Our organisations are failing us.
Just consider some of the news stories in the last year or two. The world’s largest car manufacturer, Volkswagen has been, in the words of its CEO, “dishonest”. VW pursues profit and the Earth’s atmosphere bears the cost. Other car companies are now being investigated. The banks, meanwhile, have been illegally tinkering with lending rates, just a few years after nearly bringing our collective financial roof down due to their manipulations and speculative behaviour. They continue to pay their executives huge salaries and bonuses, funded by government subsidies. What about our large food manufacturers and distributors? The population of developed countries is facing an epidemic of obesity and diabetes – meanwhile, food companies continue to prioritise short term profit, using marketing tricks to persuade customers to buy sugary, fatty food of minimal nutritional value. Drugs companies are no better. Several large pharmaceutical companies bribed doctors on a large scale to maximise sales. I could go on…. In the face of all this, governments stand by and watch, not daring to intervene in case it disturbs the economy.
Both governments and corporations are guilty of focusing on the small things (sales, profits, GDP) and ignoring or trivialising the big things – human dignity, meaning, environmental well-being, the rights of other species to share this planet.
Confusingly, however, if you meet people who work within these institutions you find that, by and large, they are just ordinary people like you and me. They’re no better and no worse. There seems to be something about large intitutions that encourages people to focus on obedience, efficiency and logic, while leaving their values at home. When they arrive at work, the system takes over and they become cogs in it. As individuals they might care about things like climate change, species loss and social inequality but collectively they don’t, unless it is financially profitable.
There is hope however. People are waking up. Around the globe individuals and groups are experimenting with new ways of organising. They are flattening hierarchies, dispensing with managers, exploring stakeholder ownership, and creating networks of dynamically interacting teams. They use terms like sociocracy, B Corps, social enterprises, holacracy, agile, viable systems model, employee ownership, open source communities. All these approaches have the potential to transform the way people within organisations relate to each other, to the wider community and to all of life on Earth.
It was hope that led me to set up the Human Organising Project. Hope, plus an insight that is not easy to move from a top-down, hierarchical, Newtonian model of organising to a more free-spirited, flexible, complex way of doing things. No book can tell you how to do this – you have to find your own way. But books can help. And so can meeting others who are also on this journey. The Human Organising Project will provide spaces where people can meet others and encourage, inspire and challenge each other along the way. We should also have some fun too. Having fun is a very human thing and something I want to encourage. Do come and play!