Relating to Organization

The second application of the four-step harmonic vibrancy move is to how people organize their work together.

Gap Description
The first step is to define the harmonic vibrancy aspiration-reality discrepancy to be minimized.  The common wisdom is that people work together to achieve something that they cannot alone.[1] The aspiration people hold for organization is that they be able to make a contribution, and that organizing with others increases their efficiency, effectiveness, and innovativeness.  The current reality is that people have achieved together much more than they could on their own, yet most people feel that the organizations in which they live ask little of and contribute little to them as human beings.

Across all sectors, society has defined many great challenges facing humanity, and the key finding emerging in all of these is the need for people to collaborate on a much higher level.  Nonetheless, despite great efforts from business, government, and civil society, most efforts are paralyzed in the attempts of thousands of efforts to “go at it alone” and very few successfully collaborating across efforts.  At the core of this challenge is the assumption that people are organized as labor and labor’s contribution is a static function.[2] In this worldview, the consumer desires a product or service, which an individual or a collective provides.  The collective organizes labor, land, and capital to provide this product or service, defining functions needed to produce the product or service.  Labor is contracted to fulfill these functions, based on defined skills and knowledge needed to perform the function.  These functions are uniquely defined and independently organized.  At any given time in any given place, there are only a limited, scarce number of people who can fulfill that functional need.

This perspective of labor as fulfilling a function within the whole of the enterprise places the individual at the service of the collective, which is the inherent level of analysis.  From the holonic perspective, this highlights an inconsistency with the individual as a part, whereas neoclassical economic principles suggest the level of analysis is with the individual as a whole: an inconsistency in whether the individual plays a mechanistic function within the whole or is a whole that maximizes utility.  This inconsistency drives all debate on work incentives.  Most economic systems compensate people for the function they play, on a market-pricing basis.[3]

Other’s Experience
An emerging perspective is that people are infinitely creative.  If we have an insight, a creative flash of brilliance, we do not say, “Oh well, there goes my one insight for the month.”  When our children shine during a band concert, we smile: we do not think that they just used up their creative expression.  When it comes to satisfying their own needs and those of others, people are abundantly imaginative; creative in what to do and in how to do it.

While uni-axial perspectives claim people are inherently resistant to change, a scarcity orientation, nobody wants their five-year old to stay five, and nobody wants to know at 40 only what they knew at 30.  They want to grow and learn, an abundance orientation.  The perceived resistance to change is a resistance to change that does not increase the harmonic vibrancy they experience.  Experiences in collaborative holistic inquiry show that when people experience shared intention, relationship, and understanding, they experience a much deeper level of harmonic vibrancy to which they are able to make a substantial and sustainable commitment.[4] People come together to collaborate in bringing the best of who they are to a collective project.  From this perspective, homo lumens is seen as abundant potential, not a static, functional part of an organization.

Axial Description
An assessment of the vibrancy a collective experiences on each axis is very instructive for how it organizes itself, internally and externally.  Many of the fads in organizational forms implicitly assume specific levels in the harmonic vibrancy zone, which may or may not serve the specific collective.  Two extreme examples illustrate this: strong hierarchy and deep collaboration.  In a strong hierarchy, people are expected to play a specific function and do what they are told.  This works best when people do not expect to contribute much of their greater potential; mutuality requires only that each be allowed to do her own job, and everyone does just his job – a description of low vibrancy on the axes of relationship.  Bringing a strong hierarchy into a collective that is accustomed to higher vibrancy will at best stifle the collective, usually causing the individuals in the high-vibrancy collective to leave.  In the other extreme, deep collaboration works best when each individual gives of his best potential, expects and supports everyone else in doing the same, and each is continuously asked to make his greatest contribution to the collective, which validates each contribution – a description of high vibrancy on the axes of relationship.  Bringing deep collaboration into a collective that is accustomed to lower vibrancy will at best be seen as naïve, and usually seen as unnecessary and inefficient process.  The same challenges face collectives when they form partnerships-alliances with other collectives

Harmonic-Vibrancy Move
Clearly there are many implications of this shift from (1) labor as a scarce resource that contributes in a static fashion towards someone else’s goals to (2) people as an abundant resource that contributes in a dynamic manner towards individual and collective goals.  The industrially developed world is based primarily on an assumption of human labor as scarce.  If people are in fact abundant resources, and not scarce, then how they organize to work together would change in two significant ways: (1) the degree to which individuals bring their greater potential to work; and (2) how people collaborate.

Potential of Individuals. Individuals can contribute both a function and a purpose to the collective.  Through a function, they bring a small subset of their potential, producing specifically what was requested to meet the collective’s need.  Through a purpose, they bring all of who they are, producing what the collective needs and far more.

Collaboration. To optimize cooperation, it is useful to distinguish between melodic and harmonic phenomena.  In melodic phenomena, the costs of collaboration exceed the benefits, making it better for individuals to go at it on their own.[5] Each individual effort seeks to create a melody, a single voice in unison, bringing its contribution to its greater purpose.  In harmonic phenomena, the benefits of collaboration exceed the costs, making it more effective for individuals to collaborate.[6] The collective seeks to create a harmonic, which integrates the individual contributions into a unique possibility, an emergent property that cannot be found in any of the individuals.

To address many of the larger challenges faced within and across organizations and communities requires understanding the harmonic nature of the phenomena.  Great strides have been made in organizing human effort towards the melodic phenomena, and far more remains to be learned about deeper collaboration to address harmonic phenomena.  The ecosynomic axioms guide the exploration of the implications of abundance in how people organize their work together.  People are holons, wholes and parts, who contribute individually and collectively.  As holons, people simultaneously play a function, have their own purpose, and serve a higher, collective purpose in the collective.  Many recently developed methodologies unite these levels in one model for harmonic vibrancy discrepancy minimization.[7] As people align around shared intentions, understand the contribution each can make to the collective, and reach a shared understanding of possibilities, through a process of collaborative holistic inquiry, they are able to increase their awareness of ways of leveraging the system’s existing capabilities and potentials through new agreements, which engender greater levels of commitment and collaborative action (see Figure 1)

Figure 1: Collaborative Holistic Inquiry — Theory O and Theory U

The next post applies the harmonic-vibrancy-move, four-stage process to how people exchange value.



[1] For an early business text on the organizational benefits of cooperation, see (Barnard, 1938).
[2] At least since Adam Smith, economics has seen the organizing of how people work together as “the division of labor” (Smith, 1976).
[3] For an example of compensation principles and employee policies that reach into ecosynomics, see (Throneburg, forthcoming).  For examples of organizations that put people first, see (Bartlett & Ghoshal, 2002).
[4] For more on collaborative holistic inquiry, see (Ritchie-Dunham, 2008a, 2008b; Spann, 2008; Spann & Ritchie-Dunham, 2008).  For more on the power of alignment of shared intention, relationship, and understanding, see (Ritchie-Dunham, et al., 2010).
[5] For more on the economics of transaction costs in collaboration, see (Williamson, 1981)
[6] For examples of effective collaboration, see (Senge, Lichtenstein, Kaeufer, Bradbury, & Carroll, 2007).
[7] For an example of a harmonic vibrancy discrepancy minimization model, see (Ritchie-Dunham & Puente, 2008).


3 thoughts on “Relating to Organization

  1. Pingback: 4 Questions that Changed the World « Jim Ritchie-Dunham

  2. Pingback: What Specifically Differentiates High Vibrancy Groups from Everyone Else? « Jim Ritchie-Dunham

  3. Pingback: Seeing “What Is” — The Economics of Abundance « Jim Ritchie-Dunham

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