Orgs and survival instincts LO12090
Mon, 20 Jan 1997 18:10:39 -0500 (EST)

Replying to LO12013 --

Hi Ragnar,

The article you are referring to was entitled "Of Boxes, Bubbles and
Effective Management" (HBR May-June 1984) and it was the first article I
had ever published. We had gone through this incredible experience of
being taken over in a leveraged buyout on the eve of the "Great Recession"
of 1982 and had gone insolvent. Fortunately we owed the bank so much money
it was their problem, not just ours! After two years of incredible
teamwork we managed to find new owners and dig our way out of the mess. In
the aftermath I tried to write about what had happened but could not find
a framework for it in my U.S. business school training. I found a
framework in Taoist philosophy and instead of using Yang and Yin I wrote
about "boxes" and "bubbles" to contrast structure and process.

I always felt very pleased that the article was published in 1984 because
George Orwell's Book "1984" was and is one of my favourite pieces of
fiction: I have a strong identification with Winston Smith. If you
remember there is a passage where O'Brien, the all powerful Inner Party
member, and Winston Smith's torturer taunts him with his belief that the
proles (common people) can overthrow the Party hierarchy:

W.S. "I don't know - I don't care. Somehow you will fail. Something will
defeat you. Life will defeat you."
O'B. "We control life, Winston, at all its levels. You are imagining that
there is something called human nature which will be outraged by what we do
and turn against us. But we create human nature. Men are infinitely
W.S. "I don't care. In the end they will beat you. Sooner or later they will
see you for what you are, and then they will tear you to pieces."
O'B. "Do you see any evidence that this is happening? Or any reason why it
W.S. "No, I believe it. I know that you will fail. There is something in the
universe - I don't know, some spirit, some principle - that you will never
O'B. "Do you believe in God, Winston?"
W.S. "No."
O'B. "Then what is it, this principle that will defeat us?"
W.S. "I don't know. The spirit of Man."

I felt that in our experience we, as a team, had discovered Winston
Smith's "spirit of Man": a human (perhaps "higher mammal") "default
condition" that emerges only when things fall apart. The center that does
hold is the team, the hunting band gathered in the campfire circle with
its open dialogue, egalitarian instincts and flexible dynamics. If there
is an organizational "survival instinct" it is in these contexts that it

The experience changed my life and career and I ended up leaving the big
corporation and writing a book which takes the ideas a lot further and
connects management, Taoist philosophy and chaos/complexity theory. See

McGraw-Hill Ryerson - Crisis & Renewal</A>

Best wishes,
David Hurst (
Speaker, Writer and Consultant on Management
Author of "Crisis & Renewal: Meeting the Challenge of Organizational Change
(Harvard Business School Press, 1995)


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