An informed article by “Schumpeter” (no first name available), The Holes in Holacracy, included in the print edition as well as online. Schumpeter’s points are really about new branded methods failing. They are gone in 10 years. (Sociocracy on which Holacracy is based has not failed in 40 years.)
EVERY so often a company emerges from the herd to be lauded as the embodiment of leading-edge management thinking. Think of Toyota and its lean manufacturing system, say, or GE and Six Sigma excellence. The latest candidate for apotheosis is Zappos, an online vendor of shoes and clothes (owned by Amazon), which believes that happy workers breed happy customers. Tony Hsieh, its boss, said last year that he will turn the firm into a “holacracy”, replacing its hierarchy with a more democratic system of overlapping, self-organising teams. Until Zappos embraced it, no big company had taken holacracy seriously. Indeed, not all of Zappos’ 1,500-strong workforce are convinced that it can work…
Will conquering Zappos help holacracy thrive in the brutally competitive market for management ideas? There is good reason to be skeptical. “Nine-tenths of the approximately 100 branded management ideas I’ve studied lost their popularity within a decade or so,” wrote Julian Birkinshaw of London Business School in the May issue of the Harvard Business Review. Among the latest cast-offs, it seems, is Google’s much-admired “20% time”, in which workers got a day a week to work on their own projects; the company is reported to be quietly sidelining it.
A biological organism is not an aggregation of simple parts but of other organs that are both independent and dependent. Biological holons are self-regulating, open systems that display both the autonomous properties of wholes and the dependent properties of parts.
The suffix ‘archy’ means a rule or a government. Holons are arranged in a hierarchy linked by a system of communication and control more accurately called a holarchy rather than a hierarchy. A hierarchy by definition has a top and a bottom but the relationships between holons are not so clearly top to bottom or bottom to top.
The “hierarchical relationship” between holons is that holons at one level are “made up of, or make up” the holons or parts of another level. The parts only exist as they are integrated to create the whole and the whole’s definition is that of the parts.
Wikipedia: The “hierarchical relationship” between holons at different levels can just as meaningfully be described with terms like “in and out”, as they can with “up and down” or “left and right”; perhaps more generally, one can say that holons at one level are “made up of, or make up” the holons or parts of another level. This can be demonstrated in the holarchic relationship where each holon is a “level” of organization, and all are ultimately descriptive of the same set. The top can be a bottom, a bottom can be a top, and, like a fractal, the patterns evident at one level can be similar to those at another.
David Spangler: In a hierarchy, participants can be compared and evaluated by position, rank, relative power, seniority, and the like. But in a holarchy each person’s value comes from his or her individuality and uniqueness and the capacity to engage and interact with others to make the fruits of that uniqueness available.
In sociocracy, this is replicated with each level of circles forming the next higher level with their own members. And the next higher circle forms lower circles by assigning an aim, a leader, and allocating resources. The whole exists only as an integration of the semi-independent parts, the higher level also begin defined by the lower.
“Some General Properties of Self-Regulating Open Heirarchic Order” (SOHO) by Arthur Koestler is an extensive description of the holon as a self-assertive part that is also integrated into a whole. Originally published as an Appendix to the intervention at the Alpbach Symposium, whose acts were published in 1969 as a book edited by Arthur Koestler and J. R. Smythies with the title Beyond Reductionism. Accessed 22 June 2014.
Won’t the prescriptive Norms in sociocracy and the Constitution in Holacracy impose the rule of law, which will quickly devolve into the rule of lawyers? The more arcane and opaque the law is, the more tyrannical that law becomes.
My response to this requires a distinction between laws and policies. Laws and policies are the same in that both govern future actions and decisions. Laws are made by governments to govern the actions of citizens of countries or parts of countries—cities, states, etc. They are enforced by various branches of the government—agencies, courts, etc.
Policies are made by organizations to govern their own internal decision-making and operations. It is up to the organization and its members to enforce them. Unless the law specifically states otherwise, an organization’s policies must be within the requirements of the law.
A citizen can sue a government over unjust laws, or sue an organization over policies that are not in accordance with the law, but cannot sue an organization for not following its own internal policies as long as those policies are within the law.
The laws that lawyers’ address, are arbitrary and obscure. They are not necessarily based on what works and not regularly reviewed. Old laws, even 10 years old, can be based on out-dated conditions and don’t make sense, but they are still enforceable. For various reasons, they may not have made sense when they were adopted, or they made sense for one particular group but are applied universally.
The aim of a law is not always clear, and if not, the test is whether the law is still in force, not whether it has a purpose or achieves an aim .
Sociocracy & Holacracy: Testing What Works
The question about laws and lawyers was asked in the context of a comparison between sociocracy and Holacracy and the enforcement of their “laws.” This is where we get into the weeds.
The major influences on the sociocratic Norms are from engineering and physics, cybernetics, and mysticism. (Quaker faith on sitting together to reach consent). The major influences on Holacracy are sociocracy, computer software design, and mysticism. (Ken Wilber on ego vs higher purpose).
All the respective languages and applications—electrical engineering, computer software design, cybernetics, and mysticism— are based on testable processes. They change when new information is available. Sociocracy and Holacracy use these languages to define the processes used to achieve aims or purposes. Both have an easy test—if a practice isn’t working, the process either wasn’t understood or is being applied incorrectly.
Making Laws and Policies
The international sociocratic center has a process for certifying individuals and organizations but has no control over the use of the word sociocracy. The principles of the sociocratic circle-organization method have been adapted and modified in many ways in organizations that call themselves sociocratic. And are also used pristinely in organizations that don’t call themselves sociocratic. They are used by many management consultants who may call it by other names. As long as they do not imply that they are certified by the international organization, they are functioning lawfully.
It is not the same for the word Holacracy. Holacracy also has a certification program, but it is also a registered trademark. Individuals and organizations have to be certified or given approval to say they use Holacracy. Since trademarking is a law, the use of Holacracy without permission can bring in the lawyers and the case taken to court. The test is whether permission was given, not whether an organization is properly following the constitution. Here we are back to laws, lawyers, and judges. It is a violations of the law or isn’t it? Did the use happen or not? The question is not “did the use achieve a positive result?”
Some have suggested that this is the reason the Holacracy Constitution is so dense and written in legalese—so it can be used in litigation. Certainly a lawyer was involved because the language had to have been studied for years to be used so obscurely. An easier basis for legal action, however, is simply the use of the word in any way that might confuse Holacracy with other methods of governance or imply connections without permission.
The Tyranny of Laws
Only certification and trademarking are protected by law. Then disputes can be argued in court and the government enforce the decision. Lawyers will make the arguments.
When the aim is to govern organizations that are effective and harmonious, the law has no place, but policies do. Policies are agreements within organizations. Members of organizations work more effectively and harmoniously if they have expectations that are shared and understood, and based on what works to help them work effectively. Effectiveness and harmony require resilience, the ability to adapt to new situations, and full control over self-organization.
I think no one will argue that neither laws nor lawyers encourage self-organization.
For extra credit:
The word holarchy was created by Arthur Koestler in , published in 1967, to describe a hierarchy of holons, self-organizing units that are both a part and a whole. There is no trademark on holarchy.