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Complexity, Megacommunity, and Adaptation
Jon Lebkowsky, 21 Aug 06

hands.jpgThe concept of "megacommunity" is another way to perceive "power to the edges" thinking about emergent organization and leadership. Megacommunities are large multi-organizational systems that are oriented to multilateral action. The megacommunity approach acknowledges that no single organization or entity can make the decisions required by today's complex social and infrastructural systems. The challenges facing community leaders are based on "complexity: the growing density of linkages among people, organizations, and issues all across the world," according to the authors of "The Megacommunity Manifesto."

Because people communicate so easily across national and organizational boundaries, the conventional managerial decision-making style — in which a boss exercises decision rights or delegates them to subordinates — is no longer adequate. Solutions require multi-organizational systems that are larger and more oriented to multilateral action than conventional cross-sector approaches are. In such systems, the most successful leaders are not those with the best technical solutions, the most compelling vision, or the most commanding and charismatic style. The “winners” are those who understand how to intervene and influence others in a larger system that they do not control. We call this type of larger system a “megacommunity.”

They go on to say that "the megacommunity concept represents a movement toward sustainable globalization, in which contact with the outside world, instead of draining jobs and making a local system vulnerable, strengthens long-term quality of life, economic vitality, and community health. In other words, megacommunities provide leverage for retaining local identity while creating a viable middle class and competing on the global playing field."

Coincidentally, as I was writing and ruminating about megacommunity and complexity, Tom Atlee sent a link to Dave Pollard's "Let-Self-Change: Learning About Approaches to Complexity from Gatherer-Hunter Cultures". Dave says

it has become increasingly apparent to me that all ecological and all social systems are inherently complex, and that, beyond minuscule scale, simplistic hierarchical decision-making processes (the ones that overwhelmingly prevail in business and political organizations today) are utterly inadequate for dealing with such systems. In fact, I am convinced that the myth that efficiency is achieved by 'dumb' hierarchical systems, and the myth that such efficiency improves rather than weakens these systems, is a colossal and self-serving lie that is in the process of being exploded, spiraling out of control, and is wreaking huge social and environmental cost and damage in the process.

He goes on to say that

Complex approaches are more time-consuming, necessarily involve vastly more knowledge and understanding than is 'efficient' to obtain, require more patience and experimentation, require trust in the individual rather than the hierarchy to decide what to do and to take the responsibility to do it, and entail massively more consultation, attention, listening, competencies and constant adaptation and improvisation than merely-complicated approaches. Whereas complicated-system cause-and-effect driven solutions can be deduced by analysis, complex-system understanding of appropriate approaches can only emerge over time. Civilization society has little patience for this 'inefficient', exhausting, and imprecise way of doing things -- even if it may well be the only way that can work.

This is just the kind of thinking that drives the Megacommunity Manifesto. Pollard's been influenced by Hugh Brody's study of indigenous cultures, The Other Side of Eden. Pollard notes that these indigenous cultures are "profoundly complex-adaptive." I.e. rather than attempt to dominate the environment, they adapted themselves to its demands and became an integral part of it. After a rich overview of his conclusions from reading Brody, Pollard says

So where does all this leave us? I think we need to pull together the Snowden, Scharmer/Varela, Open Space, Wisdom of Crowds, Princen and Brody ideas on dealing with complexity, to create not just a toolkit and capacity/competency catalogue, but a theory, approach and/or methodology set that provides some framework for how to use the tools and capacities.

To me, this seems to align with Megacommunity thinking, and the focus on indigenous peoples reminds me that I kept thinking, as I read the Megacommunity Manifesto, that it's really a contemporary approach to tribal organization. Pollard (via Brody) goes much farther in his thinking about the response to complexity, but I think he's suggesting a framework for Megacommunity, which he calls "Let-Self-Change" (i.e. let's adapt). And he draws a Megacommunity conclusion:

I believe it may be key to the process of creating Natural Enterprises, both (a) the process of deciding, personally and with business partners, what business to create, at the intersection, the 'sweet spot' where your Gift (what you are uniquely good at), your Passion (what you love doing) and your Purpose (what there is a great need for) intersect; and (b) the complex, iterative process of researching and then creating, improvisationally, a Natural Enterprise.

To be truly WorldChanging, we're going to have to rethink social structures and our roles as individuals within them. The mix of Megacommunity with Let-Self-Change adaptation is hopefully a good start in a useful direction.

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Folks, could you please enable full-text in your RSS feeds? I like reading WorldChanging, but its really uncomfortable to have to leave my RSS aggregator to reach each post in full. This should be very easy to configure in all of the popular blogging platforms.

Posted by: Diwaker on 21 Aug 06

WorldChanging does have a full text RSS feed.

Posted by: Jon Lebkowsky on 21 Aug 06

Matt and I founded MG Taylor Corporation in 1980. Matt had spent two years studying the theories around complex systems and we decided to put the concepts to work. We were both aware that there were so many good solutions in the 70s but that they were not being realized. We decided that "structure wins" and that the hierachial stucture was clearly keeping new answers from getting to the market place. We noted that in EVERY organization, a majority of peoples' creativity lay dormant, unused. We created a design process for releasing Group Genius ... Good solutions with the richness of action, ownership, and fitness can only come from the bottom up. Our processes, however, include the entire diversity of a community ... from mayor, or CEO to kids and sometimes the homeless .. they are not there as hierarchy but as co-designers to solve a problem. They do more than talk and engage through dialog, they create solutions using multi-sensory ways of creating and doing. Trust builds through the doing and learning together.

And, of course, since 1980, all kinds of wonderful new tools have been developed to facilitate from the edges. I actually think it is easier today to work with complexity than to try and get anything done through top down hierarchies. Each of us has to know some but not all. Together -- in a good design process -- we have the whole. Group Genius is the only way to get us out of the messes we are in!

Kevin Kelly's "9 laws of god" is a useful resource for thinking about creating from the bottom up. It is in his last chapter of Out of Control.

Posted by: Gail taylor on 27 Aug 06



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