Once I realize I’m not alone in my reality, I know I’m part of a crowd. That’s a chaotic experience, and through alignment and acknowledgement I try to build connections with people who surround me. That way at least I can structure my immediate environment. But I’m not the only one who has this need. Therefore I start interactions with many other people to further build a stable reality.
We are herd animals. In the chaotic crowd my identity feels lost, so we get together in structures and groups to join forces. There are many practical reasons why a group is beneficial, such as safety, more efficient food production, better capability to make and use tools and of course the power of sharing thoughts to come to insights that transcend single persons’ notion. Nobody told us how to do so, and the interesting question is: why we join this team, and not another with similar characteristics? It is like the choice for a sports club: your preference depends on what you can get there. If you have ambition to play on a certain level, is there an appropriate team available? The other way around is also true: the club allows access if you can offer them the quality they need in that team. It’s this exchange of added value that is crucial when you seek people to get along with. We want to create a win-win situation. However, do not mix up “value” with “added value“. Value is a very personal perception; what is valuable to you, is not necessarily so for someone else. Added value however is more like “1+1=3“: the total is worth more than the sum of distinctive parts. In a factory your labor may seem simple to you and your colleagues, but it is essential to the production process and as result you get paid (that’s why you work there). The commercial profit represents the added value, and if the business makes loss, all employees lose their jobs.
There are interesting correlations, depending on the perceived value, as illustrated in the table. The most ideal case is when both sides see value in co-operation, and if both parties share the same ideals this situation ensures success. That’s why organizations invest a lot in branding, in an appealing mission and vision. Unfortunately the Pareto will show that this concerns only 20% of all relations. The remaining 80% is not so successful (the ‘Exploit’) or even in trouble all the time.
The search for groups to join starts when we try to align our perception of reality with others. If acknowledgement is high, we are eager to join, if benefit is high, we even are willing to sacrifice some of our values. We need others to confirm our identity, but the price for that is the demand to acknowledge the group identity as a higher order. As said before, only in rare cases “win-win” is more than just a compromise. Remember the iceberg model? In business or sports the primary reason for a relation usually is very clear. But in many other situations the reason to stay within a group is something buried deep inside the backpack of values, beliefs and motivations. It is easy to start a relationship, but after a while it becomes difficult to cut the ropes because unconscious drivers manifest themselves. This often happens when segregation goes against the overall flow, like the gay scene experiences, or when people want to leave a religious sect or institution. Being part of a larger entity usually means you lose something of your identity. When you work towards “No relation“, you might encounter one of the toughest ties to break!
When two or more people come together to achieve something, automatically someone will take a leadership role. Or maybe it is better to say that the team gives someone this role either very outspoken (i.e. via appointment) or implicit (through submissive behavior). Even though with the team we try to align our brains, our thoughts never are exactly the same. The Dutch “poldermodel” is well-known for endless discussions without adequate decision-making. For an effective and efficient team there’s a need for someone who shows ownership, responsibility and decisive power. It doesn’t matter whether this concerns one overall leader, or some distributed leadership, based on specialist knowledge or experience. The bigger the group is, the more important is this role.
Adding a recognized leader to the group establishes the pyramid. I use the model of the pyramid (and not the triangle) because it is a cultivated natural shape that humans always have used. This stable structure appeals to many people in different ways as archetype for hierarchy. Of course you can also think about more abstract triangles; for the explanation that doesn’t matter.
It is important to understand that membership is not restricted to only one pyramid. As each pyramid has a unique identity, being the topic for which people came together, usually people are member of many and different groups. Examples of such identities are things like church, sports club, political party, hobby group, employing company and so forth. Sometimes a pyramid combines multiple identities, like a Catholic soccer club. That implies that your membership is not just about added value, but also about the match with the set of key identities of that pyramid. Being member of various pyramids at the same time can bring someone in conflict situations if the values of a pyramid exclude membership of another one.
If we talk about the pyramids identity, the members together are the physical embodiment of that identity. The benefit of a pyramid is the collective mind and the consolidated thinking as one entity. Even with internal disagreements, towards the world the group shows up as one entity of which actions and thinking surpass that of each individual member. The collective mind of the pyramid in general shows the same characteristics and deficiencies as human brains. Not so surprising, if we realize it combines multiple brains just like neural networks form a single brain.
So people come together to align observations, agree on joint interpretations and form a group to set up a more powerful identity. This is pretty much like an evolutionary step, embedded in our genes. Now there’s also something like “span of control“, or the ideal number of elements a leader can supervise. Simply said: a pyramid cannot grow too big without increased instability. “Span of control” is a critical size from where subgroups start to form. The reason for that is the efficiency limitation for complex groups: with many members it is difficult to stay focused and result oriented. It’s like cells that divide themselves while growing. If you look at how a living being develops from a single cell, you can see the very complex organisms as result from this process.
A growing pyramid can form smaller sub-elements, but can also join other and much bigger pyramids. Compare that with companies: activity growth results in more departments, but occasionally a company enters a joint venture, or engages in strategic acquisitions. During this process the same added value evaluations take place as when individual and team discover each other. Finally, as all these clusters organically find their ways, this leads to order in the chaotic crowd. The more people live together, the more complex this game becomes. But the aim is to create an order, structure, that makes our chances to survive bigger.
The concept of pyramids also leads to themes like team dynamics (about the games in a group) and the continuous development of people and organizations. But the question I still ask myself is: what drives us to behave like that? I can recognize what tricks we use to manage our world through simplification and so forth, but that is just how we deal with things. Not why we do that.
The only constant element in human history (and even before that) I recognize is evolution. I don’t care if the detailed evolutionary model is correct, but the concept that there’s change and development as an everlasting process, indicates a flow we cannot escape from. During the battle between order and chaos the structure complexity increases with every new cycle. Each time chaos wins, the answer is one of more advanced order. The world grows from simple to multi-layered identities with pyramids that try to freeze their future and then fail if their conservative approach prevents adaptation to changes. In our polarized world there is no other option than to continue on this path.
The key to understand this process is to understand the role that “value” plays. It certainly is not just money. First of all it is a very personal experience, and secondly it has a time and context dependent character. So there will never be an answer to the question “What is valuable?” However, the reason for this haziness is that value perception develops.
In my view the idea behind motivation models is valid: there is a continuous evolution to next levels, built on certain preconditions. But it’s not about needs, or anything like that. Motivation is about what we see as valuable, and therefore want to secure. We strive for value, whether more, or different, or just because… The hierarchy of needs (and other models) basically are second order representations of value perception development.
As with everything, what is valid for single people, is also applicable to pyramids in any size or complexity. Communities are just harder to understand for us, and the transparency among persons disappears quickly in social statistics. Identity is the prelude to polarization, desired added value controls our choices, and there’s never stability because new structures arise on the ruins of past chaos to collapse later on. Maybe interesting to watch the movie “The Forecaster“, about Martin Armstrong and his pi-cycle. Also pyramids strive for value development and are eager to snatch it away from competitors. To be able to do so one needs power, which leads us away from the simple organized crowd to the global theater where statistical numbers and financial figures replace the individual human being.
“… As soon as “value” becomes the identity driver, “win-win” is an illusion!”
When you join a company, your career is primarily determined by the skills and experience you bring with you. You have something they need, and apart from an acceptable salary, the employer offers a compensation package including an outlook on future career growth. Young employees are eager to learn, very willing to embrace changes and like to face challenges with the team they’re in. Over time, as your career develops, you work in different departments to broaden your scope. Some are lucky to see other cultures, and even get an offer to move abroad for a while. But as time passes by, you also notice that you move inside a funnel: every past choice reduced the future options. After 20 years in Research, it’s hard to go into marketing. An experienced truck driver is not likely to become a logistics controller. We become specialists in what we do, even when we broaden our scope. And at some point we hear that our competencies are no longer needed. The company goes through a restructuring because certain activities are no longer profitable. The enthusiasm you felt in the early years suddenly is gone, and worries dominate. You discover that the balance between your value and added value for the company has entered the “no relation” quadrant.
Could we have changed our path if we knew this would be happening? I think so, but only in the first years of the career. As we grow older, we tend to stabilize ourselves. We know our preferences, what we like, where our strengths and weaknesses are. We see younger generations embark on new directions very easy, supported by basic knowledge we gave them through education based on our lessons learned. Specialized experience by default is not flexible anymore. Scientists usually develop only a few breakthrough ideas, and then refine and defend those throughout their career. That is where the problem of employability lies: people cannot prepare for every requested change. We need experience in certain times to cash on, be we also need flexibility to adjust to ongoing changes.
A similar situation exists when older generations oppose against changes in social life. The habits and behaviors of younger generations often are meaningless to older people. Example: the way we greet each other… We used to shake hands, but the younger generations have all kinds of gestures, like high fives, “fist2fist“, shoulder hugs, and other complex rituals, that I don’t see myself do anymore. Even if it looks cool when I would copy the style, it still feels like window dressing to me. But one should never forget that even old folks once where the young rebels of their time!
Another example is how kids question the opinions of older generations, because in the search for identity a child looks for recognition by like spirits. However, it is possible to build bridges. In the elderly home of my father childcare and preschool have an annex. All ages are in plain sight of each other and sometimes take part in the same activities or events. Which means young and old experience each other and exchange intangible value that enriches life.
Political parties are also pyramids, and people join such an organization because of ideology or direct benefit (a party may defend certain interests you have, such as social security, religious values or financial freedom). From the people who are member, some are even active in the political scene. They volunteer during activities, and usually are the core of voters during elections. Most, however, are passive member. There’s also a huge group of sympathizers that might vote positive if the conditions are right (read: when I need my vote to secure my future benefit). For a very small amount of people, the party becomes an employer. Of course there are a few people who just do a job without really agreeing with the political opinions. But the ones that I talk about now are ambitious and want to climb up, gain power, secure a social position and earn the money that fits their status. Sure, you will see differences in public implementation, depending on the political color, but generally successful politicians move on to lucrative positions in business and society. And that is something I think is very interesting to study: into what extent do their first political ideology and later career ambition match with each other? To me it’s clear that their value perception changes over time, and as result also their win-win needs. I only have to check the newspapers for the revelations about the attitudes of those former politicians.
The professional soccer competition is an interesting example of how win-win and pyramids work out in practice and how stars stand out of the crowd. The clubs (pyramids with powerful business managers) are commercial organizations, and they join in higher level structures like national soccer unions, UEFA and FIFA. The ongoing fraud investigations show the type of power game that is going on. We all know by now that despite the unctuous words about love for the sport, the business is only about money, LOTS of money! The ridiculous transfer and salary costs amaze us, and the commercial interest in advertising and broadcast rights is enormous. When you than look at the masses on the stadium bleachers, losing their identity with collective attitudes from emotional joy to primitive destruction (where clubs never feel responsible for), why they do not notice the exploitation that is happening? As supporter, what do you get from and what do you bring to a soccer club? Are you aware of the unconscious motivators that make you spend a significant part of your time and money to something that is only consumption and does not create a better future for you?
Many young kids see their soccer idols as example, and that drives them to play the game too. It is obvious that only a few make it to professional, and even then only exceptions become the absolute stars. During this filtering process, the value need changes from learning the techniques and the game, to gaining experience on the right levels, be discovered and become first-string player for many years. As a player progresses, his added value increases, and commercial importance grows. If ambition is high enough, exposure to international competitions determine team preference. And when individual quality is high enough, the only thing that counts is winning a championship, either with the club or with the national team. All the time the added value to the sports is purely commercial. I think there is no bigger shift of value balance as during the life of a successful sports player. Being public property, having private life exposed and entering social scenes where your parents didn’t prepare you for is very hard. And we should not forget the process after the sports career, because soon the soccer future is over and you’re suffering all kinds of physical damages, at the age where most other people have laid a solid foundation for a future career by building relevant experience. That’s maybe the hardest part of soccer life, where memories of golden years are the only value left.
The European Community also is a super-pyramid container for larger and smaller countries. Each country has its own identity, and has to deal with internal organizations like political parties, multi-nationals and interest groups. During the current euro crisis it became clear what Greece tried to do: seek benefit without added value. The response was also straightforward: show us you will have future added value instead of continuous extra demands for help, or…. And there the interesting part of the story popped-up! There’s no historic evidence the union kicks you out if you cannot show added value and only consume resources. That makes the EC unstable and weak, and therefore a power-play show started. Hidden fears about the reactions of other countries like Spain and Portugal (both struggling with internal alignment about Euro membership) and the threat of losing a lot of investments led to a complex game we all followed in the media. Massive things happened: closed banks, reduced cash flow, new elections, appointed and then fired ministers, demonstrations, reduced tourism, fraud… And not only in Greece: in all countries cultural sentiments and concerns woke up. The media exposed financial practices and individual compensation packages and raised questions about social-economic relevance and acceptability. Even USA and Russia interfered in their own way to see how they can benefit from the situation. Although we talk about money, loans and refunds, the real discussion is about the added value for the system and the value for each country, in terms of military power, economic stability and political independence.
The political refugees from the war zones in Syria, Iraq and northern Africa are sad examples how value perception can change the world. They leave one pyramid to go and join another. For them there is no “win-win” anymore in their homeland, where extremist groups threaten the most basic needs. So, like before in history, a huge migration starts, helped by smugglers and foreign secret agencies who see benefit in this situation. But where do they go to, and do they know how to make a new value balance? What can they offer that is valuable for Western European countries, and how much do they need in return to survive? Without preparation, the chance is low that a refugee will end up in the “joy & success” quadrant. Educational en cultural disconnect make it even harder, so all stakeholders need to invest more in first building bridges before benefit comes. However, the countries where they go to already have people who face this “win-win” dilemma: those who do not have a job and struggle to find their way through the social safety net. Taxes are high, and the economic crisis has forced us to give in on our economic wealth. In that context, suddenly foreign people arrive who get food, clothes, a place to live, help to find work… Economic fugitives, we call them. Will they send “our” money to Syria to fund rebellion combat groups? Just like the Dutch have to send social aid to Morocco where people consume it in relative luxury? We allow the newcomers to keep up their habits that we sometimes consider as not modern at all. Foreign cultural background puts many things we have fought for in the shadow, like reducing discrimination on race, religion, gender and sexual orientation. As result, native inhabitants also do not care about those values anymore.
So even though our hearts and mind say we need to help those people, the underlying pyramid principles forbid us to let the refugees in. The effect is that they stay in the twilight zone, big barracks and warehouses and old office buildings, squeezed together, until one by one they can prove they are worth joining this community. Dualism, polarization, identity crisis, value shift…. You see it happening? As long as the group of refugees is relatively small, each country can manage the process of integration. That’s why we spread them across Europe. But if the group is too big, a complete pyramid forces itself to fit inside existing structures, and that will cause serious stress.