Retrieving cooperation

According to Dion Hinchcliffe, we need to rethink work and reinvent collaboration.

At a high level, there appear to be three major root causes for why collaboration — the very core of how people come together and function as a business — is in the midst of reinvention:

1. Hierarchical management styles break down in the face of the inherent complexity and scale of the modern business environment.
2. New digital tools have put us in constant and direct contact with nearly every person in the developed world at virtually no cost or effort …
3. There has been a sustained shift in the power of creation, as the edges of our organizations and marketplaces now have readily in hand as much — and often more — productive power and reach than our institutions …

At the highest level, we are changing the way we organize as a society. This has only happened twice before. The emerging form (networks) is not a mere modifier of previous forms (Tribes, Institutions & Markets), but a form in itself that may be able to address complex societal issues that the previous forms cannot. This is why changing how we work seems critical to so many people today.

David Ronfeldt’s TIMN framework [Tribes-Institutions-Markets-Networks] shows how we have evolved as a civilization. It has not been a clean progression from one organizing mode to the next but rather each new form built upon and changed the previous mode. We are currently a predominantly triform society (T+I+M). But what happens as we become a quadriform society (T+I+M+N)?

TIMN has long maintained that, beyond today’s common claims that government or market is the solution, we are entering a new era in which it will be said that the network is the solution (e.g., here and here). Aging contentions that turning to “the government” or “the market” is the way to address particular public-policy issues will eventually give way to innovative ideas that “the network” is the optimal solution.

TIMN-David Ronfeldt

TIMN by David Ronfeldt

One key point of this framework is that Tribes continue to exist within Institutions, Markets AND Networks. We never lose our affinity for community groups or family, but each mode brings new factors that influence our previous modes. For example, tribalism is alive and well in online social networks. It’s just not the same tribalism of several hundred years ago. Each transition also has its hazards. For instance, while tribal societies may result in nepotism, networked societies can lead to deception.

collab coopNetwork societies and tribes have something in common. They are mainly cooperative. What was kinship in tribes, is seen as connections or affinities in networks. When the rules are clear (as in institutions and markets) and we know who we are working with (suppliers, partners, customers) then collaboration is optimal. But in networks, someone may be our supplier or even our boss one day and our customer the next, so cooperation becomes the best behaviour. In such a society, people can have multiple valences as nodes in many networks at the same time. Successful individuals in a network society will see that their connections change over time, and that openly sharing will make them more valued nodes in the long run. In networks, cooperation is simultaneously altruistic and selfish.

TIMN cooperative collaborativeAccording to Marshall McLuhan’s tetrad of media effects, every medium 1) extends a human property; 2) obsolesces the previous medium; 3) retrieves a much older medium that was obsolesced before; 4) flips or reverses its properties into the opposite effect when pushed to its limits. The medium of a network society could then be seen to extend civil society; obsolesce hierarchies; retrieve the cooperation of kinship; and when pushed to its limits, reverse into deception. In a network society, collaboration is outdated.

We are moving into a time where even the flattened hierarchies of the ‘00s are collapsing. We are moving into a time of hyper lean organizations, with unprecedented reductions in management overhead, and therefore the architecture of collaboration is outdated. – Stowe Boyd

tetrad for networksOnce again using a term from McLuhan, we are becoming a global village, and like a tribal village, certain aspects of human behaviours that we have ignored for centuries are becoming important as we move into a network society. For instance, there was little privacy in the village, as there seems to be no more privacy today. While we will not repeat the past, there is much we can learn from it. Our new business practices should not just celebrate what we have made obsolete, but we should also look back to see what we can retrieve and most importantly, what reversals we can avoid.

9 Responses to “Retrieving cooperation”

  1. Jon Husband

    The Tetradic Effects of a Network Society graphic is just brilliant.

    Thanks, Harold.

  2. jesse soininen

    Awesome. Milestone in simplicity. That nifty Tetradic graphic is gonna get some heavy duty rotation soon.

    Loved also the McLuhans point of retrieving the old medium as integral part of new. That´s just what has happned already.

  3. Todd Johnston

    Great post. Agree with above comments that your tetradic effects of the network society is rich.

    One question on your choice of words characterizing collaboration as “outdated”. I get your emphasis on cooperation reimerging as primary, but don’t (yet) grasp that collaboration is to become a relic. Wondering if “superseded” conveys the essence of what you mean?


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