Tuesday, June 30, 2009

TIMN and the emergence of “collaborative community” — a concept apropos +N

As a prior post indicated might occur, this post is set on reviewing an interesting paper I recently learned about, thanks to a reference at the orgtheory.net blog. The ideas in the paper bear on figuring out what the addition of networks (+N) will mean for TIMN evolution, and in what ways such networks will be different from tribes (T).

Since this post has turned out to be far, far longer than I intended, here’s an overview, drawn from the section headings. First comes a summary of some of the authors’ key points:
  • They posit a trifold framework for analyzing organizational trends in the corporate world: hierarchy, market, and community — and claim that community needs to be revived in a major way.
  • They identify three types of community: gemeinschaft, gesellschaft, and collaborative community — and favor the collaborative one.
  • They show that collaborative community will involve a new kind of work ethic based on mutual trust — which I like, but question a bit.
  • They claim that collaborative community will arise most where trust is highest — but I claim it will occur most where out-competing depends on out-cooperating.
All of that serves to substantiate aspects of TIMN. But it’s prelude to what I mainly wonder and finally turn to address:
  • Could their trifold framework be made fourfold — like TIMN?
  • If so, won’t collaborative community pertain more to +N than to the +M realm they emphasize?
All in all, it’s a very interesting, insightful paper that benefits TIMN. And it serves as a good foil for making various points about TIMN, some of which I have barely begun to make and present at this blog.

* * * * *

Adler's and Heckscher's trifold framework: hierarchy, market, and community

The paper is Paul Adler’s and Charles Heckscher’s “Towards Collaborative Community” (2005 — a chapter for their book The Firm as a Collaborative Community, 2007). As I blurbed previously regarding one of their tables, they discuss three cardinal principles of organization: hierarchy, market, and community. Their focus is the corporate business realm. And their concern is that hierarchy and market ways of doing things have displaced community ways far more than is desirable, especially now that the corporate world is entering an information-age era when collaborative knowledge production is becoming a paramount endeavor.

What’s needed, they say, is a revival of the community principle to go along with the prevailing hierarchy and market principles:
“Hierarchy and market are not the only possible organizational forms, and for this purpose they are not the best ones. Community is an alternative form of coordination — one that is essential to knowledge creation.” (p. 29)

By “community” they mean much that other analysts mean by “network” and related terms — a form whose functioning depends primarily on shared values and norms, especially interpersonal trust. Thus their trifold typology is rather standard, as depicted by the adjacent screen-grab of Table 1.1 (from p. 16; click to enlarge). But their key point is unusual and innovative:

They advise against returning to a traditional concept of community. It is too inclined toward separating insiders from outsiders, exalting eternal values, and stifling individual autonomy and innovation — little of which is conducive to the operation of information-age enterprises.

What’s required is the construction of a new, higher form of community — “collaborative community” — better suited to the information age. Unlike the traditional concept, it would be open to people with multiple identities; facilitate crossing boundaries; place trust in peer dialogue, review, and accountability; and inspire the collective creation of shared value. Indeed,
“[W]ithout a rebuilding of communal institutions, the potential of a knowledge economy cannot be realized. . . .

“Our central thesis is that an increasingly knowledge-intensive, solutions-oriented economy requires collaborative community.” (p. 37)
Their best examples — and hopes — for its evolution presently reside in the scientific community and the open-software movement.

Three types of community: gemeinschaft, gesellschaft, and collaborative

To make their point, Adler and Heckscher depict three types of community, from older to newer, as indicated by the nearby screen-grab of Table 1.2 (from p. 17; click to enlarge):
  • gemeinschaft (community in the shadow of hierarchy);
  • gesellschaft (community in the shadow of market);
  • collaborative community (community itself as the dominant principle).
This depiction reflects the classic view of 19th century sociologist Ferdinand Tönnies that societies evolved from traditional gemeinschaft (“community” based on tribal and hierarchical bonds) to the more complex gesellschaft (“society” or “association” based on capitalist market dynamics). According to Adler and Heckscher, it’s time for an update: the longing for communal ways of working now calls for a kind of collaborative approach that goes beyond the terms of the older approaches. Developing a new way is especially important for business enterprises that aim to produce knowledge based on teamwork. Even the nature of teamwork must be transformed.

Adler and Heckscher identify each type of community with different kinds of organizational values, designs, and identities. Table 1.2 shows this in some detail. Their text provides lengthy elaboration.

The whole paper bears reading. But I’m going to discuss only selected points of particular interest to my efforts to develop TIMN.

Collaborative community will involve a new kind of work ethic

Adler and Heckscher identify collaborative community with Max Weber’s classic notion of “value-rationality.” Weber originally associated it mainly with premodern societies, in contrast to the “instrumental rationality” that he said took hold with the rise of modern societies. But Adler and Heckscher claim that the former can be revived and revised to suit postmodern work:
“Collaborative community is distinctive in its reliance on value-rationality — participants coordinate their activity through their commitment to common, ultimate goals. Its highest value is interdependent contribution, as distinct from loyalty or individual integrity.” (p. 16)
Thus, collaborative community would rest on an ethic of “interdependent contribution.” And this ethic would be constructed “around two elements: contribution to the collective purpose, and contribution to the success of others.” (p. 39) It would also involve “two dimensions of responsibility — ‘vertically’ to the collectivity and ‘horizontally’ to the success of peers.” (p. 43)

As the authors observe, this is different from the kind of work ethic that normally suits a hierarchy or a market. It’s an ethic that is also in line with my sense of what pertains to +N networks. But at the same time, this ethic does not look all that different from what may occur in tribes; they too depend on collective, interdependent collaboration. So, it’s not clear yet to what extent Adler and Heckscher are spelling out a truly new kind of community ethic relevant for +N, or anticipating a revival in partial disguise of an ethic from ancient T.

I/we must dig deeper to find out.

But first, a codgerly side-comment: I bridle at the term interdependent. As a former specialist on U.S.-Mexico relations, I’ve had lots of experiences with language about dependence, independence, and interdependence — and with scholarly efforts to array these terms as a spectrum for analyzing something. It’s not just that I’m tired of it. It’s that the spectrum may turn out to be biased, even misleading. Consider how Adler and Heckscher associate hierarchies with dependence, markets with independence, and collaborative community with interdependence. Okay, I see their point. But it may also be true that hierarchies and markets are rife with their own interdependencies. Furthermore, the interdependencies may become so deep and intricate that a term (and a spectrum) with the root “depend” isn’t accurate enough anymore — terms like interconnection and internetted and integration may make more sense.

But I digress (except don’t forget the mention of integration — it’s going to come up again soon, and not just in passing).

Collaborative community will thrive most where out-competing depends on out-cooperating

Adler and Heckscher are convinced but not optimistic about the emergence of collaborative community. It — in particular, the ethic I just summarized above — will not be an easy or natural choice in the business world for quite a while yet. It may take a generation or longer to develop. There will be plenty of setbacks. And the likeliest paths will be halting zigzags.

Indeed, competitive pressures make it likely that corporations will continue to opt for “the reassertion of hierarchy and market rather than community” (p. 65). But over time, it will become evermore evident that interdivisional and inter-firm networking are crucial for competitiveness. As this proceeds, advantages will accrue especially to those firms that can operate according to higher forms of trust. Indeed, they hypothesize (p. 67), “if efforts to create trust as a response to competition do not succeed, economic activity will tend to shift to higher-trust regions.”

That, I think, is an important hypothesis. But I’d like to reframe it, in order to stress a strategic dynamic.

Who trusts whom is indeed a decisive factor. Yet, that should not be taken to mean that community forms of organization and coordination depend on trust more than do hierarchies or markets — a view that Adler took in an earlier paper (2001). All durable forms of societal organization depend on trust. Social network analysts have gone too far in identifying networks and their variants with the trust factor. Hierarchies and markets depend on trust too, though it may be a different kind of trust (e.g., trust in doctrine, trust in credit).

What matters is what can be done with the trust. And what I like here is that Adler’s and Heckscher’s hypothesis about higher-trust plugs into a view that, in the information age, out-competing will increasingly depend on out-cooperating — a favorite theme of mine, especially after I understood it in the dynamics of high-speed draft lines in NASCAR races at Daytona. This has been termed “cooperative competition” (Golden, 1993), and for an ugly term, “co-opetition” (Brandenburger & Nalebuff, 1996). Sociologists Laurel Smith-Doerr and Walter W. Powell, in their paper on “Networks and Economic Life” (2003), illuminate it in terms of how “groups of collaborators become involved in multiple forms of cooperation and competition”:
“We argue that these new patterns of affiliation, with shifting rival alliances competing and recombining on a project-by-project basis, lead to new interpretations of the nature of competition. First, recognize how profoundly a competitive relationship is altered when two parties compete on one project, but collaborate on another. The goal of competition cannot be to vanquish your opponent lest you harm your collaborator on a different project." (p. 18)
For strategists in all arenas, having a comparative advantage has usually meant having a competitive advantage. Now, however, comparative advantage is often more about having a cooperative advantage — by being able to out-collaborate with selected partners, even if only episodically in ever-shifting alliances. Adler’s and Heckscher’s notion of collaborative community tracks with this, as does their supporting hypothesis that a lot depends on the nature of trust.

Their trifold framework could be made fourfold — like TIMN

So far in this blog post, I’ve summarized Adler’s and Heckscher’s paper and highlighted points that bear on TIMN. But I haven’t really tried to remodel their framework to make it more like TIMN. So now I’ll turn to that, as a possibility.

Their trifold framework does not overlap readily with TIMN, a fourfold framework. Yet, their implicit distinction between old and new forms of community aligns with the TIMN distinction between tribes and networks. And of course, hierarchies and markets figure in both our categorizations. Thus, their framework might be made fourfold, after a little rethinking, mainly by bifurcating their concept of community into old and new.

But is this justifiable? In laying out their framework, Adler and Heckscher draw on several classic dichotomies: Tönnies’s between gemeinschaft and gesellschaft, Weber’s between value rationality and instrumental rationality, and though less discussed, Emile Durkheim’s between mechanical solidarity and organic solidarity. Their framework also draws on a classic trichotomy: Weber’s about three types of authority — charismatic, traditional, and legal-rational. They also draw on Karl Marx, though not in terms of these kinds of categorizations.

But none of those references provide a good clue for stretching their trifold into a fourfold framework. I could criticize their association of gemeinschaft with hierarchy, for my sense is that Tönnies associates gemeinschaft more with tribal community — as do I. That could help pull tribes into the picture.

For my way of thinking, however, the best clue is in a footnote the authors wrote about Talcott Parsons.

I’ve noticed before that there is some overlap between TIMN and Parson’s famous typology of four “functional imperatives” that every social system and its sub-systems must meet: “pattern-maintenance (including tension-management), goal-attainment, adaptation, and integration” (1958, p. 294). These four imperatives correspond roughly to the TIMN forms: pattern-maintenance to the tribal form, goal-attainment to the institutional hierarchy form, adaptation to the market form, and system-integration to the network form.

And now I see, according to the footnote, that Adler and Heckscher have a nearly identical view, except that their concept of community collapses two of Parson’s imperatives, the very two I associate separately with tribes and networks:
“Since this chapter uses a Parsonian framework in part, we should explain the relationship between this three-part formulation and the four-part Parsonian analysis of societies. Markets and hierarchies correspond closely to Parsons’s adaptive and goal-attainment subsystems. ‘Community’ combines his other two categories (integration and pattern maintenance). The current social phase as we are describing is really about the redefinition of both those sub-systems through differentiation and relinking: what we describe as the ‘ethic of contribution’ is the pattern-maintenance aspect of the emerging community, and ‘interdependent process management’ is its integrative aspect. In this work we are analyzing the development of both aspects and the dynamics of their interchanges.” (fn. 10, p. 95; and for more on their view of Parsons, see Heckscher, 2007)
By pursuing this clue, it might be possible to remodel their framework to make it fourfold and overlap better with TIMN. I’m not going to try to do that — hey, it’s their framework, not mine, and I’ve got my own to work on. But I’ve learned from this digging around that another look at Parsons may be advisable at some point, in order to understand the integration imperative better. The pattern-maintenance imperative, which emphasizes the role of culture, corresponds well to the tribe or community form. In contrast, the integration imperative is mainly about systemic coordination, not cultural community.

In light of this, “collaborative community” is starting to look like a misnomer for denoting a fourth, future form. To stick with the same linguistic roots, it might be more accurate to rename it “communicative collaboration” — which would have the added benefit of connoting Jürgen Habermas, another theorist they admire. (This might also help align their concept to the interesting concept of “collective intelligence” that organization theorist Thomas Malone is developing at the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence.)

Whatever it’s called, it’s about new approaches to collaboration, far more than community. Indeed, it seems to be mainly about professionals teaming together for specific purposes, without turning tribal. They may share a sense of community while on a team, but it’s fleeting and team-specific, partly because these kinds of professionals keep moving from one team endeavor to the next, and each team has different members and purposes. Over time, it’s all very open-source, in ever shifting, swirling, swarming, streaming kinds of ways, held together by novel communication flows, as well as by the kind of ethic that Adler and Heckscher identify.

That’s one way I have viewed +N as operating, and Adler’s and Heckscher’s paper is pertinent because it provides one of the most suggestive treatments I’ve come across. That might make a nice note to end on — but there’s still an important discrepancy to discuss.

Much depends on the emergence of +N as a distinct new realm

Adler’s and Heckscher’s focus is the corporate business world, a part of the +M realm. They nod to broader trends, by maintaining that collaborative community is needed throughout society, not just in the corporate world. I agree.

But they write as though collaborative community were a principle that may emerge and reside equally in all realms of society, along with the hierarchy and market principles. Indeed, this is a common stance among theorists who write about organizational forms and principles. I must disagree, for I’ve found that TIMN instructs otherwise.

According to TIMN, the rise of a cardinal form of organization results in the eventual emergence of a distinct realm of social endeavor that revolves primarily around that form. That has already been the case with the tribe, the hierarchy/institution and the market forms. Hybrids and other mixtures may occur in any and all realms; but even so, a cardinal form must still define and dominate a distinct realm — i.e., culture for tribes, the state for hierarchies, and the economy for markets. The forms Adler and Heckscher study are powerful in the corporate area because those forms have already taken hold to define their own realms — except for their future notion of collaborative community (or whatever it should be called).

In order for collaborative community to become as cardinal a principle as Adler and Heckscher speculate — or as I claim for the network form — it will have to spread enough to generate and define a home realm. And that will have to be a distinctive new realm, not just some knock-off of the +M realm. In my view of TIMN, that means the emergence of the +N network realm. Whether collaborative community becomes a prevalent form in the corporate area they study will depend on the rise of the +N network realm, and then a feed of its principles into the other realms. Without that, there will not be enduring adaptations in the +M corporate area — just as, in an earlier era, liberal democracy would not have taken hold in the state’s +I realm if the +M realm hadn’t consolidated around principles assuring individual freedom.

So, what/when/where is this new realm? According to Adler and Heckscher, collaborative community is emerging best in the scientific and open-source software communities, as well as in parts of some companies they have studied. This resembles the views of other theorists, which I’ve noted previously in other posts, that a new wave of peer-produced, peer-governed endeavors is generating a new information commons, and linking it to progressive interests in other common-pool resources and global public goods. For these theorists, these commons-oriented collaborations represent the makings of the next great new realm. Adler and Heckscher seem inclined to agree.

Meanwhile, my own preferred hypothesis about TIMN remains that the new +N realm will emerge from among civil-society activists who are using new information-age network designs to address complex social problems that old +I and +M actors have generated and are unsuited to resolving. These mostly concern environmental, health, and other social equity issues. In other words, the new realm will not be as grounded in economic production matters as the previous theorists may think. The grounding — and ensuing isms and ocracies — will be something we’ve not seen yet.

So, are those other theorists right, and I’m wrong — or vice-versa? Not necessarily, for there’s a way for us all to be right. And not just because there is some overlap in our respective views. How? By distinguishing between intermediate and ultimate effects.

In TIMN, progress stems from a society’s capacity to proceed from one form of organization to the next, while passing through an intermediate, hybrid, transitional step that mixes characteristics of the forms on either side. The tribe-chiefdom-state progression is like this. The chiefdom is a hybrid of the kinship dynamics that rule tribes, with the nascent hierarchical institutional dynamics that lead to states. Some scholars’ typologies put chiefdoms on a par with tribes and states; but in TIMN, chiefdoms are no more than an intermediate form in the T+I transition. This pattern occurs next with mercantilism. It is an intermediate, transitional stage in the evolution from T+I to T+I+M — a state-centric stage of economic organization prior to the flowering of the capitalist market system and its separation from the state.

Today, for societies on the verge of +N, it makes sense that there is/will be a long, intermediate, hybrid phase before quadriform T+I+M+N societies truly take shape. It also makes sense that, this time around, the most prominent hybridizations occur in the interstices between +M and +N — the very areas observed by Adler and Heckscher, as well as by theorists devoted to the growth of a peer-based information commons. What may come after that — the true +N realm — is what interests me the most.


* * * * *

Caveat: not a miraculous new form — the limits of collaboration

I don’t want to end on a sour note, but I think I should note that while I was drafting this post, a couple of posts appeared regarding the “diminishing returns of collaboration,” first at the Wikinomics blog, then with follow-up remarks at the PublicOrgTheory blog. They do not undermine anything said above, but perhaps it’s relevant to point out that thinking is also proceeding apace on the limits of collaboration. Meanwhile, Mark Buchanan observes that the scientific community — an exemplary arena for Adler and Heckscher — is not currently designed to favor innovation.

Finally, I find it theoretically troubling to notice lately that some of the most advanced practitioners of collaborative community — operating in ever shifting teams, competing one moment, cooperating the next, thus looking like the cutting-edge of what's been discussed in this post — are actors whose influence usually makes me fret and fume: Washington lobbyists. What to make of that?


In all this, I am proceeding out of a scrabbling kind of analytical instinct and intuition, hoping that someday it’ll all feel like insight. In my view, I’m not trying to build the TIMN framework; it already exists — I am trying to excavate it, uncover what it means. Advice is welcome, even though it's still the case that I'm not adept at replying to comments here at this blog.

[As usual, I continue to make occasional minor edits after posting. In this instance, in case anyone notices, I have eliminated the intro paragraph about Iran. It didn't seem to belong.]

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Difficulties clarifying the differences between tribes and networks — a continuing challenge for TIMN

One of the challenges for TIMN is clarifying the distinction between the tribal (T) and network (N) forms. I’ve written about this several times (esp. 2006, pp. 22–26). Yet, my efforts remain incomplete, not entirely satisfactory.

The differences seem sharp, easy to draw, if we look at an interesting blog about militant tribalism in South Asia whose motto is “It’s the Tribes, Stupid” — then compare it to an insightful blog whose theme is network-weaving in American government, business, and civil-society circles. The first blog is clearly about pre-modern practices, the second about modern ones — much in line with the evolutionary thrust of TIMN.

But the differences are often not on display so starkly. And besides, the analysts at the second blog may claim that the tribes at the first blog are really just ancient networkers.

The TIMN table I posted a couple posts back summarizes my current view of the attributes of the two forms. And my last post added a new distinction that seems to help, by associating tribes with club goods and networks with collective goods. But even so, the differences between tribes and networks remain fuzzier than, say, between hierarchies (I) and markets (M), or tribes and markets.

Here are some reasons why:

One is simply that the bright sides of the two forms do indeed have much in common. Both tend to be egalitarian and consensual, even democratic. Yet, differences exist amid these commonalities. For example, classic tribes, even when being democratic, do not tolerate minority dissent or minority rights once a decision is taken. Information-age network actors take a more complex approach to problem-solving than do tribally-oriented actors, and there may be endless ways for minority views to remain alive, regroup, and find expression.

A second reason is the very term network. It remains the best I’ve seen for naming this emerging, information-age form. But as I’ve critiqued at length several times elsewhere, it’s also a favorite term of sociologists who view all forms of organization as social networks. And the term has another history of being used by anthropologists to define tribes as kinship networks. These usages may muddle what people presume when they see the word. I continue to hope that a better, more distinctive term will eventually appear for naming the futuristic +N form.

A third reason is that the +N form is still emerging. The network form has received voluminous attention for two decades now; and many analysts act quite sure about its growing significance. But, in my view, it’s not entirely clear yet what the +N form is all about and exactly what kind of realm will take shape around it, though I’ve specified my speculations elsewhere. I’d say its emergence is at about the same stage that the +M form was in the 17th–18th century — a time of growing momentum, but well before it leads to a separate system and has its Adam Smith.

A fourth reason is that every TIMN form seems to have a tribal tone at first. This could go without saying for the T form. It is also obviously true for the +I form; it grew out of clan-based chiefdoms and hereditary claims to rule, before it became a professionalized form of organization. But it also appears to be true for the +M form; many early trading, banking, and craft enterprises were family-based and kin-biased. As for the next form, today’s +N proponents often act as though they belong to special tribes, bound by memes, not genes. Decades may pass before this tribal tone dissipates, and the form’s deep nature and systemic potential become fully evident.

Which leads to a fifth reason why it’s difficult to distinguish sharply between tribes and networks in today’s milieu: I keep seeing that some ideological orientations, particularly on the Left, slide easily between tribe and network notions. This is particularly the case where the rise of networks is portrayed as favoring high ideals, such as collective sharing, that hark back to a golden construct of communal tribalism. The result is a kind of conflation of the tribe and network forms — as though tribes were networks 1.0, or the new networks are tribes 2.0. This clouds trying to identify and discuss in what ways +N should turn out to be a distinctly new form of organization.*

Meanwhile, distinguishing between tribes and networks is not just a concern for TIMN. It appears to be a concern elsewhere too, for example among P2P advocates and Global Guerrillas theorists. Though they represent different schools of thought, both are interested in how tribal and network actors are resisting state and market actors, and how new combinations of tribal and network forces may serve people’s hopes for the future. For P2P theory, this means working for a peer-produced commons and peer governance. For GG theory, it means building resilient communities. Does it make a difference for such analyses whether tribes and networks are conflated, or defined distinctly? It certainly makes a difference for TIMN and its goal of figuring out how best to project the rise of quadriform T+I+M+N societies.

I see no quick easy way to settle all this. Thus, against this background, I scan and grasp for any clarificatory insight that comes along. Such was the case with the distinction between club and collective goods, noted earlier. Now I’ve spotted something else: the idea of “collaborative community” as presented in a paper by Paul Adler and Charles Heckscher. It looks helpful for thinking about +N. I blurbed about a table in it a couple posts ago, and I initially meant for this post to focus entirely on imparting a summary and discussion of its full text. But instead, I’ve rattled on about reasons why it’s been difficult to differentiate between tribes and networks. So the next post will focus on the Adler and Heckscher paper, in an effort to dissect whether it really is about +N, or again about tribes in disguise.

- - -


* I continue to hold in theoretical reserve, to be discussed at another time, the possibility that there are only three cardinal forms of organization, not four. The three would be networks, hierarchical institutions, and markets (NIM). That I keep wondering about this is hinted by noting that the new information-age networks may be tantamount to tribes 2.0, and classical tribes to networks 1.0. At first glance, this might be a welcome formulation for some folks, especially on the Left. But it may have curious implications: What comes later may be a spiral featuring hierarchies 2.0, followed by markets 2.0. Just a thought, worthy of at least a footnote here. Meanwhile, I prefer to stay on track with TIMN; I think it’s more correct than NIM.