I am an independent scholar and organizational consultant. My focus is helping improve people's experience at work. This includes everyone from owners to front-line employees. I do this through a combination of coaching, cultural study, and strategic consulting, much of it informed by a merging of radical philosophy (anarchism) and worker ownership/management concepts.
Organizations that focus on improved experience at work realize healthier outcomes and contribute to broader social good. This includes a stronger bottom line, sustainable and stable growth, and wellness. I work with organizations to eliminate a variety of today's common workplace pathologies, including financial short-termism, management socio/psychopathy and narcissism, presenteeism, alienation, and resistance.
Much of my academic research focuses on “alternative” organizational design and approaches. I have found this directly informs and helps the above consulting. What we may consider alternative in today’s contemporary economy was mainstream or common in eras past. Learning from this large body of experience is useful to present-day organizations.
The essay below details my philosophy and interests further.
There is an interesting movement in management. Its features:
// employee led or "self-managed" teams
// rotating management roles
// no titles
// voting & democracy on enterprise-wide issues
// hypertransperancy (e.g., publishing everyone's salary)
// "roles" instead of "job descriptions"
These features appear to be a response to:
// injustice in the workplace, ranging from disenfranchisement to diversity and other issues
// a concern about "what is work?" ...especially white collar work, where one manipulates data all day...not often for clear reasons or outcomes
// a notion that if we improve our working lives -- especially given how technology blurs the lines between work/not at work -- we become genuinely freer and personally liberated
Owners, entrepreneurs and managers understandably work to increase the creativity and productivity of their employees. Recent efforts are evolving in ways that may lessen conventional authority and control. Ideas like worker's self management, Teal management, leaderless teams, and related concepts are becoming more common. Organizations are seeing they can no longer compete on the quality of their products and services alone, now they compete on "how" they do things, such as how they treat and manage their employees.
What is striking are the similarities between some of the above features and 19th century "radical" political philosophy. These philosophies ostensibly responded to the injustices of the Industrial Revolution. Management and business scholars working in the "Critical Management Studies" (CMS) area of business academia are interested in these responses. CMS takes a broad view towards management; it leverages social science, philosophy, history and the other humanities to improve management. Sometimes it takes management scholarship towards interesting and even controversial places. Concepts like anarchism and socialism were 19th century responses to industrial era work place problems. From the perspective of a CMS scholar, many of these injustices continue, however in less obvious ways. Anarchism and socialism, if approached critically, might be useful concepts to unearth and reveal persistent problems, and improve management practice.
Ironically, their resurgence is inside market capitalism itself. Ideas often felt to be in opposition may actually complement one another. Why are these ideas making a comeback, and how do they conform or operate inside a system they historically have rejected? At the core of my interest are the challenges we appear to have confronting our work/life realities. To truly innovate and compete, we have to ask hard questions, and look everywhere for inspiration and ideas.
In addition to radical political philosophy, CMS draws heavily on the Critical Theory of the Frankfurt School. Habermaus, Horkheimer and Marcuse are a few its noted scholars. Critical Theory concerns itself with preserving Marx' insight into economics and politics while rejecting the authoritarian interpretation that become so prevalent in the 20th century. It is worth noting that the Soviet, Chinese, Cuban, Vietnamese, Angolan and other interpretations of Marxism were arguably not representative of most of Marx' social science, particularly his earlier works. The Frankfurt School sought to rekindle and protect the (perhaps hijacked) non-authoritarian angle. A non-authoritarian Marxism is basically anarchism. Much of this political philosophy is unfortunately lost to history, and requires direct study to engage and understand.
My interest in these topics started while I was at the Naval War College (NWC) as mid-career military officer student in the Marine Corps Reserves. The war colleges work to prepare mid-career officers for higher level command and staff. The excellent staff and officers at the NWC were asking hard questions about leadership and management in the military, but seemed however cut off from deeper inquiry. Our own myths about US history, and the recent emotion of participating in Iraq and Afghanistan, appeared to compromise our discussion. It became clear that we needed new ways to ask how to be and do better. We (the collective "we" of the American officer corps), had ejected a variety of philosophy central to the profession of arms and human interaction. This rejection was political; it is unsavory and even odd to unearth writers and concepts like Marx, socialism and anarchism in an American military environment. This is unfortunately a problem -- any ideological barrier can harm critical thinking. Myth, jingoism, and other problematic themes become poor substitutes for refined thought. If we expand the conversation to the long-standing link between business and military management, this means there is likely myth and ideological barriers to refined thought in general management as well.
I recognize that radical ideas mixing with mainstream management may be counter-intuitive. Most associate radical concepts with totalitarian regimes and suffering, or protest movements that lack coherent goals. While these associations are true to some extent, to dismiss the concepts entirely would be shortsighted, especially given their apparent successful resurgence inside market capitalism itself. This resurgence offers an ironic market driven event, and the organizations that are leveraging the ideas are competing on the very concepts.
To gain a better understanding of this phenomenon, my inquiry is multi-fold:
// What are the intersections, if any, between anarchism and management innovation?
// How deep and real are the intersections?
// Are these efforts real and just, or simply a way to manipulate employees into thinking they are better enfranchised?
// Are management gurus and company leaders using and talking about progressive ideas aware of their 19th century roots?
// If yes, why have they rebranded the concepts? Is it only because of historical associations with the terms?
// What is it about "work" in today's world that leaves owners and managers searching for better ways to solve the workplace issues?
// Are Americans and other Westerners capable of an unemotional conversation about anarchism and other related themes?
Please forward any questions, errata, or commentary here.