Dee Hock on control

Life is not about control. It’s not about getting. It’s not about having. It’s not about knowing. It’s not even about being. Life is eternal, perpetual becoming, or it is nothing. Becoming is not a thing to be known, commanded, or controlled. It is a magnificent, mysterious odyssey to be experienced.1

… I have long puzzled where mechanistic organizational concepts originated, and why we are so blind to their reality. Their genesis reaches back to Aristotle, Plato, and even beyond. However, it was primarily Newtonian science and Cartesian philosophy that fathered those concepts, giving rise to the machine metaphor. That metaphor has since dominated our thinking, the nature of our organizations, and the structure of industrial society to a degree few fully realize.2

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.3

The first and paramount responsibility of anyone who purports to manage is to manage self—one’s own integrity, character, ethics, knowledge, wisdom, temperament, words, and acts. It is a never-ending, difficult, oft-shunned task. The reason is not complicated. It is ignored precisely because it is incredibly more difficult than prescribing and controlling the behavior of others.4

Everyone is a born leader. Who can deny that from the moment of birth they were leading parents, siblings, and companions? Watch a baby cry and the parents jump. We were all leaders until we were sent to school to be commanded, controlled, and taught to do likewise.5

People are not “things” to be manipulated, labeled, boxed, bought and sold. Above all else, they are not “human resources.” We are entire human beings, containing the whole of the evolving universe. We must examine the concept of superior and subordinate with increasing skepticism. We must examine the concept of management and labor with new beliefs. We must examine the concept of leader and follower with new perspectives. Above all else, we must examine the nature of organizations that demand such distinctions with new consciousness.6

Only in a harmonious, oscillating dance of both competition and cooperation can the extremes of control and chaos be avoided and peaceful, constructive societal order be found.7

In organizations of the future, it will be much more important to have a clear sense of purpose and sound principles within which many specific, short-term objectives can be quickly achieved, than a long-range plan with fixed, measurable objectives. Such plans often lead to futile attempts to control events to make them fit the plan, rather than understanding events so as to advance by all means in the desired direction.8

In organizations of the future the centuries-old effort to eliminate judgment and intuition, art if you will, from the conduct of institutions will change. Organizations have too long aped the traditional mechanistic, military model wherein obedience to orders is paramount and individual behavior or independent thinking frowned upon, if not altogether forbidden. In organizations of the future it will be necessary to have people in every position capable of discernment, of making fine judgments and acting sensibly upon them. The industrial age trend toward stultifying, degrading, rote work that gradually reduces people to the compliant, subordinate behavior one expects from a well-trained horse will not continue.9

It extends far beyond a factory worker on an assembly line. Vast white-collar bureaucracies exist everywhere, with mountains of procedures manuals depressing minds, avalanches of directives burying judgment, forests of reports obscuring perception, floods of studies inundating initiative, oceans of committees submerging responsibility and drowning decisions. You know what I mean. You have endlessly suffered through it and, worse yet, may be inflicting it on others. It has created a society of people alienated from their work and from the organizations in which they are enmeshed. Far too much ingenuity, effort, and intelligence go into circumventing the mindless, sticky web of rules and regulations by which people are needlessly bound.10

Notes:
1 Dee Hock, One From Many: VISA and the Rise of Chaordic Organization, (Berrett-Koehler, 2005), p. 7.
2 Ibid., p. 37.
3 Ibid.
4 Ibid., p. 48.
5 Ibid., p. 55.
6 Ibid.
7 Ibid., p. 226.
8 Ibid.
9 Ibid., p. 227.
10 Ibid.

Related posts:
Dee Hock in his own words
Dee Hock on rules
Agile software development in the 1970s

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