“It is essential to understand that the success of cities is born from their tolerance, which fosters collaboration; from their infrastructure and cultural resources, which are the results of investment; and from their compactness and diversity, which spark chance encounters and lead to artistic and entrepreneurial innovation.”

Ryan Gravel, Urban Planner


Every organization is a network of people, individuals, who interact with each other. In order to survive, and thrive, the organization will, at its core, be at the mercy of how well they interact with each other. That said, forcing interactions <forced collaboration or even ‘social events’> tends to be counterproductive because relationships are inherently emergent (connections create). at their core these human connections are mini-learning systems in that each interaction forges the interactions, and connections, to come. What this demands, though, is some fluidity within the organization. Without fluidity the connections remain stagnant, or worse, cocooned, and the organization stops learning. There is a lack of exchanges.

Which leads me to cities.

I am not suggesting a business is a city, or any ecosystem/organism/etc. type tripe, but rather the infrastructure of a business demands connectivity in order to prosper, just as a thriving city does. A city, at its core, is an environment of exchange – economic and social. Conceptually that means an infrastructure, even a technology one, should seek to better the human condition and conditions for thrivability and navigating ordinary complexity.

Businesses, like cities, decline in quality through discrimination and segregation. The presence of those create an environment in which there is not only an inequitable distribution of opportunity, but also a complete lack of exchange of ideas. Hierarchies in business can also naturally encourage both of those negatives – they discriminate by titles, perceptions of skills and assumptions of knowledge contribution and segregate by department (if not also by evaluation files in the HR dept). Sociological studies show that integration reduces discrimination, therefore, the business structure should be one in which anyone can go anywhere and contribute.

This brings up a tricky topic – leadership led versus people led. I’d argue the composition of this structure cannot be left alone to leadership because they have failed, to date, to create or construct a healthy structure. I would take that responsibility out of their hands and let the infrastructure itself assume the main responsibility. This, in turn, would demand the infrastructure itself is constructed to encourage free exchange throughout. This does not absolve leadership of responsibility, in fact, it puts a different type of demand upon them in that they must set aside:

  • A bias that they know better than the people

  • A bias that the system will decay to the lowest common good if left to its own devices

  • A bias that technology may be better assessors of potential than they

  • A bias that living, and thriving, only through hierarchy has created in them mentally.

“Nothing is more destructive to a community, to creativity, than the desire to be seen as a good person and the deceptions that are mobilized to make that happen.”
Stephen Berg

Which leads me to design.

The way we choose to organize our space – parks, cities, streets, buildings, etc. – says a lot about the society we live in. This organization defines not only our perception of real-world environments, but also our imagination of. Simplistically, if a city is constructed with walls, physical or metaphorical, it diverts traffic and exchange from what may occur naturally. I bring this up because this is also true of internet/tech design. Our lives revolve around what has been designed. This doesn’t mean we are sheep, but rather we assume the larger design narratives have been designed in ways that we can easily (or easy enough) navigate. That becomes good enough for us. I bring that up because, conversely, this is why designer ethics is important. They are the organizers of ‘our space.’ They design the world we walk, and think, in.

This is where I turn to what I continue to suggest are Drucker’s most important thoughts – a ‘human imperative’ as outlined within The New Realities. It is not where he stated business is “in and of society” (albeit that is the ultimate human imperative), but it is there he highlights salvation by society versus economic imperatives. His concept is that in today’s world, with today’s challenges, it is quite possible we should be focused on business’s role in a community and a city design and as part of the fabric of society (and cascading consequences, i.e, how we ask people to think and act in a business impact what they say and do at the kitchen table when they go home and impacts how they view the workings of the community they reside in) rather than simple economic imperatives. I imagine at the core of what Drucker suggested was that organizational design is actually societal design. As a corollary, city design is actually societal design. Is that not the greatest human imperative intersecting economics and community?

Which leads me to technology.

Conceptually, technology does not care about anything other than supplying knowledge stimulus <information> to everyone, regardless of skill or title, and assembling people with the best potential to address emergent issues regardless of their ‘identified’ skill or title. As a corollary to this idea, the intent of business model design should be, similar to urban city planning, to maximize pedestrian movement and ensure the environment enhances easy movement and rewards the act of movement <movement need not just be people but information and ideas and resources>. I am not suggesting that every business have the same design, but that every business design with similar working objectives. I would note that this design need not remain static. I mention that because in business it seems like people do not speak often enough about what algorithms can create (crowd or tribe cultural), it can ‘unmake’. It’s possible to take apart larger ideologue, or beliefs, so that new ideologies or ways of thinking, can actually be constructed. Algorithms can be used in a variety of ways and if we elected to create an effective design, we could. All the objectives I have wandered through up to this point should be reviewed constantly and the infrastructure should be re-designed to optimize against those objectives.

In the end.

The subtleties of a community and a city defy any real definitions and, yet, even within its abstractness there remains the concrete. Personally, I hope we never get too close to finding a concrete definition because once people can easily grasp it, they will attempt to copy it, replicate it and scale it. What a shame that would be. For communities and cities and, yes, businesses may truly be the opposite and be the ultimate example of the emergent and unique to their own needs and desires.

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Written by Bruce