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Networking Alternation: an alternation network of 384 pathways of organizational transformation


Networking Alternation
Chinese insights
Interpretative exercise
Transformation pathways
Contrasting exercises
Challenge of representation
Elaboration of a circular sequence
Interpretation problems
Transformation cycles
Circular representation: inner structure
Elaboration of a spherical map

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Printed in: Transnational Associations, 35, 1983, 4, pp. 172-181; 5, pp 245-258. Also distributed together as a separate publication [see PDF version]. Subsequently incorporated into Policy Alternation for Development (1984), pp. 175-202 and incorporated in a modified form into the Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential.

A generalized version was subsequently produced on the methodology as Transformation Metaphors: derived experimentally from the Chinese Book of Changes (I Ching) for sustainable dialogue, vision, conferencing, policy, network, community and lifestyle (1997) that provides access to the generalized results of the exercise itself. The modified originally commentary is currently presented in three parts:

What follows is the original unabridged 1983 text of the commentary, but without the results of the interpretative exercise on networking, currently integrated into the general exercise. Figures referenced here are located in Commentary B above (to which they are linked)


This exercise is concerned with change and with the development of better ways of responding to its possibilities in various forms of socially organized activity. The exercise has only been applied to networks but, as will be seen, it could just as well be applied to groups, organizations, meetings or intentional communities, in each of which very similar challenges are faced.

1. Networks Networks and networking have become extremely fashionable over the past decade, even within the intergovernmental community, as a means of circumventing weaknesses perceived in conventional styles of organization. But in practice networks themselves have failed to live up to the hopes placed in them, despite their positive image and the appearance of enthusiastic publications in support of that image (1,2). An example of such unbridled optimism is the following: "Just as bureaucracy is less than the sum of its parts, a network is many times greater than the sum of its parts. This is a source of power never before tapped in history: multiple self-sufficient social movements linked for a whole array of goals whose accomplishment would transform every aspect of contemporary life... most people don't see them -- or think they are conspiracies" (2, p. 236). The kinds of criticism that can be made are that :

  1. in some cases "network"is merely used as a substitute for what previously functioned with limited effectiveness under the name of "club" or "group";
  2. networking tends to function by filtering out conflict and opposition and thus is ill-equipped to interrelate a diversity of perspectives, many of which may involve fundamental disagreements (sometimes manageable by hierarchies in an "objectionable" manner);
  3. the informal strengths of networks have been transformed into weaknesses through rejection of any form of compensatory self-discipline; networks tend to become "flabby" and subject to a variety of "networking diseases". (3)
  4. networks tend to function as temporary vehicles for enthusiasm and are frequently abandoned as soon as unpleasant realities have to be faced;
  5. the networking philosophy is often geared to that of "positive thinking "which negates the possibility of criticism and especially self-criticism, thus hindering collective learning for the development of the network.

The question is then whether there are any clues to ways of "tensing" networks to correct such tendencies (4). What can be done to prevent the energy from draining out of networks? One approach has been discussed under the heading of "tensegrity organization" as a hybrid "marriage" between networks and hierarchies (5).

A related approach is to assume that networks fail to contain problems because they are effectively out-manoevered by the dynamics of such problems. As in the martial arts, a network must swiftly re-order its conceptual and organizational resources to keep up with shape-shifting and hydra-like transformations of the problematique. The network may need to alternate between several modes of action and conception in order to respond effectively (6, 7). If this is the case how can we come to recognize the pattern of transformation pathways of which the network needs to be aware ?

2. Groups and organizations: Clearly groups and organizations also need to be aware of the transformational pathways they may have to use to be able to contain problems effectively. Like networks, which are anyway a more loosely ordered form of organization, they may need to alternate between several modes of action or conception.

3. Meetings : Conferences have been usefully perceived as temporary organizations. In many ways they also resemble networks. They too tend to fail to live up to the expectations placed in them, especially with respect to response to the world problématique. As with networks, the significance tends to leak out of them, leaving the problems unaffected. There is little collective awareness of the transformational and organizational dynamics of the problématique (8).

4. Intentional communities : The past decades have seen many attempts to establish intentional communities. Many have broken up because of inability to order their dynamics satisfactorily. Such "alternative" communities combine many of the features of networks, groups, organizations and meetings. As such they are faced with many of the same difficulties.

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