Newtonian science, along with the machine metaphor to which it gave rise, was the father of those concepts. It has dominated the whole of society and the mass of our thinking for more than two centuries to an extent none of us fully realizes. It declared that the universe and everything in it, whether physical, biological, or social can best be understood as a clock-like mechanism composed of separate parts acting upon one another with precise, linear laws of cause and effect. We have since structured society in accordance with that perspective, believing that with ever more reductionist scientific knowledge, more efficiency, more hierarchical command and control, we could pull a lever at one place and get a precise result at another, and know with certainty which lever to pull for which result; never mind that human beings must be made to perform like cogs and wheels in the process. For two centuries, we have been designing and pulling those levers, all the while hammering people to behave in the compliant, subordinate manner one expects from a well-trained horse. Rarely have we gotten the expected result.
Just as Newtonian science was the father of today’s organizational concepts, the Industrial Age was the mother. Together, they dominated the evolution of all institutions. The unique, variable, individual processes by which products and services had been handcrafted were abandoned in favor of vertical, hierarchical organizations which, in order to produce huge quantities of uniform products, services, knowledge, and people, centralized authority, routinized practices, enforced conformity, and amassed resources. This created a class of managers and professionals expert at reducing variability to uniform, repetitive, assembly line processes endlessly repeated with ever-increasing efficiency. Thus, the Industrial Age became the age of managers.
It also became the age of the physical scientist, whose primary function was to reduce diverse ways of understanding to uniform, repetitive, laboratory processes endlessly repeated with ever-increasing precision. In time, the university obtained a virtual monopoly on the production of both classes. This has led to one of those immense paradoxes of which the universe is so infinitely capable, which is having profound societal effect. The higher levels of all forms of organization, whether commercial, political, or social, now form an interchangeable, cognitive elite interwoven into a mutually supportive complex with immense
Self-interest in preservation of existing hierarchical form of organization and the ever-increasing concentration of power and wealth they bring. At the same time, that same complex is spawning an incredible array of scientific and technological innovation, immense engines of social change, which, in turn, demand radically different concepts of organization in which power and wealth are more widely distributed and more commonly shared. Thus, we are “hoist by our own petard.”
The essential thing to remember however, is not that we became a world of expert managers, but that the nature of our expertise became the creation and control of constants, uniformity, and efficiency, while our need has now become the understanding and coordination of variability, complexity, and effectiveness.
The Sheep’s incessant questions and sixteen-year guerrilla war led to several convictions:
First: The greatest danger to people and civilization was not the hydrogen bomb or degradation of the environment, but greater and greater concentration of power and wealth in fewer and fewer hands.
Second: The real consequence of emerging science and technology was not gadgets, whether hydrogen bombs or silicon chips, but radical, social change: ever-increasing diversity and complexity in the way people live and work. Which, in turn, demands radical organizational change.
Third: Industrial Age, hierarchical command-and-control pyramids of power, whether political, social, educational, or commercial, were aberrations of the Industrial Age, antithetical to the human spirit, destructive of the biosphere, and structurally contrary to the whole history and methods of physical and biological evolution. They were not only archaic and increasingly irrelevant, they were a public menace.
Fourth: Just as the human body is organized around a neural network, so complex as to defy description, so too were electronic communication systems emerging and interconnecting into an equally complex economic and social network around which institutions and society would be forced to reorganize.
Fifth: The so-called Information Age could best be understood as the Age of Mindcrafting, since information is nothing but the raw material of that incredible chaord we call mind and the pseudo-mind we call computer. Software, the tool with which we shape and manage that information, is purely a product of the mind.
Sixth: The most abundant, least expensive, most underutilized and frequently abused resource in the world was human ingenuity; the source of that abuse was archaic, Industrial Age institutions and the management practices they spawned.
The Sheep argued his convictions at every opportunity. Those who would listen smiled and yawned. Along the way, he swore a thousand oaths that were he ever to create an organization, things would be different. Since that possibility seemed remote, the Sheep decided to engage in that popular American pastime, retirement on the job, selecting as victim a bank where a modest living could be had at the cost of a pleasant demeanor, conformity, and a fraction of one’s ability and effort. It was not to be. Within the year, the bank took a credit card franchise from Bank of America and the Sheep was driven into management of the program — thus my presence at the meeting and appointment to the committee.
I thought the committee an exercise in futility and privately said as much to the BofA representatives, suggesting, instead, that the committee consider the sole question of how to create an orderly method of addressing all problems. They agreed, but concerned that the proposal might be suspect if advanced by them, insisted I put it before the meeting. The audience readily assented, in the way of all disorganized groups faced with a proposal creating the illusion of progress but requiring no money or effort. The meeting disbanded, the committee met, and I was elbowed into the chair, with no intent but to do a bit of civic duty.