The title of this paper lists its keywords, and at the same time lists the key ingredients in an emerging paradigm of leadership. First, the terms are defined, then they are taxonomically linked, and finally the leadership implications of these interdependencies are explored.
Key words: Noosphere, technology, self-assembling dynamic networks, social media, leadership
This Note is Updated on 7/16/20, by means of an update appendix, just ahead of the references list.
Noosphere, Technology, Self-Assembling Dynamic Networks, and Leadership
There has been a proliferation of spontaneous social movements in the last two or three years that have arisen from nowhere, instituted considerable change, and then dissipated. Notable among these is the Arab Spring of 2011, where people in seventeen Arab nations spontaneously overthrew leaders and governments (The Guardian, 2011). These uprisings were spontaneous and largely leaderless, yet highly effective (Sourcewatch, 2011). The Occupy Wall Street movement (OWS, 2011), currently ongoing in the United States and elsewhere, also offers the prospect of change from the grass-roots.
This rapid proliferation of self-assembling dynamic networks suggests many more to come, and hints at a new leadership paradigm, emerging in our post-information revolution world. This paper examines the elements which have come together to promote such volatile social activism, and then proposes a new leadership paradigm that draws upon the conjunction of those elements.
There are two fundamental principles – existence and connection. That which is, which will be referred to as an “ent”, exists. That which exists derives its meaning from its connections to other things (Van Cleave, 2011). Connection creates new ents, as well – subatomic particles form atoms; atoms form molecules; and so it goes, holarchically, from the most minute subatomic particle to the universe. Each added layer of connection produces a more complex ent. Teilhard de Chardin (1966), Jesuit scholar and paleontologist, stated that all matter continuously seeks to increase its complexity and to increase its consciousness. Sheldrake (Graham, 2011) states that living cells produce morphic fields, which extend beyond the physical boundary of the cell, and which align with each other to form aggregations. The resonances of the fields determine what will connect, and the resonant fields amalgamate, taking on new combined properties. Sheldrake states that the mind is one such aggregation of fields, and that consciousness emerges from those fields. Further, the fields extend beyond the physical confines of the brain. Sheldrake states further that these resonant fields are inherited, just as genes are, and that they represent a sort of supraconsciousness, or collective memory.
Jung stated that all of humanity is connected via a collective unconscious (Boeree, 2006), and Sheldrake’s theorizing is consistent with this. de Chardin (1966) and others state that there is a triarchy of spheres that make up the earth. The first is the geosphere, which is the physical structure on which everything exists that is of this world. Arrayed upon that is a biosphere, in which all living entities exist. Further, there is a layer of human consciousness, a noosphere, or sphere of human thought, that encompasses the earth. This noosphere is an emergent property of the interaction of all of the minds of humanity. It is figural in the emergence of these movements.
Humankind is entering what some call a third information revolution. The first, the invention and adoption of the printing press, transformed knowledge and sparked both the scientific and industrial revolutions. The second, sparked by the invention and adoption of computers, transformed society and the global economy. The third information revolution is embodied in the adoption of social information technology – notably cell phones in their more evolved forms, as well as social media – such as Facebook, myspace, and Twitter.
This new revolution is transforming our interconnectedness. People connect, mind to mind, via the mechanisms of this social information technology, and form communities of interest. And, by facilitating the noosphere and bringing elements of it to consciousness, the third information revolution is transforming human consciousness.
Self-Assembling Dynamic Networks
A self-assembling dynamic network is a spontaneous aggregation of individuals who share some common interest. The concept of self-assembling dynamic network is not new – there are many examples in our history, notably in the various movements which have transformed our society, time and again. A sampling of definitions of social movements is available at Oxford University Press (2011):
Social movements can be thought of as ‘collectivities acting with some degree of organization and continuity outside of institutional or organizational channels for the purpose of challenging or defending extant authority, whether it is institutionally or culturally based, in the group, organization, society, culture, or world order of which they are a part…a sustained series of interactions between power holders and persons successfully claiming to speak on behalf of a constituency lacking formal representation, in the course of which those persons make publicly visible demands for changes in the distribution or exercise of power, and back those demands with public demonstrations of support…networks of informal interactions between a plurality of individuals, groups, or associations, engaged in a political or cultural conflict, on the basis of a shared collective identity’.
Note that self-assembling dynamic networks are consistent with all of the concepts which precede it in this paper. This is the higher-order organization which de Chardin (1966) theorizes about, coalescing into a sort of supraconsciousness, facilitated by social information technologies and the noosphere. But where past movements had visible leaders, such as Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Mohandas Gandhi, and Gloria Steinem, these movements are not dependent upon any central leader or high-visibility spokesperson. Like a flash mob, these self-assembling dynamic network often form rapidly, accomplish their purpose rapidly, and then dissipate, leaving few traces.
To fully appreciate the nature of these self-assembling dynamic networks we need to examine some of the characteristics of self-assembling dynamic network as enumerated by Matai (2010), who lists ten key features:
- Asymmetric power b. Unintended consequences c. No central control d. No intelligent blueprint or formalised design e. Rapid scaling f. Unprecedented speed g. Trans-national synchronicity h. Total transparency i. Creation of boundary-less tribalism j. New order born out of chaos
Self-assembling dynamic networks assemble rapidly, with no formalized design and no central control, operate transparently – meaning that nothing is hidden, effect change, and create new order, often in very short order.
A tribe is an aggregation of individuals who are attached to one another by similarity of culture and interests (Sociology Guide, 2011). Conventional tribes have leaders, often heredital, and exist within some geographical confines. According to Matai (2010), the tribalism fostered by self-assembling dynamic networks is boundary-less and leaderless.
Matai (2010) states, regarding self-assembling dynamic networks, “The fundamental issue is this: in the context of self-assembling dynamic networks, it is difficult to identify a central point of control, because there may be none!” Just as the social information technology that enables self-assembling dynamic network is based on a distributed processing architecture, so is the information-enabled self-assembling dynamic network.
Bass (1990) devotes a section of his epic book on leadership to the concept of substitutes for leadership, stating that these are variables in the situation which render leadership useless or unnecessary. So, if a self-assembling dynamic network is leaderless, what is the substitute for the leadership? Returning to the definition of tribe, there is a commonality of interests, and this is what serves as the substitute for leadership. Given the tendency of individuals to not engage in social issues unless they have a strong ego involvement (Taylor, Peplau, & Sears, 2003), one might assume that the self-assembling dynamic network coalesces around such strong involvement, to the extent that the involvement is values-based.
In the traditional hierarchical organization, control is built into the structure of the organization. However, such control necessitates a rigidity of structure that renders the organization less able to morph itself in response to environmental demands. As a consequence, the emergent paradigm of empowering organizations is to build that control into the culture of the organization, loosening the constraints of structure and the necessity for leadership. In such an organization, it is the values embedded in the culture that provide control; because people have internalized the values through socialization, they are reluctant to violate them, and are apt to enforce those values when others violate them.
And so it is with the self-assembling dynamic network. The members of the tribe coalesce around a strongly held value, and the built-in consensus about that value provides the control and coordination that is needed in order for these groups to do their highly effective work. There is no leader, because none is needed.
As a final consideration, one must ponder how such mechanisms might be incorporated into the leadership mechanisms of work and social organizations. Leaders in the traditional paradigm create a vision, communicate that vision to followers, and build a consensus around that vision (Mumford & Strange, 2002), whereas all of that is prefabricated in the self-assembling dynamic network. In the last twenty years, knowledge management has been a topic of strong interest in both the academic and practice arenas of organizational theory. Like it or not, these elements are as present and as active in formal organizations as they are in society.
This paper proposes that the next topic of strong interest should be consensus management, via mechanisms akin to those at work in self-assembling dynamic networks, and how that process can be embodied in formal organizations. This area of theory and practice may well emerge as a new leadership paradigm.
Self-Assembling Dynamic Networks Update, July 16, 2020: Neo-Facilitated Networks
Many have said that the Occupy Wall Street movement, a notable self-assembling dynamic network event, was a bust. I can assure you that it is not. Indeed, five years after the months-long active protests ended, CNN reports (https://www.cnn.com/2016/09/16/us/occupy-wall-street-protest-movements/index.html), the movement spread its seeds across the breadth of our nation, and even out into the world at large. You might attribute to OWS – with some degree of accuracy – the genesis of the present progressive movement.
Since OWS ended its active protest phase, several other protest movements have sprung up that also conform to the self-assembling dynamic networks model. The most figural at present moment is the wave of protest that started in the US over the murder of George Floyd at the hands of the police, spread all across the country, but also appeared overseas in several nations. This movement, figure-headed by Black Lives Matter leadership, has produced not only protests, but also a fair amount of social change in the nation, from NASCAR banning the Confederate flag, to the Redskins changing their name, has prompted a national dialog on structural racism (which is related to structural classism), and has led to policy changes in policing.
The BLM movement is facilitated to no small degree by social media, notably Facebook and Twitter. That is the nature of self-assembling dynamic networks. Social media under the self-assembling dynamic networks model give movements agility and rapidity of response, facilitating both recruitment and coordination.
But the very thing that gives movements and mass actions agility also presents a vulnerability. An external group may use Twitter to take over a mass action, directing it in ways that discredit the movement and the event. Such has in fact occurred in the ongoing BLM event stream, according to Business Insider (https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/an-antifa-twitter-account-that-called-for-looting-white-hoods-was-actually-run-by-white-nationalist-group-identity-evropa/ar-BB14VbX3?fbclid=IwAR3wmzAbTPxeOvDVSVMMkZCX822QWe4Kj53f-TFAwsqefgzetrA4iHx2grU). Violence and looting was never an objective in BLM, and yet it has taken place, sparked by outside agitators, and the BLM movement has received negative review in public opinion. Many conservatives believe that this was the design of the movement.
But there is a way to preserve the agility of social media while screening out illicit influences. Neo Citizens (neocitizens.com) is a new platform intended to provide tools to progressive parties, groups, projects, and events. Neo Citizens proposes a social media platform that springs up for a specific event, sponsored and moderated by a vetted progressive organization, and then dissipates, just like self-assembling dynamic networks.
People who will participate in an event are vetted into a twitter-like feed that facilitates both recruitment and coordination, available only to event registrants. An event leader, set by the organizing group, moderates the NeoAction app communications of the event, while also serving as the leadership voice of the event. The moderator is identified as the moderator/leader on any messages posted by the moderator (or perhaps more than one designated moderator). Every one knows who is in leadership, and the leader, with power to expel individuals from the feed, makes sure no hostile takeover can occur. At conclusion of the event, a final message is sent, and the app functionality ends.
We see in each successive movement, in each successive event series, an increasing amplitude of influence, both on protesters and movement members and in terms of social change. The BLM protests have spread beyond expectation, and endured beyond expectation.
A good metaphor for this spreading activation of opinion and action may be found in public coordinated action in sports stadiums, taking the form of “the wave.” The spectators in one row of one section of the stadium all stand up in turn, evoking the image of a wave traveling along the row. Presently, people on adjacent rows in that section take up the wave action, then it spreads to adjacent rows, until finally everyone in the stadium stands up in turn, creating the visual wave of movement all the way around the stadium. Here it is at the Bristol Motor Speedway, with 130.000 spectators: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H0K2dvB-7WY. Neo Citizens wants to facilitate taking “the wave” out of the stadium, and sending it traveling across the world. Its understanding of the nature of sadns and its emerging functionality positions it to be able to do so quite ably.
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