Ming the Mechanic
The NewsLog of Flemming Funch

Wednesday, June 6, 2007day link 

 Ten incredible things we get for free
picture Life2.0:
Here are 10 wonderful things that just seem to happen by themselves:

• Diversity & Harmony
• Connection & Friendship
• Self-organisation & Synergy
• Resonance & Synchronicity
• Insight & The spread of great ideas
• Emergence & Paradigm Shifts
• Learning & Growth
• Happiness & Flow
• Healing & Forgiveness
• Relaxation & Enlightenment

Not a bad list is it?

Don't you find it comforting to know that without our interference things have a way of working out just fine... that life is basically set up to help us succeed no matter what? And all of these phenomena seem to work whether we believe in them or not. Philip Dick defined reality as 'that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away'. All 10 appear to pass that test too.

But notice one thing... none of these can ever be planned or organised. In fact, the more we try to do so, the more they slip through our figures. For sure, there's stuff we can do to induce the 'right conditions' but at the end of the day they come for free and seem to happen best we just get out of the way.
My favorite stuff in life is that kind of stuff that comes for free, the stuff one can't control, but that is great when it happens.

And my favorite passtime is to try to figure out how to make those kinds of things happen anyway.

That's a bit of a paradox, of course. How do you make things happen that happen by themselves under complex conditions you don't really understand? We recognize it when it happens, and, yes, part of the key is to be open to to it, but how do we increase the frequency, how do we make it more likely, and more powerful?

This kind of knowledge is surprisingly scarce, but not altogether non-existent. It tends to be fuzzy, particularly to people who're looking for something finite and linear and logical, something one can plan and execute and control. You can't fully control it. You can't force anybody to be happy. You can't order anybody to be in a state of flow. Rather, if there's anything you can do, it will be with a mixture of parts you control, and parts that are out of control. And it has to be the right parts that are controlled, and the right kind of parts that are moving by themselves.

You can't organize emergence. But you can organize many other things. Some environments and some organizations are more conducive to emergence.

You can't force synergy. Some things work together and others don't. It is not a lottery either. An eco-system in nature is complex and sometimes surprising, but there are principles and rules at work. System kinds of principles, not hierarchical org-chart kinds of principles. Enough diversity, but not too much either, and the right kind.

Humans are still a little too dumb to really have it figured out. We often suffer from the hubris of thinking we can do better than nature and that we're smarter than the universe, and if we just submit it all to our will in a tightly planned and organized way, we've got it made. So our civilization has become very good at submitting parts of the physical universe to our wishes, and at ignoring the mess we create as by-products. And fairly bad at understanding things we don't control.

But, luckily, these kinds of mysterious emerging phenomena happen anyway. No matter what we believe, they take place. And somehow we're all still smart enough that we actually do recognize it, to some degree. Even the most fundamentalist materialist scientist will recognize the joy and wonder of the mysteries of the universe revealing themselves. Even the most stuffy psychiatrist who thinks you're nothing but a brain and that consciousness is a delusion will recognize happiness when he sees it.

You might still be considered a bit of a soft and gullible new age freak if you go around talking about harmony, resonance and synchronicity too loudly. But who cares. Ultimately, the reality of the universe wins out in any match against human intellect. If we are to survive, we'll have to come to terms with some of these things, and find ways of working with them, rather than against them. Great stuff will happen with or without us, and it is much more fun if it is with us and through us.
[ | 2007-06-06 00:13 | 13 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

 Shift Happens

A short video about accelerating global change. I'm pretty sure I've seen it before, but it must be relatively recent. From Glumbert.
[ | 2007-06-06 00:50 | 4 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

 See no evil
Cory Doctorow in Guardian about filtering and censorship versus freedom of expression on the net:
People say bad things online. They write vile lies about blameless worthies. They pen disgusting racist jeremiads, post gut-churning photos of sex acts committed against children, and more sexist and homophobic tripe than you could read - or stomach - in a lifetime. They post fraudulent offers, alarmist conspiracy theories, and dangerous web pages containing malicious, computer-hijacking code.
It's not hard to understand why companies, government, schools and parents would want to filter this kind of thing. Most of us don't want to see this stuff. Most of us don't want our kids to see this stuff - indeed, most of us don't want anyone to see this stuff.

But every filtering enterprise to date is a failure and a disaster, and it's my belief that every filtering effort we will ever field will be no less a failure and a disaster. These systems are failures because they continue to allow the bad stuff through. They're disasters because they block mountains of good stuff. Their proponents acknowledge both these facts, but treat them as secondary to the importance of trying to do something, or being seen to be trying to do something. Secondary to the theatrical and PR value of pretending to be solving the problem.
There's unfortunately a lot of milage one can get out of loudly pretending to be solving a problem, even know one knows full well one isn't, and one creates many more that are worse. "But we should at least try ..." is one of the wackiest arguments used to defend the most horrific and ineffective campaigns. To "protect the children" is a common thing to fill in there. Let's punish a lot of innocent people ... to try to protect the children.
[ | 2007-06-06 21:18 | 11 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

 Natural organization
picture Robert Paterson:
I am on quest - a quest to find the reality of a way of organizing people so that we can become the most that we can be. My ingoing thesis is that humans must have a way of organizing that is natural. After all acorns, whales, stars and winds do.

My bet is that we "forgot" how to do this. Instead we became captured by an idea, a dogma, that we are not human but we are machines.

My method has been to follow the example of science and to observe and look for patterns.
I'm with you on that. Me too.

Robert gave one of my favorite presentations at Reboot. Slides here.

One of the things he talked about was what could be learned from the organization of Roman legions. An organizational structure that worked very well for a great many years.
This core organization is about 5,000 people. It has inside of it, all the capability to do any work.

These core units were part of a larger organization of about 150,000. It had a junior but related organization making up another 150,000. The total network was about 300,000 people. There was a small secretariat that was responsible for the entire larger unit. This secretariat had one major focus, talent spotting and talent building. More on that a bit later.

The design for the core organization took about 400 years to reach peak. It evolved like a fishing boat evolves in a region: as a result of trial and error until the optimal design settled. After reaching optimum, this design remained relatively stable for nearly 400 years. Key elements of the design are still found in organizations that require peak performance today 1,500 years later suggesting that these design principles are natural and not invented.

Unlike our fantasy design today, this was not a CEO or head office dependent organization. It was designed to be brilliant with ordinary people who were put inside an extraordinary design for a society. It was the social design that made it so high performing.

Senior leadership was designed to be transient. The CEO of this 5,000 person core organization changed every 3- 5 years. He had a head office administrative staff of 6. The Staff Executives usually only stayed for 6 months!. The CEO usually had held one of the staff jobs earlier in their career. The CEO relied on 2 senior middle managers at head office for all the important operational decisions that he had to make. They had at least 40 years experience each and would be the best of the best in the larger organization of 150,000. Their posting lasted for one year.

So this was a 5,000 person organization with almost no head office! All the the head office jobs are temporary including the CEO's. No dependency on star CEO's here.
The numbers are important.
The base organizational work unit has 80 people in it. Depending on the task of the time, these were sometimes doubled up into a work group with 160 people. When a big job had to be done, 6 of the base groups would be assembled into a work group of about 480 people. This 480 person grouping was ideal for complex work of all types. Such a group could also be separated from the main body by thousands of miles and by years and still hold its cohesion.
So, apprently the numbers end up forming something similar to a Fibonacci sequence, representing some numbers that just naturally work well, and that add up in a certain way.
This organization is in reality a network of social building blocks of 1 - 2 - 8 - 80 - 160 - 480 - 5,000 - 150,000.

The hubs of this network where all the nodes intersect is in the 80 unit molecule. Every unit of 80 has a Hub Connector. Yes a span of control of 80! This works smoothly and routinely because of the social structure inside the 80 of 1 - 2 - 8. The world of the 8 is the "Trusted Space" that is designed into the organization.

At every level after that a Hub Connector is either in charge or has the major say operationally. The Hub Connector is the link at every point including the larger world of 150,000. The Hub Connector is not tied to the 5,000 person organization but serves inside the entire system.
The point is that there are certain sizes of groups that work better than others. There are limits to how many people one can have a relation to at the same time. Like the 150 of Dunbar's Number. There are other key factors than the numbers, of course. Factors that make people very close, like living in the same tent with the same group for 20 years. And how the leaders are selected.

I wouldn't have thought of Roman legions as being an example of natural organization. But it makes sense that when one evolves organizations that work very well, one is likely to have stumbled upon some principles of nature that just work.
[ / | 2007-06-06 22:55 | 16 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

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