Re: Unskillful Decisions LO221

Michael McMaster (
Thu, 23 Feb 1995 21:14:33 GMT

Replying to LO168 --

The opening provided by Jack's inquiry into the possibility of
participation (and dialogue) is valuable if we are to tackle the
implications of hierarchy and authority in the design of our
organisations. Its the design principle that we've inherited and
remains at the base of almost all supposed "new" designs. Why,
because the fundamental theory (maybe episteme? - maybe even deeper?)
goes unchallenged, unquestioned - is an unquestionable meta-narrative.

I think that the problem is not the existence of hierarchies or their
use in design. Its that in business conversations and, worse, in
"push comes to shove" situations that we find we have fallen back on
hierarchies as the only effective way of organising and that we only
play with other ideas inside of the big hierarchy.

What we can do is bust the hierarchies by the forces that those of us
in this dialogue seem to be interested in. We can invent processes
and practices of participation that are outside of the heirarchies and
are essentially subversive to them. That is, the dialogue itself will
challenge the boundaries, it will remove the boundaries and it will
simply fade the importance of boundaries. Something will emerge
that is unpredictable in specifics and outside of the control of
the system/heirarchy.

Like Jack says, hierarchies aren't bad in and of themselves. We can
use the lens of interpretation that sees hierarchy in many places.
We can even intentionally invent hierarchies. It's when they have us
and we don't even know it that we get into trouble.

I also appreciate his pointing to the condition that I live in but
regularly forget - I too live in a "right/wrong" culture that often
passes its (my) opinions off as knowledge and truth.

Thanks for the contribution,

Mike McMaster <>

> ... In this sense, it's possible to lead a
> bureaucracy and manage distributed intelligence by creating a highly
> participative environment. Just because the prevailing notions of
> hierarchy are just ideas which are being projected onto messier realities,
> we should not assume that hierarchical notions are "incorrect",
> "erroneous", or even "destructive". It's often said - even by people who
> believe in and drive hierarchical organizations (vide, Jack Welch) - that
> hierarchy is the enemy of participation and self-actualization of people
> within organizations. Maybe. But maybe the issue is not so much the
> structure itself as our unconscious and unstated assumptions about
> hierarchy.
> I'm not sure where I'm going with all this, but where I started was with
> the idea of organizational variety which either fosters or hinders the
> growth and development of distributed intelligence. I guess what I'm
> saying is, we don't really know a lot about it, and there are obstacles to
> our finding out which are built into the way we think about things
> usually.