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My theory of organizations and groups

I will listen to a thought giant like Daniel Schmachtenberger or Eric Weinstein, and I realize how little I know.   I am often unable to articulate my thoughts on the fly and in conversation. My ideas run the gamut of too much input and not enough time to process. But I have had the incredible opportunity to be part of a variety of eclectic organizations, industries, charities, and social groups over the years.

The diversity of the experience has brought me into contact with people of all scopes and scales of life. People of cultural mosaics, political bents, gender and geographic boundaries and intellectual scope. Through all of that I have found something that runs consistent through all masses of people.

I have no clinical data for which to base my theory on. I have no concrete research that goes far and wide, is peer reviewed and blind tested for my idea. I only have the observations of the experiences to provide me with the analysis. Recently, someone told me regarding a personal experience I was relating to them that it was anecdotal. A single event. My conclusion was irrelevant as it was only based on my personal observations. That would be true if there wasn’t a consistent thread that seemed to tie these disparate entities together in a kind of loose mirror image of themselves.

That said, I have shown my models to many people and have yet to have anyone say, “Nope. Not accurate”. In fact, the vast majority of the responses are “Yes! That is my experience too. This explains a lot.”

So, without further preamble, here is my theory:

Whenever you have a group of people come together for any reason that coalesces into an organization, cohesive group or the like (let’s call it a community) something begins to emerge. This only happens when you get a mass of individuals. Let’s put this community of people in a box. Yes, I know, putting people into a box comes with a negative connotation. But it best describes the theory.

The group of people in a box come together with a common purpose. Whether that is a sports team, a church, a company, an activism group, or a simple neighbourhood community there appears to be a pattern that emerges. When you have 3, 5, 8 individuals together, the purpose and aim of the community is paramount. Everyone takes on differing roles of leaders, administrations, work, etc. Most of the time these roles cater to the strengths and personalities of the individuals All members intuitively know that the community relies on them all to succeed in their aims. If they lose anyone, the entire community might and probably will collapse unless they quickly find a replacement member. That would result in more work for all the remaining members and will take them off the aim of the group. So, they stick together as best they can. Afterall, they came together, it is not hard to work out differences most of the time.

The beginning of a community or organization

As the community grows, I believe the number for evolution is 10 people or more, something changes. The departure of any one individual becomes less critical. The community may miss and even regret the loss of the individual, but the community at large becomes more than the sum of its parts. Along side this unspoken realization, differences of opinion on the direction of the community also occur and divides begin to emerge. Out of the box, the ends bulge to form a circle separate from the community box. This circle might also represent the potential future of the community and its growth.

People start to move to the edges as the community grows

Anyone who has moved into a bigger house knows, the rule of space says there can be no empty space. Nature abhors a vacuum the scientists will tell you. So, the people in the community move to fill the space along with the growth of the community. However, these are not random spaces that anyone in the community moves into. The rounded edges represent an attitude. A drift to human nature where normative traits pushes people to. As such, members of the community gravitate to those attitudes and tendencies, whether the rest of the community agrees or not. Sometimes these members are original to the community and sometimes they are newcomers.

It is also critical to the survivability of the whole not to look at these differing and often opposing forces as “bad”, “wrong”, “evil” or any other descriptor that opposites sometimes resort to in conflicts of ideas. They say that opposites attract. There is a valid reason for that. More to that at the end.

Initially, the bulges happen to the left and right sides. The speed of these bulges might be slow to emerge, but the responsive bulges toward the top and bottom happen almost immediately afterward.

What/who are in these left side and right-side bulges? Let’s call them, respectively, the “Changers” and the “Keepers”.

Two opposing factions begin to emerge

To the right are the “keepers”, those who feel the community is perfect as is, or at least as ideal as things can get. In direction, makeup, vision, and on and on we go. They look at the initial core beliefs and activities of the community as “good” and noble in basis. Afterall, hasn’t the community done enough good that it has grown and expanded. That must mean keeping the same is best. Right? Any change or adaptation risks the community. Their motto – “It’s the way we have always done it despite our failings”.

The left side are the “changers”. They see that despite the community having an honorable core, it can always be better, must be better. It NEEDS to improve. It NEEDS to adapt and improve for continuation into the future. Besides, even if there was any “good” in the initial community, there are too many warts to let it go. “Damn the torpedoes. The sacrifice of a few is acceptable for us to move ahead.”  

The challenge with both these belief systems is that they are both correct and wrong, even in their diametric opposition to one another. The organization, if it lasted long enough to grow, must have more than a modicum of “goodness” and integral value system. However, to avoid decay, all communities must adapt and change. The flaw with both sides, is that they each feel their idea of the past and the future of the community is the only way. To that end, the divergence begins to pull people in either direction.  

With this left right polarization comes the next flow of individuals in the community. As the people in the middle start to experience conflict between the “keepers” and the “changers”, some people drop to the bottom. They are those outsiders who, by choice or not, are left behind. The do not feel an affinity to the left or the right or even the bulk in the middle. And by default, they are allowed to begin drifting. Let’s call these the “Lost”. The motto of these wandering souls is “Meh. Whatever.” At the same time, there are those who rise to the top. As they climb, and stay there for a length of time, they take on both a leadership role and a different attitude. Like the chicken and egg, I am not sure which comes first, the responsibility of leadership, the thrust of decision making or just through personal introspection, these top enders, see themselves different from all the rest. Fundamentally different. They somehow develop an attitude that but for them the community might not exist. Whether it is a “more capable” individual, “smarter”, “richer”, “morally superior” or any other measure of superiority above the rest. These people “know” what is best for the community and will make sure everyone bends to that superiority. Let’s call this group the “elite”. “We are just deserving our rewards, because….”

Two more groups begin to emerge at the top and bottom

Soon, you have this community made up 5 distinct groups – Changers, Keepers, Elite, Lost and the Masses.

Ah, the Masses. This is the 80% of the community that believe in the community within context. They agreed to the original precepts enough to join the community. Is it a church that they believe in the tenets of? A sports team who believes winning more than losing is okay. Maybe it is a charity they believe in the cause or a company that they are building a career path around. This 80% know that things aren’t perfect and could be better. They do not want to be left behind nor do they want or believe they are better than anyone else. In short, they just want to be a part of the community and live in peace within the community. No waves. No conflict. “I’ll do me, and you do you.”

Unfortunately, this also creates relative inequity in the community. The “Lost” end up with very little but they also contribute very little. The “Elite” strive for more and by extension of their belief system of being somehow superior, feel they deserve more.

The elite on a sports team, even rec teams, “deserve” more playing time because for the team to win the best should get more time in the game. The elite in a church “deserve” more perks in the Church. They are more pious and therefore rewards will come their way. Elites in business, in the community, deserve more reward. Afterall, they are just more deserving and as such believe their opinion has more weight.

And, let’s be honest, the elites as first generation in that bubble, it is well deserved. The best athlete might also have worked harder than anyone else. The more pious might be more well read in the religious writing. Elites in business might have put in more hours, etc. In short, this group might work harder and have earned their spot at the top.

This can go on for a long time. If there is balance.

The push-pull of the left and right counter each other. The lost at the bottom come and go with little fanfare. And if everyone is relatively achieving their basic expectations, the people at the top are allowed to be there. In fact, to a certain degree the rest acquiesce to them. They prefer someone else to take on the role. But….and this is a big but. If either of the left/right edges grow beyond or below approximately 5% of the population each, the whole of the community is out of balance. Conflict doesn’t just arise. It begins to coalesce into a destructive force.  It begins to poison the group. Unless and until this equilibrium resets itself, there will be no peace.

The balance is upset

When the equilibrium is upset, the community falls into disarray until the balance rights itself.

If the “Changers” grow too much and too powerful, traditions get taken away. This will make the 80% believe that the world they live in is more complex, volatile, and unsettling than they are comfortable with. They will begin to see all change as evil. 

If the “Keepers” dominate in the opposite way, the community will stagnate. People will feel unable to thrive. The next generation of the 80% will fight to assert their own way.

Additionally, if the Elites at the top become too distant from the 80%, fall under the impression that their hard work and natural talents make them fundamentally superior as a human to the 80%, then the entire community is at risk. If their second generation brings that same air of superiority without the virtues of their parents, the community starts to crumble under the weight.

We see this in business where the son/daughter apparent doesn’t have the ability and ethics of the founding parent and eventually that the masses see through the charade. Or in any of the differing communities, when the advantages bestowed upon the elite for their abilities gets inherited to the next generation without that generation earning the gift.

Regardless, if the left/right equilibrium becomes unbalanced, if the elite bubble becomes too authoritarian, there will be a downward push and more people will move to the “Lost” bubble.

Unfortunately, the edges don’t care. The “Keepers” ONLY care about keeping things the way they have always been. The “Changers” ONLY care about change for change’s sake. And the Elite ONLY care about maintaining their status, their rewards and position.

The silent majority of 80% just want to be part of a bigger whole.

But, if things are not set back into equilibrium, then a revolution will take place.

Companies lose good people. They crumble and dissolve and sometimes go out of business or are swallowed up by bigger competitors. Sports teams are forced to rebuild, get sold, or in the case of amateur teams, just go away. Churches and charities split apart to rebuild with differing visions. And communities devolve into chaos.

Historically, we even see this is in larger nation communities. The 80% begin to revolt to break away from the left/right dichotomy and take umbrage with the elite discarding the rights of the 80%. I am not an expert in this, as I mentioned, but I believe my own experiences are not unique.