The Busting Bureaucracy Hackathon

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Phase 1 Synthesis: Where the Bureaucracy Management Tax Appears in Our Organizations

By Chris Grams on April 8, 2022

During the Phase 1 of the Busting Bureaucracy hackathon, we asked you to share your take on how bureaucracy stifles your organization’s ability to adapt, innovate, and truly engage its people. More than 40 of you shared observations, and several contributions generated interesting discussion threads amongst hackathon team members as well.

During the Phase 1 of the Busting Bureaucracy hackathon, we asked you to share your take on how bureaucracy stifles your organization’s ability to adapt, innovate, and truly engage its people. More than 40 of you shared observations, and several contributions generated interesting discussion threads amongst hackathon team members as well.

In Gary Hamel’s recent blog post Escaping the Management Tax, he identified 9 ways that bureaucracy imposes a “management tax” on our organizations. The stories and observations you shared brought many of these bureaucratic management taxes to life. Below, we highlight some of the key themes from Phase 1.

Bureaucracy creates friction

by forcing new ideas to run a multi-level gauntlet of approval that creates significant lag between “sense” and “respond.”

The concept of friction caused by bureaucracy was probably the most widely observed in your contributions.

In Layers of Plans and Time Lags Between Decision Making and Approval, Monica Redden shares how, in her organization, decisions need to be approved through four layers. She reports that there are considerable time lags so the “timeframe between deciding something and actually doing something” is long.

In Workflow Applications Cause Overflow, Stephen Remedios points out how many IT-enabled processes designed to speed up or eliminate bureaucracy often instead manage to institutionalize it. “These workflows don’t have auto approvals so you now actually end up duplicating your efforts! You put it on the workflow software and then walk to all the people and follow up with them to approve them on the tool! This is annoying and energy-sapping…”

There are also certain “hot” subjects, where specific issues cause the bureaucracy to intensify the friction or slow things down even more than normal. In one example, Dr. Shane L. Green, in Bureaucracy in Cloud Computing, reports that when “a company hears Cloud Computing and security there is a screech that takes place in the middle management.”

Bureaucracy hobbles initiative

by throwing up barriers to risk taking.

When it creates barriers to moving forward, bureaucracy saps our desire to take charge. This was a very common theme in the contributions as well, and the hackathon team shared many stories and observations bringing it to life.

In his contribution, Oscar Buijten observes that the mere threat of bureaucracy—even when it doesn’t actually exist—can hobble initiative. “What I notice is that many people spontaneously create bureaucracy as they are scared to take the smallest piece of risk…so even though there is no formal approval required, people tend to believe that there is,” he says.

In Bureaucracy Pervades, Teresa Rose highlights another cost of sapping people’s desire to take the initiative: “People new to the business often leave due to what they see as hindering, not helping processes, therefore employer brand and talent retention are affected.”

In Communication & Collaboration, Prashant Desai describes how “bureaucracy [makes the] job exceedingly hard as it calls for slow steps. It does not create a nimble organization [and] chokes innovation and responsiveness. Decisions take forever to get made and people are either incompetent to make them or fear fallouts due to bad decisions.”

Bureaucracy distorts decisions

by giving too much power to senior executives who often have much of their emotional equity invested in the past.

In Bureaucrazy—the Result of Too Big To Trust, Achim Muellers points out that large organizations have “this unfortunate tendency to overvalue what they own and focus on what they may lose, rather than what they may gain.” According to Achim, ‘We’ve always done things this way’ becomes a major obstacle to innovation. The business model becomes sacrosanct, with bureaucracy being its inquisitor.”

In Bureaucracy Can Creep Up On You Despite Your Best Intentions, Peter Blackman makes another important observation, that the distortion may not just apply to executives, but all of us: “The problem is that although many are good at finding new / better ways to do things, few are good at eradicating old habits. We all like to hang on to things that have served us well in the past—even when they are no longer that relevant for the future.”

In Negativism: The Defense Posture of Bureaucracy, Javier Crespo argues that bureaucracy distorts decisions by skewing towards the negative. “Bureaucracy is more evident in the decision making level of the organization where the upper echelon is more concerned with failure than opportunity; therefore, creativity is stifled… Bureaucracy is inherently defensive because it starts with negative thinking, makes processes to defend negative actions, and the outcomes provide the defense for failure.”

While not an organizational example, in Risking Survival, Nirvana Cable shares her amazing observations from years spent working with the Maasai in Kenya. Her experience shows that bureaucracy can distort decision-making within a whole society as well. According to Nirvana “Maasai youth feel intensely thwarted by their elders. The youth have been sent to school, yet the information they come back with doesn’t go anywhere. In a conversation between the elders and the youth, we facilitated an inquiry into why elders will not take up innovation. Goosebumps and tears as we discovered the barrier: no one wanted to be THE ONE responsible for LEADING changing the culture for fear of spoiling it.”

Bureaucracy adds overhead

by creating multi-tiered structures where hundreds of managers spend their time managing other managers.

In Parkinson’s Law and the Misunderstanding of Risk, Julian Wilson describes for us exactly how bureaucracy begins to grow in the context of problems and people: “Bureaucracy has two elements, a) reaction to problems, and b) a human element. In the reaction to problems, bureaucracy is introduced to ‘prevent’ the same problem occurring in the future—but reality is that it does not do so… 9 out of 10 times the bureaucracy is only targeted at the symptom rather than the cause of the problem. Bureaucracy grows between people because of Parkinson's Law—to summarize: (a) ‘An official wants to multiply subordinates, not rivals’ and (b) ‘Officials make work for each other.’ Bureaucracy grows inexorably until it overwhelms the organization and makes it uncompetitive.”

In his post, Jeremiah McCloud gives a clear sense for the powerless feeling that bureaucracy can often create when it adds overhead. “The bureaucratic attitude I experience the most is that which leads my supervisor to impose/interject himself into the decisions I make about the activities of my work section. I also see it when I am asked to provide insight for a decision, but then that decision is stalled or deferred to the next higher supervisor. Then after some time, the issue is forgotten, then remembered, then the same information is requested and the cycle begins anew.”

Bureaucracy discourages dissent

by creating asymmetric power relationships that make it difficult for subordinates to speak up.

In Risking Survival, Nirvana Cable observes how bureaucracy makes it difficult to take chances in many organizations. “Bureaucracy happens when people choose to follow the rules rather than risk thinking for oneself and risk losing support deemed necessary for survival,” she says.

Peter Rennie shared a favorite quote from Theodore Zeldin in his contribution: “In most meetings pride or caution forbids people from saying what they feel most deeply.” “It means that most people don’t bring who they really are to work,” Peter observes.

Bureaucracy thwarts innovation

by over-weighting experience and under-weighting unconventional thinking.

In Short-term Planning and Maintaining the Status Quo, to Put it Simply, Stifle Innovation, Achim Muellers provides a very appropriate quote from former US astronaut Buzz Aldrin that illustrates how bureaucracy stifles innovation: “"I’ve seen far too many projects fail because the execution and commitment to move true innovation forward takes a long time. For many organizations, this requires them to free themselves from the bureaucratic details and measurements. Short-term planning and maintaining the status quo, to put it simply, stifle innovation so we need to consciously commit to making the big push for the big gain for long-term objectives." 

In Keep Bureaucracy Out of Your Startup or Lose, Krijn van der Raadt shares the story of how his startup narrowly escaped creeping bureaucracy. “There are milestones in a company’s lifespan that can trigger new bureaucracy: Your first (ex) employee-initiated lawsuit, your 50th employee (if you’re in California), your first serious product issues, or expanding your product portfolio. You will find yourself bringing in legal advisors, HR professionals, QA experts, and program managers.” And sometimes, if you aren’t careful, these people can bring bureaucracy with them, he tells us. “Aside from slowing everything to a grinding halt, this bureaucracy will suck the life out of your most creative people. You will end up with just the people who can follow rules, and lose the people who might create your next break-through product. Don't fall into the trap.”

Bureaucracy misallocates power

by rewarding those who are the most politically adept rather than those who are the most capable leaders.

In A Matter of Culture, Terry Bennett points out that often “bureaucracy today seems to flow from a manager with a lack of trust in staff, a thirst for control, and sometimes a thought process that ‘I’m in this position because I’m smarter than those who are not.’” Terry also makes an important distinction between hierarchy and bureaucracy: “A company can have an organizational hierarchy without necessarily being bureaucratic. Look at self-directed/self-managed teams.”

Bureaucracy obliterates nuance

by centralizing too many decisions and demanding compliance with uniform rules and procedures.

In Creativity, Problem-Solving Capacity, Collaboration, Compassion, Franziska observes that bureaucracy, in addition to eliminating nuance, can also sap our very humanity. “…bureaucracy exactly tries to limit the influence of such humane values, which are often pressed away as they are too 'subjective'—too human…”

In Bureaucracy is Often a Bi-Product of Ineffective Risk Management, Cameron Easton makes the following observation about standardization: “Whilst standardization and control are often beneficial to an organization particularly where consistency and quality of output is of upmost importance, unnecessary controls and bureaucracy slow down progress, frustrate staff, and stifle innovation. Simply, if a system, process, or control doesn't add value to the organization as a whole, then that system, process, and or control shouldn't be introduced in the first place.” 

What we’ve shared here is but a small taste of the great stories and examples you shared during Phase 1. If you haven’t already, we’d encourage you to spend a few minutes to browse some of the highest-rated contributions from this initial discussion.

As Gary Hamel tells us, to avoid the management tax our hackathon contributors illustrated so well in their posts, we will need to find ways to get “duty-free” control, coordination, and consistency. And as he has shared in his introductory blog post, he believes information technology can help us do exactly that.

Do you agree? Based on your own experiences and what you read in the contributions from your fellow hackathon team members over the past few weeks, we’d love to get your answer to the following important question:

Does technology have the potential to help us bust bureaucracy? Or (as some contributors indicated) does it actually contribute to the further entrenchment of bureaucracy?

We’d love to hear your thoughts and any real-world examples that can provide some tangible illustrations. Please share them in the comment thread below.

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There is a spelling error in your discussions: It's BUREAUCRAZY.
I came up with a 4 Jacks Maxim of Bureaucrazy Behavior

Jack #1: REJECT. Innovative Ideas = Not Status Quo = Risk & Extra Work = Reject as a Default as it saves Time and Trouble.

Jack #2: EJECT. Innovative ideas might straddles many departments or agencies. To divert the innovator, they send you to other departments for a Run-around hoping to achieve Work Avoidance.

Jack #3: DEJECT. If the Innovator persists, DRAIN HIS BATTERY by giving neither Yes nor No Answers. Make him wait with Hollywood style: " Don't call us. We'll call you".

Jack #4: HIJACK. If the idea eventually gets some support from your Superiors, Hijack the idea and claim credit and success for your career development.

Bureaucrazy worse than corruption because it is ubitquitous and it is a substrate for corruption to grow on.
To solve this problem, we need to transform Rules-Based Bureaucrats into Mission-Driven workers.

To acheive this we need to redesign the incentives to put Mission above Rules. To allow breaking of rules when it obstruct the Mission and reward people who took the initiatives. To punish those who insisted on the Rules even though they knew it violates the Mission.

Hello Peter Cunningham

For whatever reason (boredom, irritation with me or you or both of us, being too busy with ‘life’ etc) people have stopped contributing. That being the case I wondered if you and I could dialogue for a bit about our respective offerings and invite others if they feel moved to contribute or create their own theme.

My thinking is this. You and I are asking people, to not only believe what we say about our respective theories, but for them to promote or act on those theories. This could involve them taking a risk with their reputations, maybe their money and maybe their careers. So are we prepared to take a risk?

The answer for me is, ‘Yes.’

Let me explain. Karl Popper promoted the concept of ‘Falsifiability’. He thought it the duty of every scientist who put forward a theory to also put forward a hypothetical experiment or series of experiments that if performed properly would show that the proposed new theory was false.

I am wondering if you would be willing to create a hypothetical falsifiability experiment for your theory?

And I will do the same.

And we would undertake to try and understand each other’s theories as much as possible and thereby help each other develop the falsifiability experiments.

I am suggesting that we publish the falsifiability experiments for others to comment if they wish.

However, because understanding each others theories is likely to take some time, and dialogue, I suggest we do that privately, off list.

No need to respond if this doesn’t appeal to you. I will accept your decision to remain silent.

Warmly Peter Rennie

Peter. When I joined this discussion I did so to clarify a point that is often misunderstood/misinterpreted: That regarding the real "power" of technology.

We all (including the discussion to that point) tend to think of the technology we use in business as having an "authority" of its own: "The computer cannot be wrong". But in any system (bureaucracy being the one in question) this mind-set will stifle independent and/or original thinking: Because anything which is not already there, in that system, is rejected as invalid.

In technology-think 1 +1 = 2, always, inevitably, because the computer says so and our experience confirms it..... But our human minds can also accept that 1 + 1 (written differently) = 11. No technology can see that; try programming the technology to accept both concepts as true at once and the system will crash.

Technology confirms only what we have told it; that is the limit of its authority and expertise, it offers no "new" insight of its own.

That was the point I was making.

There followed an exchange where some confusion over names was dealt with (I think amicably) and your submission regarding "good guys" to which I made the obvious mistake of pointing out that by a bureaucrat's determination of a "good guy" would be another bureaucrat; mine would be someone who dealt with my imperatives and yours would no doubt be a third variation on the theme ...and that given the same set of problems and the same (technological) resources to deal with them, the new "good guys" (by whomsoever's yardstick) would inevitably produce a new and better form of the same old system.

Shove different clay into the same mould and you may get a more robust pot, but it will still be the same shape.

I also threw into the mix the possibility that a whole different (but pre-existing) concept; of independent control (by managers) within technology-monitored "envelopes" but without the vertical reporting, informing and decision-making typified by bureaucracy might be a way to change: a principle already used electronically in aircraft control-systems!

(The pilot can fly more confidently, nearer to the edge of the envelope and when necessary with more innovation; knowing that "the technology" will catch any dangerous error they might make. Translate that confidence and innovative freedom of thought into business terms....).

It was not a theory: It was not a challenge to you (or anyone); it was not a dismissal of your published work or ability.... It was an idea; for discussion.

It was certainly not intended to dominate the debate here or to prevent others' comments or alternative ideas and if anyone believes it was then let me first apologise and then reassure them that it was not.

I have accepted your apology for your response, but I see no value (to anyone) in our engaging in some contest of comparative scientific "proof" of who is right or wrong.... That has never been an issue as far as I am concerned.

....and if it were then I can save us both a lot of time and trouble and simply point to the existing pile of work regarding, for instance, appointments made by the "halo effect" of determining quality of candidate by the panel's impression of who and what is a "good guy", rather than objectivity, and the effectiveness (albeit in the very different context of flying) of technology used to monitor control (management) parameters against pre-set limits rather than to reinforce reporting and "superior" human authorisation of the control activity itself.

So for the avoidance of doubt: I have absolutely no dispute over the necessity to develop "good guys" within business; but what is or is not "good" will always remain to some degree a subjective evaluation based on (not least) the imperatives of the business and (inevitably) contamination by the personal imperatives of the (human) appraiser" of "good and "bad".

Will it not?

I withdrew from the debate because I perceived that my submissions had been misinterpreted and recognised that this was indeed distracting other contributors. I hope that this contribution has now clarified what my intentions really were and why I believe they were (and are) valid in the debate, NOT as an attempt to undermine your work, or indeed anyone else's. So there simply is nothing to "prove". (Although I completely agree with your references to the need for proofs if I was trying to do so).

I hope other contributors will continue submissions to the discussion and I may, if I have something relevant to say, contribute further also. But on the subject of who is "right or wrong" I do not see that as either an issue or, to be honest, as needful to the free expression of innovative thinking.... Which is what this process is for, isn't it?

Peter C

Dear Folks,

Re my last comment to Peter Cunningham.

There is no mechanism, in forums like this, for someone to have ‘a quiet’ chat to an individual who has broken a taboo. Yet without some intervention the broken taboo hangs around like a bad smell.

Over the past two days I have been having a private chat, ‘inside my head’ and on reflection believe that my comments to Peter Cunningham were inappropriate.

Peter, please accept my apologies. You have every right to express you views without me speculating on the mental processes that may have underpinned them. This is not the forum for that kind of discussion.

To the other contributors again please accept my sincere apologies for putting a dampener on the discussion.

I would like to continue my involvement in the discussion group and will ‘curb my enthusiasm.’

Sincerely Peter Rennie

Accepted Peter.

Thank you.


culture determines the bureaucracy bubble; you have the politic, the change-resistant,the insular,and our favorite the greed/unethical. moving from the "we have done it this way always" to we have to do it now requires a shift in use of technology support. Turning core into distinctive requires elimimating all simple admin to the mimimal; automation of critical and consuming paperwork into simple on-line access for forms, process, procedures will enhance security, and maximise "time" the ultimate consumer; thus building a free enterprise culture for growth.

Dear Chris,

There are structures that exist on the walls of the HR Director and in the annual reports and then there are the structures that exist within people’s heads.

Most CEO’s and HR Directors can point to their structures and say with pride, ‘Our structures are flat.’ But in the meetings and in the lifts on the way up to the C-suite people have many ways to show their status, the importance of their position or the vital project they are working on. And for others a ticket to the Super Bowl, prime seats at the Rolling Stones concert or a weekend in Europe whilst discretely flashing the gold Rolex, the champagne diamond, the Maserati key ring . . .

. . . Whilst I was mulling over the question of the structures in our heads I recalled a poem I recently came across by Hafez a 14th Century Iranian mystic poet. Can I share it with you?

Hafez - How 
Do I
 Listen to others?

Do I
Listen to others?
As if everyone were my Master
Speaking to me

. . . . At first sight it looks good doesn’t it? . . It is clear Hafez lived in a hierarchical world. He has implied that listening to others was compromised unless the hierarchical social structure was addressed. But his method was to flip it. Instead of putting himself at the top he has placed others at the top and himself at the bottom. But his solution was problematic.
First it was unsustainable. At some stage he would tire of listening as if everyone was his master. At some stage the pyramid was likely to flip? Would he tell people when it was about to flip so that they could take that into account? Second I think he was stuck with status (which is as mentioned above is also part of the paradigm).

Let me explain. He has overlooked you. . . . He wants to show the world how he might listen to others – not just you. Sadly It looks like he has written this for appearances (again part of the pyramidal paradigm).

Martin Buber can help us here. I haven’t read his famous paper, 'I and Thou', but I think I understand what he was saying. He wanted to distinguish between I and 'thou' and I and 'it'.

I, Peter, listening deeply to you, Chris, as a living breathing person versus I listening to it - an object, a job description, a cog in the wheel, a stage in the project - a sort of fake listening.

Chris, I think the problem is deeper than the organizational structure. Simply creating a new structure on a chart will not change the structure in people’s heads and heart. Having said that I think change agents need to have an idea of what the new structure might look like (following Stephen Covey’s maxim start with the end in mind) and help people to open their mindsets to a new possibility. (Could IT help us to open our minds? – I suspect it could).

Let me come back to Hafez. It would be dumb of me to not acknowledge how helpful his poem has been. So let me build on his, in my belief, flawed offering and suggest an alternative yet still flawed offering.

How do I listen to you? I will down
my sword and shield.
You have a gift
Important for
Of us
Let us open it together
And delight in the surprise.

Chris, I hope you like this poem. I like it but then I understand how deluded I can be. I feel comfortable admitting my flaws and the mindset that now informs my thinking says that's okay. The structure that shapes this mindset helps me to understand that as an individual I can not escape being flawed. And it also tells me that when I work with others we can become 'flawsome' - both flawed and awesome.

Warmly Peter Rennie

PS. You can find a description of a structural solution in one of the entries to the current MIX prize How to unleash human potential.
Want to unleash human potential in others? Then make sure the good guys can flourish. Forget busting the bureaucracy. First blend with it. Then bend it.

Or in a peer reviewed article on how and why parabolic structures work at
Or email me

Peter, I cannot avoid asking for the obvious: Please define the "good guys" who are to flourish?

A bureaucrat would, I suggest, have a different view of who are the good guys to yours and/or mine; so in neither unleashing human potential nor "modifying" bureaucracy would any of us agree the parameters of success.

...and as bending a girder in a mechanical structure would cause the structure to fail; what part of any bureaucracy might be "bent" without it busting? Their problem for free thinking surely is their rigidity and inflexibility?

Just as their technological co-conspirators add zeros and ones.... Not halves.

Hi Peter,

Thanks for your questions . . . First you wrote, 'I cannot avoid asking for the obvious: Please define the "good guys" who are to flourish?'

In my entry to the Mix Prize titled, 'Want to unleash human potential in others? Then make sure the good guys can flourish. Forget busting the bureaucracy. First blend with it. Then bend it.' I define who the good guys are. You will also find a brief description in my response to Javier Crespo's question which follows your response to Javier above.

Regarding your second query, that is '...and as bending a girder in a mechanical structure would cause the structure to fail; what part of any bureaucracy might be "bent" without it busting? Their problem for free thinking surely is their rigidity and inflexibility?'

Again, I have attempted to answer that question in my entry to the prize. Having said that I would like to make some other points.

I love metaphors and find them essential when talking to people about concepts that they may be unfamiliar with such as Parabolic structures. But there is always a problem because (just as the map is not the territory) the metaphor is not the concept and there comes a point when the metaphor bears no relationship to the concept. With respect I don't think the metaphor of a girder in a mechanical structure helps us to understand why a social structure can't bend.

I agree with you that the problem for the bureaucracy is that of 'their rigidity and inflexibility'. That's why, I believe, the key to structural change begins by seeking a mindset change. One that can allow the 'good guys' to flourish and open the bureaucracy up to new possibilities. The strategy has some advantages because 'good guys' aren't credit thieves - that is they don't steal the applause and are willing to share success - and there is more success to go around.

In my Comment, directly above, I have tried to model how ‘good guys’ might appreciate the work of earlier contributors in a genuine way. A good guy understands that everyone is flawed especially the ‘good guy.’ That’s where the concept of flawsome comes in. I can be flawed and you can be flawed and if we work together the outcome could be ‘flawsome.’

Warmly Peter

Thanks Peter, I had read your piece, but my questions were in context with the current issue and they remain.

There is clearly a dichotomy between the structure a bureaucrat would advocate for an organisation and that which you or I would propose. (As indeed there might be between our ideas). Therefore in the context of who is the best advocate to follow, who IS the "good guy"? Your very well grounded principles are yours, as mine are mine, but what is clear is that (as with religions) not all can be "good" and maybe none are! (Given also that what may be "good" in one business could be unworkable or counter-productive in another).

I might also mention, regarding your mini-lecture on the use of metaphor, that as an ex aircraft-technician I understand flexibility and rigidity in structures reasonably well and the interconnected mutually supporting cross-connection of an established bureaucracy creates a structure which does not bend (otherwise we wouldn't have the problems they cause) thus while I accept not everyone may not appreciate it technically, I feel my metaphor is a reasonably accurate (and suitably illustrative) one.

Your last but one paragraph nevertheless illustrates that we agree in principle, even if I am less convinced that the nomination of white hats to those we agree with and other shades to those who may have different ideas is not the solution.

.....Indeed it sounds very like an alternative conformity to that which we are trying to disperse to me :-)

Kind regards
Peter C

Dear Peter,

(This comment was first published at approximately 5.00pm. Since then I have made minor editorial changes)

One of the challenges of this Hackathon is to see if there is some way in which IT can help people to overcome the problems of bureaucracy. As you are aware my focus has been on alternative structures that exist both on the organizational charts and inside people’s heads. And I believe it’s what’s inside people’s heads - their mindset - that is the critical issue. This applies to me and to you.

One of the characteristics of the bureaucratic pyramidal (hierarchical) mindset is that it prefers certainty. Doubt is seen as undesirable. This causes real problems because most of the time the ‘certainty of yesterday’ turns out to be wrong. The US invited Britain and Australia to form the coalition of the willing to invade Iraq in 2003 on the ‘certainty’ that Iraq had WMD. When that certainty was found to be wrong the leaders in each of those countries had to find a scapegoat. In every case ‘the intelligence agencies misled us’, they claimed.

When people need certainty they default to what Daniel Kahneman calls, ‘What You See Is All There Is’ (WYSIATI) behaviors and then pass judgment on a limited understanding of the issues instead of remaining open. And when it turns out that they have made a mistake their usual response is to make the other person wrong. As John Kenneth Galbraith put it:
"Faced with the choice between changing one's mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof."

Peter, I believe you have exhibited that behavior here towards me and my work. Based on a limited understanding of my work, in a number of comments you have made me “wrong”. Your thoughts are epitomized in your closing remark; ‘....Indeed it sounds very like an alternative conformity to that which we are trying to disperse to me :-) '

You could claim that by writing this I have made you "wrong" . . . and that is partly true. But I don’t know any other way of taking a stand for what I believe. And if I didn't write this response and 'bring it out into the open' then in my own mind it would fester. In all likelihood I would take a negative attitude towards everything you wrote and thereby I would make you wrong. And if we were colleagues working in a pyramidal organization, behind your back 'by the water cooler' I couldn't help but make you wrong and undermine you.

Peter, under normal circumstances I would write directly to you but I am not aware of any mechanism to do this.

But there are bigger issues at stake than your ego or my ego because ego and ego defence mechanisms are major problems for bureaucracies as I have touched on above. One study conducted by McKinsey's, showed that over 20% of an executive team’s time was wasted on protecting each other’s egos and in another survey I undertook in 2011 25% of an organization’s time was spent re-working and covering up other people’s mistakes.

I wonder if an IT program could make it easy for people to see that they have fallen into this very common pattern of behaviour?

Sincerely Peter Rennie

It is certainly not a trap I have fallen into Peter, since if you read my submissions above you will find I have already suggested such a methodology: Using it to replace the reporting/permission requesting and information dispersing bureaucracies of a pyramidal organisation (whichever way up one places the pyramid) in order to devolve decision making within wider (IT monitored) parameters.

Such a structure is already used in the example I give, whereby technology monitors and limits the physical movements of some aircraft control systems; there is no reason whatsoever why the same "autonomy within limits" principle might not be used within corporate structures, replacing the need for constant reporting/authorising and informing with acceptance of non-conformity, within fixed parameters. Technology also identifying the areas where innovation has developed to the limits of current acceptability, these then becoming the next set of "hot spots" to be reviewed in the context of corporate development.

This would require some radical rethinking of both structures and mind-sets, but the alternatives often discussed (and which I refer to regarding the development of the "good guys") might indeed create change of the perceptions of what is "good" or "bad", but without actually changing the resultant... In a similar way to National Elections changing the party in power and the policies being conformed to, but still ending up with shortfalls in public services, squeezed profits and higher taxes!

Replace Bob Cratchit with a computer and you still have the same bureaucracy, just more of it in a shorter time. Replace a roomful of accounts clerks with a roomful of free thinking innovators and, given the same task to do and the same parameters to do it in, and what they will innovate will be a new form of bureaucracy! (Maybe a different shaped one, but just as rigid, if not more so)

Will it not be?

Could an IT programme prevent them seeking to prove themselves right? Well if I may turn back to yet another real-life example from the aviation industry, many years ago (the '60s) when automatic warning systems were first being introduced they found that the warnings the systems provided were being ignored. Why? Because the pilots (who were of course certain they knew better than any electronic system how to fly a plane) were pointedly ignoring the sharp authoritative command: "Pull up" when they were near the ground, or: "Check airspeed" when they were about to stall.

It was perhaps a symptom of the age that it was discovered that changing alarm hooters for soft chimes and the harsh male orders for a gentle female tone made the pilots take notice... but that's not the point...

Which is... Do we really believe that bureaucracy as a mechanism of control is going to be willingly demolished (or even bent) by our captains of industry just because some piece of software says it should be? ...Or to accept that their mind-set and decision making is wrong on the say-so of a $50 silicon chip!

I do not think so.

The power of IT to provide the facilities of bureaucracy without its concurrent demands allows us to break free of the restrictions those demands impose and find truly new structures and concepts for business management; not just new names for the old pots. Perhaps we should indeed not think in terms of breaking , or bending, old structures but rather of starting afresh, in the same way that the production line was a completely new concept of manufacture a century ago.

But I feel I am in danger of monopolising the discussion here; so for the time being I will leave others to put their ideas into the pot.

Peter C

Yes, technology has the potential to help us bust bureaucracy (and yes, it also has the potential to help us achieve the exact opposite, at least for a while). Dual-use, if you will, depending on the people using it.

We're living in a fast moving, accelerating world. Just imagine that there have been more inventions in the last 100 years than in the 40.000 years before. Shelf-lives of products, business models are becoming shorter and shorter, unpredictability is on the rise. Agility - especially the mental kind - has become indispensable.

This is a tremendous challenge for human beings. Our brains not only run on autopilot 85% of the time, but were "wired" a long time ago as well. But we have to change, as the "always" in "we have always done it this way" becomes increasingly meaningless. Experience is not what it used to be and neither is the authority derived from it. The current status quo is not our final destination.

Change is always difficult. It requires guts, because we must be prepared to renounce often cherished habits. We must open our mind, accept new hypotheses and be prepared to "reinvent" ourselves and our way of doing things. We must accept responsibility, stand up for our beliefs and be prepared to lead.

Implications for the world of work are enormous and I am convinced that we have to think in new dimensions: New education models, new working models, new business models, new organizational structures etc. And yes, even a new way of life.

The typical hierarchical "command and control" structure is yesterday's model. In the future, global collaborative networks will lead the way. To be successful, these networks require empowered, open-minded, flexible, trustworthy individuals not shunning responsibility. These individuals need the best technology available. What they don't need is a lot of bureaucracy.

I cannot agree more, just to add that the typical "command and control" structures are using very effectively the technology to preserve and reinforce their dominance, leading to the misinterpretation that technology is reinforcing bureaucracy.
So it is not the technology but who is using it and how…

chris-grams's picture

Looking through the comments posted so far, it seems like there is a fair amount of consensus that technology can not bust bureaucracy by itself, but many of us believe it can provide a strong assist as a tool or set of tools, if implemented correctly. Some quotes from the conversation so far that I found particularly illuminating:

"Technology itself will not bust bureaucracy because human minds will control it accordingly as to help or destroy it." - Javier Crespo

" say that technology can't make change happen might not be the best approach because what else do we have today at our disposal other than technology" - Altaf Jasnaik

"...almost by definition technology can all too easily pair with "manual" bureaucracy to immobilise us within the limits of "the system". It is only when technology is used in the awareness of its limitations and without the thoughtlessly delegated authority to counter the unexpected, unpredictable or radical that it can become the hugely effective servant of innovation." - Peter Cunningham

"The team that I work on has a saying that "technology does not cause change, it only enables, facilitates, or accelerates change that already wants to happen."" - Robert Marshall

"Our technology is currently only as innovative as the people wielding it." - Erin Morgan

Great discussion so far, folks-- keep the ideas coming! And feel free to point out ideas of others that resonate for you!

Dear Chris, thank you for the summary . . . and . . . I think you may have overlooked a major theme. . .

First a quote from one of Tony Hillerman’s books and then a reference to the history of science.

‘What are you looking for?’ Kennedy asked, 'Besides tracks.'
'Nothing in particular,' Leaphorn said, 'You're not really looking for anything in particular. If you do that, you don’t see the things you’re not looking for.’

Up until the early 1600’s (CE) the best and the brightest were engaged in trying to make odd astronomical observations fit with the ‘certainty’ that the sun and all of the stars orbited the earth.

Philosophers, alchemists and theologians (the word scientist had not been invented) were using the most up to date technology available to solve this problem. They built fantastic mechanical devices. Moving spheres within moving spheres – with cogs that allowed some spheres to periodically move in reverse. Many were ingenious. But they were looking in the wrong direction.

Many people didn’t want to ‘see’ what Copernicus and Galileo had been trying to point out. Nearly all of Galileo’s professorial colleagues refused to look through his telescope.
‘After all everything fell downwards towards earth’ they said, the idea of the earth spinning on its axis as it orbited the sun seemed preposterous.
‘What could hold it in place?’
It was a good question. But just because believers in the heliocentric version of the planetary system would not be able to answer that question for another hundred years (until Newton invented gravity) - it didn’t mean their new paradigm was wrong.

Chris, some of us ‘see’ that there are structural solutions to the problems of bureaucracy including three people in this Hackathon (Erin, Nirvana and me). I understand that just because we can ‘see it’ doesn’t mean that others can see it – that is likely to take time. But please understand the need to point out what is often in front of people’s noses.

And there is another issue, since Dell is a major sponsor of this Hackathon what if we were to ask a question that could interest them?

If the solution to bureaucracy is a structural one, what part could IT play in facilitating this change?

There is likely to be a part, and a big one. If we ask the question maybe we can (to rephrase Tony Hillerman) find things that we hadn’t been looking for.

Warmly Peter Rennie

PS You can find a description of a structural solution in one of the entries to the current MIX prize How to unleash human potential. You will need to copy and paste the title in the 'search' window. The title is . . . Want to unleash human potential in others? Then make sure the good guys can flourish. Forget busting the bureaucracy. First blend with it. Then bend it.

Or in a peer reviewed article on how and why parabolic structures work at
Or email me

If I understand your view correctly, is it possible that bureaucracies develop due to human attempt to cover each and every disruption (anomalies) and that creates the structural issue you mention? Perhaps the function of technology should be to assist the human brain to discern what is really important and really not look at anything in particular, but rather at the possibilities.

Hi Javier,
As Peter Cunningham has mentioned it can get a little confusing when trying to work out which Peter you might be referring to. I would imagine with a name like Javier Crespo and a photograph that invites you to see things from a different angle few people would confuse you with another - I like your spirit.

Let me have a go at answering your question which was, ‘If I understand your view correctly is it possible that bureaucracies develop due to human attempt to cover each and every disruption (anomalies) and that creates the structural issue you mention?’

Actually . . . . I’ll let Peter Cunningham answer that question. . . just kidding.

Seriously though . . . In the first round of this Hackathon I asked the question, Why do bureaucracies make it hard for the ‘good guys.’ Why is it that hierarchies keep appointing mediocre managers. As Gary Hamel mentioned in a recent Hangout with Jonathan Becher, ‘Currently there are all time record levels of low trust within organizations’. Gary quoted a Human Capital Institute survey drawing data from over 300 companies where only 21% of employees believed their leaders effectively delegate and only 25% of employees believed that their leaders drew on multiple points in decision making. He observed, ‘We have been talking about this for 50 to 60 years and we haven’t seen any major changes. Why not?’

I think the answer is that the 'espoused' criteria for appointment to leadership positions in the bureaucracy differs from the real criteria that are 'enacted' (with thanks to Chris Argyris' concept of espoused versus enacted values). That is, the people who are appointed are 'in reality' best at being able to bolster the status and positions of those who appoint them. They are good at playing the FIBS game. That is, they Flatter anyone who is important, they Inflate their own contributions to successful projects, they Break commitments to those people whom they consider unimportant and Scapegoat people when things go awry.

If you find yourself nodding in recognition you might ask, ‘Who are the good guys?’ And the answer is that the ‘good guys’ ROCK. They show Respect to everyone, take Ownership of their part when things go awry, they Credit people for good work and they Keep their commitments or let people know early when the commitment can’t be kept.

Sadly hierarchical organizations tend to default to choosing FIBS people over ROCK people.

Warmly Peter

PS if you would like to read more about this please read my comment at

Ah: But isn't the use of technologies to identify possibilities already the problem?

The human brain can imagine the truly bizzare.... and then make it happen. To give a simple example: Almost throughout history humans have imagined themselves flying....a self-evident impossibility: We are massively heavy in relation to our volume when compared to flying creatures and we have nothing resembling wings or mechanism to drive them: Yet now do fly daily in aircraft and some brave (or foolhardy) souls zoom about in high places wearing no more than an adapted set of overalls to do so. Other examples: Jules Verne imagining the functional submarine (and it being driven by electricity) long before its real-world invention; or Captain Kirk's tricorder.... Is that a mobile I see in your pocket; a quarter the size and with many more "apps"? By any systematic analysis (and computers are systematic analysers, not thinkers) none of these things would have been deemed possible and so would have been notified as: "Dead-end; don't waste your time...... Exactly the same wet blanket as that dumped on original thought by bureaucracy. Albeit that the message from bureaucracy may be: "not wanted/interested/profitable/policy....." rather than: "Dead end....".

Bureaucracy proliferates basically to do two things: Pass imperatives (instructions or needs) and distribute information either through either a linear "chain" of people or by promulgation to a wider catchment. In an organisation; the boss gives a direction which proliferates in the necessary direction (and many other directions) like the "ping" of sonar..... Then he waits for the result; a faint echo from the one functional section of the business that needs to comply.... while the rest of the ping is dissipated forever into the vastness of he ocean.... (Or in the case of memos and e-mails into a cascade of file storage systems) where it vanishes from our ken, unnecessary and unwanted, ad-infinitum.

Technology has made transfer between sender and recipient faster; It has also hidden the unimaginably vast proliferation of transferred (and stored) data which is completely valueless. Imagine if you will, the content of our lap-top hard drive transferred to old-style physical files crammed into our office!

We all hate junk-e'mail, but it is a visible symptom of something that used to be counter-productive. At one time a seller of product or service must consider carefully before committing to the cost of advertising; now one buys a mailing list, creates a message, and sends of millions of copies utterly irrespective of whether they are likely to have any value to the recipient....

...As often systems within companies demand everyone from Ms "A" to Mr "Z" is told/consulted about some event; often just in case they feel "left out" and diminished by not being included!

An answer (provided by the possibilities of technology) would be to stop distributing information (and information about the receipt of information... and information regarding the receipt of the receipt of infor..... ad-insanium) and instead distribute the authority to both create business need and satisfy it in the pursuit of a given objective without telling the whole world and her pet cat about it.

So if the MD wants the warehouse floor swept he does not mention it to "A" who tells "B" who tells "C" who tells "D" who..... (all feeding back that they have taken the necessary action) ....until it finally gets to the Certified Broom-Handler; who then feeds back they need a new broom before such a big job can be taken on... Which then creates a cascade back upwards to the FD to approve the purchase and a further spread to purchasing and logistics... until finally (weeks later) a clean floor is produced! (....And the MD gets the last e'mail of hundreds... to tell him everyone has done his bidding)

The fact that the warehouse floor must be clean could be set into the system (as in reality, of course, it already is; this is an example) and the authority to buy a new broom is delegated to the Certified Broom-Handler who does so as and when necessary with no-one else being referred to or informed; also independently changing suppliers if a better deal can be struck and referring that choice to no-one.

The technology, however, "knows" the approximate frequency of necessary broom purchase and monitors this for abuse, within the pre-set objectives of warehouse cleanliness determined by the nature of the business etc.

So what is being created (and recorded) as significant events by the technology are any anomalies (the CB-H buying three brooms in a week), or developments (The CB-H buying a vacuum cleaner) or innovations (the CB-H suggesting that changing the flooring material would mean less frequent cleaning, higher standards and a cost saving).

At other times the job just gets done......

Transfer this (unsettling) idea to some of the functions of any department; in effect giving greater autonomy within parameters monitored by technology doing its bureaucratic "thing" quietly and without disturbing the calm; except when human thought creates an un-programmed event, (instead of waking up the board-room just to tell them someone's turned the light on), and one starts getting real efficiency. Yes, less (constant) control, demanding more trust and a radical re-think of corporate structures, but this is already a system being used. Airline pilots can do what they like with the controls of modern airliners; fly where and how they will..... Up to a point. Past that point the technology monitoring the plane's systems says: "No. The manoeuvre you are calling for is unsafe; I'm not doing it." The aircraft manufacturer (The CEO) has set the parameters in the technology to have the job they want done (flying the plane safely.... or sweeping the floor) in the way they need it done..... and then has trusted the technology to simply wait for anomalies, not reporting every move, but only the unexpected or innovative; at other times allowing the pilot (or Certified Broom-Handler) to just get on with the job.....

Sorry for the long submission... It growed!


chris-grams's picture

Hi Peter-- thanks for the observations! There are a lot of smart ideas in here, and I just wanted to make sure one thing was clear. I think many if not most of the folks in this hackathon, including myself, would completely agree that there are structural solutions to the problems of bureaucracy--in fact, uncovering and solving for those structural issues is exactly why the MIX was founded in the first place.

Your question to Dell:

"If the solution to bureaucracy is a structural one, what part could IT play in facilitating this change?"

describes in essence what this hackathon is designed to figure out. My apologies if that hasn't come through more clearly in Phase 1. It sounds like you have some great thoughts on the subject, and I look forward to continuing on the journey with you!

The team that I work on has a saying that "technology does not cause change, it only enables, facilitates, or accelerates change that already wants to happen." Given this premise, the question is whether those that have the political power to change the operation and structure of an organization want bureaucracy to be limited in terms of scope and length of existence. If the executive suite of the company wants to move in this direction, they can implement and encourage a model that limits that negative aspects of bureaucracy and use technology to facilitate adoption and success. If those outside the executive halls want to see bureaucracy restricted, then a grass roots effort can leverage technology to expose and help bring down the bureaucratic walls that restrict and limit the organization. If all within the company desire the change, then the entire employee base can work together to develop/procure and use technology to enhance the effectiveness of the new organizational approach.

Yes and no. The answer is very simple but very complicated as well. We tend to bring a solution for everything 100% which is impossible. The same refers to bureaucracy as well. In workshops we try to teach the professionals to understand and observe the whole problem but start solving it by pieces. This always give you to check point how the process is going and also you opt to make changes very easily. If we convert this to our subject, it is wise to collect all the weak points at first than analyze and finally solve it. What we specify and what we complain might be two different things and also they are subject to differ to each culture and community. Starting from the pimpliest, if we argue about too much paperwork and cross confirmation about the information validity the technology is ideal. But there is a big problem where the data are not safe and may be manipulated easily. On the other hand, the future of the technology seems like interfering the personal intimacy as it is very easy to trace you where you go, what you do and even your choice. For me we need to find a quick solution for this as we need some privacy.

I think it is high time that we question what we need as bureaucracy! If we diminish the repeated documentation and information in general purposes, we may gain something. Otherwise this is going to be a vicious circle and we never get out of it. On the other hand if we fail to make as short but as clear specification of the bureaucracy we are lost again. For example, if we write a specification how to make a concrete wall and we think most of them are bureaucracy the wall fails. At the same time we have to consider the actions take certain time and we want to get rid of it. Nowadays everybody is in a rush and they want to see it in everywhere. But if we reconsider the fact behind the official works and support it with high technology there will be huge acquisition. We see in many cases that in most of the construction site there is a lack of coordination but speed so that every one complaining about the rules and regulations and the works are done first followed by the revised project. I personally believe that the man made disasters are due to this unnecessary speed and deceive the regulations. We need to understand that there is a time frame demanded for all acts.

There is a chance to minimize bureaucracy or even dismiss it one day. If we take out all the borders from everywhere and if we start being moderate in our desires the big load of work will be diminished. But in order to attain this goal we turn to be more human, more understanding each other in individuals and in countries and communities.

nirvana-cable's picture

Peter Cunningham,

My comment was quoting Peter Rennie. Sorry for the confusion. I started my comment before your comment and didn't refresh the page to see your comment added before posting!

To your comment, yes, computers make "the same ol' same old" as Bob Cratchit and his quill pen; they're just doing it a lot faster

I'm experimenting with using technology to speed up transformation instead.

Oh. My mistake. Too many Peters; we seem to get into everything :-)

nirvana-cable's picture

Peter: Bureaucracy is structural and requires a structural solution.

Erin: Technology can be an enabler and an accelerator.

Javier: Technology is not the solution, but the tool and how we use use it is up to us.

Altaf: We should hope for and work towards co-creating the platforms that help technology driven changes.

I believe that when the structural solution is identified, then technology has a clear role in supporting that solution, and I'm testing this theory here in Kenya. We have identified the structural solution to business-as-usual systemic bureaucracy and are now bringing in technology to scale the solution using technology.

Chris, in, Jim Stikeleather asks you and Krijin if directed institutionalized collaboration and Deliberatorium (a project at MIT Center for Collective Intelligence) might provide insight.

MIT's Deliberatorium's webpage begins with this quote:

“Upon this gifted age, in its dark hour,
Rains from the sky a meteoric shower
Of facts…they lie unquestioned, uncombined.

Wisdom enough to leech us of our ill
Is daily spun; but there exists no loom
To weave it into fabric…”

Edna St Vincent Millay, From Huntsman, What Quarry? (1939)

Seems this hack could be called Project Digital Loom...

I'm sorry Nirvana but I do not see the relevance of your remark to me. Obviously bureaucracy is structural: Where did I say it was not?

...and you would cure a problem by creating more of the same? :-)

An interesting thought.

Any kind of form, and bureaucracy is just one form of form namely at company level, generates distortion over time. It's in human nature not to distinguish between reality and imagination. Therefore, stupids rally behind forms (perceived as true reality) for justify their existence i.e. earn a living place under the sun, while sharks, able to see a little farther, will always try to highjack that form for reaping a profit. Such a behavior was also spot in “When Should a Process Be Art, Not Science", HBR March 2009, in the "switch to autopilot" concept. As such, everybody becomes interested in form survival even if the context that generated the form (the rationale) has changed.

Over time, the form gets a life of itself backed by the people interest as above and may eventually lead to form without substance i.e. total disconnect between the form and the reality. As long as the speed of change of the myriad of parameters that made up the reality was slow, the political processes behind form generation and adjustment managed to keep pace with its true intent at the time form was designed. However, as speed of change increases, as G Soros put in Reflexivity in Social Systems, even the general scientific tenets may not longer apply since anybody is both actor and observer.

Having said that, IT may not be something else than another form, but the way it is conceived and used can make the difference. In many cases IT people merely implement and refine the bureaucracy in IT systems. This is the case of the ERP that, by design, don't allow any leeway in adjusting the business processes at user level since it is conceived to enforce the uniform adherence to the procedures. Only a bottom-up knowledge acquisition system aimed at spotting and reducing the gap between the bureaucratic form and reality may help, but such systems are rare, tailor made, and without a settled foundation.

Yes, and yes!
Technology is a tool (or more accurately, I suppose, a collection of tools). As with any tool, the intent and the deployment of it needs to be right. And what is "right" depends so much on the complete collection of thoughts, perceptions and beliefs of the person or people using it. Too often in my experience though, the tool becomes the becomes the point, subordinating the work that needs to be done.
In short, I agree with all of the earlier contributions!

Technology makes (or should make) for greater efficiency; it does not and can not alone make for greater effectiveness. To be effective, technology must be directed by the capability of the human mind to accept change, deal with anomaly, identify innovation, and exclude repetition (etc.).

A computer can be accurately described as a simple machine that can only count up to 1... But does so very, very, quickly. Computers (as yet) do not have the capacity to expand their "thinking" beyond the parameters they are set, so we should not be fooled into believing that our wonderful new time-saving and unerringly accurate systems are actually driving us forward: They are not; they are doing "the same ol' same old" as Bob Cratchit and his quill pen; they're just doing it a lot faster. They are vast bureaucracy-generators in a lap-sized box but because they use transient electronic pulses instead of reams of paper we do not recognise them as such. Therefore almost by definition technology can all too easily pair with "manual" bureaucracy to immobilise us within the limits of "the system". It is only when technology is used in the awareness of its limitations and without the thoughtlessly delegated authority to counter the unexpected, unpredictable or radical that it can become the hugely effective servant of innovation.

altaf-jasnaik's picture

Say the pilot of a plane does not believe in auto-pilot (technology), does not seat beside him a co-pilot (an equal with same or better skills who could fly the plane) and puppets his entire crew (through bureaucratic reins of course), it would be impossible to move passengers from point A to B without him in the cockpit. Such is the state of a bureaucracy-ridden organisation. No matter what technology comes along, nothing much can change unless the pilot or his thinking is changed.

Now that does not mean technology cant bring in any change, because no pilot will remain in business or have passengers to fly or a crew to support him if he has no business walking in because of his old-school thinking. Since every organization needs customers and business to survive, the top management that otherwise fed on bureaucratically driven systems would like to see the benefits/savings/earnings that technology can bring. Whether it will be a top down or vice versa approach of introducing technology is debatable, but yes if the management wants to improve and excel it will be forced to adapt technologies.

If we were to inject technologies that aid communication, alleviate norms and structure, provide platforms for sharing and learning etc. we could help bust bureaucracy but the question that arises here is what is the process of busting bureaucracy? Does it have to squeezed out, imploded within or exploded outward? Perhaps each organization might have its own approach.

In conclusion, to say that technology cant make change happen might not be the best approach because what else do we have today at our disposal other than technology, unless someone suggests we go with black magic (which is a different debate). We should hope for and work towards co-creating the platforms that help technology driven changes in bureaucratic organizations bust the unwanted portions while systematically leaving in and benefiting from the structure and desired controls that bureaucracy provides.

If we approach technology as a tool, it is only as good as our understanding of that tool, the training on that tool, and our ability to utilize that tool in a different manner. Technology itself will not bust bureaucracy because human minds will control it accordingly as to help or destroy it. The companies mentioned as trend setters in management innovation and bureaucracy busters may utilize technology to their advantage; however, their human propensity will be to eventually grow into bureocratic entitities.
Therefore, for technology to be successful at derailing bureaucracy it must run along organizational behavior, and support the understanding, training, and innovation needed to promote agility through value added processes, effective 360 degree communication, and appropriate scaling. thus technology is not the solution, but the tool and how we use use it is up to us.

I love Peter's comment and I believe it offers valuable insight.

Our technology is currently only as innovative as the people wielding it. In as much as we can create technological solutions that serve to unleash human potential while preserving the necessary rules of the road, then I agree that technology can help us bust bureaucracy.

When we get in a car, we can establish hundreds of possibilities for getting from point A to point B - making independent and in the moment decisions about when to switch lanes, go faster, go slower, take side roads, etc. But we also understand the limits and risks of our freedom and we agree on how we will share the road so as to not cause serious bodily injury to our fellow citizens. Our technology can certainly make our travels easier, but it does not abrogate our basic responsibility to understand our local laws, assess our own capabilities, and remain cognizant of current driving conditions.

The structural system for navigating our geographic space allows for individual, independent decision-making without hierarchy or workflows. Our organizational structure systems need to similarly support individual contributions while providing acceptable limits that are easily understood and can be maintained over a lifetime. Technology then becomes an enabler and an accelerator, rather than a tool, weapon, or enforcer.

chris-grams's picture

Erin: this line is fantastic "Our technology is currently only as innovative as the people wielding it."

Hi Chris and other contributors,

I am one who doesn’t believe technology can solve our problems with bureaucracy. I believe the problem is structural and requires a structural solution.

Edward O Wilson, once wrote ‘We have a Star Wars civilization but we have Paleolithic emotions, medieval institutions and godlike technology - that's dangerous.’

To Wilson our conscious mind’s love affair with technology could easily blind us to the fact that our unconscious mind works pretty much as it did 50,000 to 200,000 years ago. Man is a social animal and the social structures that form the basis of organizations, institutions and society shape our reality to a much greater extent than we realize.

People may give the appearance of operating differently but unless new structures are integrated into their work they will still be unconsciously operating according to the social structure they know best. In most cases this is the hierarchical or pyramidal structure.

In the project management literature there is now an increased focus on building collaborative relationships as the key to successful projects. Technology by itself can not do it. See An article from David Archer - reflecting on lessons learned the hard way.

The question then becomes how do you quickly generate robust collaborative relationships that accommodate rapid turnover in personnel. This is best achieved by ‘reprogramming’ the internal structures and replacing the pyramidal structure with a structure that complements collaboration.

The parabolic structure was designed to do that. It has another major advantage. It is scalable and has the potential to replace the hierarchical structure with minimal disruption. You can find a description in my entry to the current MIX prize How to unleash human potential. The address is . . . then copy and paste the following title.

Want to unleash human potential in others? Then make sure the good guys can flourish. Forget busting the bureaucracy. First blend with it. Then bend it.

(Please accept my apologies for my inability to give you a direct link to the entry.)

Or in a peer reviewed article on how and why parabolic structures work at

Or email me

Warmly, Peter Rennie

A parabolic structure is a horizontal social structure that can replace
the hierarchical or pyramidal structure
to coordinate people
in order to achieve complex purposes.
In parabolic structures position and status only serve the purpose and not people’s egos.