Kategoriarkiv: Articles

Is sociocracy agile?

Decision Making Systems Matter is an interesting article by Pieter van der Meché, Jens Coldewey, and Hendrik Esser, with Anders Ivarsson as additional contributor. The article is funded by the Agile Alliance and is a Supporting Agile Adoption publication. The authors describe how combining ”Agile with ideas from Sociocracy provides … a way to create alignment between Agile ecosystems and the business needs of strong leadership and a clear hierarchy”.1 The article gives excellent insights into sociocracy and is well worth reading! Pieter van der Meché has over 20 years of experience in sociocracy.2

Pictures from the article (from left to right): Pieter van der Meché, Jens Coldewey, and Hendrik Esser.

The assumptions in the article are 1) that ”a clear hierarchy and strong leadership” are required to achieve ”speed and control (coordination)” and 2) that ”policies … ensure alignment”.3 My question is whether ”strong hierarchical leadership and strong participatory [policy] decision making”4 contributes to agility? It’s possible, of course, that agreements on policies — which are defined as ”general agreements on the what, when, how and who”5 — can increase the speed. But a strong focus on policies can also become rigid. It’s as if sociocracy, for the sake of control, values policies and following a plan — the ”what, when, how, and who” — over responding to change.6

While a sociocratic organization certainly values individuals and interactions, it’s also policy-driven, which easily leads to a focus on process-discipline.7 Sociocratic leadership is furthermore ”conductor-like”.8 The idea is that you as the leader should coordinate (control) your team like ”a conductor of an orchestra”.9 It’s self-evident that you as a strong hierarchical leader value control over participation. What if the team can coordinate itself? (Here is an example of collaborative leadership in a conductorless orchestra.) And what if the challenge isn’t primarily to ensure ”alignment throughout the hierarchy”10 but to nurture collaboration throughout the organization?11

So, is sociocracy agile? I’d say no. It depends, of course, on what you mean by agile. My impression is that sociocracy values policies and control over people and collaboration. While there is value in the latter, sociocracy values the first more.12And, yes, decision making systems matter! But why limit participatory decision making to policy decisions only?13 It’s as if sociocracy doesn’t take the full consequences of participatory decision making.

1 Pieter van der Meché, Jens Coldewey, Hendrik Esser, and Anders Ivarsson (contributor), Decision Making Systems Matter (The Agile Alliance, 2016), p. 1 (accessed 2016-07-20).
2 Ibid., p. 14.
3 Ibid., p. 7.
4 Ibid..
5 Ibid..
6 Agile values ”responding to change over following a plan”. See the Agile Manifesto. There are similarities between sociocratic policies (what, when, how and who) and plans.
7 Agile also values ”Individuals and interactions over processes and tools”. See the Agile Manifesto. The focus on policies easily leads to a focus on process-discipline, i.e., define the policies and processes (albeit in a participatory way!) and make sure people follow them.
8 Pieter van der Meché, Jens Coldewey, Hendrik Esser, and Anders Ivarsson (contributor), Decision Making Systems Matter (The Agile Alliance, 2016), p. 8 (accessed 2016-07-20).
9 Ibid..
10 Ibid., p. 10.
11 It’s an Agile principle that business people and development teams must work together daily. See the Principles behind the Agile Manifesto.
12 This is a paraphrase of the Agile Manifesto. The crucial question here is which values are given precedence over others.
13 Elections of people to roles and responsibilities are allocations of resources and thus policy decisions. See The three principles in Sociocracy, Wikipedia (accessed 2016-08-02).

2016-07-24: Pictures of authors added. Questions added. Text and notes updated.
2016-07-26: Questions updated. Text updated. Related post added.
2016-08-01: Middle section split into two parts.
2016-08-02: Note added. Minor changes in the text.

Related posts:
Principles for collaborative leadership
Organizing in between and beyond posts

Jaron Lanier on cybernetic totalism

Jaron Lanier writes in One-Half of a Manifesto that the dogma he objects to ”is composed of a set of interlocking beliefs and doesn’t have a generally accepted overarching name as yet, though I sometimes call it ”cybernetic totalism.” It has the potential to transform human experience more powerfully than any prior ideology, religion, or political system ever has, partly because it can be so pleasing to the mind, at least initially, but mostly because it gets a free ride on the overwhelmingly powerful technologies that happen to be created by people who are, to a large degree, true believers.” These are the interlocking beliefs of ”cybernetic totalism”:

  1. Cybernetic patterns of information provide the ultimate and best way to understand reality.
  2. People are no more than cybernetic patterns.
  3. Subjective experience either doesn’t exist, or is unimportant.
  4. Darwinian like evolution is believed to be the singular, superior description of all creativity and culture.
  5. Qualitative as well as quantitative aspects of information systems are expected to be inexorably accelerated by Moore’s law.
  6. Biology and physics will merge with computer science. When that happens it will be either impossible or something very different to be a human. If that happens, the ideology of cybernetic totalists could cause suffering for millions of people.

Cybernetics is a poor metaphor for living systems

Here is how Elisabet Sahtouris defines ecosophy and why she thinks that cybernetics is a poor metaphor for living systems:

… I give the word ‘ecosophy’ (oikos + sophia = oikosophia) the meaning it would have had in ancient Greece, had it come into use there:

Ecosophy: wisely run household of human affairs
or, even more simply:
Wise Society 1

Cybernetics is an advanced form of mechanism, but it is still [a] mechanism, which I consider a poor metaphor for any living system – a metaphor missing the system’s very essence.

… elites have learned to control society by deliberately working to construct society itself as machinery, and teach people that it is machinery… That does not mean that psyche, society and nature are machinery!

… it is not possible from my perspective to promote an ecosophy in terms of cybernetic mechanics.

… Mechanism and organism are created and function by completely different kinds of logic. 2

1 Elisabet Sathouris, Ecosophy: Nature’s Guide to a Better World, Kosmos Journal, Summer 2014 (accessed 26 April 2016).
2 Ibid..

Related post:
Metaphors both reflect and influence our thinking

Alfie Kohn on love, motivation, and self-esteem

Alfie Kohn is the author of Punished by Rewards, which is a book about the damaging effects of rewards. Here are his thoughts on motivation, love, and self-esteem (my emphasis in bold):

When we deal with people who have less power than we do, we’re often tempted to offer them rewards for acting the way we want because we figure this will increase their level of motivation to do so. … Unfortunately, it isn’t. … What matters is whether one is intrinsically motivated to engage in an activity (which means one finds it valuable or satisfying in its own right) or extrinsically motivated (which means that doing it produces a result outside of the task, such as a reward). 1

Let’s consider a very different example of the same general principle. … the relevant question isn’t just whether, or even how much, we love our kids. It also matters how we love them. … I tend to focus on the distinction between loving kids for what they do and loving them for who they are. The first kind is conditional … The second kind of love is unconditional … 2

When adults control children, they end up promoting an introjected style that often results in learning that’s rigid, superficial, and ultimately less successful. … On the outside they look like admirably dedicated students, but they may have mortgaged their present lives to the future: noses to the grindstone, perseverant to a fault, stressed to the max. … Such students may be skilled test-takers and grade grubbers and gratification delayers, but they’re often motivated by a perpetual need to feel better about themselves … Their motivation is internal but it sure as hell isn’t intrinsic. And that key distinction would go unnoticed if we had just asked whether they had internalized certain values rather than inquired about the nature of that internalization. 3

1 Alfie Kohn, Why Lots of Love (or Motivation) Isn’t Enough, 23 April 2016. (Accessed 26 April 2016)
2 Ibid..
3 Ibid..

Carol Black on the wildness of children

Carol Black writes the following in On the Wildness of Children (my emphasis in bold):

When we first take children from the world and put them in an institution, they cry. … But gradually, over the many years of confinement, they adjust.

The same people who do not see themselves as “above” nature but as within it, tend not to see themselves as “above” children but alongside them. They see no hard line between work and play, between teacher and student, between learning and life. It is a possibility worth considering that this is more than coincidence.

The underlying belief that somebody always has to be in charge is stubbornly persistent, woven into our thinking at a very deep level. There always has to be a subject and an object, a master and a slave. We have forgotten how to live and let live.

Control is always so seductive, at least to the ”developed” (”civilized”) mind. It seems so satisfying, so efficient, so effective, so potent. In the short run, in some ways, it is. But it creates a thousand kinds of blowback, from depressed rebellious children to storms surging over our coastlines to guns and bombs exploding in cities around the world.

— Carol Black1

1 Carol Black, On The Wildness of Children, April 2016. (Accessed 24 April 2016)

Beth Tener on working together

If you want to arrive at a shared vision and a plan that integrates and builds on the breadth and depth of expertise and perspectives of the group, it has to be developed together. The challenge is that in order to get to that, there is a time early on where you have to bring everyone together without a clear vision or clear plan. But wow, is this territory uncomfortable for people! 1

For collaboration to work, one has to be willing to enter uncomfortable territory of not having the answer. People can feel it when they are asked to collaborate but the plans and answers are already determined. … Real collaboration enables us to develop ideas and solutions that could only emerge from this combination of people thinking and working together. … We need to make sense of the landscape and needs, drawing on as many perspectives as we can, and then create and try various actions, learning and reflecting as we go. 2

Here are some of the ways how to work in this uncomfortable territory of not having a clear answer or plan:
• Name the discomfort
• See it as ‘iterative design’
• Frame strategic questions
• Appreciate the value of the mystery
• Cultivate patience
• Meditate
• Orient people to working in this different way 3

2 Ibid., PART 2, 7 April 2016. (Accessed 16 April 2016)
3 Ibid., PART 3, 11 April 2016. (Accessed 16 April 2016)

George Monbiot on destroying autonomy

The workplace has been overwhelmed by a mad, Kafkaesque infrastructure of assessments, monitoring, measuring, surveillance and audits, centrally directed and rigidly planned, whose purpose is to reward the winners and punish the losers. It destroys autonomy, enterprise, innovation and loyalty, and breeds frustration, envy and fear. 1
— George Monbiot

1 Sick of this market-driven world? You should be by George Monbiot, 5 August 2014. (Accessed 16 April 2016)

Holding space

Heather Plett writes here what it means to ”hold space” for people, and how to do it well. It’s something all of us can do for each other. She writes (my emphasis in bold).

”[Holding space] means that we are willing to walk alongside another person in whatever journey they’re on without judging them, making them feel inadequate, trying to fix them, or trying to impact the outcome. When we hold space for other people, we open our hearts, offer unconditional support, and let go of judgement and control.” 1

”To truly support people in their own growth, transformation, grief, etc., we can’t do it by taking their power away (ie. trying to fix their problems), shaming them (ie. implying that they should know more than they do), or overwhelming them (ie. giving them more information than they’re ready for). We have to be prepared to step to the side so that they can make their own choices, offer them unconditional love and support, give gentle guidance when it’s needed, and make them feel safe even when they make mistakes.” 2

1 Heather Plett, What it means to “hold space” for people, plus eight tips on how to do it well, 11 March 2015. (Accessed 19 March 2015)
2 Ibid..

Bonnitta Roy on an open architecture for self-organization

Bonnitta Roy describes in An Open Architecture for Self-Organization how to ”to distribute management responsibilities into self-organizing teams, without losing strategic performance”. She calls this ”The Open Participatory Organization”, or OPO for short. The governance of an OPO is CriSP, or ”continually regenerating it’s starting position”. This means that the form of the organization ”takes on the shape that best fits the current conditions and contexts”.

The OPO is built on ”locations”, which are occupied by teams. Locations ”co-evolve with the teams and people that occupy them”. The locations are ”performance-objective-value” zones, where:

  • The performance ”is an emergent outcome of the collaborative interaction of its members”.
  • The objectives ”emerge from the role-identities of its members”.
  • The values ”are an emergent outcome of the intentional-motivational states of the members”.

Bonnitta Roy distinguishes between two types of ”performance-objective-value” zones, core and network.

  • All ”key operations of the company” take place in the core zones. The core zones are ”where the value of the company is generated”.
  • All other operations that are ”necessary and sufficient for the company to sustain itself, develop, improve, and thrive” take place in the network zones.  The network zones are ”responsible for the exchange of resources in the organization”. Network zones are delineated into four major classifications: ”Access, Adaptation, Support and Incubation”.

Locations exist at different scales in the organization:

  • Organization, e.g., ”Vision, Mission and Values”.
  • Core & Network Zones, where each zone has a ”performance-objective-value” set that is common to all teams in the zone.
  • Teams, where each team has its own ”performance-objective-value” set.
  • Individuals, where each team member specifies their individual ”performance-objective-value” set.

The OPO distributes ”disciplinary power throught the network through a participatory governance”. Strategic choices are based on ”involved participation with what is actually the case, not on conversations limited to official scripts … and irrelevant abstractions”.

Related post:
Bonnitta Roy on how self-organization happens

Self-driving cars are involved in twice as many accidents

Self-driving cars are involved in twice as many accidents as ordinary cars1 because they always obey the law. People just don’t expect anyone to actually follow all rules without exception.2

1 Brandon Schoettle & Michael Sivak, A Preliminary Analysis of Real-World Crashes Involving
Self-Driving Vehicles, The University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, October 2015.
2 Humans Are Slamming Into Driverless Cars and Exposing a Key Flaw, BloombergBusiness, December 18, 2015.


Indaba” (pronounced IN-DAR-BAH), comes from the Zulu and Xhosa people of southern Africa, and is used to simplify discussions between many parties.

When things got tricky at the climate-change summit in Paris, indabas where held at all hours of the day. An indaba is designed to allow each part to speak personally and state their thresholds, while also suggesting solutions to find a common ground.

This Quartz article describes indabas as a way to reach consensus, but to me it sounds more like consent.

See also indaba on Wikipedia.

Upplösningen av mänskliga värden leder till förintelse

Maciej Zaremba recenserar Timothy Snyders nya bok Black earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning i DN 2015-11-23 och ser spår som leder till idag. Maciej Zaremba skriver:

Timothy Snyder börjar med upphovet. Han gör en nyläsning av ”Mein Kampf” som får mig att inse att jag, som de flesta, måste ha förträngt det mest radikala i Hitlers tankevärld.

Historien hade nog tagit en annan vändning om omvärlden tog Hitler på orden. Det gjorde man inte förrän det var för sent.

Det var inte i första hand lojaliteter, fördomar eller ismer som gjorde landmassan mellan Tallinn och Karpaterna till Förintelsens övningsfält. Det var tvärtom upplösningen av alla lojaliteter och mänskliga band.

Det mest skrämmande med Snyders bok är dess aktualitet. Ledarna för Daish (Islamiska staten) menar vad de säger: att för den sanna lärans skull måste vi otrogna dödas eller skrämmas till underkastelse. … Det är samma mål som Adolf Hitlers, om än med andra förtecken.

Maciej Zaremba avslutar recensionen med:

Detta är nog den viktigaste av Timothy Snyders lärdomar: Enskilda människor behöver inte omfatta mordiska trossatser eller ens hata sina offer för att delta i massaker. Det räcker att alla de andra trossatserna, som kunnat hindra henne, begravts under ruinerna av samhälle och stat.

The Tyranny of Structurelessness

Jo Freeman’s essay on The Tyranny of Structurelessness is about the tyranny of ”elites”, where an ”elite” is defined as ”a small group of people who have power over a larger group of which they are part”. The problem with these ”elites” is that they don’t have ”direct responsibility to that larger group, and often without their knowledge or consent”. The conclusion then is that these ”elites” should ”at least [be] responsible to the group at large”. This means, for example, that the ”rules of decision-making must be open and available to everyone”. The assumption is that a ”formal structure” can ”hinder the informal structure from having predominant control”. I’m not so sure! I don’t think formal structures help if all people care about are their own ”elitist” interests. I think the cognitive model of human beings as rule-followers is inadequate.

EU:s miljödiesel finns inte på riktigt

Susanna Baltscheffsky, chefredaktör för NyTeknik, skriver i sin LEDARE 2015-10-07 att EU:s miljödiesel inte finns på riktigt. Hon skriver: ”Man baxnar över att utsläppen tillåts vara mycket större i verligheten än vad testvärdena i labbet visar”. Ja, verkligen! Detta är ett exempel på att regelverk och certifiering inte spelar så stor roll om man egentligen inte bryr sig så mycket om syftet. Problemet är nämligen att man måste välja om man vill optimera för snålhet eller renhet. När allt kommer omkring är det pengar som räknas. Nu är det upp till bevis. Regelverket och kontrollsystemet kommer med all säkerhet att stramas upp. Frågan är ytterst om man verkligen bryr sig om miljön – på riktigt!

Lika men ändå olika

Referens: Ny Teknik, 2015-09-09, Nr 37.

Att vi människor är lika, men ändå olika, vet vi ju. Detsamma gäller för alla levande varelser. Nu finns bevis att även nanopartiklar är unika! Ulla Karlsson-Ottososon skriver i Ny Teknik, 2015-09-09, att Christopher Langhammer och hans forskargrupp på Chalmers har upptäckt ”att nanopartiklar har olika egenskaper, trots att de ser likadana ut för ögat”. Att mäta vad som händer i en nanopartikel är en prestation i sig. Forskarnas resultat har publicerats i tidskriften Nature Materials.

Närhet ger bäst vila för våra hjärnor

Agneta Lagercrantz skriver i SvD 2015-09-15 att närhet ger bäst vila för våra hjärnor. Tillsammans med våra allra närmaste sjunker nämligen stresspåslagen i hjärnan helt. Mänsklig gemenskap signalerar till hjärnan att den kan vila. Social närhet påverkar våra känslor, och våra känslor påverkar hjärnans aktiviteter. Till exempel beror kollektiv intelligens, förmågan till problemlösning i grupp, på hur bra varje gruppmedlem är på att läsa av ansiktsuttryck hos varandra.

What if control is inappropriate?

My conclusion after having read Brian Robertson’s new book on Holacracy and Gerard Endenburg’s first book on Sociocracy is that neither Holacracy nor Sociocracy replace Command & Control (C&C). Both use C&C within limits.

This triggered feedback from Holacracy people that the Lead Link Role doesn’t manage day-to-day work and doesn’t manage others, but that there is definitely control in Holacracy. All Roles ”have the authority to control and regulate” their own Domains (Holacracy Constitution v4.1, 1.4 Authority Over Domains). There is definitely control in Sociocracy too.

My follow-up question is: What if control in itself is inappropriate?

Here is an interesting article on The ”Command and Control” Military Gets Agile by Daniel Mezick, which contains references to writers within the military who challenge control themselves. Key points are that complex situations cannot be controlled, and control is in fact an emergent property, not an option to be selected. Here are a few quotes:

The word “control” is inappropriate … because it sends the wrong message. It implies that complex situations can be controlled, with the implication that there is the possibility of an engineering type solution. … But this is a dangerous oversimplification. The best that one can do is to create a set of conditions that improves the probability that a desirable (rather than an undesirable) outcome will occur and to change the conditions when what is expected is not occurring. Control is in fact an emergent property, not an option to be selected. … The argument that … commanders in the military or… management in industry do not have control creates cognitive dissonance. Nevertheless, this is undoubtedly the case. The widespread belief that we have control is merely an illusion, and a dangerous one at that. The literature on complex adaptive systems explains why the notion of control as a verb is misguided.1

…any Complex Adaptive System…cannot be controlled or ruled: a CAS will simply find ways of working around the rules if the context in which it formed remains viable. … The basis of these … systems of working … are based upon very simple trusts — not rules …
Essentially, the tension is … between trusts and rules.

Attempts to control complex systems … tend to be pointless at best or destructive at worst.3

And here are quotes from some non-military references:

For life, where freedom of choice in acting exists, control and prediction is impossible, attempts to control are destructive to life and lead to chaos. If we examine the causes of our failing institutions, it is easy to show that attempts to control them, violating normal processes of life, makes them fail.4

We talk and write about leaders and managers being in control of organizations. In the reality of our experience, however, no one can control the interplay of intentions, because they cannot control what everyone else in every other organization is choosing and doing. Consequently, no one can choose or be in control of what happens.5

For nearly three centuries we have worked diligently to structure society in accordance with that concept, believing that with ever more reductionist scientific knowledge, ever more specialization, ever more technology, ever more efficiency, ever more linear education, ever more rules and regulations, ever more hierarchal command and control, we could learn to engineer organizations in which we could pull a lever at one place, get a precise result at another, and know with certainty which lever to pull or for which result. Never mind that human beings must be made to behave as cogs and wheels in the process.6

1 David S. Alberts, The International C2 Journal | Vol 1, No 1, 2007, pp. 15—16.
2 Simon Reay Atkinson & James Moffat, The Agile Organization: From Informal Networks to Complex Effects and Agility, pp. 5—6, 7.
3 Stanley McChrystal, Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World, (Penguin, 2015), p. 68.
4 Norm Hirst, Towards a Science of Life as Creative Organisms, (Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy, vol. 4, nos. 1-2, 2008), p. 93.
5 Ralph Stacey, Dialogic Organization Development: The Theory and Practice of Transformational Change / Gervase R. Bushe & Robert J. Marshak, editors, (Berett-Koehler, 2015), p. 153.
6 Dee Hock, One From Many: VISA and the Rise of Chaordic Organization, (Berrett-Koehler, 2005), p. 37

Related posts:
The big misconception in sociocracy
Dee Hock on control
Harrison Owen on control
Fritz Perls on control
The phenomenology of sociocracy
Traditional vs. Sociocratic vs. Holacratic Command & Control
Holacracy vs. Sociocracy
Book Review: Holacracy by Brian Robertson
Book Review: Sociocracy by Gerard Endenburg
The phenomenology of sociocracy
Machines are allonomic, living organisms are autonomic
Autognomics: Radical Self-Knowing
Self-organization is the real operating system
Emergence is simply what life does
Empowerment is a red herring
Pre-conditions for self-organization
What if the organization is a living system?
Carl Rogers on person-centered leadership

Quantum Jazz

Mae-Wan Ho writes in her article Quantum Jazz, The Tao of Biology that we are all quantum jazz players, dancing life into being. We are creating and recreating ourselves afresh with each passing moment. There is an incredible hive of activities from the very fast to the very slow, the local to global, all perfectly coupled together, so perfect that each activity appears to be operating as freely and spontaneously as the whole.

Sociokrati är som permakultur, fast för människor

Anna Maris har skrivit en trevlig artikel om ”Permakultur för organisationer” i Fria Tidningar. Precis som i permakultur handlar det om att hitta naturliga platser och förutsättningar för människor att arbeta tillsammans. En sådan grundläggande förutsättning, eller princip, i sociokrati är samtycke. Det innebär att sociokrati inte kräver ett ”ja”, utan ger möjlighet att säga ”nej.

Relaterade inlägg:
Holakrati, holokrati och sociokrati
Hur införa sociokrati i en organisation (del 1)?
Hur införa sociokrati i en organisation (del 2)?
Sociokrati är som permakultur, fast för människor
Sociokrati är som en skogsträdgård
Kurs i kväkarnas beslutsmetod, som sociokrati bygger på
En historisk tillbakablick på kväkarnas beslutsmetod
Sociokratibok: Idag publiceras boken
Några tankar om sociokrati
Min gästblogg på #skolvåren: Att organisera oss rätt

Creative forces of self-organization

After reading We the People: Consenting to a Deeper Democracy by John Buck and Sharon Villines, I have become very interested in sociocracy, a.k.a. dynamic governance. Gerard Endenburg, who started pioneering and applying dynamic governance, has recently written an interesting article about the Creative Forces of Self-Organization together with John Buck. In this article, they discuss the principles and some of the methods of sociocracy in detail. Below are a few quotes from the article:

…the self-organizing process spurs creative thinking and catalyzes new structures and ideas.

…to be self-organizing, a system must meet two conditions. First, the components of any self-organizing system must be equivalent, that is, not controlling each other. … Second, to be self-organizing, a system must have an external source of energy.

The three defining elements of dynamic governance [consent, circles, and double linking] create the conditions needed for self-organization to occur.

Only a dynamic governance structure, that is, one in which all the members are fundamentally equal, fundamentally not trapped in a boss-servant relationship, supports the natural phenomenon of self-organization.

Dynamic governance has considerable unexplored potential for many areas of human endeavor.