organizations as media

In discussing organizational models and metaphors, Naomi Stanford refers to Gareth Morgan and his influence on organizational design. “Gareth Morgan’s book Images of Organisation (1986),  for example, offered eight organisational metaphors …” — machine, organism, brain, culture, political system, psychic prison, flux & transformation, and instrument of domination. Other researchers have added to this list — icehotel, wonderland, femicide, justice.

In a 2011 interview, Morgan says that there is one more model that he would have liked to have included.

But, if I had a single choice, the metaphor that I most wish that I had included would be one based on communications theorist Marshall McLuhan’s view that all forms of technology are best understood as extensions of human senses and that “the medium is the message.” More specifically, the metaphor would explore “Organizations as Media” with a particular focus on the transformations created in the wake of phonetic literacy and the rise of new electronic media, particularly the digital forms that are currently unfolding. I believe this metaphor will put the history of formal organizations in new perspective and raise some interesting questions and challenges on how we can expect new organizational forms and associated economic systems to unfold in the years ahead. —Reflections on Images of Organization and Its Implications for Organization and Environment

Our organizations are human-made tools for getting things done. In A Schoolman’s Guide to Marshall McLuhan (1967), John Culkin said that, “We become what we behold. We shape our tools and then our tools shape us.” Understanding the metaphors that influence organizational design can help us understand when they are no longer suitable for society. Critical thinking requires us to question our assumptions, and metaphors often hang out in the background, inferred as natural.

My own work is significantly influenced by the work of Marshall and Eric McLuhan. I have combined their perspectives on media with the model developed by David Ronfeldt: T+I+M+N — overview, video, original paper (1996). My assumptions to date are as follows

  1. The three organizing forms for society, chronologically — Tribes, Institutions, Markets — are widely applicable across history.
  2. Each form builds on the other and changes it.
  3. The last form is the dominant form — today that would be the Market form (remember the effects of the 2008 market crash?)
  4. A new form is emerging — Networks ‚ and hence the T+I+M+N model.
  5. This form could also be called the commons or the noosphere.
  6. I have found evidence that what initiated each new form was a change in human communication media — T+I (written word), T+I+M (print), T+I+M+N (electric/digital).
  7. I believe we are currently in between a triform (T+I+M) and a quadriform (T+I+M+N) society, which accounts for much of the current political turmoil in our post-modern world.
  8. This model can help inform us how to build better organizational forms for a coming age of entanglement.
organizations as media

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