Hierarchy Is Not Natural – Part 1

This is not new. Actually, it’s not even worthwhile to mention because it’s so obvious.

Only simple, mechanical systems created by humans have a hierarchy. All natural systems are complex. Complexity can’t have a hierarchy because everything is connected to everything else. We have multidimensional superposition and dependencies. That’s what complexity is—many very simple elements that interact and superimpose with each other. While a single element might be simple and predictable, the interwoven combination of all those elements is beyond modeling. This is interdependence how Steven Covey called it.

That’s the nature of all relationships. (Which might sound scary for you.)

Therefore, any kind of hierarchy in a complex system is a simplified model, giving us the illusion of simplicity and control.

Why is this a problem?

Because hierarchical thinking is so deeply ingrained in us through socialization that we see and use it everywhere. It’s the way we see the world. And a wrong perspective leads to wrong assumptions, leads to wrong actions.

And what does logic tell us if the map and terrain don’t align? Yes, but if you have only one way of thinking, you will believe the map anyway. This is where our fear of complexity comes from.

But as soon as we can change our perspective and see the world in all its beautiful complexity, life becomes so much easier.

You are not in control. You never have been. And there is no need to be.

When we remove the hierarchy from families, it becomes easy to see that parents are learning alongside their kids. They are new in their roles too.

This applies to all roles and jobs involving human relations. If we accept the truth of complexity, we understand that every organization is new for a consultant. Every child is new for a teacher. Every team is new in an organization. We are all constantly learning and adapting; which is the definition of intelligence. As soon as you stop learning and adapting, you reduce intelligence.

The mindset of hierarchy tends to push us into arrogance for two reasons. The first is that a certain level in a hierarchy comes with knowledge. I just have to know, by definition. I stop learning, because I need to command. And the second reason is that hierarchy implicitly assumes that all humans, teams, and organizations are “the same.” So, if I did it once, I can do it again. This costly assumption produces more waste and friction than anything else.

So let’s be smart, build intelligent systems, embrace complexity, and simplify life.

“trust is the only – known to me – tool to handle complexity”

Hartung Wilstermann, 2016, Daimler AG


One response to “Hierarchy Is Not Natural – Part 1”

  1. […] Part 1 we finished with a quote, and we want to start Part 2 with it. Because what would that shift in perspective mean for an organization or even a society? […]

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