Organisational anarchist or corporate jester?

Phillipe Borrowmans just posted a great post about the possibilities of truly social business which he titled “We need more Corporate Anarchists”. Please go and read the whole thing but hopefully Phillipe will excuse this extensive snip:

Immanuel Kant describes anarchy as “Law and Freedom without Force” – this idea combined with one school of thought of anarchism – where the focus is on non-hierarchical organizations – was to me a kind of ultimate long term result.

But today I see more and more “social business” projects that tend to have “better control” as an objective. Some of these project are just about adding a social layer to already flawed business processes and models.

Why not use social media to truly open up an organization ?

Use it as a huge magnifying glass to see why people are not sharing information and helping each other out. And then from there change the system from within to make something better…

A true “social business” will eat titles on business cards for breakfast. But it will allow anyone in the company to become project leader based on his/her true skills and not based on the amount of projects managed.

A social business will not be afraid to completely change its business model to continue (or start) to create true value for society. And yes this means making money but also employing people, taking care of resources and creating real innovation.

I just believe we can do more with “social” than we’re doing now. And we all know that we need drastic change to be able to face our current challenges; 12% unemployment in Europe, a dramatic state of inertia when it comes to our environment and social unrest around the corner. 

It occurred to me that maybe there is a role for an “official” corporate anarchist, if that isn’t a contradiction in terms. Someone who radically questions things, who prompts people to pick apart things that aren’t working, who keeps pushing decision making to as wide a network as possible. They would have to be senior enough and have enough clout to push against the inevitable resistance but if enough people bought into the need for the role it should be possible. I remember British Airways being mocked years ago for having a corporate jester with a similar brief. Maybe it is not such a daft idea after all. 

14 thoughts on “Organisational anarchist or corporate jester?

  1. Excused… with pleasure. The pity is that "asking the difficult questions" (and wanting to solve them of course) is not the best way to become popular in… In fact, that’s how I got in trouble at school… 😉


  2. I was a naughty boy too. But then the BBC used to be better at making the most of its naughty kids than they are these days. I don’t think it is too preposterous to suggest that an enlightened management team could employ their own agent provocateur.


  3. @Philippe ..

    <i>"asking the difficult questions" </i>

    I’ve heard this can lead to alcoholism, so I quit drinking 😉


  4. Quoting again: "But today I see more and more "social business" projects that tend to have "better control" as an objective. Some of these project are just about adding a social layer to already flawed business processes and models."

    This, roughly, is how I’ve been feeling lately about social media as I encounter it in my work, relating to marketing and other communications. Companies are using the tools, talking the talk on the surface, but not really walking the walk. It’s probably in the nature of "the organization" to fight, and then pretend to accept and include-but-pervert, whatever comes up that risks tearing the machine to pieces.


    1. I agree and my experience is that more of them are beginning to realise this. That there is more to social than they had thought and that the apparently simple and safe solutions they have pursed thus far are actually risky.


  5. The question I would put forward is if this kind of "anarchy" would have constructive or destructive results, despite being well intentioned.

    If the problems are fundamentally cultural—though to me "cultural" tends to mean an accumulation of systemic behavioural status quo—I think throwing another new thing at it might just have a tendency to bounce off. What would be more interesting is to use the corporate’s own tools against itself. (I’m just thinking aloud, haven’t got solid ideas here.)

    I find what Dave Gray et al is doing on culture mapping very interesting in trying to solve fundamental issues:


    1. The assumption appears to be that those in positions of conventional power do less damage than those, even "officially", outside the system. Is this really true?

      My own view is that it is the concentration of power that causes problems as much as it solves them.

      I agree it is a cultural issue but if new things just "bounce off" do we give up? Yes, sticking sharp objects into a culture gets rejected but we could be so much more subtle than most "change programmes".


      1. Oh yes I agree with you, I mean, just look at the banking industry …

        Would love to hear more about your ideas on how to be subtle and anarchistic at the same time 🙂


  6. The Original team that started Orange in the early 1990s had amongst the Strategy Group were Futurologist, Imagineers, Profits and Evangelists whom were responsible for developing the message and effecting change rather than traditional analysis and marketing of the brand. The roles were anarchic in a way that Peter Kropotkin would recognise, in that they were Social Darwinists. It is best seen as

    In the animal world we have seen that the vast majority of species live in societies, and that they find in association the best arms for the struggle for life: understood, of course, in its wide Darwinian sense – not as a struggle for the sheer means of existence, but as a struggle against all natural conditions unfavourable to the species. The animal species, in which individual struggle has been reduced to its narrowest limits, and the practice of mutual aid has attained the greatest development, are invariably the most numerous, the most prosperous, and the most open to further progress. The mutual protection which is obtained in this case, the possibility of attaining old age and of accumulating experience, the higher intellectual development, and the further growth of sociable habits, secure the maintenance of the species, its extension, and its further progressive evolution. The unsociable species, on the contrary, are doomed to decay.

    — Peter Kropotkin, Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution (1902), Conclusion.

    Think that this might be what you are looking for?


  7. It’s a little academic but there’s an interesting excerpt about Jesters here: "The Importance of Being Jest Earnest").

    This especially, I though, tied in to Steph’s question and your ideas about corporate anarchy:

    "The jester is no rebel or revolutionary. His detached stance allows him to take the side of the victim in order to curb the excesses of the system without ever trying to overthrow it—his purpose is not to replace one system with another, but to free us from the fetters of all systems"


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