Structure Wins

Hierarachy by Matt Taylor 1986

The Use and Misuse of Hierarchy

NOTES regarding this document:


“Structure Wins” has long been a fundamental premise of Gail’s and my work. For me, the insight goes back to my architectural sensibilities and training. How the structure of organization effects thinking and the ability to act - both for good and bad - is an essential aspect of the design of any human enterprise be it a philosophy organization, a product or a technology. The MG Taylor IP rests on a cybernetic viewpoint of organization: how is a mind, a ValueWeb, an economy, a work process essentially the same thing? From this perspective, structure and process are not seen as separate. They are the same. The difference between them is actually the time scale frame of the “participant” making the distinction. A rock is a slow - from the human perspective - moving process. An auto race is a fast changing structure. Neither a rock nor an auto race can be understood without looking at the layers of organization “above” and “below” the scale which gives them their distinct definition. Everything is connected to everything else - we only isolate certain aspects of something we are interested in (thus, creating a system) for our convenience.


I was prompted to write this paper following the events of September 11, 2001. 9/11 apparently was a great shock to the majority of US citizens. Personally, I find this astounding. Why this is so and what experiences [link: 1947] I have lived, which provide me another perspective, provides the basis for the essay that follows. This is an issue of “frame” - what is the system-in-focus [link:system in focus] is critical when looking at any issue of organization.


“Structure Wins.” 9/11 was, in part, a clash between two different organizational architectures. Usually, when structure is discussed a hierarchy is assumed - as if this was organization. Hierarchy, of course, is just one of many possible structures. Network architecture is a major alternative design strategy to what we have come to accept as organizational structure. And, just to make it fun, hierarchy will be found in networks and networks in hierarchies. On both a theoretical and operational level, organizations are, in fact, far more complex and varied than our simple default model of them suggests. This gets us in deep trouble more often than not.


Far too often, people fail to see organizational structure as a design issue. This means the most critical aspects of any organization happens by default. The “unintended” consequences can be devastating. Organizational architecture must be approached carefully. The various design strategies, such as hierarchy and network have to be carefully applied. Organizational hierarchy is a powerful design tool. It is not organization itself. It can be effectively used to accomplish human ends and it can be be used to destroy everything that makes us human.


Structure Wins


The Use and Misuse of Hierarchy



The hierarchy is a powerful organizational principle. Most of human knowledge is organized in some form a of a hierarchical structure. As are most human institutions. With the word “hierarchy” the Roman Army and the Catholic Church come to mind. These are two structures which endured for centuries and successfully managed great change.


Today, the hierarchy is subject to great criticism [link]. This is particularly so in the realm of organizing human business. This is, like so many things, a “true and not true” charge. If better models of both hierarchy and it’s alternatives are not employed, many organizations will leap from the over-structured frying pan into the poorly understood network-fire with, sadly, predictable results.


As important as this issue is on the level of business it is far more critical in the exercise of political power. Business get their feedback from the market - at least they do when a truly free market is operating. Governments exercise force as a mean of accomplishing their goals. In fact, this is one of the principle reasons for government: the delegation, by citizens, some aspects of the exercise of their right of self defense to a legitimate body [link] who will carry this function out on a social scale and do this, assumedly, in a just way.


When government legitamacy and power is abused - and it often is - the consequences for millions of people are disastrous, and in this case, the “market” finds it much more difficult to provide effective feedback. If the armature [link] of the public commons is weak, there is little recourse for those citizens who are disenfranchised by the organization that rules their lives. Governments can be great benefactors of humankind - they can also be a great scourge if not to their own citizens then to others.


What we are experiencing today is the beginning phases of the breakdown of the Nation State. At present there is nothing to replace this social invention. The stresses created by it’s own structure and successes are causing it to fail nevertheless. How this transition is handled is one of the most important challenges [link] facing humankind. In my view, it cannot be approached - let alone resolved - within the framework of the common understanding and use of organization.

Our attempted use of organization in our society far outstrips our theory of it - thus, our practice of organization, in the sense of social commonwealth, is rapidly eroding. It is doing so at a time when we need it the most - even as we approach the task of replacing the organizational architecture we have in place with one that will be more requite with present and future times. We “adjust” economies without thinking of and challenging their fundamental structure. [link] We fight just wars - “just” from the framework of the last outrage done to us - without exploring, understanding and admitting to the past actions that prompted the attack; without understanding the structural causes of the conflict - without thinking seriously about how this “just” action will provoke another generations of violence. We watch huge corporations rapidly ascend to prominence and even more rapidly fall as we praise and then blame their CEOs as if it were a sporting event; we do this without caring about the intrinsic drivers [link] behind these increasingly dangerous oscillations [link]. There is always, in the public mind, the “issue of the moment” jumped on by the media, subjected to spin-on-spin by the politicos - the great distraction for a day, a week or a month or two. These events polarize our society into debates usually two sided almost evenly divided. Every aspect is covered except, of course, the deep structural causes and long range consequences. Public debate has become the modern version of the Roman Circus. Yes, we should debate these issues. We should do so, however, in the context of past and future history. We should do so as one means of arriving at basis for resolution and a foundation to design the means for better solutions to emerge [link]. This “process” we now go through is the result of social structures and, itself, a growing construct of great influence. It saps the resources and will to enter into reasoned dialog. It divides our society and increases the perception of threat and the idea that any of us of one persuasion must - to survive - “win” over the other.
At a time when the power of the Nation State may be giving away to economic bio-regions, this is a dangerous circumstance. We may be entering into a global civil war between two radically opposed concepts of society made more complicated by the members, particularly on one side of this contest, feeling they have to eliminate any differences in their own camp. Religion, politics, economics, ethnic groups and the institutions of learning and science are becoming increasingly “Balkanized” and are realigning with each other across traditional borders breaking down the basis of social legitimacy [link]. The means of this struggle are become asymmetrical [link]. The architecture of hierarchy cannot facilitate this transformation It does not have the bandwidth nor the flexibility required. It leads too easily to set positions and conflict - be that conflict shouting heads on TV or the use of massive military force against an “enemy” who in fact whose only “crime” has been to disagree with U.S. policy in a way that would be legal for an American citizen to do.
The Use of Hierarchy
The Use of Network Architecture
The Transformation of Organizational Architecture
Transformation Tools
A Geopolitical Economy of Regions and ValueWebs
It is my best guess that the dominance of the nations State is on the wane and will be replaced by a new network structure made up of economic bio-regions. These will be “replacement economies” as Jane Jacobs defines them. Global ValueWebs will span across these regions and local webs will reside within them. These will be the true instruments of wealth creation/distribution and intellectual/business transaction. Cultures will span these ValueWebs and visa versa. The cultures will reflect what today we understand as the state but will be more fine grained. The Nations State will become a BRAND - a place - more than a political entity and many exiting Nation States will fragment into historic and ethnic enclaves. People will be local and global - ethnic uniqueness and global citizenship will both be celebrated. The hard lines between government, business and NGOs will become blurred, from a traditional viewpoint, but discrete and functional in actuality. Network architecture will prevail and network behavior will be the dominate characteristic. In this architecture, war will have little utility. Hierarchy, when it appears, will be a deliberately employed organizational design strategy that is a sub-system of an overall network architecture. The predominate human organizational modality will be affiliation to personally selected affinity-based networks which will cut across all traditional organizational categories. The structure of these pathways and nodes will look much like the neural map of the human brain itself. These connections will tend to be ad-hoc, changing as an individual’s and communities’ of practice circumstances change. All of the organizational strategies employed by humankind, for 10,000 years, will be seen in the constantly pulsing, swirling flux of human intercourse. This will be a knowledge-based, hunter-gather society characterized my constant migration and long term “home” affinities. It will be extraordinarily flexible and stable. The ability to DESIGN will be the premier talent. People will have the maximum ability to find and shape the lifetyle-place that fits their values. The range of this social experimentation will be broad; from traditional enclaves to those that barely seem human from a 20th Century perspective. The most predominate ethic will be the acceptance and respect rendered all of these alternative social constructs.
This social architecture constitutes and massive transformation from that which exists today (2005). This transformation will be driven [link] by a number of factors and a stark reality: the fact that the social architecture of the 20th Century leads to war, economic division (and, ultimately collapse), environmental deterioration, and a dead end for human development and spirit. In the transition phase, this new architecture will be “practiced” into reality by a global effort to integrate human economy with Gaian ecology to recreate Earth as a garden to be enjoyed by all life forms [link]. This will be so because the alternative is too horrific to ponder.
Return To Index
GoTo the Nation State

Matt Taylor
Palo Alto
September 22, 2001


SolutionBox voice of this document:


Posted: September 22, 2001

revised: October 20, 2008
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(note: this document is about 20% finished)

Copyright© Matt Taylor 1986, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2008







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