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August 2016

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The Organization as a Life Form

The following was recently published in The American Thinker, which you can find here or you can simply keep reading ;-)

 

Take a few individuals and put them together in an organization of almost any sort and an amazing thing happens.  The organization effectively becomes alive.  It creates a heartbeat of its very own and it, the organization, will fight to stay alive from that point forward. 

This is true of all types of organizations, both for- and non-profit.  Even though the organization is an artificial entity it will mimic a biologic life form.

It will first and foremost fight to stay alive.  It will seek to expand and grow.  It will seek out resources and will fight to retain these resources for its own uses.  It will attempt to take care of its own in all of its actions.

And it will do these things almost regardless of who the individual members are or how often they come and go.  Although directed by living people, the organization has a life of its own in many profound ways.   This isn’t a philosophical position, it is a fact. 

In a for-profit organization all of these organizational drives are tempered by the reality of the marketplace.  They must convince individuals to voluntarily part with their money for whatever goods and services are offered and to do so in a profitable manner.  Otherwise they will cease to exist.  These organizational heartbeats depend on success to survive.

But non-profit organizations aren’t bound by this reality.  And the biggest, most powerful, and most threatening non-profit organizations that exist are government.

The non-profits we call government don’t have to convince people to voluntarily part with their money.  They can force the issue.  They don’t have to provide quality goods and/or services and achieving these goals at a profit or even breakeven is not required.  Thus there are no feedback loops whereby reality can easily alter the path of these non-profit entities.  Effective feedback allows for gradual change and adaptation.  A lack of feedback sets the stage for catastrophic failures.

Government is often said to be inefficient.  It is not.  It is very efficient but its goal is not necessarily what we the people believe.  As an example look at the federal war on poverty.  Since this “war” was declared in 1964, the federal government has spent over $22 trillion on anti-poverty programs.  But only about 15% of the money allocated to fighting this “war” actually makes it to the poor.  85% is consumed by the entity.  The organization is quite effective at keeping resources for itself. 

Analyze almost any government program and you will see how efficient the entity is in retaining resources for itself.  100 plus governmental organizations involved in a single issue?  As they say in the software business, that’s not a bug, that’s a feature!

This is also the reason the non-profits we call government will never be satisfied with the money sent to them via taxes.  From the organization’s perspective (not necessarily the employees but the organization itself), it will always be underfunded.  Always. 

These non-profits generally grow by constantly adding people, either directly as employees or indirectly by making others dependent on their actions and favors.  These individuals will almost always vote in their own self-interest and thus the entity rewards and strengthens itself in a democracy by this constant expansion.

And amazingly, these activities have almost no relationship to the actual people who staff the organization. Some people might hasten the speed of expansion, others to slow it but the organizational entity behaves as it does by its very nature.  The process is much like a honey bee hive where the hive itself (an abstraction really) mimics intelligence and purpose, even though its individual bees have very little of either.

And these people can all be quite moral and “good public servants”, yet the organization will operate as it will.  Swarm intelligence and the self-organization it drives ensure this is true in almost all situations related to government.

We need to collectively understand and accept this very biologic nature of every entity created by this thing we call government.  Every single position, every single bureaucracy becomes another beating heart that will strive to continue and grow.

It is easy to blame one political party for the expansion of these non-profits but this growth occurs with either a Republican or Democrat at the helm.    

We see this most spectacularly in the transformation of the federal government.  Rather than the constitutionally construed federation of states with federal power being strictly limited, the non-profit we call the federal government has expanded to effectively subjugate the states and all citizens.

From an organizational perspective this was to be expected.  In fact it would be shocking if this were not the case.  The federal government has become much like the Ring of Power in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings; one ring to rule them all.

For all citizens the ultimate question isn’t whether this evolution is good or bad but rather it is sustainable and can it work long-term?  The answer to this is clear.  Left unrestrained government is much like a kudzu plant.  Sooner or later it is destined to overgrow its environment until it collapses in a catastrophic failure; remember that lack of feedback.  Unless the life of these non-profits is constrained in some way, this process will always occur.

This is neither a conservative nor liberal issue; it is a basic reality of organizational behavior.  These organizations truly live in many profound ways and unless we citizens understand and accept this fact we will never be able to manage them.  We either learn to do so or they will most certainly be the destroyer of us all.

John Conlin is an expert in organizational design and change.  He is also President and founder of E.I.C. Enterprises, www.eicenterprises.org, a 501(c)3 non-profit dedicated to spreading the truth here and around the world, primarily through K-12 education.  

Honey Bees and Government

The following was published in The Federalist on 7/23/16.  The original is here or you can just keep reading ;-)

What Bees Can Teach Us About Why People Should Run Their Own Lives


Top-down, command-and-control systems will sooner or later create catastrophic failures. It’s not so with self-organizing systems.


July 23, 2016 By John Conlin

Individual honey bees aren’t very smart, yet honey bee hives, which may contain tens of thousands of individual bees, show remarkable intelligence. Scientists who study this type of swarm intelligence point out a key ingredient: no one is in charge. The hive functions just fine with no management, just countless interactions between individual bees with each following simple rules of thumb. A system like this is called self-organizing. Life itself is self-organizing.

That’s how swarm intelligence works: simple creatures following simple rules, each one acting on local information. No bee sees the big picture. No bee tells any other bee what to do. No fearless leader is required or desired. In fact, if a self-appointed “super-bee” were to attempt to take charge of this process, the entire hive would cease to function and all the bees would be doomed.


How Bees Find the Best Food

As an example, look at how the hive “knows” what is a better food source and reacts accordingly. Consider two foraging bees. Each bee returns to the hive and does an intricate dance that tells the surrounding bees the location of the food sources. In addition, the length and vigor of the dance transmits information regarding the volume of food available.
Just like the honey bee, we’ve unknowingly used swarm intelligence to develop knowledge and create wealth that allows us to collectively live like none before.

One bee has found a so-so food source, while the other has found a great food source. One bee dances for a while and the other dances far longer and thus impacts many more bees. Many more bees are thus directed to visit the better food source. Once they come back they too do a longer and more vigorous dance, again affecting many more bees than those few returning from the so-so food source.

Thus with absolutely no central, controlling intelligence—in fact, with little intelligence at all—the hive behaves very intelligently and directs the vast majority to the better food source, thus ensuring all are better off.

Although we humans like to think of ourselves as quite smart, we are much like the honey bee. Unlike the honey bee, we have complex language, the ability to use tools, and the ability to store and transmit information over generations. This lets each of us believe in our vast individual intelligence when in reality we each enjoy the fruits of millions and millions of lessons learned since the dawn of life itself.

Just like the honey bee, we’ve unknowingly used swarm intelligence to develop knowledge and create wealth that allows us to collectively live like none before. The beauty of swarm intelligence and self-organizing systems is that even for complex systems like human life and survival, behavior may be coordinated by relatively simple interactions. Here’s the key: in a self-organizing system there literally is no cause and effect. It just is.

Government Prevents the Honey Bee Principle

Yet also in the past hundred years we have seen across the globe a tremendous growth in powerful organizations that blatantly operate against the reality of self-organization and swarm intelligence. These organizations are government. Government typically attempts to do the opposite of those things that make for smart group behavior like decentralized control, response to local feedback, and simple rules of thumb. Self-organizing systems are an incredible strategy to deal with complexity. Government is not.

We must pull back from the brink and once again allow self-organizing systems to do their magic.

We have allowed these authoritative non-profit organizations (government) to become far too large and powerful. This violates almost every aspect we know about swarm intelligence. In addition, this in effect makes those who operate these non-profits into self-appointed “super-bees.”

They act as though they know better than the hive. Rather than allowing the wonder of swarm intelligence to freely operate, government “super-bees” instead direct vast swaths of our collective lives, to the detriment of all. As these organizations grow larger and larger, they are beginning to threaten the very continuation of life itself. Top-down, command-and-control systems will sooner or later create catastrophic failures. It’s not so with self-organizing systems.

One of the wonders of this country’s founding is its individual freedom-based political system, which limited government and allowed swarm intelligence and self-organization to flourish like never before.

The incredible wealth and individual freedom this country has produced in the past few hundred years versus the rest of the world proves this reality. We must pull back from the brink and once again allow self-organizing systems to do their magic. As government grows and grows, we are creating more and more super-bees. If we continue down our present path, those self-anointed super-bees will be the death of us all.


John Conlin is president and founder of E.I.C. Enterprises, a non-profit dedicated to spreading the truth here and around the world, primarily through K-12 education. He is a life-long entrepreneur and an expert in organizational design and change. His book, The Unified Theory, will be published in late fall by E.I.C. Publishing.

 

The Laggard - K-12 education

This country’s K-12 public education system is a mess.  The testing company ACT reports that 75% of incoming college freshmen are not prepared for college, 96% of African-Americans aren’t.  40 to 50% of all incoming college freshmen must take remedial classes; it’s 90% for the California Community College system.  The SATs report that reading scores are at a 40 year low.  Most U.S. 4th and 8th graders are not proficient in reading or math.  How can it be that an institution solely devoted to education can’t teach children of average intelligence to read or understand basic math in an 8 year time frame?! 

The US Chamber of Commerce reports 80 to 90 million adults today - about half the workforce - do not have the skills required to get or advance in jobs that pay a family-sustaining wage. 

How long will we sit back and allow this multi-generational carnage to continue?   How long will we accept this educational Armageddon?  How many more millions of children will see their futures ripped from their hands due in large part to the quality of the education they received?

Want to know a significant contributor to the racial problems in the country?  The incredibly lousy K-12 schools poor kids must attend.  And far too many of these poor kids have black or brown skin.  The damage flows from one generation to the next. 

Yet the country is filled with dedicated and hardworking teachers.  We spend more money per student than all but one country in the world yet our results aren’t even laggard, they are retrograde.  The problem isn’t the people or the funding, it’s the system and its design.

What is needed is a profound change.  What is needed is a paradigm shift.  Thomas Kuhn, in his transforming The Structure of Scientific Revolutions argues that science is not a steady, cumulative acquisition of knowledge.  Instead, science is a series of peaceful interludes punctuated by intellectually violent revolutions.  After such revolutions, “one conceptual world view is replaced by another.”

That is what the K-12 public education system needs, a simple paradigm shift from a static, top-down structure to a dynamic bottom-up structure.  The structure where a group of experts determines what is best for others has been shown to generate poor results the world over.  That’s undeniably the case with our K-12 system. The structure of free people freely interacting with other free people, i.e. a marketplace and its self-organizing nature, has transformed every area it has touched.

The evidence is overwhelming yet far too many intelligent people fight this paradigm shift.  Some of this is simply the human trait of fighting change.  But a more fundamental reason for the resistance is described by Kuhn.  Paradigms are the way we structure and order our worlds.  They are the way we describe and explain our beliefs.  Paradigms don’t exist in some solitary vacuum; they touch every area of our lives.

Kuhn accurately described the process of change as an intellectually violent revolution.  People, whether consciously or not, resist mountains of evidence since to do otherwise would open up their entire world view to this intellectual revolution.

But when one’s beliefs do not correspond to reality, one needs to change beliefs.  Reality has been shown to be rather resistant to the whims of individual belief.

The facts are clear; the K-12 public education system is failing this country’s children.  And the poorer one is, the worst it is.  How long do we allow this multi-generational carnage to continue?  The solution is right in front of us, freedom and choice.  Freedom and choice has transformed the world.  Freedom and choice has transformed every product and service throughout the world. 

For some will this require a paradigm shift?  Most certainly.  Will this new paradigm impact other areas of their lives?  Again, most certainly.  Will this new paradigm force individuals to reexamine many of their cherished beliefs?  Absolutely.  I’m sorry if that causes you distress, but the sooner one accepts the facts the better for all.

Or do we instead continue to chain children to a failing educational system?  A system whose failures rob far too many children of their life opportunities.  A system whose failures set the stage for multi-generational carnage, damaging young lives whose impact is felt for generations.  Will we consign millions of young Americans to a life of fewer opportunities simply because we find it uncomfortable to make the required paradigm shift?  This is the moral question of our day.  How you respond will determine the future of millions of young lives, and the very future of this country.

Time for the trash

This is an op-ed I had published as the lead in the Sunday Houston Chronicle in 2005...

Sadly we've only gone backwards since then.  None of the racial stupidity that surrounds us every day will ever change unless we change and accept the truth.

http://www.chron.com/opinion/outlook/article/Time-to-discard-the-outdated-idea-of-race-1934672.php

 

 

 

I am an extremist

I am an extremist. 

I believe we are a nation of laws, not of men.  We are a nation with a government, not a government with a nation.

I believe all people on the planet are born free with inalienable rights… rights which government can take away but not give.

I believe the Constitution means what the words say. 

I believe that if we want to change laws we should use the systems as built to do so, not simply ignore the law. 

I believe that judges have no role in making law and that they have no more wisdom or moral insights than the average citizen.

I believe that government is a necessary evil and we should strive to make it as small and efficient as it possible.  I believe a large and uncontrolled government is the biggest threat to individual liberty and freedom.

I believe that the laws of statistics (50 will beat 1 99.99999999999% of the time), the relatively recently discovered science of swarm intelligence and self-organizing systems, and real world results prove beyond a doubt that top-down, command-and-control systems will always ultimately fail.  They exist nowhere in the natural world.  I believe freedom is always the answer.

I believe that if we want uncontrolled immigration we should change the laws, not allow millions of illegal immigrants into this country… damaging the fabric of this country and creating a true second class citizen.

I believe that we as humans are bound by reality and that our wishes and desires have no influence on what is true or not.

I believe that government does not create wealth, only free individuals do.

I believe governments are simply large, non-profit organizations with no special powers or abilities.

I believe that the act of getting elected does not make one wise, intelligent, or ethical.

I believe that Frederick Hayek is correct… in all things someone ultimately has to decide and the best possible choice is to have free individuals decide, not some employee of government.

I believe much of economic thought is simply foolish ideas which have no basis in the real world.

I believe that individuals should be free to live their lives as they see fit as long as their actions hurt no one else.

I believe we are blessed beyond comprehension to live in the freest, most prosperous country the world has ever known.  And there are reasons for this!

I believe that none of these blessings are ours simply because we exist… we stand on the shoulders of millions before us and we can lose these blessings if we are not vigilant.

I hope and pray that I have the ability, strength and courage to live up to the ideals of the Founding Fathers.  To my fellow extremists I too pledge… “And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.”

I am an extremist and I shall not back down or retreat.