125: Resurgence of the Hierarchy

Podcast #125 Resurgence of the Hierarchy


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Carol’s topic for discussion: Examine the idea of hierarchies and their usefulness in the workplace and organizational structure.


History of Hierarchies


Historically, they were brought into existence in business, because of Frederick Taylor and let to what is now often called Taylorism. Plus, recent ideas from academia like Jordan Peterson in support of the confrontation to Capitalism have raised the volume.


There were several articles in Harvard Business Review about who was using the Holacratic approach but now then we have not heard much although they are still around. It almost gives you the feeling that the new push for hierarchies is a push back to what people would call progressive ideas.


Overview of the Three Myths Behind Hierarchies

  • First, efficiency is improved when you break tasks and work in general down into smaller tasks and at different levels of difficulty and skill needed and assign them to people who we believe can handle more of less difficulty with in each of the sub tasks.
  • Second is the idea that hierarchies are organic in nature and so that proves it is how things are supposed to be, the natural way of things.
  • And the third is that people are born with certain capabilities and cannot be advanced much beyond their birth IQ. Even when people can grow, the Growth Mindset, they managers are thinking of building skills, not levels of intelligence, judgment or management of complexity of thinking.


A Deeper Look Into the Three Myths Behind Hierarchies

  • Let’s take the first myth. That to make something efficient is simple to do with less energy and cost. Because we only need supervision and all the layers above that, if this myth is true. We had no idea of systems thinking when Taylor was alive. That is people can grasp a whole they can make sense of individual actions.
    • Taylorism can be boiled down to 4 main points:
        • The method of doing a task should be informed by a scientific investigation of the task
        • Employees should be selected and carefully trained for tasks
        • Tasks should have detailed instructions and should be subject to supervision
        • Management should evaluate tasks and formulate optimized approaches for the workers to follow
      • Taylorism was great at breaking down tasks into small parts and then requiring supervision layers. But it never worked with people, there were more ideas that came along to solve that problem so to speak. Actually, it did not create a way of working, it just added more roles for hierarchy with more things that need managing.
  • Using metaphors for understanding is problematic which is the core rationale given in the debate between Jordan Peterson and Slavo Ziziek ! Elon Musk as well as Einstein who cautioned us against using metaphors and analogies to understand one thing by another thing or beings, because we take the first one as definitely true for the second– untested.
    • Paul McLean’s work at the National Institute of Mental Health. He did the work showing that when the lower base brain is activated, as in survival situations, we lose connection to our executive functions and fall to competing.
  • The third myth review how there are hierarchies of complexity of understanding. Or we might say hierarchies of minds which are not dependent or smarter or stronger people, but on our ability to grasp the world from different scope of aspects or term systems to understand.
    • The difference in what we can see when we think only about ourselves- a self-referential scope.


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Carol Sanford and Zac Swartout, co-producers

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