Can Organizations Emancipate Us?
Only if we balance cooperation and competition within, and check the excesses of rogue leadership.
The recent essay, Managing 21st Century Organizations, is the first in a two-part exploration of the naturalistic research paradigm that should lead to a reappraisal of human motivations in the context of organizational cooperation. This is the follow-on to that piece.
I started that essay, saying,
Last October, I read a breakthrough article, basically a unified evolutionary theory of deep work culture: A naturalistic theory of economic organization by J.W. Stoelhorst and Peter J. Richerson. Since then I have read it several times.
The authors open with this:
We develop a theory of economic organization grounded in the naturalistic paradigm currently emerging at the intersection of biology and the behavioral and social sciences. The crux of this approach is the recognition that an understanding of the evolutionary origins of human organizational capabilities can inform theories of contemporary economic organization. Modern firms sustain large scale cooperation by applying cultural ‘work-arounds’ to tribal instincts that evolved from simultaneous within-group and between-group competition on a much smaller scale. We translate this insight into ten principles of economic organization.
The previous essay extracted the gist of the researchers’ arguments, which I summarize (inadequately), in this way, drawn from the authors’ text and using their 10 principles.
1 | Humans are social animals with cooperative dispositions derived from a long history of living in tribal scale groups in which culturally transmitted norms and institutions favored cooperation.
2 | There are advantages to large scale cooperation, although these advantages are easily undermined by within group competition.
3 | Humans display a universal mix of cooperative dispositions that both enables and constrains our ability to sustain large-scale cooperation. The majority of individuals are cooperative animals, who are inclined to maximize joint returns when interacting with others. The fundamental problem of human organization, then, is to evolve organizational arrangements that allow us to sustain large-scale cooperation in the face of this behavioral heterogeneity.