Building the Cathedral - brick by brick...
I have recently been led to believe that the starting point for creating a regenerative civilization has to do with reclaiming our relationship to spirit, and maybe - as John Vervaeke puts it - we need to both create and scale a religion that is not a religion. But whether or not it is actually an internet-age cathedral we need, or if it is something else entirely, my hopes for its creation is not so much tied to what it will actually be, but of the way we will build it together.
The path we thread often means more for the end result than our conceptualization of what we are trying to achieve. I can’t help, therefore, but get just a little bit bored with the growing milieu of podcasters interviewing other podcasters about the tenets of the liminal web aso. Although there is certainly great work being made around this, great books written, great ideas developed and all that; in the end it seems to me they are all circumnavigating one topic: How do we actually act?
Or rather: How do we design a way of acting that we can be fairly sure is designed with pro-social and pro-ecological incentives both in its infancy and on scale, and that is by itself exponentially scalable so that it is an actual force to be reckoned with? If this is the question you are interested in, then I will try here to give the most concrete answers that I can in an essay as this.
For, luckily, I find that there are actually concrete things to do, actual cast bricks that we can stack. But first off I will go a bit into what foundation we will need to lay before it is viable to begin the actual construction of the building.
A force for good
Knowing very well that all movements start with the best of intentions, and that the pavement they prepared for us hopefully should make us hesitate rather than thread forward in clear cut willpower, we still need to will the power. The will is not the problem - or rather, believing that morality comes from the will triumphing over ‘lesser’ inclinations and urges IS the problem. We cannot alone will the good, for we have never not done that, but we need to make sure that our will doesn’t become the problem. But what, then, are we lacking?
One thing, I would say, which we have long been severely lacking, but which actually seems to be emerging today, is the ability to help each other see our blind sides. The ability to both individually and collectively dare to look at the shadows that reveal our antipathies towards others as well as our own self-destructive behavior. Though, strangely, this does not seem to be enough to create communities and organizations that themselves embody this introspection. So, what more do we need?
In my own work with organizations of different kinds, both as a participant and as a consultant, I have become quite hopeful around a series of movements (mostly in the private sector) that each attempt to rig the game in a different way and create believable designs for organizations to work for - and continue to work for - the betterment of the ecological habitat that is our planet. At least.
These movements are conjoined in being pragmatic movements primarily, and only secondarily taking on the veil of idealism. In my view, this is the primary property of the metamodern organization: That it is first and foremost interested in making things work, and is (intuitively) aware that ‘what works’ and ‘what is good’ are two sides of the same coin. Interdependent and inseparable if we want to avoid each their dark sides.
Then again, these movements just as much distinguish themselves from adjacent movements in having an interest in actually solving problems rather than making things work just for the sake of surviving. In fact, I would propose that the distinguishing feature of these movements in business and organizations design is the ability to themselves distinguish between intrinsic and instrumental value - with financial and material assets clearly referred to the latter category.
For the same reason, these movements could be spoken about together as a movement of purpose-driven business, or rather - in order to distinguish from seemingly purpose-driven companies where their purpose mostly serves as a green-washing or woke-washing brand or at best a CSR afterthought - a movement of authentically purpose-driven business.
Business before organization
I would like to map out these movements here in order to show why they spark a hope for me. And also, hopefully, to inspire some of you entrepreneurs out there to adopt some of their frameworks so your organizations have more of a standing chance - both of competing with Game A orgs and of avoiding becoming one when you are successful. Also, I am always on the lookout for playmates, especially for ventures. So give me a call if you dare!
But first, I am going to share why, in my opinion, business is the right avenue for creating the change that we need - for building the cathedral - and why we need to understand business in order to accommodate thriving communities and organizations. AND, paradoxically, to move beyond capitalism and its anchor in the concept of private ownership. To rein in the powerful beast that is capitalism and shepherd it away from its barren meadows.
The advantage of a business, as opposed to other means of action, is that it is by definition self-sustaining. A good business is a business that is self-financed and therefore doesn’t need to lend power from anywhere else. It doesn’t need to ask for permission, doesn’t need to ask for money, and doesn’t need to appeal to anyone but its stakeholders. In other words, if our movement is a business, then we don’t need to rely on anyone but ourselves to act in order to create action. We can leave the agora, take down our banners, turn off the megaphone and build our cathedral by our own ability instead.
This is all well and good IF we can be sure that relying on business does not make us repeat the mistakes of the modern business, instrumentalizing the purpose for profit and commoditizing love, beauty, care, presence, well-being and everything else we might deem good. For, honestly, why would capitalism not just commoditize this movement just as it has everything else?
This leads us to the before mentioned distinguishing feature of these movements: The purpose. Or, rather, the idea that an authentic purpose allows a business to thrive and grow more effectively and efficiently than a profit-driven one. The idea that we can out-compete capitalism, as Hanzi Freinacht puts it. So how do we do that?
In my experience, when a business is authentically purpose-driven it receives a series of advantages to profit-driven ones. It does this because it works with and towards the intrinsic needs that both humanity and its ecosystem has, rather than against it. And it keeps these advantages, because it is not in the interest of the profit-driven business to copy them - and even if it tried, it could not, because it is the authenticity that provides the advantage (mostly). The advantages are, as one might put it in business lingo, moats.
Advantages of the purpose-driven org
I see at least nine such advantages (overlaps occur):
1. Organic organization - or to grow as a tree rather than a tower
Advantage: Allows for continuous exponential growth in all directions and for responding to a changing environment, since the org does not need to rebuild its foundation when it reaches its potential, and because it continuously seeds new ventures.
Moat: Is reliant on integrating most of the below assets, especially the self-managed organization. The organic org arguably encompasses all the advantages of the purpose-driven org and could serve as a generic title.
2. Self-managed organization - or to distribute authority to every employee
Advantage: Removes the bottlenecks that is the limit to efficiency in hierarchical organizations, frees up the resources within each employee and manages the org through the collective intelligence of all stakeholders.
Moat: Is reliant on every employee being at the org because of the purpose instead of the paycheck in order to create the trust needed to truly distribute authority, and not just create an informal hierarchy.
3. Holistic workplace - or the caring and meaningful workplace
Advantage: Acknowledges the well-being and personal growth of every employee as an asset unparalleled by the efficiency of a command-and-control regime, limits conflict, relieves sick leaves and cultivates talent.
Moat: Does not go together with a status hierarchy and is contingent on the free flow of information and feedback of the self-managed org.
4. Transcending work - or to attract the talent that is not attracted to salary
Advantage: Distinguishes the org from other orgs by delivering an existentially meaningful thing to do with one’s life, and allows the employee to integrate their work with the rest of their life, making it unnecessary to choose between family and career (and other aspirations).
Moat: Where the profit-driven org can attract both on salary, prestige and to some extend creative engaging work, it can only persuade the weaker talents that the org’s purpose is worthwhile, which is why transcending work as such is deeply contingent on being authentically purpose-driven.
5. Collaborative competition - or how to transform your competitors into collaborators
Advantage: For one, if your business is truly purpose-driven, you’d celebrate the success of any other company working towards the same purpose. But even for your bottom-line, to reach out and support your colleagues in the field no matter if you are also competitors, shifts the value meme that you are working from and invites them to share customers with you when they cannot meet their demand.
Moat: It probably speaks for itself, but to share your customer base and invite direct competitors to take a look around in your business, would probably seem a bit insane to a profit-driven company. So this is quite the test to see if your company is authentically purpose-driven!
6. Community-led development - or to move faster by sharing instead of copyrighting
Advantage: In an increasingly faster changing market, engaging the community of experts in your field by sharing your product development with them, holds more and more advantage to owning intellectual property that might be obsolete within a few years.
Moat: Whereas the open source community and Agile software development has shown that moving fast rather than moving in secret is vastly more competitive, it is not possible to go all the way unless your business truly is purpose-driven. This is therefore also a good test to see if you are.
7. Disruptive product design - or how to design boldly with disruption in mind
Advantage: Instead of creating a marginally better product that inevitably competes with other products on price, if you create a product that makes the current products obsolete, or at least is ten times better all-in-all than the current ones, then you basically own the market and can set a price that is as high as you would need, to be able to create a sustainable bottom line.
Moat: If you want to create disruptive products, you need to take bold chances and invest in the future that you want to see - not necessarily the one that is about to happen. It is very risky, but for the purpose-driven business it is worthwhile even if it fails, because the purpose is what it’s all about.
8. Marketing as a movement - or to create a loyal followership that advertises for free
Advantage: The best way to sell anything, really, is to have someone recommend it, have the word grow exponentially from there and in turn let the hype around the product make any other marketing superfluous.
Moat: Even though companies like Apple have been good at engaging followers, they have left out the ones who were once loyal through thick and thin in pursuit of easier profit, and so when the next hype comes along, it doesn’t matter how many follow Apple today, they will not be loyal then.
9. Needs-based pricing - or how to turn a sell into a generous act
Advantage: Pricing is hard. If you aim too high, you leave out a lot of people who might benefit from the good your product does. If you aim too low, you cannot create a profit on your balance sheet. But to lay out the needs both for your customers and for your business allows you to place the price where it is sustainable for both, and makes it easy for you to be transparent and create a trust around the pricing that shows that it is in fact a generous act towards the customer to place it as high as it needs to.
Moat: This is maybe the most commonly used of the advantages in this list, but it only really reaches its potential when the business openly shares its balance sheets and calculations about pricing, and especially inviting feedback in and responding to it - which would reveal if the business is profit-driven.
Five movements in purpose-driven business
The following movements that I choose to delve into here, should only be seen as examples that illustrate different aspects of the overall movement around the purpose-driven organization, or, if you will (I do), the metamodern organization. Other movements can be mentioned, commonly known ones such as Open Source software or the cooperative movement, or more recent ones such as Fourth Sector, B-Corp or Conscious Capitalism.
Also, more ‘orange’ approaches to coping with metamodernity that are well worth mentioning because of their profound utility for the purpose-driven organization, are Salim Ismail’s Exponential Organization, Gary Hamel’s Humanocracy, Simon Sinek’s The Infinite Game and Peter Thiel’s From Zero to One ao.
The Agile approaches to software development that started in the 2000’s showed, more than anything, that enabling autonomous teams to work iteratively on solving problems is by far the most efficient way of creating actual, working solutions.
The Agile principle of iterative improvement goes against the modern corporate top-down management that releases large scale programs and products with an aim of perfection, which often times means no tolerance for the ones who mention the mistakes and deficiencies that are always present.
Agile along with LEAN introduced the idea of the self-managed team and the self-managed organization and showed how such an organization is vastly more efficient and productive than a command-and-control organization.
Examples: All Elon Musk’s ventures
Link: The Agile Manifesto
Teal was the first attempt to describe the metamodern organization through adult development frameworks and utilized Spiral Dynamic’s model (with Kegan’s color scheme) to describe the Orange, the Green and the Teal organization.
According to Frederic Laloux’s book Reinventing Organizations, the Teal org has three facets:
1. Self-management - that leadership is distributed to every employee and team
2. Wholeness - that the workplace takes care of the whole (spiritual) person
3. Evolutionary Purpose - that the org is purpose-driven and evolving
It is the most used term, for now, for an overall category for the metamodern organization, although it is not a term that is used by many corporations to describe themselves by. Maybe because it cannot escape a scent of new-age pseudo-science for some sensitive modern minds.
Examples: Buurtzorg, Morning Star, Sun Hydraulics
Link: Reinventing Organizations wiki on the Teal org
Sociocracy, and the succesful variant Holacracy, are probably the most comprehensive and manifest of these movements. It’s an overall organizational design system developed in a dutch electronics company in the 70’s with ties to the Quaker community’s consensus democracy.
Briefly stated, Sociocracy is a self-management method that installs incentive structures for prosocial behavior by giving clear facilitation instructions for decision making and accountability. For me, it is the first time I have seen what I learned to call ‘basis-democracy’ or ‘direct democracy’ actually working.
All the sociocratic methods (and there are a few variants) require a purpose-driven organization and consist of three main elements:
1. A decision making method with step-for-step tools for running meetings
2. An organizational design method for designing an organization as an organism
3. An organizational development method for enhancing feedback and acting on it
The strength of the sociocratic methods comes, like Agile, from their pragmatic development through practice, but diverges from Agile in their focus on the people in the organization rather than the products. This makes it much more generally applicable and is used in all sectors and all types of organizations and movements.
Examples: Zappos, Danfoss eSteering, Global Ecovillage Network
Link: Sociocracy For All’s introduction to The Sociocratic Circle Method
Link: Holacracy.org’s introduction to Holacracy
DDO stands for Deliberate Developmental Organization and is a construction of the researchers and consultants Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey. In their book An Everyone Culture they give three examples of large organizations that create a strong developmental environment for their employees and, hence, for the organization.
A DDO consists of three elements (which btw correspond very well with the three elements of Sociocracy):
1. Groove - structures and processes that support and enhance development
2. Home - a safe and supportive environment with as much trust needed to open up
3. Edge - a motivation and occasion for the employee to develop continuously
DDO builds on Michael Commons’ Model of Hierarchical Complexity, which distinguishes it from Teal (and brings it closer to metamodernism).
Examples: Decurion, Bridgewater, Next Jump
Link: Initial HBR article on the Deliberate Developmental Organization
Born out of an analysis of the modern organization as incapable of changing in an acceleratingly changing world (which is also the topic of Kegan/Lahey’s book Immunity To Change), Responsive Org is a network based movement which aims to transition organizations to a means for the world we want to change into rather than the one we are leaving (or the one we might get if we can’t make the transition).
Responsive Org identifies five moves that organizations must make in order to act responsively to an unpredictable environment:
- From Profit to Purpose
- From Hierarchies to Networks
- From Controlling to Empowering
- From Planning to Experimenting
- From Privacy to Transparency
Although Responsive Org doesn’t provide as manifest tools as some of the other approaches, it is maybe the most all-encompassing one to describe what advantages are to be had for the organizations that are able to make the transition. Or, as is the point of the above mentioned Exponential Organization, to describe how to outcompete the giants in your field as a mere startup.
Examples: Slack, Reddit, DocuSign
Link: The Responsive Org Manifesto
But what about the ownership?
Well sure, maybe we now stand a chance at exchanging the capitalist extractive corporation with regenerative ones, but in the end is it really post-capitalist if the ownership is still in the hands of the few - or if there is ownership at all? Even more, are the above advantages really in their fullest effect if they are not accompanied by direct, controlling ownership to employees and other stakeholders?
Well, yes. Therefore, let’s end with a look at the incorporation of the purpose-driven organization. I won’t provide a historic look at the cooperative movement - although, yes, we should do coops - but instead give you a sense of how a metamodern organization could go about designing itself as a coop today.
In Graham Boyd’s and Jack Reardon’s book Rebuild from 2020, they describe how to incorporate an organization in different levels according to the organization’s ability (or will) to turn as many stakeholders into owners as possible. The ideal organization, in their view, is what they call the ‘Fair-Shares Commons’.
The Fair-Shares Commons takes design cues from premodern ownership structures and aims to make the organization self-owned, to be a commons, an entity that is neither private nor public nor voluntary - i.e. a fourth sector organization.
In practice, this is achieved by giving shares to all the stakeholders in and around the organization, making each shareholder only have one vote no matter how many shares, and designing each share according to the role that the owner has around the organization. E.g. an investor could sell their shares to others, whereas an employee would only have their shares as long as they are employed at the organization.
Stakeholders are categorized as either:
- Stewards - usually the founders
- Customer, Supplier, Prosumer
- City, Nation, Environment
- Investor, Donor
Aside from the incorporation, the Fair-Shares Commons is self-governed, preferably sociocratically, and is, as with Teal, working with an evolutionary purpose. Thereby the Fair-Shares Commons becomes an organism that by itself - through the collective intelligence of its stakeholders - can act by its own will. Un-owned by anyone, un-sellable, un-corruptable.
If you might allow me a small addendum, my hope for the Fair-Shares Commons is that it can in turn take over the responsibilities that the public sector now (fails to) uphold. That it can give us a vision of a world where we enjoy both the freedom of the liberatarian or anarchist ideal, the security of the socialist or communist ideal and the gemeinshaft (community) of the conservative or fascist ideal. Hence, I hope it can show us a post-ideological approach to politics.
What Graham Boyd and Jack Reardon emphasizes, is the wish to make an organizational design that brings indigenous knowledge and ways of life into the present, to make an indigenous (or animist) organization that is more resilient and competitive than the modern organization.
Could this help spark an animist (re)turn, maybe?
Looking forward to your response!
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