Organizations as Organisms: Multi-Human Collectives

At some point on the path towards greater complexity, it becomes clear that multicellular organisms become “greater” than the sum of their parts (the individual cells). The general mechanisms and effects are clear; a combination of gains from trade due to specialization, sharing costly resources, etc. It also seems logical that such an effect should be possible with collections of organisms. Most relevantly, organizations of humans should be able to do things better than humans acting individually — to be more effective than the sum of their parts.

Not terribly controversial, but perhaps we don’t ask ourselves often enough why or when organizations fail to live up to their potential, and what that potential is governed by. We’re not very good at understanding this yet. Delving into this will be my objective over the next few posts.

To begin with, lets consider core motivations and intrinsic limitations. Humans (and most? carbon-based lifeforms) seem to be motivated most fundamentally by reproduction. This being a logical extension of their mechanism of creation. As a contrary thought experiment, we can envision a digital lifeform which is not constrained by DNA, biological cells, etc. and has no obvious motivation to reproduce [in the traditional sense]. Rather, it may be motivated to be more efficient, to learn more, or who knows what (perhaps maximize the number of paperclips in the universe?).

Similarly, most organizations (henceforth, specifically referring to typical formal and informal organizations of humans) are not motivated by reproduction. For-profit businesses tend to be motivated by profit; the creation of more money for itself, in order to extend the life of the business and, ideally, ultimately to enrich the owners monetarily. I will focus on this specific type of human organization in later posts, mostly because they tend to be the drivers of innovation and have the largest tangible impact on our lives. That seems like an important thing. Other organizations can be equally important to our lives, specifically social structures which satisfy important emotional needs for humans, and similar analysis can be applied to them as well.

Forward to Part 2

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