From Disconnected Hierarchies To Connected Ecosystems

“In nature there is no “above” or “below,” and there are no hierarchies. There are only networks nesting within other networks.”  -Fritjof Capra The Web of Life

For far too long we have fabricated and forged a false hierarchical flow to contain and control our organizations and institutions. We’ve created silos, instead of connections. We’ve chosen rank, over relationship. We’ve constructed hierarchies, instead of networks.

And we’ve paid a price for it…

Engagement is at an all-time low. Creativity is diminishing at a rapid rate. And we struggle to keep up with the ferocious pace of innovation. Our organizations and institutions are faltering and failing to engage inspired, imaginative and inventive thinkers and problem-solvers who are able to confront the issues and changes that accompany the many shifts we are facing in society.

Much of the man-made organizational structures we’ve created lack the organic and authentic flow that is found in nature. We’ve chosen the route of disconnected, command and control hierarchies over the connected flow of networked ecosystems.

Silos over communities, parts over wholes…

As Fritjof Capra shares in The Web of Life, “Since living systems at all levels are networks, we must visualize the web of life as living systems (networks).” As Capra adds, “In other words, the web of life consists of networks within networks.”

Moving from thinking in terms of hierarchies, towards networks, will be a paradigm shift. We will need to rethink and even begin to flatten out our organizations. Especially if we are going to engage the creative and innovative capacity of our people and organization as a whole. For that to happen, we need to be able to access the thinking and ideas from the whole of the organization, not just what is pushed up through the hierarchical channels.

Or as Capra adds, “The new paradigm may be called a holistic worldview, seeing the world as an integrated whole rather than a dissociated collection of parts.”

We are well to remember, that when we reduce wholes down to parts, without grasping a full understanding of the whole, our perspective can often become twisted and distorted. Even when we are dealing only in parts, we have to be aware of the whole of the system and how our decisions and actions can reverberate and push out across the whole.

Or as Capra shares, “The more we study the major problems of our time, the more we come to realize that they cannot be understood in isolation.”

We live in a new economy, a knowledge economy, and it will be our ability to harness the possibilities of networks, not hierarchies that will allow us to better tap into and unleash the knowledge that surrounds us. When we take a systems (network) approach to our organizations and institutions, we will begin to create ecosystems that serve as interconnected communities of learning. Which has not been the case. But is a shift that will be required, if we are going to create more innovative and creative organizations and institutions.

The problem we will have to contend with in initiating this shift is that networks are not something you can put your finger on and control. They are more organic and evolving, than defined and structured.

Which inserts a bit of uncertainty and ambiguity into the shift. Which can be a bit of a struggle for many leaders and organizations to embrace. Especially, when a command and control style has been embedded into the system. Making this type of shift difficult to initiate and sustain. Even though it will ultimately be necessary to keep pace with the demands of our ever evolving and changing society and world.

In the end, it will be something that today’s leaders will need to grapple with, for themselves and those the lead. Especially since it may be the best route to creating a greater sense of autonomy in our people that can eventually lead us back to more motivated, creative and innovative organizations. As well as developing deeper connections and relationships at all levels of the organization. Creating greater levels of interdependence in our communities.  Leading to stronger networks and systems.

“We tend to arrange these systems, all nesting within larger systems, in hierarchical scheme by placing the larger systems above the smaller ones in pyramid fashion. But this is a human projection.”

“Today we know that most organisms are not only member of ecological communities but are also complex ecosystems themselves, containing a host of smaller organisms that have considerable autonomy and yet are integrated harmoniously into the functioning of the whole.”  -Fritjof Capra The Web of Life


1 thought on “From Disconnected Hierarchies To Connected Ecosystems

  1. This is so well written. I am in awe of the message coupled with the fantastic alliteration. I mean this sincerely- this piece is truth coupled with finesse.
    Thank you!

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