I’ve decided to write this fairytale at a precise moment: I was in a Meetup, and an expert was showing us a famous framework of self-organisation. The speaker was a co-founder of the company that promoted this framework, so he knew what he was talking about. First, he showed a layered pyarmid – one of these models of the family of Claire Graves, Spiral Dynamics, Ken Wilber, or Frederic Laloux. And he didn’t say this is a model to explain something. Instead he said: This is what reality looks like. Then he showed us that each higher layer is better. And there is a logical, necessary progression from lower to higher over the process of human development. (The historical anthropologists would call this an eschatological model of civilization.) He showed us where we are – and the people in the room said: yes, that’s us. He showed us the level below, and the people in the room joined him in despising the old ways of the lower level. And then he said: The next level is where our model of organisation is. So why don’t you make the step and join us? And everybody in the room was enthusiastic – although he had not said a single word about the content of his model.
For a long time, I have occasionally used a model of organisational culture based on Claire Graves – Simon Sagmeister’s Culture Maps. What I like about Simon’s approach is that he shows the model not as a hierarchy, or as a progression – the only thing he says is that the upper elements see the environment as something more complex, whereas the lower levels as something more simple. Instead he compares the model to a chest of drawers: Every culture shows a mindset and behaviour of all the levels. But depending on the culture, some drawers are used more often, others less. And there is not good or bad. But there is apt or inept in relation to the task that the organisation in question has to fulfil. When I used this model in workshops or trainings, I always had the impression I was swimming against a tide. A tide that wanted to put a value into the vertical dimension: higher is better, and therefore we all want to go upwards.
Of course, you can apply this question to any kind of representation. For what reason do we depict org charts as a pyramid, with the boss at the top? Why is it revolutionary, something of a wake-up call, when a company draws and org chart with the boss at the bottom, the frontline employees at the top, and at the very top the customer? And why is that again a value statement, giving value to the customer and representing the claim to servant leadership?