Our true destiny is a world built from the bottom up by competent citizens living in solid communities, engaged in and by their places. – David W. Orr
In my last piece, “What do the genetics of a Bengal Cat and the evolution of economics have in common?”, I proposed a hybrid type of governance as an alternative to our current political malaise and civic ineptitude. But thinking about it maybe governance isn’t really the right term. Governance implies more a state of control. What I really propose is more of a change in mindset – a mindset of community empowerment rather than a dependence on hierarchical forces housed in institutions rendered grotesque caricatures of their former intent. But to realize this new alternative we must first shed ourselves of these relics and the constraint incumbent in their archaic system design created for much simpler times ages ago.
This new hybrid is based on the conceptions of 18th Century Scottish philosopher David Hume synthesized with the pragmatic research on the commons by Nobel Prize winning economist Elinor Ostrom. Working off the premises of these two scholars, we can bring this hybrid civic mindset to reality using a set of societal and economics tools we have in the form of community Front Porches or informal neighborhood gathering places. In my model I suggest these Front Porches can take hold in the small and locally owned business community of our towns and cities.
This direct participation civic mindset is illustrated by the “wild side” (the Asian Leopard Cat) of the hybrid model I metaphorically call “Orion” after my daughter’s hybrid Bengal Cat. This mindset and the resulting direct engagement model is not focused on maintaining itself as a static organization or institution, but as a dynamic situational platform. The participation platform is designed to identify the needs and opportunities of the local community it serves while addressing them using whatever resources are available … whether monetary or not. Think of this “resource maximization” drawing from the times of our grandparents when neighbors and community members were treated as extended family and relied on as the primary “safety net.” (The other half of the hybrid, the traditional governance half, is reformed via the methods of Transpartisanship).
This is the first of five posts outlining my game plan to make this evolved civic mindset a reality. In this piece, Growing a Societal Evolution, I lay out the philosophical and structural foundation of the direct participation model I analogized in the “wild side” of Orion.
Rhizomes and Decentralization
Biologists say trees are social beings. They can count learn and remember. They nurse sick members, warn each other of dangers by sending electrical signals across a fungal network and for reasons unknown, keep the ancient stumps of long felled companions alive for centuries by feeding them a sugar solution through roots. (Marije van Zomeren)
To find a model for organizational structure built around resource maximization and decentralized civic participation and collaboration, we need to look no further than our backyard – in nature. One of nature’s most effective means of sustainability is the Rhizome. The Rhizome is a modified subterranean stem of a plant that is usually found underground, often sending out roots and shoots from its nodes. Rhizomes develop from axillary buds and grow perpendicular to the force of gravity. The Rhizome also retains the ability to allow new shoots to grow upwards. If a Rhizome is separated into pieces, each piece may be able to give rise to a new plant … and a new node of above ground activity.
This phenomena of decentralized activity in Rhizomes was best articulated in the philosophy or Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari in the ’60s.
“A rhizome ceaselessly establishes connections between semiotic chains, organizations of power, and circumstances relative to the arts, sciences, and social struggles … the rhizome connects any point to any other point, and its traits are not necessarily linked to traits of the same nature; it brings into play very different regimes of signs, and even nonsign states … The rhizome operates by variation, expansion, conquest, capture, offshoots.” A rhizome has no beginning or end; it is always in the middle, between things, interbeing, intermezzo. (A Thousand Plateaus)
Deleuze and Guattari broke down their rhizomatic social philosophy into several components. Below are several that are applicable to a community based construct. From here we can extrapolate to arrive at our version of a locally governed civic participation platform – the “Asian Leopard wild cat” of our hybrid.
- Rhizome: Rather than using the organizational structure of the root-tree system which charts causality along chronological lines and looks for the single origin of “things” and looks towards conclusion of those “things;” a Rhizome continually establishes connections between threads of meaningful communication, organizations of power, and other influences (including arts, sciences, and social struggles). The planar movement of the Rhizome resists chronology and formal organization, instead favoring a Nomadic system of growth and proliferation. In this model, influence and application spreads like the surface of a body of water, spreading towards available spaces or in the application of community – maximizing the resources available to it, regardless of the type.
- Nomad: Nomadism is a way of life that exists outside of the traditional organizational or societal norm (at least in modern times). The Nomad is a way of being in the middle or between points. It is characterized by movement and change, and is unfettered by systems of organization. The goal of the Nomad is only to continue to move within the “intermezzo.” (the journey rather than the destination). This constant state activity prevents itself from existing for the sake of existing as conventional organizations and institutions most often do. The goal is to make things happen, to find opportunities and solutions; not just to “be.” This Nomadic behavior also lends itself to the individual focusing on what interests them and where they can contribute the most, rather than just working within the constraints of a pre-defined, often inefficient role or job. In short, being a Nomad can greatly enhance ones sense of engagement and well-being. Or according to the Danish philosopher Søren Kiekegaard, be “the evolved man.”
- Smooth Space: The platform or naked infrastructure on which the community and in turn the array of “need and opportunity based activities” operate is called the Smooth Space. This platform is not formally defined, but rather takes the form of the influences that inhabit it. As outlined above, these influences can include meaningful communication, existing organizations (government and other) as well as social norms, ideals and community expectations. In the context of Community 3.0, the Smooth Space is the small business community, Front Porches, the members of the community who are their customers along with the societal norms they create. What a community does and creates with its Smooth Space will determine the well-being of its populace. It is the duty of the Rhizome structure and its Smooth Space to accommodate and nurture the intangible, serendipitous, sensual and tactical engagements of all the members of its community (i.e. empathy, creativity, collaboration and self-actualization).
- Body Without Organs: Body Without Organs is what happens. It is the result of what the Rhizome social philosophy using the Nomadic actions of its components operating on the Smooth Space. In itself the Body Without Organs has no form until the variables of the community are injected into it. The community’s personality and overall state of well-being are the results of the interactions between its members and businesses; it’s its Body Without Organs. It can take a conservative form or a progressive one. NIMBYism and gated communities or more communal. Tolerant and welcoming or closed and silos. Wall Street or Main Street. This is the community’s personality. But rather than the personality being dictated by those in the high rungs of a traditionally mandated hierarchy – it will come to form through the participation of those who live there … those on the streets, no matter their social stature. How the community directly responds to its needs and opportunities will be what it is.
A contemporary version of this Nomadic Rhizome organizational approach is referred roughly as Open allocation. Open allocation is a management style in which employees are given freedom to choose what projects to work on, and how to allocate their time. They do not necessarily answer to a static manager, but rather to the specific project they are working on within a company or organization. They can transfer between projects as they wish as long as they are providing value. Open allocation has been described as a process of self-organization. Rather than teams and leadership arrangements existing permanently in the organization, relationships form as they are needed (around causes and projects). When the projects are completed they disband. (excerpts taken from Wikipedia)
Types of Open allocation arrangements are happening in various organizations globally in the form of peer-to-peer movements. A main societal proponent is the P2P Foundation headed by Michel Bauwens. On the corporate side, attention should be paid to the Holacracy consulting practice founded by Brian Robertson. Their highest profile client to date is the Las Vegas based internet commerce firm Zappos owned by Amazon. Zappos is an interesting case of injecting a radical systematic change into a workplace that may or may not have been culturally ready for it. There are lessons than can be learned from their transition that I cover in an upcoming post.
But probably the biggest success story for a corporate self-governing organization is the Dutch home-care organization Buurtzorg Nederland.
Buurtzorg founder, Jos de Blok, has a critical role in the company. He exerts practically no formal power or control over the decentralised teams who deliver the services and innovate new ideas. It works incredibly well and Buurtzorg easily outperforms its traditionally structured counterparts in the healthcare sector.
However, de Blok’s presence is clearly strongly felt by all. Without even needing to codify a ‘mission statement,’ there is a powerful energy in the organisation around his founding vision of transforming community healthcare by operating with a very different organisational model. De Blok is holding the space for his vision to emerge, yet allowing the thousands of employees to have all the power they need to make it happen, sometimes in ways de Blok would never have conceived himself.
Without de Blok’s direct control, they develop more and better ways to realise and expand his vision, growing Buurtzorg’s impact over time in ways he could never orchestrate as a traditional top-down leader. But he still appears to be holding the vision for the whole, at the very highest level. This is most evident through his practice of personally participating in the induction new recruits, so they truly understand the purpose of the organisation. Yvon Chouinard of Patagonia does this too. These founders know that if they have made the overall vision clear, they can set their people free to realize the vision autonomously, using all of their creativity. (Tom Nixon “Resolving the awkward paradox in Frederic Laloux’s Reinventing Organisations“)
Front Porches and Societal Evolution
The goal of Community 3.0 is to take principles of resource maximization and incorporate them with the naturalistic examples of the Rhizome organization articulated by Deleuze and Guattari. This result is a platform for community self-governance and sustainability built around informal but operationally significant gatherings, otherwise know as Front Porches. While these Front Porches can form anywhere, say even in your garage, the ideal locations will be in the locally owned businesses of our communities.
Rather than myopically obsess on economic growth as most all civic governments do, Community 3.0 Front Porches will focus on destroying the “silos” that retard our evolution and ultimately improving the overall well-being of our populace including physical, cerebral (avenues to self-actualization) and spiritual health.
It will be the priority of these Front Porches to create environments in our communities that nurture hope by empowering avenues for us to engage with our world and express our creativity through a Solutionist mindset – letting the inherent benevolence inside us bloom. By making “helping others” our societal norm and expectation … we will supplant that of the hopeless climb up the ladder of our current economic caste system.
People will gravitate towards what they want to do … and in turn do what they do best. This lifestyle of self management of interests and activities will not only benefit them, but also their community. Lives based on economic status will be replaced by those of self-actualization. Civic participation and altruism will elevate them and empower them to evolve as humans.
This is Community 3.0 … and welcome to our next societal evolution.
“The capacity of communities to solve problems may be impeded by hierarchical (whether public or private) division and economic inequality among its members. This is a perfect reason for practicing empathy and well-being as a main tenet. Inequality of income (as measured only in its limited sense) cannot be solved … but maybe inequality of attitude (and self-defined wealth) can. ~ Tom Reeves
If you haven’t, I invite you to start by delving into my ideas by reading the series, “On the Road to Your Community’s Perfect World,” This is my articulation of how we can create better, more inclusive, unique communities as the solution to our society’s pressing issues. Consider each week’s post a Mile Marker (MM), a cerebral off-ramp from the highway of your daily routine, taking a you little further down this road to a better version of society.
- MM 1: Rebuilding our Neighborhoods through the ‘Middle Ring’
- MM 2: Empathy and ‘Shared Experiences’
- MM 3: ‘Cross-Pollination’ and Creating your Personal Renaissance
- MM 4: ‘Bridging the Gap’
- MM 5: ‘The Kernel,’ A Cross-Generational Makerspace Ecosystem
- MM 6: Silos
- MM 7: Don’t fall for Starbuck, and “Staying off the Interstate”
- MM 8: Cheating the Grim Reaper of ‘Small Town U.S.A.’
- MM 9: Buy Local … or maybe not!
- MM 10: “Where Everyone Knows Your Name”
- MM 11: Apollo 13, MacGyver and ‘Resource Maximization’
- MM12: Solutionists and Community Empowerment Concierges
- MM13: My Road to Political Disillusionment
- MM14: What if Reputation Ruled the World
- MM15: Well-being, Hope … and the Role of Community
- MM16: “Orion” … A Feline Metaphor for Hybrid Governance
- MM17: Growing an Evolved Society
- MM18: “Front Porches”
- MM19: “Herding cats” and the Art of Collaboration
- MM20: Creating Successful Chaos Within a Well-Ordered Failure
- MM21: “Breeding Orion” … Build Don’t Tear Down
- MM22: Ask yourself: “If not me … then who?”