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat.

    I don’t know whether Gideon Rosenblatt’s intuition that business is emerging as a new life form will endure the test of time. But I do know that this has been a fruitful thread for me. Few pleasures in life are as unalloyed as discovering something or someone new. As various people reacted to Gideon’s post, they shared links to authors, books, and articles that, in some way or other, lean towards a more organic understanding of human exchange. Gideon mentioned the influence of Benjamin Goertzel and, wow, what an amazing guy! I spent much of the day yesterday reading through his blog, trying to wrap my mind around what he means by “morphic pilot wave.” Without going into too much detail, I think he is trying to conjure some mechanism whereby chance would not be entirely random, but where the probability of an outcome precipitates out of what has happened before. The past influences without entirely determining the present. Goertzel pointed towards Rupert Sheldrake’s notion of “morphic resonance” as inspiration, then to Lee Smolin’s “principle of precedence” as validating this hitherto fringe idea and carrying it into the mainstream. (Here are the relevant links to: Goertzel; Sheldrake; and Smolin

    Neat stuff. 

  52. I think that this video is an interesting reflection of elements that we are discussing here. Namely the organic nature of how we navigate into the future.

  53. I’m so very glad to see that Gideon Rosenblatt, in his response to Jeff Sayre’s blog entry, say “I’m not quite so sure that the definition of life is as settled as you seem to be implying.” Why am I happy? Because this corroborates what I suspected but didn’t know for certain: that Gideon is really thinking of business as a new form of life. In other words, if I understand Gideon correctly, he is not using the word “life” in a metaphorical sense. Instead he is positing that business is a kind of life, different perhaps than animal life or plant life but just as much a form of life.

    This parallels where my thinking has been migrating over the past year or so, where I’ve been trying to crack the uncrackable nut of what I call the consciousness paradox: although conscious thought (mind) appears to be an emergent property of the brain, the brain, the world, the entire universe, real and fictional, ideal and not-so-ideal, everything we see, we know we imagine, even the unconscious or subconscious, is contained in the activity of the mind. Which is ontologically prior? (This is a fancy way of asking which makes the other? Does the brain make consciousness? Or does consciousness make everything, including the brain?)

    I have found myself think more and more that consciousness is ontologically prior. But this conclusion is unsettling if not downright disturbing because it presents us with several serious problems, not least of which is solipsism. Is everything other than myself imaginary? Am I just singing “row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream” because “life is but a dream”? That seems to be utter madness! It is also unbearably lonely!

    So how does any of this fit with Gideon’s hypothesis about business? Although consciousness is individual in the sense that I can only think my own thoughts and feel my own feelings, and so too you can only think and feel your own thoughts, we have a medium of exchange that has various currencies including language, posture, pictures, etc., whereby we are able represent what we are thinking and interpret in our own thought what others have represented to us. In short our consciousness dwells inside a medium Vladimir Vernadsky named the noosphere which, I believe, Jeff Sayre and others are indicating when they speak of a “global brain.”

    I am more and more inclined to think of the noosphere as a form of life that emerges out of the interconnected individual consciousnesses, much in the same way as I’ve come to see the biosphere as a form of life.

    But this is too abstract. Let me see if I can explain what I mean more simply.

    If the only kind of life we were acquainted with were single-celled organisms, then multi-cellular organisms would look to us like a colony of cells. Each individual cell is alive. But is the conglomeration alive? Or, if you prefer, the business?

    I think we are living in the middle of a transition very much like this. The definition of life that fit single celled organisms doesn’t quite work when extended to complex multicellular organisms. So too the definitions that pertained to animals and other organisms may not quite fit when applied to business or to the noosphere, yet this doesn’t make these emergent forms any the less alive — at least in my view.

    The challenge both Gideon and I have before us is figuring out what the nature of their vitality is. And I suspect that membranes and boundaries will play a significant role in this.

  54. The above commentator is probably considered to be sane.

  55. Gideon Rosenblatt Thank you for your additional thoughts. As you surely noticed in my blog piece, I carefully chose my words when discussing the definition of life. I said, “Science (biology specifically) has very salient definitions of what determines if an entity is a life form, of what it means to be alive”. I then went on to state that from a “purely scientific definition”, a non-biological entity cannot be considered alive.

    Biological science will not provide you with support for your idea. Chemical science also will not be of help. Heck, there still is significant debate within the sciences about whether viruses are alive. They still are not considered to be a life form. (see,

    Since the basic sciences like chemistry and biology cannot offer any support, I moved it up to a higher level of science, to a higher systems level — to ecology. It is here, as I argue in my article, that you can begin to find support for your idea.

    Note: I also brought up the concept of Gaia, while not very accepted within most scientific circles, it does provide a template for your line of thought. Gaia is another type of superorganism. It is a collection of superorganisms and superorganizations. It could be called a supraorgansim. In short, the Earth is the highest level of complex adaptive systems on our plant. It’s a self-referential, circular logic system enclosing the vast majority of the feedback loops of the plant. Of course, there are still external inputs to Gaia — the moon’s influence, and the largest, the Sun’s influence.

    It appears that you might be reading my piece and getting stuck on this sentence: This basic definition of life, one that is at the center and foundation of modern biology, cannot offer support for Gideon’s premise. But it is the very next sentence on which you should concentrate the most.

    By the way, if you have not read this piece of mine yet, I think you will find some additional support to your concept. See, The Emerging Global Brain and the Internet’s Future (

    In particular I make this statement:

    Of course biological life maintains and perpetuates itself via mitosis and meiosis. Our past cells and current self can only survive via the copying and passing on of genetic information. Evolution proceeds via the copying and mixing of various genes and through creation of novel genes thanks to mutations. Copying is also fundamental to disseminating and perpetuating software, content, knowledge, ideas, and cultural memes.

    /cc Leland LeCuyer Drew Sowersby 

  56. Leland LeCuyer Of COURSE you’ve read everything.  Geesh.   RE-read Lewis’ book.  You will enjoy it quite a bit considering what you are thinking about.   ;’)  Anyway, I think about the consciousness/brain issue like this…

    Science requires objectivity and can only exist in the realm of space and time.  As my scientist husband has told me repeatedly, there are important questions (Can this marriage be saved? ;’)) that are unanswerable by science; and there are valuable and answerable questions, “What is the last color you can see before the rising G forces in a flat-spinning F-14 cockpit knock you out.”  (A part of one of his experiments.)

    The first has something to do with consciousness and meaning.  If you want to get funded by a big corporation, don’t ask those questions.  ;’)  The latter is measurable, answerable, and one can create hypotheses and end up with such satisfying conclusions as, “The hypothesis has not been disproven.”  And get paid by Grumman aerospace for saving multimillion dollar F-14’s.

    So my point is that science requires that one remain in the scientific plane of space and time.

    But what does consciousness do?  It runs all over the place.  You ARE in space and time and some cop can tell you where you were located on the night of March 15th; but he cannot tell you where you ARE in your consciousness.  He cannot know.  You could TELL him you were meditating upon the nature of consciousness, sort of a consciousness squared, but?  Are you really?  YOU don’t even know.  No way to be sure that’s what you were really doing (maybe you were sound asleep, now there’s a study:  the UNconscious).

    B.F. Skinner figured that particular problem out and eliminated consciousness entirely from his work:  INPUT  –>   THE PERSON  –>  OUTPUT.    All he studied was what was being done TO the person; and the behavior afterward.  He didn’t CARE about the person, especially not the person’s consciousness.

    It is a very helpful kind of study.  Especially when studying rats.  ;’)  (Sorry, I don’t like this kind of thing, but then back to the important question.)

    How does marriage, love, eros, all that kind of thing ping upon science?  Except for my example above (B.F., inputs, outputs), it doesn’t.  

    Science cannot stand consciousness because it is so unmeasurable.  I’m amazed that Julian Jaynes (“The Origins of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the BiCameral Mind”) lasted at Princeton.  Studying consciousness is a career killer.  Lord knows Jung tried (and Freud had him removed from the “big boy” table).  Jung figured that the stars were a blank slate and so all the projections upon the stars were projections of our consciousness.  If we wanted to study consciousness (and, more interestingly, UNconsciousness (myths & dreams)), we’d need to study all the stories and IMAGES that were projected onto the stars.  He almost drove himself crazy (as I’m sure you know) trying to analyze all those dynamics.  

    But he came up with some important (meaning useless to science) ideas.  Being useless to science does NOT mean they are useless, period.  

    He figured out ways of making some people happier.  

    And, wow, there’s the end of a career in anything EXCEPT maybe marriage.


    So, two realms, connected by the present moment, one realm The Scientific Plane (in which we must live because we are IN space and time); and the other the realm of consciousness, of more and more levels of realization of…the ineffable, but very real seeming, levels of love and like dat dem dere.

    I made a graphic.

    Enjoy!  ;’)  

  57. This post just continues to give. Wow. I’ve been trying to methodically work through it in chronological order, but I just find each comment so rich that’s taking me a while.  

    Drew Sowersby, that is a fascinating link. Thanks for sharing that. I don’t think I would have ever stumbled across that. It’s very interesting and there are many trails to follow off of that page. The difficulty I have with it is that I think at each level of emergent complexity, new behaviors emerge that make the new structure behave in ways that are akin to, but not the same as what was below it in the stack. I will crawl through the page again later though to mine it for more useful stuff. Thank you for the pointer.  

  58. Gideon Rosenblatt I am only just now catching up with this post and I love what you’ve written not least because it resonates with many other signs I see in my travels. Companies and corporations are changing, social business models that allow them to cooperate, fully, with the communities they are embedded in, are gradually gaining ascendancy. This is a full disrupt for legacy business and can’t come soon enough in my book. 

  59. Wow, very rich, Meg Tufano. Before I forget, I’m guessing that David Amerland was talking about John Lewis Partnership, since they are very focused on caring for the employees. 

    And for the rest of your comment, I’d not heard of C.S. Lewis’ reference to that kind of force before. I think I’ve only read one of his works though, aside from the Narnia books. But I think there is something to that notion of a kind of grinding, relentlessly efficient force, all intellect and no heart. This is not the guiding force we want for the organization of humanity and I don’t think it is the inspiration for whatever it is that comes next in the evolution of life on this planet. 

  60. Jumping out of chronological order, let me add a note of appreciation to David Amerland for sharing out this post and then pointing the conversation back here, and for the comment above. And I’m glad that you’re seeing some of this in the companies you are interacting with. I really do think that we are on the brink of some big changes right now. 

  61. Gideon Rosenblatt  Such a refreshing read.  These evolutionary changes are scary for businesses, because of the unknowns, which means risk at all levels.   I run a small online business with  a very active social core primarily by myself, reserving the right to outsource or bring in help when needed.   I started out much more traditionally with brick and mortar and employees.  I could see the trends in numbers and knew that I needed to reach beyond the borders of my local community and work differently in order to grow my business.   That creates a paradox, as small businesses  have always thrived on building healthy local communities.   I had to start thinking globally while staying local, meaning staying approachable, relatable, and at the center of my business, not at the top  That’s where I believe that building a strong online support community will set any businesses up for success for whatever changes are to come.  Social centered businesses aren’t new….just different..  

    The risk is in the disruption, going against the norm and industry “best practices”, and changing the way it’s always been done.  I regularly contend with vendors that want their products displayed somewhere (outside of their warehouse), and don’t want to sell through online-only shops without a store front.   Those vendors stay behind, while others adapt.   When I hire, it may be virtually out of my online community vs out of my local neighborhood.  That’s not always a popular notion, but no matter where my support community comes from, they are the one’s supporting and sharing my business.   I suspect that truth may play true for every company, but each one will have to find their own path to building it.   I could write a “how-to” roadmap that worked incredibly well with transitioning my business that could mean utter destruction for another business.    Creativity and innovation will have to lead, in a very unique and friendly way.  

    Enjoy your day…thanks for sharing your thoughts on this, and asking for feedback.  I saw the post via David Amerland 

  62. First, thank you for sharing this piece, Christina Blount Presnell.  

    Second, what a great perspective to share as a layer on top of this. In our neighborhood, we have a storefront, which is quite successful on its own, but that also runs the website, We also have a local ballet supplies place with a pretty big online presence and a plumbing outfit with a huge online presence. While the first two businesses are more like yours, in the sense that customers don’t have to be local, it’s been interesting to talk to the plumber, whose business pretty much has to be be local, but who has stuck with having a big online presence because it makes them so visible locally. It must be a challenge balancing these needs. 

    And this gets back to the question of the stakeholders and who is really behind the success of the business, which gets really tricky in these kinds of endeavors. 

  63. Gideon Rosenblatt I have to admire the forethought of that plumber to build  online credibility to support a local reputation.   Imagine if you are searching for a plumber to hire and your search results show 3 local plumbers, and one not only has an active website, but 3 other posts offering advice or insight into plumbing.  Trust and credibility are established before contact is ever made.  Bravo, Mr. Plumber.

  64. Those are very useful insights, Drew Sowersby  and Christina Blount Presnell . 

  65. Drew Sowersby I agree, it’s becoming a “never say never” conversation.  Certain services cannot be performed globally, like the aforementioned Mr. Plumber’s, but even he is establishing his community and influence outside of local boundaries.    Amazon and Ebay are reaching out in unique and creative ways, individual to them. That’s the challenge for every business right now…how are they going to do it, not so much if.  We all feel the changes, and strive to adjust while keeping a balance.  If the core influencer of the business becomes as center to the online community as they are to their local community, or vice versa, they will benefit more from that position than keeping themselves removed.  Real interaction by real people involves transparency, yes, so everyone will have to behave themselves, but it’s real, and real can be trusted.  

  66. As I don’t want to hijack this thread, I’ll respond elsewhere to your points (brilliant as ever!) about the “brain/consciousness issue,” Meg Tufano. The comment you were replying to is my first attempt to put into words what I’ve been wrestling with. My ideas about the ontology of consciousness are definitely unfinished. Perhaps indecipherable. I only brought it up because I see parallels between what I’ve been thinking about and what Gideon’s been thinking about, albeit he is much farther along in the process than I.

    I LOVE your graphic, Meg. My only quibble is that I think “The Future” doesn’t belong on “The Scientific Plane.” The future (for humans at least) is always imagined: a projection based upon what has come before (the past) governed by rules (logic, scientific laws). It’s worth noting that with the discovery in the twentieth century that Newtonian mechanics is only a special case and not universal, it became apparent that the link between cause and effect is probabilistic not deterministic — despite Einstein’s protests to the contrary. We have no knowledge of the future, much less scientific knowledge.

  67. Gideon Rosenblatt As to organizing people to be efficient, it doesn’t really matter WHAT you are organizing people for (the purpose), the dynamic of groups is such that there will be unintended consequences.  As Nietzsche said (it’s after Noon, so I am now allowed to sing soprano*), insanity is rare in individuals, but the rule in groups.  What he means is that we “infect” one another psychically when in groups in ways about which we are unconscious.  It may even be the reason that hierarchies developed in the first place, to control that destructive  ‘je ne sais quois’ of groups.  Even our Founding Fathers were aware of the dangers of mob rule:  it’s why America is a republic and not a direct democracy.  Why we suddenly think (as you said on this, or another, thread) that people are fundamentally “good,” is a mis-reading of history IMO.  People CAN do the right thing.  Often they do not.  And when they do not, I think it’s because, fundamentally, people are ignorant of their own self-interest rightly understood.  Lying and cheating, etc., are a fool’s errand because they are short-lived and psychically damaging IF one has a conscience.  (I have studied in depth Hare’s work on those “Without a Conscience,” (one of his book titles) and it really is impossible to use words such as “good” and “evil” when discussing psychopaths.)  

    *The sign in our kitchen says, “Meg!  Remember, no sopranos before breakfast!”  (My husband does not like waking up to discussions that most people have at 2 in the morning.  ;’)  I wake up totally awake.  He wakes up many hours into the day.)

  68. Leland LeCuyer That’s why I didn’t use a number for my model of time.  (I could have:  supposedly time began 13 billion years ago (Big Bang)), but the IDEA of all time (“Life, the Universe and Everything” ;’) includes all time, all past and, (in the imagination of course) all future.

    Giselle Minoli said something when she visited me that is apropos to including the future on the scientific plane:  she said one cannot begin even a scientific experiment without having some kind of imagined future.  It is a requirement for all human activities, including the scientific method.  

    And (sorry for the hijack Gideon Rosenblatt , but it’s your fault!  ;’)) much of what science is good at is predicting accurately what will occur in the future.  (Thinking Ptolemy’s solstices.)  (What I seriously love about Ptolemy is that he COULD predict the solstices, but had the model of our solar system completely wrong.)

    I love that because it reminds me that we keep approximating, never really arrive as scientists:  “The hypothesis has not been disproven.”  Never, a satisfyingly al dente bite. 

    Now back to groups as living organisms!  

  69. Thanks, Meg Tufano. Not only for your reply, but also for providing the opening that permits me to get back on track with the topic of this thread.

    Giselle Minoli is correct. One cannot even begin to do science without first creating some kind of imagined future. All purposeful human activity (including business, including science) is made possible because we can create in our imagination a picture of the future. Nearly everything humans do, we do for some reason. Thus human activities like business and science emerge out of the activity of consciousness, out of some mental picture we have created of the world as it is and of the world as we would like it to be.

    Thus Gideon Rosenblatt’s hypothesis that business is a kind of life is a special case of my hypothesis that everything that is created as an effect of consciousness may be to be thought of as a living entity. Art, politics, philosophy, business, politics, ideology, war: all tend to take on a life of their own, all emerge out of the cauldron human thought.

  70. Well, Gideon Rosenblatt it will probably come as no surprise to you to know that I have long referred to New York City as a living, breathing organism made up of concrete, glass, electricity, mechanics, roads, streets and alleyways for arteries and veins, all held together by machinery and technology controlled by human beings. The weird thing is that the city lives, while the human beings who redefine, redraw, refurbish and maintain that elegant and complex machine die off year after year after year.

    For what it’s worth, I see the world around me becoming more creative, more human in response to all this technology and in response to the shift in the way organizations are evolving. If technology truly controlled us there would be no human uprisings of the sort that we are seeing around the world. I think the world is becoming more human…because I think to maintain our humanity, in spite of ourselves, is what drives us forward.

    I love my technology, I love the various organizations to which I belong and for which I work, but the past month I have been conducting a bit of a personal experiment – disassociating myself from organizations, technology, the impersonal, the complex, the electronic – and delving into the opposite, wondering how I would feel and whether it makes a difference.

    A funny thing – when my computer is asleep, I’m very much alive and fully functioning. And the organizations I know? Those with fewer and fewer employees? They keep calling. Because machines thus far cannot replace the innovation that comes out of the human brain, the human spirit, the human soul.

    Are organizations alive? Yes! With human spirits, although fewer of them. And with fewer human spirits in organizations…there are fewer ideas and perhaps less innovation.

    But…without question Gideon Rosenblatt I go to the Tag Line on your profile: Business as a Force for Good. Whether it is an organization or an individual, the Force for Good really is the only interest issue…for me at any rate.

  71. Hello Gideon Rosenblatt  I hope you won’t mind my posting a brief introduction to my idea that I had mentioned earlier in this thread; I didn’t want to gum up your thread with my stuff, but I figured that it is closely enough related that it would be ok.

    Also, there are so many sharp persons commenting on here that if what I’m after is getting the idea seen by folks that might have some great input such as Mark Bruce 

    For starters it should probably be noted that this concept is not proposed as a get rich quick scheme, or my idea for a start-up, although it would take a start-up to effectively set the ball rolling.

    For conversational purposes I will use the working name (GetIt) that I am currently using to refer to the concept.

    As I was saying, this idea (GetIt) is not geared toward making a small group wealthy, rather it is based on a non-profit model, and as I will try and explain would require an initial “buy in” from some established non-profit organizations.

    Taking our premise of  organizations as having organism-like properties, and applying that notion globally, it doesn’t seem too much of a stretch to use a term such as “Global Brain”.

    In one of the responses Jeff Sayre  had used the term “Superorganization” which I very much like, as one of the goals driving the idea behind (GetIt) is to foster increases in the efficiency of communication of organizational structures.

    Using a limited definition of the word intelligence as (that, which through reason and action has the ability to influence a particular situation toward a desired outcome) and defining intelligent as a measure of effectiveness in using intelligence, as defined above, (GetIt) seeks to increase the intelligence of the “Global Brain”

    In a biological brain learning, or what you would call increases in intelligence is correlated with new neuronal connections being made, (GetIt) would use algorithms to enhance the effectiveness of inter-organizational communication, and cooperation between diverse organizations.

    Creating a utility function for the emergent intelligence that is developing from the “Superorganization” requires creating a focus, in this case, that focus would be awarding funding for projects deemed most intelligent by participants in a type of crowd sourced format.

    The format itself is a type of incentive driven competition whereby groups or organizations with ongoing fundraising efforts compete for a cash prize.

    In the case of a biological organization (organism) the base need is sustenance,  organizational constructs are no different, businesses are geared toward bringing in revenue, and non-profit organizations are constantly seeking funding.

    The need to feed is the driver behind pushing a concentrated focus, and that focus is what ultimately produces the funds through advertising revenue which are used to pay the cash prize and sustain the contest in an ongoing fashion.

    I have much more that I could go into regarding the structure of the competition and reasoning behind why I think it would be a successful venture, but for the purpose of introducing the concept behind (GetIt) I hope I have piqued your imagination.

    This is an idea that I would like to get out into the world with the hope that it could be a real force for positive change.

    You know, I am just over here on Vashon Island, if you thought you might ever like to get together for a chat 🙂

    Some key words and phrases would be: AI, AGI, algorithm, attention economy, Big Data, biological/technological symbiosis, cooperative behaviors, engaged consumers, fundraising engine, game theory, Global Brain, incentive driven competition, intelligence amplification, intelligent systems, machine learning, meritocratic resource allocation, neuronal networks, organism, organization, rising billion, superorganization, unique page views, United Airlines 10 million charity miles giveaway, universal translator, web presence efficiency

  72. Hans Youngmann Are you aware of Gregory Esau’s work on Glia?

  73. Wow. I am just failing to keep up here. Leland LeCuyer, I just read your comment above regarding going beyond mere metaphor. And yes, while the metaphor is useful and interesting, what I am proposing is that, from a certain perspective, what we are seeing here is a new level of organization, a new level of life. And so it is very relevant that your are focusing on the question of consciousness. Not that life and consciousness are the same thing, of course. There are forms of cognition, a kind of ability to respond to one’s surroundings that, by most definitions, are not yet consciousness. 

    I just posted a summary of W. Brian Arthur’s book, The Nature of Technology, (, and though he feels the lines between organic and mechanical are blurring, and that technology is approaching a kind of biological nature, he still draws the line. He thinks of it as alive in the same sense that a coral reef is alive, because it is still reliant on human agency. For how much longer that will be the case, he is not sure. 

    And so this gets to the important question of agency and will. At what point might these systems begin to take on their own sense of agency, and, just as interestingly, will we even recognize it if we see it? To your point, there are still plenty of single-celled organisms floating all over the place, but do they know about, let alone understand our presence as something operating on a higher order? 

  74. That does looks very, very interesting, Hans Youngmann . 

    A group of us, under the network title “Glia”, have been working on a model and system that has a lot of similarities with your development. 

    It’s been a long road, but we’re finally ready to begin seeding it in a few select cities in the next few months. 

  75. Those single-celled organisms have always known Gideon Rosenblatt. It’s humans who are not paying attention. Commence with the onlsaught of people who think that notion is absurd. But…look at a beehive if you want to think about an “organization.” And is anyone here watching Cosmos? Consciousness within the unknown…. Just because we cannot prove it, just because we cannot see it, just because we don’t understand it…does not mean there isn’t consciousness.

  76. Yeah, Jeff Sayre, it really wasn’t my intention to nitpick . I guess I’ve just been reading folks like Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela, who may be operating on more of the fringe of established biology with such concepts as autopoeisis. It’s more systems theory, I suppose, but they both come out of the field of biology, with a focus on cybernetics I think. No question though, from a standard view of biology, what I’m saying is definitely pushing it. And yes, the focus on ecosystems is really important, but I’m guess what I’m saying is that the line between ecosystem and organism starts to blur when you think in systems terms of the holon. I just keep coming back to this sense that there is something really important about the notion of “interiority” – that something has an inside and and outside, and that in whatever emerges, there will likely be something with an “inside” (something akin to an organism) that connects with something on the outside (something akin to an ecosystem). 

    For every inside there is an outside, and for every outside there is an inside; though they are different, they go together.

    —Alan Watts, Man, Nature, and the Nature of Man, 1991

  77. Gideon Rosenblatt I did not think that you were nitpicking!

    Speaking of interiority, most higher-forms of life — I use that phrase with some dislike — would not be alive without lower (“lesser”) forms being inside of them. Many forms of life have mitochondria in their cells, thought to have once been free-living bacteria at some early stage in evolution. Photosynthetic organisms also have chloroplasts. Again, another symbiotic merging of life forms. Finally, many higher-forms of life cannot exist without their microbiome partners. Humans, for instance, would cease to exist if all of a sudden our multitude of microbes were removed from our bodies.

  78. Gideon Rosenblatt BTW, this tangential article that has been floating in the Stream is a potentially important notice that lends credence to your vision of re-engineering our relationship with organizations. Nasa-funded study: industrial civilisation headed for ‘irreversible collapse’? (

  79. Jeff Sayre Great way to end Gideon Rosenblatt ‘s day, I’m sure Jeff!  ;’)  

  80. Giselle Minoli Amen Sistah!

  81. Leland LeCuyer Aren’t you impressed I wrote about The Big Bang Theory the day BEFORE the revelations (today)?  Do you think maybe there really might be a cosmic consciousness?  

  82. Meg Tufano, I really like your comment above about the tension between science and consciousness. And I like  your graphic; it’s like that unfolding of truth, love and beauty into the physicality of time and space. 

    Question for you: is That Hideous Strength comprehendible w/out reading the full trilogy? I just looked it up and noticed that it’s the last in the trilogy. And if not, are the other two books good? 

    And, to delve more deeply into your point, I know what you’re talking about. This is one of the tensions that I think I will be holding in covering this topic. Some of what I want to say moves me well out of the purely scientific. And yet, this is the point, the essential point of where I will be going with all this. There is something more to our humanity than just our brains, or the patterns in our brains. I know not everyone will believe this and that I will lose people in taking this position, but it is part and parcel of where I will be going. Career-limiting, for sure. 😉

  83. Too funny, Meg Tufano. I was just writing the above reply while you were posting yours above that…

  84. Giselle Minoli, I’m assuming you have seen Geoffrey West’s excellent TED Talk about cities. If not, let me know and I’ll provide the link (it’s in the article too). 

    And you know, I am really torn about the technology. I was recently at this Wisdom 2.0 conference in San Francisco (imagine top folks from Twitter, Google, Facebook hanging out with a bunch of Buddhists and you’ll be close), and you know what one of the main takeaways was? Technology is neutral. It’s a container and it depends upon what the intentions are behind its creation and its application. 

    In the end, I think there are a few things that will be very human. One of the most powerful is the capacity for being generative. The ability to create from whole cloth. I’m not talking about little tweaks here and there and getting feedback from customers to guide the creation. I’m talking about vision, imagination – the ability to see something entirely new and figure out how to manifest it into reality. 

  85. Hi Hans Youngmann. It’s funny, but believe it or not, I actually spent a decent amount of my time while running Groundwire, trying to implement something that has aspects of what you’re talking about for the environmental movement. If you search for the term “movement as network”, you will find references to the thought paper that laid out some of the basic idea. The relevant part of that framework is the notion of a “people organization” and the relevant part was that it would build a network of many, many people who would act as a kind of connector for various solutions. The funding through that mechanism isn’t really drawn out in the original paper, but it was part of what I was thinking about. 

    The long and short of it was that, despite working on three separate place-based coalitions for several years (one in British Columbia, one here in Washington, and one in Oregon), we were never able to get the individual organizations to give up enough of their individual autonomy to make it fly. It’s a long, long story, actually, and lots of investment of blood, sweat and even some significant dollars. It’s not exactly what you’re talking about, of course, but close enough that it might be worth you pulling it up for a read. It might be helpful; I don’t know. 

  86. Gideon Rosenblatt My husband, a senior scientist at a major national laboratory is in your position, so I live this issue.  

    He finds the equation between neurons and “mind” to be stupid.  So do I.  It’s like equating your atomic structure to what makes you you.  (I already gave the example, but if you picked yourself apart, atom by atom, a scientist would never be able to even know you’d been alive, much less “you.”)

    Nevertheless, as the saying goes, that’s where the money is and he is an expert in neuronal structure of the brain too and if, yawn, that’s where $ thinks the answer is, he’s going to have to do research where the money is (as sad as that is to say).

    As to Lewis, I believe you can read that book on its own, but the entire series is more of a guy’s kind of book (relatively good science fiction) and I THINK still would hold up today (but ask Laston Kirkland …if I have anything to say about the future of science fiction as a publisher, Laston’s going to be more famous than Isaac Asimov.)  (I’m publishing a collection of his short stories some time this year, God willin’ and the creek don’t rise.)

    I just took a look-see, and yeah, it will make sense if just read alone; and is really worth the effort, especially the “corporation” part.  (Gives me chills thinking about that in relation to Citizens United.)

    It’s also a ‘fun’ read, even if there’s a lot of diabolical stuff going on; surely a nice rest from the technology book.  (!)

    I’m still trying to finish about five books that I really like, but cannot read straight through (unusual for me):  “The Information,” “Our Posthuman Future,” “The Master Switch,” and (older), “The Age of Spiritual Machines.”

  87. Gideon Rosenblatt Funny?  Or synchronicity.  My GUESS is that you’re going to have to buy MY book (once it’s written ;’)), a primer on Jung, because NO ONE can read all his stuff (trust me).  The idea he has has resonance with where many people appear to be headed…you more than most.

    Reduced, it’s that we forget that there really IS no separation between material and spirit, that that is an illusion (very Buddhist and also Indian philosophy).  Also Descartes (rightly understood).  

    The separation is necessary because of the nature of how we think, but does not really exist in the universe.  

    If that is true, then it makes sense that our psychic life (which FEELS private and singular and just “inside” our bodies) is actually part of the cosmic dance (uh, stealing phrases, been writing for too long today.)

    Anyway, synchronicity is when our thoughts and the veridical world coincide.  It’s like peeping into reality.

    When you haven’t thought of someone in thirty years and you think of them, and then they call you.

    Like that.

    NOT always a coincidence (but sometimes it is).  That’s what makes scientists crazy.  (They want hard and fast rules; Jung says they are not making accurate observations of the paradoxes of what they are observing.)

    OK, sopranos over.  Time for time out.  (NOT on the Scientific Plane.)

  88. I’ve often thought of cities as living evolving things. Each and every one has its own personality, its own internal structure, its veins are roads, with cars as blood cells delivering nutrients to grow the city a little more. They are born, they mature, and they die. 

    Life on a different scale is all. They look very organic from space.

    I wonder if one day a species comes to earth, and never quite understands the difficulty it has communicating with the city it chooses to talk to…  or why the cities bacteria seem to swarm over and ruin every attempt the alien tries.

  89. Thank you for the high complement Meg Tufano but I’m no Asimov. give me a few years of practice and I may grow enough to step out of his shadow, but I doubt very much I have what it takes to stand beside him.

  90. I AM impressed, Meg Tufano. Not so much that you anticipated the BIG BANG, but because by doing so you embody the spirit of Aristotle! The BIG BANG happened precisely to enable this very moment to come into being, in partial fulfillment of its TELEOLOGICAL purpose.  🙂

  91. What makes scientists crazy Meg Tufano is that they are starting to forget, or have already forgotten, that this business of being human is a magical mystery tour. Where has all the wonderment gone? The awe? The incredulity that we are all here?

     Gideon Rosenblatt I laughed at your comment above that going into this territory would alienate some people. These are the deepest secrets, the most compelling questions, the realm where we must fully confront our immortality, the limits of our control, and that we will each of us die without having any answers to our inner most questions. It is alienating because only a certain kind of person wants to go there.

    Laston Kirkland Yes! Let’s take a walk together sometime through the streets of New York City. Who needs Disneyland?

    Gideon Rosenblatt you wrote: “Some of what I want to say moves me out of the purely scientific.” But IS there such a thing as the purely scientific? I personally don’t think so. Humans desperately want there to be something that is purely scientific, because then every question they can pretend can be answered. But should they be? Why are we so uncomfortable with not knowing?

    I think you know that I am drawn to aviation analogies because I find so much food for thought within them. This past weekend I flew a little plane called a Diamond 20 (the air force uses them to train cadets) and met (this is a real rarity, I’m telling you) another female pilot.

    We were chatting about the fact that there are virtually none of us, and I have a theory about why that is, which (I think) speaks to your technology and Buddhist wisdom points, which is that when I was a kid and a plane would fly by everyone would look up and quite literally stop what they were doing because the innovation was still relatively new. As the years have gone by no one cares. Little boys and little girls and mommies and daddies have their noses buried in their Smart Phones and they are looking down, not up!

    Airports are divorced from cities – they live on the outside of our lives. People are flown around like chickens in crates. We have come to see this as normal. It’s not. But the pilots? The technology is now so complex that the wonder of flying has all but vanished. Pilots are going from Point A to Point B and they spend their time so engrossed in technology between destinations that it is mind-boggling. Very few say, “Wow. What a sunrise,” or “Is there anything more gorgeous than the ever changing cloud formations.” “Weather” is truly incredible. Painters know the power of the skies, but mere mortals do not.

    Technology is awesome. But over and over and over again we tend to use it to take us farther and farther away from our humanity – those inexplicable bits and pieces of what create the essence of us that no one can figure out – because it is easier to look for concrete answers than to remain, stay, exist within, live within, in a state of wonderment.

    Meg Tufano and Leland LeCuyer I spent much of yesterday (along with everyone else) reading about the beginning of it all. But what I loved was the story of Alan Guth’s “brain” and how he went with it beyond the realm of “known” physics into his imagintion. He may have found proof of something. But the wonderment is still there…and it always will be.

  92. Love your flying analogy Giselle Minoli and I now want to become a pilot to help bring a bit of feminine magic to flying. I’ve done one lesson and absolutely LOVED it and vowed that one day ……

    I cannot imagine not flying and appreciating the magic and wonder of the journey but then that is a principle that I apply  as I pilot my way through life. Science is great but for me it is a tools to inform and educate thus furthering the power of intuition (rather than ex-tuition) making the magic of the journey all the more amazing. The deeper you go into knowledge, the deeper you can go. There is no end to the wonder so science cannot obliterate it.

  93. Georgina Lester flying, as Meg Tufano knows, is my passion. I really do love my technology, but I venture to say (Ok, shoot me) that my technology has not taught me anything about myself. Flying has, and let me break down what I mean by that. I am very aware that without technology we would not be able to fly in the first place. And it is true that a pilot’s human instincts will kill them in a plane…because our brains were not designed to be up there. In such instances one must rely solely on technology to get one out of a mess.

    That said, it is all too easy to become attached to the technology, to make the technology the thing, rather than remain in that space of wonderment about the human experience of flight.

    Going back to the theme of Gideon Rosenblatt’s post: Are Organizations Alive? Is the evolution of technology transforming organizations into a new form of life? And if so, what role will humans play? I think our greatest challenge will be in remembering that within all the science, all the technology, all the machinery, we must still leave a memorable human footprint (or sky print?)…

    Learn to fly Georgina Lester. It will change your life.

  94. That all makes total sense to me Giselle Minoli particularly in this context of how we integrate technology into our lives. For me when we first learn to use technology, it is very clunky, there is no grace in the way we lurch from one control to another. Something that most people experience when they first learn to drive so no doubt very much like learning to fly.

    The same applies to learning a musical instrument, or to tap dance, or developing our culinary skills. Our early attempts are clumsy and awkward. With practice we do the scales, learn the steps understand the mechanics of mixing ingredients and exposing them to heat in varying ways. There is a stage of mechanical understanding where we hone our technical skills until we become proficient.

    Organisations are entities in their own right and as they master the skills of their crafts required for them to function so we see those varying degrees of success.

    Business practitioners, scientists, artists can all acquire the capabilities needed to create output. However, when there is magic at play, mastery of their craft takes things on to a whole new level.

    As a rider who has learned to master the skills of staying seated on a living beast so they then become one with their horse and an artistry takes over. Grace transcends the mechanical.

    People can  become one with technology as it becomes an outlet or a vehicle for human expression.  True beauty is when we are no longer aware of the component parts but experience the whole in one divine expression of what it is to be truly human.

  95. Yes Georgina Lester…one must make safe one’s plane…and become one with it…but it is the pilot who has the consciousness… Not the machine…in spite of what Sheldon wants to believe. Oops, that’s a a TV show, an alternate reality. 😉

  96. Oops don’t want to step into an alternate reality – might not be able to step back.  😉

    Which of course is a fear that some have of technology – that they become melded with machine and lose their identity. A whole other issue entirely in which the cyborg rule.

    I have also added learning to fly on my defintiely-going-to-do things!

  97. Hi Gideon Rosenblatt thanks for sharing that part of your personal history. I applaud the goals of your efforts, and I can certainly understand how frustrating it must have been to have been confronted by resistance from the bureaucratic levels of the very organizations your project sought to benefit.

    I think that your experience is illustrative of the self serving nature of any entity using a top-down administrative means. These organizations may be involved in very important work, and doing a lot of good things in the world, but still they are primarily concerned with their own interests. (not necessarily a bad thing, and also a prime example of a correlation to a bio-organism)

    My own experience with non-profits comes out of being a Rotary club member. I have seen how engaged and motivated many of my fellow Rotarians are at the club level; but I must admit to being a bit confounded by the rules and regulations part of the larger organization. I don want to give the impression that I am bagging on Rotary though, by any means, I think it is a fantastic organization; I do however think that they could be using social media to a greater effect.

    In relation to the (GetIt) concept, I had run across a glaring example of just how ineffectual the intraorganizational capacity of Rotary seems. Case in point relates to a contest run by United Airlines called the 10 Million Charity Miles Giveaway. Charity organizations participated in a month long contest to rally votes for their cause, in competition for the UA airmiles. If I am remembering correctly, the rules of the competition stated that one daily vote could be cast from each supporter; over the course of the voting Rotary International came in second with 600k votes. In the entire competition a total of more than 0000000 (I cannot cite an accurate figure) votes were cast online for 38 participating charities from Dec.6 – Dec.25 / 2012. As a Rotary member myself, I only became aware of the contest  a week before it ended, and it struck me that  with only minimal effort to promote participation it seems reasonable to assume that Rotary could have been pulling in significantly more votes; after all 30k votes per day is less than 3% of RI’s 1.2M worldwide membership.

     The (GetIt) concept doesn’t exclude types of groups or organizations other than non-profits, the premise merely assumes that groups that are involved in altruistic endeavors are likely to have a more engaged and energized supporter base. I have recently begun to consider the power of celebrity endorsement though, in relation to the fb & Twitter followings of some even the most banal famous. Theoretically, a celebrity could enter in to a (GetIt) competition and make a very good showing with as little effort as a tweet a day; the structure of the game requires very little effort or decision making from the head of any participating group, and relies largely on its ability to galvanize its support base. Regardless of my personal opinions of what any particular group, or fan base, might be about, the ability to mobilize thousands of individuals qualifies as a type of intelligence according to the definition that I have used.

     But returning to the premise of the thread’s discussion of organizations as organisms, I would surmise that all groups of sufficient size would react with similar emergent behaviors in regard to similar stimulus regardless of what the group was founded around, be it business, charity, or fandom.

  98. Meg Tufano and Giselle Minoli, thank you for the thoughts on stepping out there with some of the less rational aspects of where this writing is headed. Sorry for the delayed response. I find this tension so striking, this split between the purely physical and the energetic or what some would call the spiritual. It is a very strong divide on Google+. 

    I may have told this story once before, but years ago, I used to work with a guy who had a very successful email list that he would use to publish a kind of monthly blog, before there were blogs. He had a huge following and ever once in a while he would publish something really controversial and would see a big drop off in his following. So one day I asked him: aren’t you concerned about that; I mean you work so hard to build up your list and then – boom – overnight it gets sliced. He just smiled and said, “well, actually I don’t see it that way. For me, it’s really just cleaning up my list.” 

    The point is that when you find the thing you’re meant to say, you’re bound to lose people along the way, and in the process, you will find who you were really meant to talk to all along. 

  99. Gideon Rosenblatt I can’t +1 that enough.

  100. Oh, and Giselle Minoli, I know what you’re talking about with the technology comment. It’s funny too that there is a point with the technology where we experience a kind of technological awe at what is really happening. And then, the magic wears off. Did you ever see this piece by Lois CK with Conan O’Brien? 

    Everything’s+Amazing+ +Nobody’s+Happy

    It’s a great bit – and – underneath it is some of this point. 

  101. Laston Kirkland, man, I love that scene you described with the bacteria swarms. 

  102. Thanks for the additional insights, Hans Youngmann. There is a kind of self-preserving nature to many of the organizations I used to work with. It’s been interesting reading The Living Company this week (ping: Leland LeCuyer), and one thing that’s interesting about Arie de Geus’ perspective is that he sees that desire for longevity as a good thing, because it’s about preserving work communities of people. In the nonprofit world, that gets us into some difficult tradeoffs sometimes between mission and the people fulfilling the mission. 

  103. Gideon Rosenblatt Laston is going places!  Be sure to tune in to our next issue of The Journal!  You will not BELIEVE how, . . . well, you will believe, because you already have read his work.  I feel SO lucky!  We’re going to be publishing a collection of his work by this summer on S+!  “Copy Me” (my favorite so far.)  Yikes, better get off of G+ and get things agoin’!  ;’)  

    I LOVE this thread!  Especially about finding what you were meant to be about.  It has taken me so long to feel confident that I could just go with my own strengths and if it wasn’t “cool” to everyone, oh well.  Robert (E. del Sol) tried to tell me, but would I listen? Noooo.  ;’)  Giselle helped a lot with that!  She speaks her mind with GUSTO! …She and I are writing up our experience of meeting up in person after XL years!!!  Also will be in the spring issue.  It’s so interesting that a great deal of what I learned within organizations is what I did NOT need.  Weird.  (In school too!)

    I’m feeling pretty damned happy today!  G’Nite!

  104. Gideon Rosenblatt Random free-associations on some basic truths that we would do well to remember, within or without an organization, seemingly rational or wandering off single file over the abyss:

    “Computers are useless. They can only give you answers.” 

    ― Pablo Picasso

    “Anything new, anything worth doing, can’t be recognized.” 

    ― Pablo Picasso

  105. Gideon Rosenblatt   I’m rather certain that human organization (or rather, ‘living’ organizations) are, in fact, a distinct and coherent life form. The delusion we’ve been leaning on for sometime is simply the human organization structured like a machine to sustain an industrial era. Now that our information technologies have enabled us to make highly efficient machines that make industrial products, we humans are free to return to creating value (not money) in our distinctly human ways -by thinking, dreaming, and exploring a much larger set of complexity-based systems. The Enlightenment opened the door to imagining an industrial age in which me might make many useful things at such scale the everyone could conceivably have a sharp knife, fish hook, or hammer.

    As we now emerge from the later industrial ages into the early information ages, we are discovering that our machines have gotten so efficient and reliable, that much of the ‘industrial work’ that required human labor, can now be readily turned over to machines. Far fewer humans need to imitate machines. In most cases, the machines perform better and at lower costs anyway. 

    However, the late industrial/early information age does not have a socio-economic or political system suitable to this latest transformation. Most of us are organized hierarchically, like machines and the corporations that own them. and the institutions that train them. It seems as though someone else is in charge now and directing the outcomes. 

    What we intuit as pattern interpreters are the shortcoming of our contemporary social organization. As our tools have enabled a greater variety of organizational patterns we are beginning to realize that the industrial organization of work is not always as good or efficient as it could be.

    Let’s imagine, for moment, that we discover a way to turn any organic molecule into healthy nutritious food. Now imagine an elixir that could be mixed  in that would target and kill every disease, or fix every faulty cell in the human body. Just add pure recycled water and stir. 

    What purpose would our transportation system serve? Our agricultural tools, tractors, grain elevators, ad infinitum? What, if by similar advances we could eliminate all disease, and medicine could be practice by a vending machine? We might discover that we live in a world in which neither life nor death is a foregone conclusion. It might not even be practical to threaten wrongdoers with prison or even execution.

    My point is, I think, that what we have to prepare for is complexity-based social model in which peer-systems operate simultaneously. Complex Adaptive Systems are notoriously resilient and may even be inherently ‘anti-fragile.’ 

    In the short-term, I would argue that the first order is to reconsider our social order (politics and legal systems). They are wholly fragile, lack resilience, and are hierarchically organized. They are predicated on obsolete assumptions. We have legal and financial systems riven with corruption because they can be. They were designed to be gamed (governed by rules that are easily broken) and so they are. The wrongdoers are more often rewarded and less easily punished. Our legal and political systems are worn out, ancient, unable to effectively or efficiently  administrate a rapidly fading industrial age in which the inputs and the outputs no longer produce the desired outcomes. 

    We are becoming better suited to acting like swarms, where the rules are are natural. While we seem to lack the uniform biology of most swarming communities, I’m sure we can get better at it. If people could participate in multiple swarms, or shift their attentions and actions accordingly, we might not need any kind of legal system or governing systems for that matter. I don’t see this happening anytime soon, mind you, but I see patterns that suggest to me we are moving in this direction anyway. Maybe it’s best that we just quietly let it evolve on it’s own. 

  106. David Hawthorne unfortunately, for better or for worse, it is human beings that have invented everything.  Also unfortunately, for mostly worse, there are wildly opposing interests and motivations among those humans. Some are motivated to do good. Some are motivated by greed. Some are motivated to control. Some are motivated to conquer. Some are motivated to destroy. While there are many who believe that aspiring to the greater good is a better way to survive in the long term, there will always be those who have no interest in the greater good, only their personal and familial good.

    Have we designed highly efficient machines? I don’t know. One of the flying metal bird kind has disappeared without a trace. It was run by humans. Others are capable of creating virtually uncontrollable destruction of the nuclear kind. These too, have been designed and run by humans.

    I think our biggest problem is that we are perennially in denial about what we hath wrought and about what we have yet to wreak in the name of progress. Because we are in denial about death essentially. Were it not so, Monsanto would not exist in the first place.

    I essentially agree with you…but as for the letting it quietly evolve on it’s own part…there are so very many nefarious persons who scramble to the top of the heap, partially because essentially “good” people are not destructive and are busy contributing, creating, preserving, healing and conserving, that I’m not so sure there is any such thing as a quiet evolution any more.

    Were I to break down the plethora of revolutions all going on at the same time, be they of the financial kind, the medical kind, the industrial kind, the technological kind – or the organizational kind – sooner or later “greed” ends up being more deliciously appealing than “good.”

    Is this an “unhopeful” POV…or merely an acknowledgement that human beings have intellectual capabilities that exceed their spiritual wisdom? I don’t know. But that seems to me to be our Achilles heel.

  107. Giselle Minoli And then there is my hope:  “Men sleep peacefully in their beds at night

    because rough men stand ready

    to do violence on their behalf.”

    I know some of those rough men, and I am deeply, ever, grateful to them.

    Our defense is aware of what you are aware of, and they are on the case.  I think we are pretty lucky in that regard.

    Bless them.

    And I will keep hoping.

  108. David Hawthorne, thanks for your perspective on this. There’s a lot packed into that one comment, so I’ll just concentrate on two points.

    The first is that, yes, the ways in which we manage ourselves are antiquated. I agree very much with that. There are many organizations that are starting to play around with that. But this isn’t just about corporations. As you say, it’s a problem that’s very much embedded into our political system as well.  These will be hard – very hard – to change. I’m less hopeful on that side of things, actually. 

    The reason I’m less sanguine about just letting things evolve is that I’m starting to play with two very rough scenarios for how this might eventually play out with technology and organizations of our future. I’m trying to do a little creative lumping, just to keep it simple and will be writing about these in the future. The first is a scenario that is very much like we have today, where we continue to see our organizations as machines built for extracting profits out of their ecosystems. The second is where the technology is there to serve the community of people with a stake in the organization’s work. My strong belief is that, over the long-run, the latter will be much more resilient and valuable than the former, though the former will have some short-term advantages in terms of access to capital. 

    So, yes, I think these latter types of organizations will thrive more readily in the long run, but that will require a couple things. One, we need to know about these things and the traditional business press (with a few exceptions) is not all that great about covering these types of entities, or more accurately their predecessors that are with us today. Two, I think that there are probably things that we can do as a society to work to encourage these more resilient organizations. It’s one of the reasons I’m quite bullish about things like social enterprise and the B Corporation movement. 

  109. I think we’re nearly same page, though I do think that “greed” is engineered. If we could monetize the value of all the things we do for one another that is ‘free’ (i.e. not monetized) the size of the global GDP (or GGP Gross Global Product) would be orders of magnitude greater than all of our enterprise infrastructure combine. 

    We will have something on the order of 9-billion people on Earth by 2030. Nearly 70 percent of them will be outside the global market. Yet, they will produce value. They do produce value, now. Their disconnection for the global value flows leave them off the books. 

    It’s not that much different in the 30% that we call the Developed or Developing Markets. We may work 40 hours a week creating value for enterprises, but we sleep ideally 64 hours, leaving us another 92 hours in a 7 day week. What are we doing with the 92-hours? Mostly more WORK, uncompensated monetarily but work none the less. We raise families, teach children, help neighbors, volunteer, relax, spend money shopping, driving, supporting schools, armies, politicians, firefighters, maintaining our lawns, gardens, cars, and so on. Near all that ‘work’ costs us money and we are uncompensated for it -except by the intangible that we call love, family, friendship, community (where we also work coaching sports teams, donating time and money to our religions (not me so much). We create an enormous amount of value. Far more value than is created by our employers. (Which is one of the reasons many of us are in debt.)

    The problem is money and currency. It’s an unnecessary fiction. If it all vanished tomorrow, very little would change for most of the people in the world. The monied have power because we believe in them, and the fiction they’ve created about money. Tomorrow, we’d get up anyway. And like billions of people, we would go to work. to gather food, to help our children, to care for our neighbors. Most of us do that already for about 68-hours a week, unpaid. We’re busy creating value, just not getting paid for all the value we create. 

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