So this world we build with our brain does not only house all people, but also has many pyramids in various nested forms. What applies to the interaction between two humans is also valid for the dynamics between two pyramids. How a pyramid embeds in a larger construction is not different from how a person takes part in pyramid life. It is all about identity and perceived value. When a somebody tries to look beyond the pyramids he is part of, he gets a bigger picture of his world.
“Scope” defines the sphere of my personal life. Our scope shows the range we have under control and where we are effective in what we do. Our observations usually are right when things are within our scope. Scope is different for everybody, even when people belong to the same team. How far your scope reaches, depends on education, schooling and experience, but also on personal qualities like open mindset and change tolerance. As our scope is not limited by the boundaries of structures, we can use it to glue pyramids together, or we can decide to change membership based on new information we received from elsewhere. In general, people do not pay that much attention to their scope. To most of us, self-evidently it’s the environment we live in. Even stronger: many people think they know the entire world, but in fact only notice their own limited scope. Because within your scope, life is manageable and more or less under control, there are not too many strange and unexplained things. Living within their scope usually pleases people, and that’s how the masses are kept quiet by the mighty few who govern the world. Just make sure each and everyone has a scope that satisfies, and most people will not ask for more. By stimulating limited scope expansion, it feels like we have no limits. The media offer us informative programs, like books, documentaries and movies with suspense and hidden messages, and discussion fora satisfy our curiosity. Everyone has his or her own scope, and (unlike the crystal globes shown in the picture) these overlap each other continuously. In the overlap, that’s where we get in touch with each other and communicate, work together. But we also have a private sphere, almost like a physical shell around us, with no public overlap at all, where we allow only very few people.
Even though our scope feels infinite, in the real world it is a limitation.
“Scope” behaves a bit like a light source, or a distant star. We know that at close distance the light intensity is very high, but the farther away, the weaker the light is. Not sure if this inverse square law also holds for our brain, but the general idea is valid. My scope starts with my brain at the center, and gradually fades as my senses and conceptual thinking become less effective. Details start to escape my mind. Being confronted with completely new situations or information my brain must change its scope, and that takes time as we always seek consistency with what we knew beforehand. Misunderstandings and conflicts occur in the outer regions of our scope where information uncertainty is high. Through training and experience one can expand the scope. But it’s also possible to create a larger controlled area by combining scopes of multiple people. Based on trust, I can make use of someone else’s experience and knowledge. That is what happens in a pyramid construction. We’re not all the same, just like a soccer team cannot have just defenders or spearheads. Diversity always makes a team stronger.
But regardless of how we organize ourselves, at a certain moment things start getting obscure. Our scope cannot be expanded endlessly. Once we feel we’re looking through fog or clouds, we’re at the point where our scope is gone. When we leave the well-known personal sphere behind, we discover that the world is not that transparent at all…. That’s where the concept of “levels” comes up!
In a way, we all want to influence things.
When we try to align our opinions with others, we try to make them see what we think. In another situation we want to persuade them to share their knowledge with us, so we can better fill in our blueprint of the world. Sometimes even doing nothing has influence on others. Each person wants to have some influence on the surroundings without being formal leader. The same holds for teams within a larger structure: as team you want to secure your goals. Usually influence is easy within your own scope, and more difficult in the overlap area with others. By working together in teams we can overcome that to a certain extent, but we soon notice the limits of our scope. Those limits are what I call “levels“. On my level and in my extended scope, I can influence things. Even though I expect more behind the level above (or below) me, it is very difficult to penetrate there for a brief and enlightening moment. It’s like a curtain between your reality and another one where different rules and habits exist: you notice something is there, but you can’t look behind it.
Where my personal capacity causes a “scope” limitation, nested pyramid structures define the “level” boundaries. “Span of control” is about the ideal size of a successfully lead team and determines a leadership hierarchy within a (sub)pyramid. Levels span multiple pyramids and are about twice as big as the span of control hierarchy. Scope has a horizontal character, hierarchy levels have a vertical orientation. We are all used to these concepts, but do we understand them and (more important) do we also use them? Both have something to do with information exchange by people or pyramids. But information always relates to a context, defined by common perceptions, attitudes, language, interests and so forth. When we expand our scope, we mostly can stay the same person: we just add knowledge and experience. If you want to change your level, you have to change yourself too. Afterwards, you are not the same person anymore, and you have lost the deep connection with the previous level. Your scope changes dramatically by acting on other levels. Can people from different levels still communicate with each other? Yes, of course, but both sides will feel the different background, and most of the time the communication is using hackneyed phrases. Look at the politician who visits a neighborhood to meet his voters. You hear him say all the things you already know, and you realize he’s been told to do so. Meanwhile you can see him think how to avoid public mistakes, get information that can help him with his next debate, and not lose too much time… His mind is somewhere else…. On a different level.
Levels are always there: between parents and children and between bosses and employees. It is the mechanism to protect hierarchies and make sure big pyramids with many sub-units inside keep their stable structure. For that reason it is the cause of bureaucracy. And finally it is the enabler for a self-thinking pyramid model: the organism.
“Span of control” is about the ideal size of a successfully lead team. A growing group automatically splits up in teams that meet that size. That is how a nested structure of pyramids inside pyramids grows. Next to that we let pyramids align with other structures, and gradually what started as my personal need turns into huge structures that include complete crowds. As complexity increases by introducing hierarchical levels, more and more single persons have less influence on the overall behavior of the pyramid.
Another interesting thing happens: let’s assume the (sub)pyramids are working towards the primary goals of the overall organization. To keep complexity under control, new units arise for secondary support tasks, gluing all pyramid activities together (the gap-filling circles in the drawing). In the beginning it concerns just a few people, but soon complete groups are active. And after a while, when we see there are multiple similar support task groups scattered over the entire pyramid structure, we think it’s more efficient to combine them. That’s when companies start talking about overhead reduction. But in reality, these supporting functions get more and more power and will make sure their reason for existence is inescapable. They will issue rules and regulations for goals that surpass the primary ones of the (sub)pyramids. When that happens, the collective thinking takes over individual decision power. We sacrifice freedom to act to safety of the total structure, and somehow all people accept that. Nobody knows exactly anymore why we have certain rules and habits, but we all know we have to comply. That is the phase that well-structured pyramids become organisms with a life of its own.
Typical for an organism is that it seems there is a higher power, but there’s not a single person at the top to give that power a face. Rules and regulations govern the organism, often imposed by instances in the environment. Everywhere people play a role in such an organic structure, but no-one has own identity anymore: all follow directives that others have created and of which it isn’t clear why they exist. We have become cells in the organs of a living being that protects itself from any threat, either inside or outside. Just like a body grows, develops, and finally dies, these organisms go through similar cycles. Organisms have all characteristics from human behavior, just on a different scale. That is not so strange, as it is us who embody the pyramids, and it’s our projection that make organisms be like a super-human. The most important characteristic is that organisms do not allow identities on any level, and have values that are no longer linked to needs of people.Influence effect
We already noticed how we shift our personal values and partly sacrifice them when we join a pyramid. The more complex this unit is, the less will remain from your own identity and values. That is one of the reasons why people keep work and private life separated. It depends a bit on the culture whether a company value adds to your personal set (in Asia this is more common than in Europe). Nevertheless it is still possible to recognize an identity and basic values of a larger pyramid organization. We call it “Brand”, or “Vision and Mission” and we adhere to company strategies and tactics to align our behavior. Other examples are our religion or ideology.
What happens when this set of pyramids slowly turns into an organic system? When more organisms populate our reality? Can we expect a new value, just like we had before, but valid for the entire world? I think we tried to enforce that (and still do so, if I look at the battles in the Middle East). History shows that gradually one values dominates all others and that is: money. Conflicts usually are because of money, the future benefit or the potential lack of it. Economy has overtaken all value perceptions on all layers of society. And looking back, even the past values that we thought were more ideological, focussed on money. Churches got rich, countries grew wealthy, and the communist system was about managing money in a different way than the capitalistic system did. We all know the phrases “time = money” and “money = power”. If we express all existing values in terms of money, and set up economic systems to manage and calculate the relations, organisms have a better chance to sustain. However, the power of money is not that we can buy what we like. It also is not because “people want it, so we can manipulate the greedy ones.” The real power of money is that it provides means to increase knowledge. We stimulate science, start new developments (even when dominated by defense demands), bring together the greatest spirits of our time in futuristic institutes, and collect information about everything everywhere. Why? because knowledge generation is essential to growth and survival. Money allows us to make our brain free from all kinds of basic needs and concerns, so we can freely dream about new horizons.
“… The only value for evolution is the knowledge, generated by our brains to move to the next phase!
Take an arbitrary organization with various managerial functions (see picture).
The distance between two subsequent layers is the span of control, with typical values ranging from 8 (for knowledge intensive groups) to 30 (for procedural repeat-oriented work) elements. The full organization chart than looks like a genealogical tree, with each parents having a bunch of children. Influence can skip one level, whereby information exchange is on a level of equality. It is very unlikely that a Business Manager talks in the same way with a Team Member as with his Unit Managers. Team Members will ask their boss (or maybe the Group Leader) about information from higher management. Translations need to convert the information to the level of the audience, but with each conversion step the influencing power reduces. Maybe essential information is confidential and therefore not shared completely. Or the topics are not familiar to the audience and need a lot of extra explanation. In such a layered organization it can happen that Team Leaders carry out something they think senior management has ordered, but follow-up communication to verify the details never took place. Something like that just happened with Volkswagen and the diesel scandal. This certainly is not the only occasion, even though companies put a lot of effort in regulatory compliance to avoid such risks. We base implementations and actions on interpretations of verbal and non-verbal communication, and everyone tries to influence things correspondingly. Because of level, some just don’t see the impact of certain decisions, and others cannot check actual detailed activities.
Another example from industrial companies is when they close the book year and publish the results. On their level everything they say makes sense. But on the factory floor all details evaporate and only the main result stays: we had a good or a bad year. It is not clear to most people how management uses the presentation and criteria of the results to steer their efforts. The factory employees only care about potential salary increase or headcount reduction.
“Every man to his own trade.”
That’s the way to tell people to stay within their scope, and certainly not try to cross levels. It is a very limiting saying, because everyone has the right to try something else. But not at cost of others! If you take the challenge and try something completely new, you also have to bear the risks. There are situations other people ask you to give it a try, like when changing your function in a company. At that moment it is fair to expect support when things do not run well, or even fail. This balance between personal and group decision is not always clear.
The good side of the saying is that it allows people to become good and successful in what they do. That is good for everyone. Nevertheless we always should watch out who decides for me and what implicit risks I take when changing myself. It’s not only MY brain that plays me tricks!
Throughout history we see conflicts due to economic issues. Whether it is about natural resources like gold or oil, fertile land for farmers, or routes where animals pass through or trade caravans travel, in the end it was about something we would now express in terms of money. Where at first military power prevailed, since beginning of 19th century the accent moved to economic power. Two big organisms, using money as common value, developed: Communism and Capitalism. Why the communistic system in Russia and Eastern Europe failed in 1989? Well, they did not invest that much in progressive science and knowledge sharing. Everything focussed on military power and the masses for which the leaders should control every aspect of life. That resulted in reduced freedom and not using the creative problem solving power of people. Scientific results dropped, and with that, stagnation occurred that still was visible in the mindset of people and development of the country around the millennium change, 10 years after the system collapsed. We all know that Russia now is as capitalistic as any other country, and China has moved to controlled capitalism too. Meanwhile the pure capitalistic model as promoted by the US via their economic imperialism all over the world passed its peak. Their pure individual focus and a “survival of the fittest” mentality apparently are not good either. Scandals exposed corruption, abuse and fraud, including the practices to use knowledge for manipulation purposes. The ideals and values of a capitalistic system are also not leading to longer term survival. It’s a problem of polarization and dual thinking that we cannot easily bring the good aspects of both systems together. Europe tries to do it in various ways. Upcoming economies like Brazil and South Africa should learn from history.
Love can span a universe, right?
Reality is that intimate relationships in the end seldom work out well for both parties when originating from different levels. This sounds like a class society, and somehow it is. But if you can’t communicate on basis of equality with each other about every aspect of your life, it’s hard to have an “ideal” relation (whatever that is…). So one or both have to do something about level change. That’s the free choice we have, and no level is better than any other. Even when we talk about hierarchies, those are just constructions of our brain. Unfortunately often people in such a situation try to keep private life separated from lives on other levels. Our brain is flexible enough to accommodate that. I do not know if this makes both partners happy: usually an inequality sentiment remains.
IT rules the world, and we accept that!
There are so many examples how IT tools and systems prescribe our life, that it takes a complete book to show them. We all know how internet has changed the way we communicate and collect information. How our mobile gadgets and browsing behavior create a virtual shadow that persecutes us when we least expect it. We all feel we can’t do without it anymore, and children of 2 years old learn to use them. The software behind it is huge and complex, not only in the devices, but also in background servers and clouds. Even when countries try to block internet functionality there are always ways around it: IT is an organism we don’t have under control anymore.
There’s an easier example about IT: the tools companies use to manage things, such as customer complaints, personal data, tax information. I once tried to change ownership of a bank account. Immediately you face rules and all kinds of security precautions. So far so good, I can understand that. Until somewhere in the system a mistake occurs. Such a mistake survives in the system because nobody has the rights to change it. So the secondary task was to change some administration, to let me execute my primary task: manage my bank account. But the administration was more powerful and made me feel like some fool who did things wrong. Okay, in the end we got it fixed, and it wasn’t that difficult when somebody finally had the guts to press a key that normally nobody else uses.
Have you ever had a reminder about a delayed payment? With all threats that go along? Making you feel like a criminal, even though it’s not your style to pay bills too late? And the truth is that the first bill didn’t arrive, so you couldn’t know…. But who cares… the system makes you be the one who fails. The system works for someone else, who doesn’t know what misery is happening, until you are fierce enough to break through to the right level. All this happens because of IT tools in the background that decouple people from each other, so identities are lost and values no longer are the same.
The army is also a typical form of an organism. Within a strong hierarchy there are structures that prevent personal opinions of people. Everyone works for the goal of the organism: survive and train for a potential task that requires combat. Identities are lost in favor of team spirit. Personal values do not outweigh the overall value of the army. It’s interesting to see how being part of such an organism also gives people a good feeling. The thrill of being part of something bigger, the joy of being promoted, the good feelings after a successful mission, it’s all there. But also the risks of accidents or even death, and the need to sacrifice yourself if needed for a purpose you did not define yourself. Many veterans with traumatic experiences notice upon return that the society has no eye for their problems. Scope and level simply are different.
Today we see an increase of public attention for health. We name all kinds of “new” diseases and no longer we discover root causes for them (like a mosquito or bad food) but we find the weak links in our body, that trigger on external stimuli and then influence total body condition. Through major investments in research we find the abnormally behaving cells and DNA strings that are not ideal. Healthcare equipment industry develops more advanced ways to discover and treat things that were not known before. At the same time, to cut costs, the activities not only concentrate around expensive care centers, but extend into the homes of people to offer preventive care as well as aftercare. Insurance companies became mighty financial institutes that decide on quality of care and entitlement to receive what treatments. Pharmaceutical industries are powerful for a longer time already, and despite good intentions of people in those companies, the only benefit for those pyramids is to find more diseases for which we need more medication. And medication is not only a pill or potion of some chemical composition. It’s also the mass production of so-called homeopathic medicaments, food supplements and bio-friendly body reinforcements. The bio-food industry follows up on the mass production we knew before, but is not really different. From weather control via cloud spraying to serial killing in slaughterhouses and soil pollution because of one-sided usage of large fields, the unseen effects on human health are big. Bit by bit the world changes to house and feed the masses. And finally we have the regulatory bodies, consulting firms and other institutes that check on “quality” of everything, performing on-site inspections as well as in-house specimen analysis. Governments and industries set the quality criteria, looking at economic feasibility and risks for the average population.
The overall picture is one of high numbers. Just like in the USA they now discover that the “pepsi-hamburger-culture” after a few generations led to the accepted perception of people being fat, the entire system conditions human bodies in a certain direction. Variety vanishes. Soon we all have the same health genes. Ideal measures for a human body, like industrial KPIs (key performance indicators) drive the entire business, including household appliances to check on that. Meanwhile our average mental state also deteriorates, if we look at the amount of available therapeutic services. Also here we see the pharmaceutical industry pop up with low-cost alternatives.
High numbers also means a value shift towards financial control, and not so much on your personal well-being. Huge amounts of money flow around in this economy, and we all are in different market segments for the businesses that benefit from the situation. All people who take part in this business, earn salaries and make a living with it. This all leads to an organism, ruled by monetary arguments, that keeps itself going. It sometimes feels like we MUST be unhealthy for this organism to survive. The long-term effects of this rapidly growing system will show into what extent we already are prisoners of the “insalubrious economy” (translated from Dutch word “ongezondheidseconomie”).