Redeeming Anarchism

An anarch (Bob Black made the valid point that just as a monarch is the person and a monarchist the follower of the monarchy, so too an anarch is the person and and anarchist the follower of anarchy.

An anarchist is passive and may be violent.
An anarch owns it.
Own it.
That’s all I can say.

Start strong.
That’s the advice they give for new writers. So that’s what I’ll do.
Or have done.
You see what happened there? I injected an element of doubt.
Doubt is a form of unease and all you need to continue is curiosity and a vague sense of unease.
Two essential traits to combat the dominant paradigm (oh, what language we use) of the world today.
But I don’t want to deal with the world. I want to deal on the organisational level. And I want to show you how you can do that in your own time and in your own situation.
Now would be the time I am supposed to say, “But before I tell you about that, let me introduce myself”. I would then go on-and-on about what I have done before, how it led me to where I am now and generally bore you to tears. It may be interesting but probably not very helpful.

If you are an escapist, this is where we part company.
I choose not to work with people who don’t want to roll their sleeves up and try to fix what is wrong.
I choose not to work with people who prefer to look at the landscape, and move on.
I choose not to work with people whose idea of fixing something rests in a technology solution.

There is hope.
Not all, “I give up”s are giving up.
Many are, oh, that didn’t work or I can see how that wouldn’t work and trying to find another way.
It’s important because life happens and we need to move with it.
It’s also important that we stay the course.
With pauses for regrouping and reassessment.
A colleague wrote that if we can agree on the objective, we can debate the means.
That’s fine because that’s where the compromise rightly sits.
If you can’t compromise on the means.
You’re a zealot.
And zealots have no place here.

Fixing things means making things more human.
Not less.

There is a movement beginning.
Well, it has been around for a long time, actually.
In essence it says,
We must learn what it means to be human.
Truly human.
Here’s a perceptive take from the late 1800s.
While it is important to read this in the context in which it was written.
Nothing much has changed.

What is the “state” now?
That would be the enterprises that enable the technocratic stranglehold on the individual.
Any bureaucracy, in other words.
So let’s start there.
Right where you are.
A mid-level manager in a bureaucracy.
Unwittingly practising ddministrative evil.

A gorgeous term first coined by researchers who were studying the Final Solution.
They found that the further the decision maker was from the consequences of his or her decisions
The easier it was to make decisions we consider to be repugnant.
“Don’t make decisions about me, without me”
Is a useful antidote.

Jesse Dillard wrote a paper on the subject showing how ERP solutions do the same thing in our organisations.
You can find it here

Sumantra Ghoshal wrote a paper on Bad Management Theory and Good Management Practice.
That one, you can find here

There’s a theme
Individual anarchism
Ethical individualism
Administrative evil
Bad management theory

Does this make me a Luddite?
Not at all.
I love technology.
I also love humans. More.
That’s why this site, and my business, is called “People and Process”
Not “People or Process”
It’s all about people and how they work.
Not technology.
The trick is to acknowledge reality and aim to change the bits we can.

In this sense, the desire of the technology billionaires to escape the consequences of their own creations is lazy
If not lamentable.
Actually, it’s worse.
It’s irresponsible.

That’s why they are not good role models, in my view.

Back to you.
Are you a change maker? A craftsman?
Do you see social problems that need fixing?
Are those social problems in your organisation?
Itself a social construct (meaning that it does not appear in nature)

Do you have a creative bent?
Do you work in a bureaucracy? State, private or not-for-profit?
Are you secretly a bit anarchic?

Try this
From “On Anarchism”, Noam Chomsky
“The anarchist asks those in power to prove their claims to authority – and argues that if their systems can’t be justified then they ought to be dismantled and replaced by something more free and just.”
Similar in sense to the letters between Mackay and Steiner 115 years prior
Neither advocates violence.

Top management with their 10-20 year horizons are dealing with a different world
Supervisors with their 3 month to 1 year horizon are tactical
My interest is in the the much maligned middle manager. How can they reposition / reframe themselves as change makers? It’s what they do all the time.
One way is to consider that their role is to create a craftsman-like atmosphere for their staff.
I think I’m dealing with a very narrow band of people: middle managers with a 2-5 year time horizon who have a problem they don’t even know they have. And that problem is the framework, technical rationality, that guides every decision.
They are subject to moral inversion
It will take courage to combat.
I need to write this as if it were my last lecture. What are the three key points, key messages, I want to share with my readers?

  1. Technological determinism / technical rationality are relatively new phenomena
  2. Despite their hold on our collective psyche, they are themselves just ideas
  3. All we have to do to combat them is to rethink them

EF Schumaker in his gorgeous little book “A Guide for the Perplexed” offers a similar 4-point model for understanding the world.
He also makes the point that maps show what the mapmaker wants us to see. This is particularly important when considering mental models of business and organisations. If we are framed by technical rationality, then the social aspects are left out. It is as simple, and brutal, as that.
Ghoshal shows the impact of this. Giridharadas shows how we go off and do good to help salve our consciences when we would be better to do less harm in our business practices. Changing the model from one of technical rationality to one of, say, social rationality would be a start.
And you can do that in your own organisation.
Show, don’t tell.

and it’s influenced by John Kay, an economist who wrote, “Obliquity”, a lovely little book that demonstrates that we achieve our goals obliquely rather than directly. Briefly, things happen directly in the mineral world, the world of physics and chemistry; start here, apply pressure, end there. But people operate in world’s other than the mineral so an oblique approach is best. The dark example of this is the Cardinal Richelieu, the power behind the throne. More modern references may be found in most jurisdictions and in popular works of fiction such as … ‘s “The Whisperer”.
You’ll find that the key to using oblique influence is to put something out there then leave people free to act. If there is a moral stance in this, it is this, always leave the individual free to make up his or her own mind. No compulsion, it’s an offence against the freedom of the individual.
Yes, it has echoes of the 19th Century individualist anarchists and I make no apology for that. Bakunin, Mackay and Steiner were onto something that has been overwhelmingly swamped with business school ethos and, let’s put it their, the far-reaching influence of the Chicago School of Business.
There is a mixed background that lies in the background of this essay, an essay that may never end. I will add chapters to it as they are completed and if you’d like to be kept informed of those occurrences, just pop your details into the boxes at the bottom of this page.

Do you most want to fix your working environment but don’t know how?
I don’t either.
But let’s die trying.
Figuratively, of course.
But it is a hill worth fighting over.
Not for me, or you.
But them.

What is this really about?
Is it about you? About me? About them?
Mostly, it’s about them.
Your employees and their families and communities.
This is indirect, about as indirect as you can possibly get.

Indirectness leads to success
In fact, most of our successes happen obliquely
John Kay, economist
On Obliquity

You can get the same message from
Kenneth Stanley who works in the field of AI

The key to both of these messages is that we know the start, we know (sort of) where we want to end
But we don’t know the intermediate steps to get there.

That’s why a healthy dose of anarchism is needed
And ethical individualism
To overcome administrative evil which is…
… someone, somewhere, designing the intermediate steps
The consequences of which he or she has no need to suffer.

New page

The purpose of this is to improve the livelihoods of the people who work in your organisation.
This won’t be achieved by well-ness programmes or Employee Assistance Programmes.
They are bandaids or ambulances.
No, this is about preventing the problems from occurring in the first place.
As much as we can, in any case.

Our work here is to create an environment that people love coming to work in.
That’s a reasonable goal, isn’t it?
Despite everything I’ve written about goals…

It’s that simple.
Not easy, simple.

It begins by looking at what motivates people, you’d think.
But you’d be wrong.
It actually starts with finding out what demotivates people.
Then removing it.

That’s why it’s so simple.
Ask people what demotivates them.
They’ll tell you.
Loud and clear.

Then remove those things.
And here’s why it’s not easy.
Sacred cows.
Sacred cows are okay, if your organisation is Hindu.
Since it is most likely not, they have no place in your organisation.

Slayers of Sacred Cows

Slayers of Sacred Cows need to pick their battles carefully
And approach their objectives obliquely
(go back and watch the video by John Kay that you skipped over…)

There are several we need to consider

Let’s start with the most obvious
Lack of decision-making.
Note, I did not say lack of leadership.
We’ll address that later.

Lack of decision-making is debilitating.
It creates a knot in people’s heads
A Gordian Knot
And we know how that was untied
A little “thinking outside the knot”, and a sharp sword.

It holds people in stasis
Intellectual stasis, the worst kind
Better to make a decision that may be wrong (it can always be corrected)
Than to make no decision at all.

The Sacred Cows we must slay are no more than decisions made in the past
The Gordian Knot is the unwillingness to unmake those decisions
Means over Ends

The New Middle Management