When Richard Nixon went to China, he was impressed. The streets were spotless, the trams ran on time, there were no long-haired hippies protesting in front of the Imperial Palace. Given the contrast with the messiness he left behind in the U.S.A., this was one leader's dream of system heaven. Nixon was/is not the only leader for whom order and neatness and all marching in lock step is the longed-for utopian state. Fascism is one variation of hierarchy. Wisdom at the Top, obedience below (Adolph Hitler's words), was a formula for a smoothly running society. (see Mein Kamp) No problem dealing with dissent, for "dissent" was not even listed in the glossary. And fascism offers a certain comfort for those below - to be relieved of having to deal with deep questions or troubling feelings. The message to below is clear: Be impeccable in following. From impeccable following, all personal fulfilment will emerge.
Alignment, though far less extreme, can have a similar fascistic appeal. Basically, it's vision from above and committed alignment all the way down. It is the duty of the Top to establish the inspiring vision and direction, and then, through various participatory processes (that's where democracy comes in), cascade the vision and its implementation throughout.
Robust Systems represent another form of hierarchy. Here the locus for fundamental direction and change does not sit exclusively at the Top. Each part of the system, including the Top, has its unique leverage to shape the whole. The challenge is to recognize and have the wisdom and courage to utlize that unique leverage. It's hardly revolutionary, for example, to recognize the power of Customers to shape organizations; they do this by insisting on partnering with the organization, or withdrawing their business in favor of more satisfying products and services from other suppliers, or by demanding fundamental changes in products and services. There is nothing like imminent failure to get one's attention: change or wither away. Those nasty, pushy customers make a mess, that mess is their unique contribution. And "creative mess" is what gives Robust Systems its dynamism.
Elsewhere - and often - I have written about the creative mess Middles can effect in fundamentally shaping organizations. The first rule for Middles is to stop looking up and start looking to one another. If Middles were looking to another, and listening to one another, and combining the shared wisdom of that Middle space, they would see what only they can see...and capitalize on that vision.
Once Middles grow accustomed to meeting with one another, and fighting the forces - internal and external - that keep them apart, and sharing information from their various parts of the system, and using that shared "intelligence" to diagnose the system from their unique perspective, they are then able to explore such potentially transforming questions as: What's missing in this system? What can we do collectively that's never been done before? What is it that continually drags this system down and how can we eliminate/change/transform it?
I'm sure that parallel messes can emerge from the bottom of the hierarchy. To a fascist mentality, these messes look like destructive chaos. What distinguishes mess from chaos is the desire and commitment at all level for this system to succeed - not by looking up but by looking to one another and the immediate world around them. What do we see? What can we make happen. Always in the service of the system.
Fascism or Robust Systems: Symphony or Jazz?
Questions for discussion: How would you compare the experiences of symphonic versus jazz musicians? Which would you prefer to be a member of?