Ramblings and Thoughts from January 5, 1995
Ramblings from January 5, 1995
Well, I was sitting on the airplane coming back from Christmas break,
and got an uncontrollable desire to just start writing things out in a
vain attempt to sort out my thoughts and what's going on mentally and
all that sort of stuff. So I did. And figured I'd upload it here just
to keep track of it and toss some ideas around.
Basically I just started writing out various areas of interest to me and
some quickie thoughts on each of them - and in particular what I wanted to
look at more closely in each area. I'll try to explain my shorthand out
so that it's more clear what i'm thinking about but if I don't, EIT!.
Stories/Myths/Self-story/consciousness/epics & not-so-epics
Community/Virtual Community/How to tie together people online?
- currently reading The Power of Myth, Joseph Campbell/Bill Moyers which
obviously stresses this area highly and it resonates strongly with me. A
lot of good points concerning the lack of a consistent powerful mythology
to accompany current culture, which leads to the breakdown of society's
- Orson Scott Card's work. Card is big on the power of story-telling. In
one of his novellettes (The Originist, in Foundations Friends, ed. Martin
Greenberg) he even goes so far as to put forth story-telling and the power
of stories to connect people together as _the_ difference between humans
and animals. Not just communication, but the ability for stories to unite
people together into a community - example quote "I know that my theories
of community formation are true. That the vigor of a community depends on
the allegiance of its members, and the allegiance can be created and
enhanced by the dissemination of epic stories."
- The idea of the self-story and consciousness. When you think of who you
are - you tell a story about yourself. Most of my most powerful memories
are kept in the form of stories - where details relevant to the story are
remembered and other details are lost. In fact, I'm hardpressed to come
up with memories and images etc that DON'T have a a story accompanying
them in my memory.
- This entire area is very interesting to me - powerful in what it can do
and not studied enough because it doesn't lend itself to "scientific"
investigations because it is so personally dependent - i.e. stories/myths
etc depend heavily on the observer for meaning and importance - whereas
science tries to be observer-independent.
Complexity/Biology of Machines/Out of Control/(Artificial) Evolution
- As noted above, the creation of stories is a powerful way to tie people
together online. The most obvious examples from my experience are MUDs
where people create a world together, and alt.devilbunnies which writes
and continuously creates its own world.
- Along that same line, rituals of various sorts tie together communities.
Rituals according to Campbell are an overt expression of internal
mythology so it's really just re-stating the first point. Entrance
rituals are especially powerful - i.e. having to do something, perform
some quest, undergo pain or punishment in order to enter the community
binds you to the community more strongly - one reason why virtual
communities might be weaker than physical ones.
- One thing I'd like to do sometimes is try to analyze and identify the
different rituals and stories that bind TEP together. Nicknames/
historical stories/initiation/work assignments/rush, etc. But yet, no
need for hazing - which is a process many other fraternities use to try
and accomplish the same goals, but is curiously ineffective sometimes.
Better organization design? Adhocracy?
- I am currently in the middle of "Out of Control: The Biology of
Machines", by Kevin Kelly, which is purty darn cool. In it, he states
that the era of total control by humans is past. We don't know enough -
CAN'T know enough - to plot out how to do everything ourselves. We need
to start using the nature-tested methods of evolution and similar things
to do our work for us. Let things go "out of control." or at least to a
higher level of control, where we don't control each minute detail, just
the broad sweeps of the project.
- Complexity in general is a fascinating topic. I just read "Does God
Play Dice?" by Ian Stewart which is an overview of the main examples of
complexity theory (or nonlinear dynamics or chaos). Simple equations can
lead to complex - essentially random - results. Complex equations can
lead to simple results. Feedback, stretch and fold, etc etc. Useful for
finding deterministic patterns which underly what are thought to be random
patterns (turbulence in fluids was a primary example throughout the book).
But what if we don't know there are deterministic patterns? Does it still
work? Some say yes - those applying it to the stock market for instance.
Is it the basis for the future of psychohistory? Hari Seldon, where are
you? Can it be used to find the dynamics behind society? Would we want
to even if it were possible?
So anyway, I think that designing the future organization will be one of
my thought topics for quite a while. It ties together a bunch of my other
lines of inquiry quite nicely I realized - the formation of community,
story-telling (as used to form communities and for the passing on of
instructions/memory), complexity, etc. Obviously, my plan at this point
is just to read lots and try to keep fitting things into the jigsaw puzzle
that is my mind, but with a goal to work towards maybe things will start
fitting together better - it's a thought at least.
- Alvin Toffler in "The Third Wave" states (and I agree obviously) that we
are seeing the end of bureaucracy's lifetime of usefulness. He suggests
the term "adhocracy" for the organizational pattern to succeed it. He
also lays out some ideas about adhocracy but doesn't really come to any
- Basically I'm interested in trying to develop some ideas about what
a new organizational design could/should look like. One that will be able
to handle the fast-moving, fluid, flexible, changing world of the future,
without sacrificing the still-useful benefits of bureaucracy.
- The U.S. government - quintessential bureaucracy - but more and more
obvious how outdated it is, and unable to cope with modern demands. Can
we design a successor and be as prescient as the writers of the
- Advantages of bureaucracy: standardization, personnel independent are
the big ones. That is, you can pick up a worker in a bureaucracy, and
plop him in the same position anywhere in the bureaucracy, and he'll be
fine - since things are handled standardly throughout. And also because
of this, the precise people you have don't matter as much, since things
are done by the book, and not tailored for each person's individual
- Disadvantages of bureaucracy (i.e. things to design to overcome):
SLOW-moving, non-flexible, unable to cope with new/unique inputs.
Bureaucracy is SLOW. For decisions have to run their way up the ladder of
command and then back down, and get approved at each level, etc. The only
decisions which don't have to run the chain of command are the ones which
are standard, which the 3-ring binders are written for already. However,
new/unique inputs often require the telling of the superior for liability
reasons (pass the buck etc). Bureaucracy is VERY good at doing what it
has done before (hence its dominance in the world of "indust-reality" and
the assembly line), but very BAD at handling new things - it is very
inflexible. Example: I read that the U.S. Government spent well over a
billion dollars in the 1980's on computer equipment that was obsolete
_by_its_time_of_purchase_! By the time that the request for new equipment
had been approved, and handled, and acted upon, the computer manufacturers
had already come out with a new generation of computers. and since the
old computers were what were approved, they had to be bought despite their
- Adhocracy and any flexible organization of the future will almost
definitely have to be highly personnel dependent - taking full advantage
of each person in the organization to make decisions, cope with
situations, etc. But then, the organization can be hamstrung by the loss
of one person - example I'm thinking of: Ender's ships getting nearly
destroyed when Petra loses it in a battle near the end of Ender's Game, by
Orson Scott Card. In a bureaucracy, one person's loss is easily
handleable - since you just plug another person into that slot - but if
each slot is highly individualized to take advantage of the worker's
talents, that doesn't work. How can that be overcome?
- Also, such organizations will need brilliant leaders to succeed. People
who not only can figure out the best thing to do, but who understand other
people, and know how to use them best, and be able to deploy them in tasks
most suited for them, then giving them a free rein. This is again
jumping off from Ender's army setup. But where will such people be found?
Will such organizations need trained geniuses in management/leadership
such as that done at the Battle School in Ender's Game?
- Bureaucracies are process-centered, adhocracies are people-centered.
Any idiot can run a bureaucracy once the three-ring binder is written
(term stolen from Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson) because it's the process
that matters, not the people involved. An adhocracy can't be process
centered if it is to be able to cope with the fast pace of change in
future society - it will be highly dependent on the people involved, and
their skills, and flexibility.
- What is leadership anyway? It's something that will need to be better
understood if future organizations will utilize it as much as I think they
will need to. Is it in-born? Acquired? Can it be taught? Most current
leadership programs are baloney. I took quite a few "leadership
development seminars" in high school and thought very little of them -
didn't learn anything. Charisma is a part of it in gettin people to
follow you. But based on personal experience, a leader NEEDS the
self-assurance/self-confidence of KNOWING they can pull things off. For
instance, after having organized and run Rush for TEP, I felt ready to
tackle anything - knowing I had done it before, I knew I could do it
again. So training programs which don't include active tasks where you
lead others in accomplishing goals, are meaningless, because when it comes
time to do things for real, all the book-learning in the world don't mean
a thing if you freeze up or lose confidence then.
- How do computers fit into all this? They're an essential part I think -
certainly in the form of telecommunications - organizations can't react
lightning-fast in the way they will need to without instant
tele-communications across the world. But what about in the form of
actual workers? Computers are the epitome of bureaucracies right now -
process-centered to the core. Give them instructions and they follow them
to the letter. Perhaps the organization of the future could use
computers/robots to fulfill the strictly process-centered jobs that formed
the majority of bureaucracy organizations, and free people to do the
analysis needed for flexible organizations?
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