We humans (not you and me but all the others ofcourse), have a tendency to separate things. Separating responsibilities from each other, separating thinking from doing, policy from exploitation, demand from supply, primary from supportive, line from staff, domain from domain, structure from structure, important from not important etc. It’s our natural way to handle ‘complex’ themes. But if you look at these themes from holistic viewpoint, you see right away that it would be better if they were not separated but integrated.
What’s wrong with starting integrated thinking? Integrating thinking and doing on all levels, integrating policy development with policy exploitation so that the policy executor and policy developer together see how it works, integrating demand and supply so that the chain is really working, integrating primary and supportive processes because they really belong to each other etc. Integrating responsibilities: what do you thing would happen to the two people in the boat cartoon if their responsibility thinking was integrated and note separated? And finally: integrate important and not important so that everything becomes equally valued and thus equally important, no matter how small or meaningless it might seem at first sight. Happy Integration-thinking Hunting!
People Collect Things. It’s probably some kind of survival thing we all know how to use intuitively. When we are young, we collect things into collections, for example pins, buttons, postal stamps, strips, toys, dolls etc. When we grow up, we start collecting knowledge at school. And as soon as we start earning money, we start collecting money. Because money can increase our status or power, it stimulates a new driving force coming into place: greed. And as we further grow and mature and Maslov gets us higher on the ladder, we like to collect Power or Status. And it drives us to claim ownership of concepts that were previously distributed. We do this because it gives us status and statue and makes us more important. So our intuitively driven collect anger helps us shape society the way it is and repeat history over and over again. And even if we are aware that this collect anger helps driving less desired societal values, we often don’t really don’t know how to change this or are afraid to. So instead of stimulating more higher or spiritually aimed goals such as sharing and integrating concepts, it drives things the other way around. It’s a kind of divide and conquer strategy, aimed more at separating than at integrating concepts. What can we do about it? Maybe the transformation principles of the book Spiritual Value of Danah Zohar might come to help. Here’s my interpretation how to: start by examining our (often) deeply buried driving forces, confirm they are there and commit yourself to try to change them. This approach could make our world probably a much better place to live in. And even if this approach will let us encounter common barriers like fear, doubt or apathy, there’s still hope. We can transform our driving forces if we want to. The ingredients to use are simple and easy to accomplish. Our most common driving forces can be transformed if we are willing. For example, apathy can be replaced with an appeal to examine or face our driving forces. Doubt can be replaced with dualistic viewpoints: respect the old and respect the new view on the world. Fear can be replaced with respect, love, stimulation of a learning culture etc. Greed, egoism (collect anger) can be replaced with a shared vision of societal values. Anger, despair or frustration can be replaced with holistic viewpoints. And finally status and power can be replaced with humility. By transforming they turn into new, higher value driving forces. For example by transforming fear with love, the new driving force becomes mastery, and who wouldn’t want that? So what is your opinion: could this approach work?
Chances are big that the figure here to the left looks familiar to you. That is because many organizations use this model as a reference model to organize their workload. It’s a divide and conquer type strategy, based on the premisse that people who’s type of work “seem” to have nothing to do with eachother are separated. Besides dividing work in “silos” the knowledge sharing is (sometimes deliberately) minimized. After all, why should you share knowledge if it’s not “your” business? Allthough the model has brought our society many good things, it didn’t really put people first and was aimed at wiring in efficient processes. And it didn’t help us prevent all the crises we’re in. But why not take a chance now to offer a new fresh look at organizing work? It couldn’t hurt I think. Maybe we’re now up to exchanging the dominant Tayloristic “taylor-made” management style of the previous era with a new “tailor-made” style that is focussed more on organizing and integrating. Instead of the more traditional managing and separating. What do you think, could it work?
We all know that planning fails when the complexity of the problem exceeds the capacity of the planners to reason about it. So the natural tendency is to fight the complexity so we don’t have to deal with it. This tendency is sometimes induced by fear: fear of not being able to oversee or handle the complexity. This fear has leds us to develop techniques that are commonly used to fight complexity. Think of techniques such as Isolation, Separation, Centralisation and Integration. And we are accustomed to use these techniques both in organizational design patterns (social complexity) as well as in technological design patterns (technological complexity). Isolation is a technique often seen in projects. We isolate the problem as much as possible so we don’t have to deal with complexity of the “whole”. This is one the reasons many projects fail. We use separation techniques when we organize something into domains or hierarchies. This is in fact a variant of Isolation. By separating into domains, departments, groups, teams, disciplines etc. we hope to have distributed the total complexity. We all know that in practice this leads to suboptimization. And then there is centralisation. By centralizing things they have to become standardized more or less. This is the payoff we need to get rid of the distributed complexity that was there before the centralisation. But we didn’t really reduce the total complexity with this technique. We just distributed it in another way. The total complexity is still there and pops out now in other areas. And finally, there is integration. We leave things as they are and fight the (coordination) complexity with integration techniques. This leads however to another type of distribution of complexity: we moved it into the integration domain. But it is still there. Now let’s take a look at examples where highly complex “systems” are handled without any major problems. Inspired by nature we see that a flock of birds is self organizing around a few very simple principles. 1: All birds must know the same principles. 2: a bird must control the distance to it’s direct neighbors (not too close, not to far). 3: a bird must match it’s own speed with that of it’s direct neighbors. So by having a few very simple principles, you can make an endlessly huge (or small) flock of birds act all in the same way. You can let them follow any goal or direction. (only one leader who gives the direction would be sufficient). These principles of nature have more or less been copied into the design of the Internet. It operates autonomously. Compared to the flock of birds principes you could say: 1: All routers must know the same routing algorithm. 2: All routers must be able to calculate the distance to their direct neighboring routers, more isn’t needed. 3: All routers must know how many hops to make to get a message to the endpoint. You can find more on the Internet design in network topologies designed by Paul Baran†
Now what would happen if we organized work that needs synergy according to similar principles? Let’s give it a try: Principle 1: All workers must know the shared principles (we must therefore have a shared language, that’s one of the most crucial things to centralize!). 2: All workers must know the direction their direct neighbors wants to go to (nothing more, nothing less, so if you design this clever, you also solve information overload or information underload). 3: All workers must know the innovation or change speed of their direct neighbors. That’s about it. No more control needed (at least, theoretically). Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Maybe it is just that simple. Or to quote K.A. Richardson: “Each element in the system is ignorant of the behavior of the system as a whole (this implies we have to trust each other that the total job gets done partly by others). […] If each element ‘knew’ what was happening to the system as a whole, all of the complexity would have to be present in that element” (this implies workers do not need to know the total complexity but only that of their direct neighboorhood). Now how does this match to architecture deisgn? I promote that architects design distributed architectures where possible because that makes the total architecture a lot simpler. And only centralize parts for which no good alternative exists. This approach would prevent that we have to fall back on other techniques like isolation, separation, centralisation. Good luck if you want to experiment with it! Please let me know if it worked for you!
I often wonder why it seems so difficult for society to integrate value added activities in such a way that they benefit society as a whole. And that we could collectively and proudly say we have together achieved a synergetic beauty. Just in the same way like Carlotti (famous Italian painter) meant it originally: beauty is when all parts are working together in such a way that nothing needs to be added, altered or taken away. But instead of this we often see separation where integration could have been beneficial, or integration where separation would have been more beneficial. Maybe this is the way we are used to handle integration and separation. The way it often seems is that we use separation to handle “separation of concerns” and integration to handle “integration of contexts”. Wy not do it the other way around? Separation only to separate contexts and integration only to integrate concerns. How would our world look if we tried this more and more?