Saturday, August 17, 2013

Hierarchies generate lemmings of conformity not oceans of ingenuity, creativity and independence

Although this space has been dedicated, recently, to the notion that hierarchical institutions require transformation into more "flat" organizations in which project teams of peers lead, monitor, coach, mentor, cajole and even if needed 'discipline' one another, the reasons for such transformations may not be as evident, given the consensual conventionality of top-down organizations, based on the military model.
When one person (historically most often a male) is "in charge" then all who serve under that command serve also to preserve, protect and defend that "alpha" character at the top, as a stated, or perhaps understood, yet intimate clause, in the job description of all "on the team". Should there be disagreements between team members and the "policy" that directs the team, as in a parliamentary government dependent on "cabinet solidarity", then the individual who does not agree must adopt a position that publicly supports the "policy" decision advocated by the "general" or withdraw, not merely recuse him or herself from that issue, but remove himself (or be removed) from the organization. All discussion, debate and counter-arguments to the position decided by the 'leader' stops once that leader has announced the policy decision for which his term and team takes responsibility, including bricks, bouquets and apathy or disinterest if that ensues.
Action, efficiency, and the exercise of clear lines of both responsibility and authority are at the heart of this method. The method is best suited to situations in which there are clear battle lines of "insiders" and opponents. Trust is the glue that holds the hierarchical order together, and the measurement of the effectiveness of that order is measured in terms of public support in opinion polls, or in sales of the products produced, or in investor shares purchased....some objective index, or even indices to which both supporters and opponents can point to demonstrate their own point of view, in the eternal public discourse, whether inside the organization or both inside and outside.
In war, strategy is determined by those at the top, vetted and signed off by the commander. Tactics are worked out by those "under" the command of those at the top. Execution is carried out by the "drones" at the  bottom of the hierarchical ladder of authority. Proof of loyalty, discipline and trust-worthiness comes only after one has served "one's time" and "earned one's stripes" through a protracted duration of servitude in the lower ranks, gaining the notice of the immediate superior, securing promotion, and the process continues until one has reached the level of both his/her aspiration and the acceptance of the "organization" of his/her mettle.
Sometimes, that progression up the ranks is dependent on providing special service to the one in charge, sometime inside and sometimes outside the clear lines of responsibility of the serving officer. Sometimes, one might achieve promotion through outstanding contribution, valour in war, imagination and creativity in performance of one's duties, design of new approaches to training or implementation of budgetary restrictions, savings to the unit's operating costs or the like.
Within the lines of both politically acceptable, as well as culturally normalized behaviour, should one require proof of growing trustworthiness, from those in charge, one finds expression of the kind of messages that will "impress" those who make 'personnel recommendations' for promotion.
Often, in any complex organization, where the appropriate balance of the achievement of requisite goals and the ethical measures required to implement those objectives, there will be inevitable conflict. And too often, in a culture built on the premise of action, deliverables, efficiencies, and measureable outcomes, the time and opportunities to "get down and dirty" about such disputes is considered wasted time, wasted resources, and wasted energy. It is therefore well know, too often, that to protest a pattern of decisions 'coming down' from above with which one strongly disagrees is useless, or perhaps worse, counter-intuitive to one's political career in the organization.
Having served in organizations that require, indeed expect, absolute loyalty to the 'chief' I have come to the view that such service is counter-intuitive to one's personal, emotional intellectual and ethical health.
Mummies were bound in Egypt in their tombs; soldiers have been bound in their uniforms, and in the discipline of the order of their personal space, and their personal attire, and in their personal vocabulary when on duty for centuries. In fact without such "binding" wars would be impossible.
While there is, of course, a need for an organization to restring from becoming a replica of a poetry-writing workshop in which each participant writes in a genre, a meter, a rhythm and a series of poetic devices unique to his/her expression, the dependence on the dominance/inferiority meme/theme/archetype of power renders too much of human working activity numbing, boring, depressing and sacrificial  both of the resources wasted in the conduct of these processes and in the outcomes, too many of which serve to pad the resume of the people in power at the expense of those who have compromised their values in order to 'fit in' with the culture and to preserve their jobs, their incomes, the needs of their children, and their social status.
Nevertheless, when are some legitimate social science researchers going to find funding for  detailed research projects that demonstrate the human cost of preserving, maintaining and even perpetuating this model of human organization, in the face of exponentially rising health costs, loss of worker safety and rights, loss of respect for the millions of drones at the bottom of all organizations and the societal breakdown resulting from the kinds of self-serving decisions made at the top, without due regard to the implications for the millions dependent on those decisions.
If we let the few "chiefs" take over the hen-house, as it appears we have already done, then who is going to protect the hens, preserve their capacity to lay the eggs on which the farm depends, and share the proceed of the sale of those eggs among both hens and chicken farmers?
We need schools to teach opposition to the authority that is being abused among the students, among the teachers and among the parents whose jobs, incomes, security and health are being eroded by the few "chiefs" with money, power and the authority to impose their will on the rest of us.
We need universities to offer courses in social disobedience, in social disruption, in social confrontation, to prevent the complete erosion of the access to clear water, for example, by the oil and gas companies through fracking.
We need journalism schools to teach their undergraduates the skills of bringing questions that get under the skin of the powerful, through being so prepared and so courageous and so determined and so independent that their first loyalty is not to their publishers but to their editors and their readers.
We need law schools to offer courses in pro bono engagement in public causes, both the rewards and the costs, the dangers and the protections for such efforts. In fact we need law schools that specialize in turning out lawyers committed to the public good, ahead of their personal economic and political benefit.
And we need faculties of education to start teaching their undergraduate students about the public need for their independence, the public need for them to speak up at faculty meetings in which such pablum as "more technology in all courses" is served by principals seeking to become superintendents to their captive audience of instructors and ask the motive and purpose of such directives.

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