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prototype
Post Posted: Tue Feb 24, 2009 1:26 am

Joined: 19 Jan 2008
Posts: 128
Location: Canada
Hierarchies -

To continue the discussion on hierarchies (continued from here)

Here's a scenario.


A building needs to be painted.

Let's say I had a painting company, and I've been hired to repaint a large, sprawling, 2-level high-school. I hire 6 painters to help me paint the building (it's my company and the painters I've hired don't share ownership). Most of these painters have many years experience. Let's say two of the painters I've worked with before and the rest of them are new hires. The two painters I've worked with before are both in their 40's. Among the new hires is a young person who's into their 2nd year of apprenticeship. Another is a person in their late 50's, and the other two are in their 30's. I don't know how the last 4 painters work as they're new to me, and I can't always rely on references as they're not always accurate.

I walk around the building with the other painters and show them everything that has to be done. All the walls have to be painted and they're made from different materials - concrete, stucco, wood siding, etc. All the flashing has to be done, from the roof to the ground. All the wood windowframes, wood doorframes, and wood doors have to be done, as well as all the lower metal windowscreens. All the upper and lower fascia boards have to be done. All the undercover steel beams have to be primed with a special very toxic paint before being finish coated, and all the metal vent cages have to be done. There's a lot of different work to be done on the building. And the building is old - the exposed upper wood siding is peeling badly, the plywood soffets are rotting in many spots, the lower concrete shows an advanced case of efflorescence, there are hairline cracks in the upper stucco and sizeable holes in the lower stucco, there are many cracks between the frames and walls, the paint on the wood & metal stair railings is peeling, and chalking is evident on much of the upper flashing, etc. etc. Most surfaces get two coats of paint. There's a lot of high work on this job, and the building has already been pressure washed.

One of the most important factors, if not the most important factor, in painting exteriors of buildings is the weather. Let's say it's been warm and dry for several weeks, but I know that rain is coming in about a week and that it'll keep raining for a full week.

Now, keep in mind that I've bid on this job, competing for the job against other painting companies, and the school district accepted my bid because my bid was the lowest. Even though my bid was the lowest I pay the painters very good wages, because experienced painters are supposed to be well-skilled and painting schools and other large buildings is hard work. And I believe that paying people good wages is the decent thing to do.

When I figure out the bid I have to know things like what timeline I have to get the building done in, how long will it take to do all the different parts of the building, how much is the labour going to cost, how much will equipment and materials cost, cost of business insurance, cost of Worker's Compensation to cover all the painters in case of injuries, cost of the permit for working in that particular town, costs of the bond, costs of bidding, other costs, what problems might arise, etc. There are a lot of things to think about when you put in a bid. Before you've even started the job you've already spent quite a bit of money.

I have to make a decent profit in order for me to make a living, and to continue taking on other painting jobs, and to continue hiring painters to help me paint the buildings.

I also have to follow the job specifications as laid out by the school district. No cheating. All the work is to be inspected by the inspector hired by the school district. As owner of the company I'd also have to guarantee the work. It's in the contract. If there's paint failure a year down the road then the school district can come to me and legally insist that I fix the defects. Paint failure is costly. Not only does paint failure hasten the deterioration of the building but it also costs me extra money (eating into my shrinking profit) to fix a job that should have been done properly to begin with. I'm not going to blame the painters I hired because, as the owner, I'm the one responsible for the work. So, it's important to make sure I hire well-skilled experienced painters.

Good business sense, good attitudes, good crews, good work - they all help to make a successful business.

I tell the painters that we have exactly one month to finish this building. I show the painters all the paints and equipment, including a rented 65' articulating boom, an airless sprayer, a 4 level steel scaffold (some areas can't be accessed by a boom) and all the different ladders on site (including extension ladders), etc. All the equipment would be provided by me, the owner of the company.

I also tell the painters that I'll also pay for a total of one hour worth of breaks everyday. It's an 8 hour day.

So, how does the work get done -

Do I, as the owner, go around the building with all the painters and assign each one of them, or pairs of them, what tasks they are doing for that day, and stay onsite myself to work on the job (this would be my only job)

or

Do I assign a trusted foreman/forewoman (who I've worked with before and they know exactly what they're doing) and give him/her the authority to delegate everyone's task and otherwise run the job while I'm not around (I'll have other jobs on the go in other areas of the lower mainland)

or

Do I say to them - 'OK folks, this is the building, you know what has to be done. Here's all the paint and equipment. Here are the books of specs. You're all experienced. I'll be back at the end of the day.'

or

?


Now, Pasz, I know from many years of experience exactly what has to be done in this type of scenario.

I don't expect you to know anything about the painting business, but I presume that you do know a lot about human nature.

1) So, you tell me, in a world without hierarchy, how would you deal with this?

Keep in mind that I don't want to go broke, I have to follow the job specifications, and I want the job to run smoothly.

2) Also, you said the following -

Quote:
There have been and continue to exist groups (even societies) that operate without hierarchical structures. The interesting thing about these is that they tend to be more peaceful and productive and more respectful of others.

You're going to have to give me plenty of examples of this.

What groups, and societies, are you talking about, and how many years have they been successfully operating with the same people without any hierarchies?

And anybody else reading this - any ideas?


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Mulligan
Post Posted: Tue Feb 24, 2009 10:29 am

Joined: 04 Feb 2006
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Quote:
And anybody else reading this - any ideas?


Quote:
I presume that you do know a lot about human nature.


Human nature is not part of the equation here in the dreamy world of collectivism. I can only offer that your sole hope of making a living and maintaining a viable work force is to go for option B:

Quote:
…assign a trusted foreman/forewoman …and give him/her the authority to delegate everyone's task and otherwise run the job while I'm not around (I'll have other jobs on the go in other areas of the lower mainland)


By this stage of your hypothetical business career you will have had to establish a small cadre of supervisors on the different jobs to maintain an orderly work-flow, keep time /payroll records, and crack the whip when necessary.

I’d also be interested in seeing just where and how a work-for-wages labor group can function without a supervisory structure of some kind.
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wm pasz
Post Posted: Tue Feb 24, 2009 4:29 pm

Joined: 29 Jan 2006
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Location: Toronto
Thanks for the case study proto! I love these kinds of things as they can really help you think things through. The answer to your question is actually "none of the above". There is another way for things to get done in a non-hierarchical work environment and I'll get to that in a minute. First some preliminary matters.

You can't expect to work within a non-hierarchical model using all of the methods and assumptions that are used in a hierarchical setting. I can elaborate on why this is so if you'd like but for the moment I'll give you the following advice about things you'll need to do (and not do) to be able to successfully operate in a - I'll call it peer-centric work environment (just because it sounds better than repeating "non-hierarchical" a million times).

So first of all, in a peer-centric model you would not be hiring people about whose work, skills and abilities you knew nothing. This being the case, the 4 newbies whom you described as basically unknown quantities wouldn't be an issue. You, as the owner of the business, would have been involved in hiring them and you would have a good sense of what they've done and what they're capable of. Instead of relying on references (which are always good) you might actually go out to see work that they've done or ask them to show you samples or even demonstrate techniques that they use for certain kinds of projects. You would also be comfortable that they are people who enjoy doing this kind of work, take pride in the quality of work they produce and can handle the demands of the jobs they will be doing. You will not have people on your crew who are there just because they're the supervisor's buddy who needs a job (there won't be a supervisor) of whatever kind or because they're somebody else's pal who is owed a favor. You will also be confident that your new hires will be able to work successfully in a peer-centric environment (because you will have talked about this in the interview) and either already have the skills needed to do this or are interested in learning them. Since their co-workers-to-be will be involved in the selection process, you will also have the benefit of their insights and assessments of job applicants and that will ensure that people coming into your enterprise will be successful so that your business will be successful.

Since everyone in the peer-centric model will share in the profit, there will be a strong motivation for them to do a good job that meets with your clients' satisfaction. In your example you mention that the workers don't own shares in the business. That's OK (although I think that shared ownership is more in line with the peer-centric model) but some form of profit-sharing is pretty much essential in this model. Perhaps you can pay some combination of living wage plus profit sharing?

Once you've gone out and successfully bid on a job, you would advise the group of what's involved, the kind of work that has to be performed, the deadline, the client's specifications and so on. You would also discuss the financial arrangement with the client and let everyone know what they will earn if the work is successfully completed within the time frame and specs to which you've committed.

You will then - instead of turning the project over to a supervisor who will assign tasks or telling the crew to figure go to it and hope for the best - ask them: So how do we get this job done? You will then lead a conversation with the group that will be about planning how to get the job done. This may be quite a brief discussion if the job is small and uncomplicated or it may be more involved if the job is bigger and more complex. Members of the group will offer up their ideas about how different aspects of the job can be done most efficiently, brainstorm solutions to problems that are anticipated, come up with plan B's in the event of bad weather or other problems, and sort out who will do what, when and how. If the job is a larger one, it may be that a member of the group takes on the role of coordinator, ensuring that things stay on track, materials and equipment are available and ready when needed and that problems that occur are resolved quickly.

You will have developed sufficient skills as a facilitator to be able to lead this kind of conversation, keep people focused and help resolve any problems or disagreements that may arise. As the work progresses you will be around to see how things are going and to help resolve problems but you will be confident that the crew has things in order.

Once the work is finished, you will involve the crew in a final inspection - where everyone will review the finished product, identify anything that needs to be fixed up prior to the client doing their inspection.

This is in very broad terms how a peer-centric operation might work. What's the value of this over the old hierarchical model? Before I get to that I want to respond to your comment about my knowing a lot about human nature. I don't pretend to be an expert on this subject. Neither should you or anyone else. Human nature is such a broad and deep topic that I don't think there really are any experts or people who are very knowledgeable about it. I've found over the years that most people who claim to know a lot about human nature are really only practicing an amateur form of psychology or expressing their own biases and not-very-well-considered opinions about people. Often these are based on their experiences with a small number of humans. The reality is that unless you devote a great of time and energy to studying billions and billions of humans and their behaviour over many centuries, you'll never really have a strong sense about human nature.

Much of what we refer to when we talk about human nature is really about human behaviour (which is different from human nature - one is the way we are, the other relates to what we do). While they may sometimes be connected, this is not always so. Our environment affects our behaviour and it has been suggested by many, many people over the past several decades that hierarchical environments bring out the worst in people. I will cite you some examples of leading thinkers and writers, many of whom are business people, who have promoted this point of view (along with some examples of peer-centric work arrangements, per your request) in another post as I'm running out of time right now. But to put it in a nutshell the hierarchical model is believed to be bad for business in that it doesn't make full good use of people's skills, abilities and capabilities, impedes communication, stifles creativity and innovation, leads to poor decision-making, poor staff morale and various other problems.

Although I do not consider myself an expert in human nature, I do know a lot of about human behaviour in the workplace. What I've seen over the years has made me a strong proponent of peer-centric workplace arrangements.

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atuuschaaw
Post Posted: Tue Feb 24, 2009 5:16 pm

Joined: 29 Jan 2006
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I completely agree with wm...you can't solve the new problems associated with the information age by using the information contained within and constructed by the old hierarchical systems.

prototype wrote:
1) So, you tell me, in a world without hierarchy, how would you deal with this?


How about this...we bring together the parents of the children who are enrolled in this school along with the concerned citizens who are part of the community effort of education. We meet, discuss, and decide to collectively pitch in and get this work done as a volunteer community effort...a barn raising of sorts...and the money saved can be used towards purchasing the school a new computer network or something deemed just as important for the educational future of the school and the important role it plays within the sustainability of the community as a whole.

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wm pasz
Post Posted: Wed Feb 25, 2009 10:09 pm

Joined: 29 Jan 2006
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Great idea A. Let's talk about how we can make it happen!

I promised to provide some insight into organizations that have been experimenting or even operating with non-hierarchical systems, so here goes.

It may interest and surprise many people to know that the hierarchical organization has been under attack for quite a long time and that criticism of hierarchical arrangements has been intense for the last 50 years. This criticism has not come so much from workers, unions or social justice advocates but - believe it or not - from business people or people who teach, consult and promote innovative business practices. I've referenced in my last post the main reasons that the hierarchy has taken such a beating but they're worth repeating. Hierarchical structures tend to:

- impede communication
- stifle creativity and innovation
- dampen staff morale
- create inefficiency and waste
- make problem-solving difficult
- encourage turf wars and territorial thinking
- encourage aggressive or self-serving behaviour
- suck resources up the power pyramid and away from where they are needed
- leave organizations poorly equipped to adapt to changing circumstances
- create concentrations of power at the top (oligarchies) among people who form old boys' clubs and are more focused on their own interests than those of the organization

Many smaller organizations have operated along non-hierarchical lines for a long time. Cooperatives and collectives in enterprises as diverse as the arts, day care, food banks, community outreach and service organizations use this model as do organizations that rely heavily on volunteers (not because they can't afford to hire a bunch of supervisors but because volunteers will leave you if you boss them around).

Efforts to flatten hierarchies or do away with them altogether have been ongoing for a long time. It's not easy, especially within large organizations, as hierarchies are remarkably difficult to unpack (the higher up the hierarchy you are, the more you have to lose, so the more you'll resist). However, progress has certainly been made.

Japanese auto makers use a flat organization with considerably fewer layers of management than their American competitors (a factor that has enable them to innovate and thrive while the big 3 were busy paving their way to oblivion). High tech and other research intensive enterprises use or have used this model (at least among their researchers and developers) as it encourages creativity. Most (maybe all) Canadian universities practice democratic governance and non-hierarchical (collegial) decision-making. Hierarchical structures exist within these organizations (usually in departments or areas where support staff work) but the pockets of workplace democracy do exist under the same roof and influence how the entire organization behaves.

There is an enormous amount of literature on this subject. It's ironic that the only place yuo don't hear about non-hierarchical organizations is within hierarchical ones. Here is an example of some insights into the nature of the non-hierarchical organization. In 1961, Tom Burns and G.M. Stalker wrote their groundbreaking book called the Management of Innovation which challenged conventional management practices, including the chain of command or organizational hierarchy. Burns and Stalker went on to propose a new "organic" model of organization as an alternative to the hierarchical bureaucracy which they described as "mechanistic. This chart provides a comparison of the main elements of mechanistic and organic systems.

Other links that may be of interest:

An Athabasca University article about Unlocking Hierarchy
The Non-Hierarchical Organization of the Future, a 1976 article from the Public Administration Review.

An interesting paper about networked organizations (an alternative to hierarchy in a larger organization) The Rise of the Networked Organization

A couple of good books on the subject:

The Gurus Who Created Modern Management & Why Their Ideas are Bad for Business

End of Management & the Rise of Organizational Democracy

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atuuschaaw
Post Posted: Thu Feb 26, 2009 3:20 pm

Joined: 29 Jan 2006
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wm pasz wrote:
Great idea A. Let's talk about how we can make it happen!


I thought this review by Elena Lopez was a good example of community organizing. Although it is focused on education, the steps are the same...the largest ingredient being involvement. Just my humble opinion, but the value in community organizations is the amount of accountability, transparency, and ethics which are present within the group. And ideally, this would all be accomplished by using a form of popular democracy. It's about human beings understanding the important role "moral value" will play in our future. It's about people learning how to be more humane. Evolving from pyramidal structures into horizontal communities requires loads of thought and even more discussion. I'm still unsure of how smooth the transition will be!

It wasn't that long ago that we began discussing political, business, and union structures as some of the major problems that were leading us into a less than civilized world of hopelessness! It wasn't that long ago that we were discussing structureless and leaderless organizations. It wasn't that long ago that we were discussing horizontal workplaces. Places where every participant held an equal stake in their future. The shift toward these alternatives seems to be accelerating at a speed much faster than any other shift that civilization has seen. At times the change is almost palpable...and at other times it seems so far out of reach!

Quote:
When we examine the health of our political practices, differing concepts of democracy lead to different conclusions.

Advocates of classical democracy, better termed popular democracy, focus on political equality and believe democracy to be a system in which the wisdom of individual citizens, expressed directly by initiative or through the election of representatives from among their neighbors, should determine outcomes.

Elite democrats believe that human nature is essentially competitive and hierarchical, that issues are too complex for most people's level of knowledge, and that democracy requires only that some of the people participate in election contests, choosing leaders from among more knowledgeable and naturally gifted and powerful elites.


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SharynS
Post Posted: Thu Feb 26, 2009 6:12 pm

Joined: 28 Jan 2006
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Quote:
...choosing leaders from among more knowledgeable and naturally gifted and powerful elites.
That's hilarious.

Pillaging, killing and over-powering kinder, less aggressive sectors of the human population by whatever means that are available - war, money, tyranny - doesn't make one superior. It actually makes one less evolved. You'd think that being the self-professed masters of all things universally human, the elitists' fixation and voracious drive to rid or enslave others to do that which they themselves are incapable of, would be the big clue.

But of course, an evolved mind requires a fully functional brain. Elitist's need to learn that procreation and reproduction of others of one's kind should not be taken quite so literally. In-breeding obviously creates it's own set of problems. And I really resent having to clean up after elite democrats.

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wm pasz
Post Posted: Thu Feb 26, 2009 7:04 pm

Joined: 29 Jan 2006
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Quote:
Evolving from pyramidal structures into horizontal communities requires loads of thought and even more discussion.


I think that you've landed on something here with the reference to horizontal communities. A huge problem we run into whenever we talk about doing away with hierarchy in the workplace comes up is that people just can't imagine how things would be. How would we function? How would things get done? How would we decide who does what? Immediately the specter of chaos comes into view and that's usually the end of the discussion. Everyone just assumes that there has to be a boss, superiors and subordinates, because without this relationship nobody would know what to do and nothing would get done.

But the problem is not that there is only one model or way of being in the workplace. The problem is that when we think about how things could be we have only one frame of reference: hierarchical. So of course everything that isn't hierarchical doesn't seem workable.

What if we changed the frame of reference from hierarchy to community? What if, instead of thinking of where we work as the office, the plant, the warehouse, the lab, a department, company or any of those "structural" types of things, we conceive the workplace as a community?

Think of the possibilities that this brings. In a community (a healthy one at least), we don't have bosses and subordinates. There is an elected government that is guided by the will of the citizens. People are free to do their own thing but each individual has certain responsibilities to the community so that it is a good place to live and everyone has vested interest in that. Even though there are many different constituencies or groups in the community, the overall health of the community is a goal that all of them share.

Although no one is standing over anyone with a stick, people don't run wild in the streets and it's rare that there is any kind of chaos. Yes, there may be crime or dysfunction of various kinds but the community as a whole remains viable because most people hold up their end of the bargain and even actively work to resolve those kinds of problems.

So if thousands of people (millions - in the case of larger communities) can keep it together without somebody dominating them, telling them what to do at every step and requiring them to submit to their authority, why couldn't we achieve the same thing in the workplace?

There are a couple of things standing in the way and both can be removed. They're actually quite closely connected. The first is the notion that the goal of any enterprise must be exclusively to maximize profit. This creates the impetus to produce more, bigger, faster - with a view to flooding the world with as much crap as possible. Many years ago, a guy named Frederick Taylor discovered that you could really amp up the pace of production by introducing a bunch of practices (scientific management) that would make work quite unpleasant and require a strong authoritarian hand to ensure that workers kept up the necessary pace. Taylor also advocated the two-class society in the workplace: Managers to do the thinking and planning and workers to do the work.

Although authoritarian systems have existed in workplaces for centuries, Taylor and his innovations really brought the whole master-servant thing into the modern era.

As we appear to be learning, very rapidly, that this "profit only" model is killing us and the world we live in, it seems that before long the "single bottom line" enterprise will be going the way of the steam engine. As sustainability becomes an imperative, multiple bottom lines will become the norm in the for-profit enterprise. The need to crank out limitless quantities of stuff will evaporate (since we will finally come to terms with the reality that we only need so many cars, TV's, etc.) Hence, the need to slave-drive people to perform mind-numbingly boring repetitive tasks should also evaporate. When quantity is no longer the top priority, then the principles of Taylorism are no longer necessary or even sensible. We no longer need the slave-drivers and dominator hierarchies to scare people into "performing" their boring tasks. We can explore other ways of being in the workplace.

And since what is produced, how many, what kind, etc. should be determined in large measure by the community or communities that the production affects (yes, I really do believe this), then the workplace community should determine the how - how it will be produced. This opens up the door to a complete rethinking of work, how we plan, organize and get it done. It opens the door to abandoning the century-old Taylorist principles and radically rethinking how work gets done and how decisions are made in the workplace.

This will of course mean learning to do a lot of things differently. People will need to develop new skills and learning new behaviours that have never been necessary in an environment where they are simply told what to do by people "above" them who are themselves told what to do by people about them who can't be wrong because the boss is always right.

But we can learn these new ways of doing things. We already do them within the other communities of which we are members (our neighbourhoods, voluntary groups, churches, etc.) If we think about how people interact in communities - how decisions are made, how problems are solved, how disagreements are dealt with - we will see that the same practices can be brought to the workplace and used to establish and maintain workplace community.

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Mulligan
Post Posted: Fri Feb 27, 2009 11:35 pm

Joined: 04 Feb 2006
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I think you frightened Prototype off, WP. Maybe he thought you were kidding -then realized you weren’t.

But tell me, in your own experience with the peer-centric work force, have you ever thought of applying the same principles to the military? I’m trying to imagine how that would work out -given the traditionally authoritarian nature of the usual military leadership structure.

Quote:
The reality is that unless you devote a great [amount?] of time and energy to studying billions and billions of humans and their behaviour over many centuries, you'll never really have a strong sense about human nature.


Psychologists, psychiatrists, and philosophers make their livings studying human nature don’t they? - writing piles of books about it? Setting up lifetime careers and practices to study behavioral traits that stem from human nature?

S. Freud? A.Freud? Adler? Jung? K. Horney? W. James? E. Erikson? Rogers? E. Piaget? Skinner? J. Lacan?

Billions and billions…over many centuries?
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prototype
Post Posted: Sat Feb 28, 2009 1:20 am

Joined: 19 Jan 2008
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Location: Canada
I'm not exactly frightened by what pasz wrote. I was just waiting for more people to provide their ideas on what I wrote.

This thread's already had over 280 views in 4 days, and yet just a handful of people have given input.


Anybody else have any ideas?


And Mulligan, stop referring to me as a 'he'.

Haven't you read my other thread here?
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Mulligan
Post Posted: Sat Feb 28, 2009 1:28 pm

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She.
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prototype
Post Posted: Sat Feb 28, 2009 2:09 pm

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wm pasz
Post Posted: Sat Feb 28, 2009 2:48 pm

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The traditional military is hierarchical of necessity. If you're going to compel thousands of mostly reluctant humans to march off into certain danger and probable death, command and control becomes an imperative. Also, what those humans will be doing is mostly very narrowly proscribed (go up the hill and shoot the other guys). It's not much different than the old Taylorian method of factory management.

The exception of course is guerrilla warfare where there is little hierarchy or chain of command. Guerrilla militarism is actually a good example of how non-hierarchical, networked models or organization can be highly effective (although in a destructive kind of way).

Regarding my comments (and yours mulligan) about human nature. I'm using the term literally. Human nature refers to a fundamental set of beliefs that influence the behaviour (including thinking, feeling and acting) of all humans.

"All humans", you will have to admit, is a very large group. If you're going to study common threads in the value systems of all humans, you've got a very large group to study and, you're going to need to study not only those currently walking the face of the earth but the generations that preceded them (so that you can account for shifts and changes in both the beliefs and behaviours. It would be a very big project to say the least.

None of the 'ologists' you reference are experts on this subject. Most, if not all, focused their efforts on individual psychology not the behaviours of large groups (that's a sociological, not psychological, thing). Some studied neither (Piaget, for instance, studied cognitive behaviour in children -so, how people learn, not how they behave). Some, like Skinner, focused on means of behaviour control). All were involved in developing theories based on somewhat loosey-goosey research (you can't really study the nature of all humans based on your observations of a few hundred patients or, as in Skinner's case, pigeons). Freud, the granddaddy of the psychology racket, has been largely discredited as scientifically and intellectually dishonest (ditto for his acolytes Jung, Alder and many others).

At best these guys had their theories some of which gained a lot of traction in their day. All had their detractors (guys with other theories).

Whatever the pseudo scientists of yesterday may have thought or said, when I hear people talking about "human nature" in the context of the workplace, what they mostly just expressing their opinions or frustrations based on encounters with a handful of co-workers. Most discussion of human nature in the workplace begins and ends with sweeping pronouncements like "people are dishonest, people are lazy, people will rob you blind". It's doubtful that these are innate human traits. Certainly I've seen nothing that would establish that they are. A small number of people (from what I've seen) can do engage in these behaviours - most don't. And, in any event, most of those who ascribe these quality to all of us give little thought to how the workplace environment encourages this kind of behaviour.

Proto - you'll find that very few people weigh in on this as the idea of the non-hierarchical workplace is too much for most to envision. We're so conditioned to accepting the old ways that we can't see the woods for the trees.

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Mulligan
Post Posted: Sat Feb 28, 2009 7:29 pm

Joined: 04 Feb 2006
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Quote:
you can't really study the nature of all humans based on your observations of a few hundred patients or, as in Skinner's case, pigeons


Skinner’s instance is worthy of note here (add rats to his study methods and you’ll have a more complete picture). Based on his research on rats and (yes) pigeons, Skinner’s findings were used by the US military to develop, among other things, motivational control over human nature in soldiers (specifically the fear of killing) that works quite effectively. Those methods are presently used in the training of elite fighting units, and in law enforcement elements as well. The point being that human nature, despite your thoughts on the subject, is quite predictable and controllable.*

Quote:
None of the 'ologists' you reference are experts on this subject. Most, if not all, focused their efforts on individual psychology not the behaviours of large groups (that's a sociological, not psychological, thing). Some studied neither (Piaget, for instance, studied cognitive behaviour in children -so, how people learn, not how they behave)….Freud, ..., has been largely discredited as scientifically and intellectually dishonest (ditto for his acolytes Jung, Alder and many others).


I’m afraid you have acquired a rather passive audience here, WP. Otherwise you would not be getting away with much of this.

Sociological, psychological, etc -amounts to the broad area of human cognitive studies. Parsing the field of experts in these areas in an attempt to make your point doesn’t work. Obviously no one can know all there is to know about any field. That doesn’t mean there can be no experts. And it doesn’t mean that one has to encompass all of human history and study billions of human beings to understand human nature.


*Dave Grossman; On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society : 1996.
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wm pasz
Post Posted: Sun Mar 01, 2009 2:33 pm

Joined: 29 Jan 2006
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I would say then that perhaps Skinner was an expert in the nature of rats (the four legged kind and their flying counterparts) but I have hard time with the somewhat unscientific assumption that the nature of rats and the nature of human beings are sufficiently similar that experimentation with one will predict behaviour of the other. This is an example of the kind of specious logic that underlies many of the theories of the head-shrinkers of yesteryear. Pure junk science, my friend. Quite dangerous too I might add - from the same branch of psychological quackery that brought us the frightening sensory deprivation experiments of Robert Hyde and his CIA accomplices.

What Skinner actually accomplished may have shed some light on how humans behave under conditions of extreme control and domination (if you put people in boxes and you put rats in boxes, you will likely get, after a sufficient period of time, some similar behaviours from both groups). However, it seems to me that this would be antithetical to the study of the broad topic of human nature. Similarly, it would seem that efforts to manipulate people's minds would be antithetical to any credible inquiry into human nature - I'm not sure that distorting or destroying human nature sheds much light on human nature. It would be like trying to study the behaviour of rats, after you've cut off their heads. ("Hmmm...based on my extensive studies, I conclude that the rat is essentially a passive being whose sole activity is decomposition....").

Nonetheless bringing Skinner up in the context of the subject of this thread is thought-provoking. Prototype has told us about some distressing experiences she's had a job she held for a number of years. She's trying to understand how it is that people can be so mean to each other at work and why her employer did nothing to address the bad behaviour to which she was subject (even in the face of a decision from the Human Rights Commission).

I believe that her experience (which is frighteningly common in the modern workplace) has its roots in the hierarchical powerstructure of the workplace and the control and domination to which it subjects people. A thought I'm having is that the Skinner Box may be eerily analogous to what working humans experience in the dominator hierarchy where they are indeed in a box of sorts, deprived of a lot of things that make us human. We being to behave in certain predictable ways so that we get that food pellet and avoid the electric shock. That's something most of us can probably relate to. But I think that the effects of being in this controlled, sense-deprived environment go beyond that. We become dysfunctional and unable to relate in a human way to others who we begin to see either as threats or victims who we, in turn, can dominate. This I think is the root of the bullying phenomenon.

I'll tell you a little story Prototype. This really happened. A couple of years ago my teenage daughter got her first job working as a cashier in a neighbourhood supermarket. She was one of half dozen or so teenage girls who were hired at the same time. They were trained together and, because all of them were high school students, tended to work the same evening and weekend shifts. They were a racially and ethnically diverse group, reflecting the dominant groups in our area (European, Caribbean and Asian). In the beginning, they were all quite excited about having a job. They also became friends, socializing outside of work and chatting on msn and those social networking web sites.

Six months in, however, the friendships had dissolved and they rarely ever spoke to each other. My daughter would come home from work miserable and complaining about how all the cashiers (including the group that she had befriended) were becoming increasingly nasty to each other. They no longer helped one another. Routine questions about the code for a head of lettuce or what time a co-worker was going on break would be met with suspicious looks or smartass replies. Worse still, when on breaks and lunches, the workers began to split off along racial lines - whites sitting with whites, blacks with blacks, etc.)

She and I talked a lot about this, trying to understand what was going on. At one point she made a very insightful observation. The work environment itself was rotten. The young cashiers felt tethered to their "desks", doing highly repetitive, physically demanding work. The customers were often rude and treated the cashiers in a demeaning way. There had been no training at all on ergonomics and it didn't take long for physical discomfort to set in. They didn't always get their breaks when they were supposed to and weren't allowed to keep water bottles with them while on duty. Customer service training consisted of the supervisor telling them, "The customers at this store are really rude. Get used to it." The supervisors were young women, not much older than the cashiers, who were on obvious power trips. (It being a UFCW store, there wasn't a union steward in sight and no one could recall the last time a union rep had been around.)

Reflecting on this state of affairs one day, my daughter commented that the workers felt so powerless. They couldn't call the customers or the supervisors on their bad behaviour. They were hurt and frustrated with taking crap all day but can't do anything about it. The felt angry but couldn't direct that anger at the people who are treating them badly so they directed it at each other.

Eventually she quit. Unfortunately, many of her co-workers didn't have the option of just doing that. (Although I believe that most have now moved on.)

We also discussed the phenomenon of everyone gravitating into groups along racial lines. This was very disconcerting as the group had originally gotten along quite well and are accustomed to a diverse environment. These were not people who were racists. The best that I can make of this is that, when the effects of domination start to be felt, people look for comfort and security whenever and however they can find it. Perhaps visual reference points - like colour or gender - become sort of like beacons ("here is someone more like you, you might be safer sitting with them").

I think there may be something to this which might explain the phenomenon male/female bullying.

At any rate, hierarchies put people in boxes. First they put them on a ladder where each stands on the head of the other. Narrowly defined jobs, then put further boundaries around them. No wonder it's so difficult for people to rebel or to stop picking at each other over who gets the most pellets.

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Time is on the side of the oppressed today, it's against the oppressor. Truth is on the side of the oppressed today, it's against the oppressor. You don't need anything else. - Malcolm X
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