History and Philosophy

The Dangers of Renaming Sociocracy

The impulse in consulting and study groups with a focus on sociocracy is renaming sociocracy: dynamic governance, dynamic self-governance, sociocracy 3.0, Circle Forward, Holacracy, etc. All include sociocracy with almost no variation except in changing the names and vocabulary.

I’m totally sympathetic with this—”sociocracy” in English isn’t a pleasant word. It has this awful “ock” sound in the middle that is harsh and too easily becomes nasal. And the association with the word “socialism,” which in the United States is anathema.

But Holacracy is not much better and I don’t see the Holacracy people breaking off with new names. Even with the impediment of Holacracy being trademarked and aggressively protecting their trademark, it could be migrated with a new name if people wanted to.

Renaming sociocracy further creates confusion and blurs the force of the movement. Perhaps even more dangerous, it separates all these seemingly unique methods, from the history and literature related to sociocracy and to that of “circular organization.”

Circular organization refers to organizations based on the feedback loops central to cybernetic study of organisms and systems, and essential in sociocracy. The concept of “circular organization” was first presented in 1981 by by Russell Ackoff and others prominent in early cybernetics and systems thinking. It was implemented in several dozen corporations and federal agencies, including Budweiser.

Sociocracy has more than 150 years of theorizing about a government that would act for all the people. It was led by leaders like the French philosopher and sociologist Auguste Compt and the American scientist and sociologist  Frank Ward. It has been implemented since WW II. Supposedly “new” ideas and names disassociates the ideas from history. These new-name methods are not sufficiently different  to warrant new names.  They artificially divide a field study that needs focus in order to grow.

It now takes longer to clarify the differences and non-differences between all the names than to explain sociocracy.
“Sociocracy” has a wonderful history that parallels that of science and the search for a better society. And it has a wonderful ethical base — the equal valuing of all people.

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2 replies »

  1. I notice that you dismiss the differences of substance, that should justify the different names in sociocracy as “almost no variation”.
    However you do recognize one difference that must be at least as important as the subject of your blogpost in this quoet: “… Holacracy is not much better and I don’t see the Holacracy people breaking off with new names.” …
    I think there must be a self-contradiction here: If it is an important problem, that sociocracy people break off with new names, then there must be something about Holacracy that is better and equally important , since Holacracy people don’t seem to break of with new names. Maybe it is something too important to be dismissed as “almost no variance”. Right?

    • It isn’t dismissing but pointing out that the differences are changes in emphasis, not content or result. In the case of Holacracy, the defaults have been reversed. For example, holacracy sets authoritarian leadership of the circle as the default. but circles can chose more egalitarian processes if there are no objections. In sociocracy, facilitating decisions by circle members is emphasized. Holacracy says only objections count— “Consent has no place in Holacracy.” But sociocracy defines consent as no objections. Is that a difference? I don’t think so.

      Many differences when examined are the result from the ancillary training and personality of the trainer. If the consultant is also an NVC trainer, in all likelihood there will be more emphasis on the process of clarifying feelings and needs and using those to resolve objections. Experience in business and government management will probably be more focused on the operations needs, who does what and how, than on how circle members feel. There may be times when feelings are important to resolve, but that wouldn’t usually be the expectation in business and government.

      A trainer with a background in psychology is likely to place more emphasis on individual behavior in a group. Personality is also important. Some trainers have more autocratic personalities so they add a tone to sociocracy as more prescriptive. “This is how you do it.”

      Education, experience, and personality manifest as differences but really don’t change the basic principles.

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