By Jeff Stamps, guest blogger for Endless Knots
This is Sunday morning, a time when people in my culture are used to receiving or giving sermons on the greater meaning of life and the practical applicability of the Golden Rule ("do unto others.."). Today's modest effort has been stimulated by a recent book, The Living Universe, by an old friend, Duane Elgin, whose 1981 book, Voluntary Simplicity, still resonates almost 30 years after its publication.
Our first book came out at about the same time as Duane's. In Networking: The First Report and Directory (see our books), Jessica and I recognized networks as a new form of organization in the grassroots movements of the 1970s. In the "report" part of the book, we chronicled the emergence of groups that were to become the centers for today's nonprofit world. So we often crossed paths with Duane and soon became friends.
Duane is a big thinker and a simple liver, and has devoted a lifetime to the notion of human transformation and inspiring positive change. He was a futurist researcher with SRI International in the 1970s, and worked on a number of cutting edge projects including Changing Images of Man, a stunning report with Joseph Campbell, Willis Harmon, and O.W. Markley.
His latest book hinges on a simple question, one you can take a moment to answer yourself before you go on:
Is the universe dead or alive?
Deadness is the prevailing scientific view, a container of inert matter that is the physical layer upon which the miracle of life grows. However, most people answer quickly, intuitively--in a "blink"--that of course the thing-as-a-whole is more alive than dead.
For me, it crystallized another question to pose about human beings, which you might also answer:
Are our organizations dead or alive?
Deadness is the prevailing view. The deadness of inert matter is found in our conventional "machine model" of organizations, particularly Big Ones, and most especially government ones. Many of our friends who promote networks dismiss the physical hierarchy as an antiquated machine relic rather than an evolving human organization that is becoming more networked. Our organizations are our greatest unexploited resource for addressing the confluence of disaster, change, and opportunity that defines our transitional time, so the answer "dead or alive" really matters.
While organizations cannot live without people, they are also different from people, yet still distinctly human--and alive. Two great networks--one social, the other organizational--intersect in the interrelated configuration of jobs, positions, and roles. Together, we get stuff done that as individuals we cannot do alone (see our Working Papers for some deep diving on this theme).
GM was the epitome of the industrial model, the archetype of the impersonal machine organization. 'Nuf said with Chrysler already in bankruptcy and GM headed there shortly.
Our organizations never were machines, but regarding them as such ensures a failure to adapt and learn and grow.
So this is where The Living Universe took me. If you enjoy a mix of religious and scientific views on the how the universe lives and why it matters, you should read Duane's newest book.