Thursday, March 14, 2019

Coping with Radical Social Change

Charles Hugh Smith has an article about the dynamics of decay and collapse of organisations and systems The article is complicated, but his comments are relevant to the leadership of the modern church who seems to be struggling to cope with the rapid change that is sweeping the world.

Human organizational structures have traits that manifest either resiliency or brittleness. Resilient ones adapt; brittle ones collapse. Such manifestation is scale-invariant, meaning it holds equally true for small groups, global corporations and/or states. Dynamics that favor maintaining the status quo are intrinsic to all organizations.

Simply put, it’s extremely difficult for organizations to change their structure once it’s been institutionalized. As a result, organizations are suited for gradual, modest changes that leave their processes and outputs intact. When survival depends on radically reorganizing these structures, organizations lack the institutional mechanisms, funding, history and skills required to do so. In other words, rapid adaptation that puts insiders at risk is not a natural function of organizations...

Few organizations are able to adapt to new conditions if the adaptation requires a fundamental reordering of the power structure. Very few individuals or groups voluntarily relinquish power and income, even for the good of the organization. People cling very tenaciously to the self-serving belief that whatever changes need to be made can be done while leaving their positions and power intact.

In other words, insiders prefer to conserve the status quo rather than increase the resilience of the organization, because the costs and redistribution of power required to increase resilience come at the expense of insiders… insiders are incapable of recognizing and addressing problems if taking curative action disrupts the power structure.

This inability to accept the necessity of radical change is intellectual and cultural. Rather than being flexible, versatile and seeking to promote variability within the organization to strengthen adaptive capabilities, insiders do more of what’s failing/failed. Culturally, the required changes may be outside the institution’s behavioral norms, or so far off their radar they don’t even register as possibilities, much less necessities; anyone daring to propose such changes is sacked or exiled as threats to the status quo. Such institutional culling of those willing to pursue needed changes dooms the organization, as it lacks both the structures and leadership needed to institutionalize flexibility, versatility and variability.

The ingrained bias within organizations is to conserve whatever worked well in the past, including the existing power structure. As non-linear change overwhelms the organization, those in power will sacrifice the organization itself, perhaps unwittingly, rather than see their power diminished. From the perspective of those in power, their control is the glue holding the institution together. The possibility that the power structure is itself the cause of the institution’s failure simply doesn’t compute.
The default inclination of any organization that’s optimized to protect the security of insiders is to repress any dissent as dangerous, and punish or exile the dissenters.
This a modern form of killing the prophets.

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