This evening I will be presenting a session on Working in Perpetual Beta, at Implement Consulting in Copenhagen. I will be discussing the economic, technological, and communication shifts that are driving us to become a networked society. But as I mentioned in my last post, the Tribal form is posing a significant threat to the development of what David Ronfeldt calls a Quadriform society. This would be a society that includes Tribal, Institutional, and Market organizations, co-existing with dominant network organizations.
But at this time there are few positive network era organization examples to give inspiration to others. We are stuck between the Market and the Network era, with significant yearnings in certain sectors to go back to our insular Tribal ways. While the Tribal form may be comforting, its structure threatens the foundations of democracy.
Democracy needs open and transparent communications to exist. The ancient Greeks had a form of democracy but it was limited by oral discourse. Such a democracy could not grow beyond its immediate borders. The printing press enabled the French revolution and it was essential for the American revolution. There is even a postal clause in the US constitution. Communications technologies can enable, as well as disrupt, democracy.
“The mass societies had many more decisions to make, and no way of making them in the old, egalitarian way. Their huge numbers made any attempt at discussing the question as equals impossible, so the only ones that survived and flourished were the ones that became brutal hierarchies. Tyranny was the solution to what was essentially a communications problem.
Fast forward ten thousand years, and give these societies mass communications. You don’t have to wait for Facebook; just invent the printing press. Wait a couple of hundred years while literacy spreads, and presto! We can all talk to one another again, after a fashion, and the democratic revolutions begin. We didn’t invent the principle of equality among human beings; we just reclaimed it.
Modern democracy first appeared in the West only because the West was the first part of the world to develop mass communications. It was a technological advantage, not a cultural one – and as literacy and the technology of mass communications have spread around the world, all the other mass societies have begun to reclaim their heritage too.” —Gwynne Dyer 2011
We live in a time where technology provides immense potential for human communications but we lack the organizational structures to take advantage of this. Faith in the future is low, especially in democratic and developed countries. An Ipsos Public Affairs survey in 2016 showed that a majority of people in countries such as the USA, France, Sweden, and Germany generally feel that their governing institutions are ‘on the wrong track’.
We are stuck in a period similar to the early era of the printing press. Printed books enabled the Protestant reformation which flamed conflicts like the European wars of religion, and only many years later developed into the scientific revolution and the Enlightenment. A reversion to Tribalism in our times may result in a period similar to the tumultuous 16th and early 17th centuries in Europe.
We do not need closed borders and homogeneous nationalistic identities. It is time to develop global identities, and organizations, based on our common humanity, enhanced by diversity, and enabled by digital communications technologies. If we build organizations that enable this, we just might survive.