Thursday, August 4, 2011

Mubarak, personnel management and systemic persistence

Mubarak is being called the last pharaoh of Egypt. But we probably only need to wait for the next one. Societies have tremendous persistence. In system dynamics we know 'path dependence': once a path is formed, once a pattern is formed, even from random beginnings, new events tend to follow the same path, the same pattern. The decision to hold to the left at roads is just as natural as holding to the right, but once the pattern is there, it is very difficult to change.
After the Russian revolution, the communist leaders turned into czars, and after the fall of communism, the present leaders turn again into czars. Edward Rutherfurd, who wrote about London through the ages, was struck by the fact that the enormous waves of immigration through the centuries were absorbed without leaving traces. Wherever people came from, they turned into East-enders. Also today you can see a Pakistani boy, a Chinese boy and a Jewish boy walking along the Thames and hear them talk cockney together.

In Brazil, I worked with a group of human resources professionals. We did a constellation to find the core issue of personnel management in Brazil. The representative of the Brazilian HR profession was avoiding all the time to look at the core issue. The representative of the core issue felt heavy and dark and had no idea who or what he was. Then I asked "How old are you?' and he blurted out to his own amazement: "More than 300 years." We found out it was the history of slavery in Brazil, still a shadow over apparently modern HR management. It suddenly dawned on me why, when I was a HR director over there, my policy of "internal mobility" was so resisted in the company, that was in other respects a shining example of modernity. Although everybody could always apply for jobs outside the company, people were not allowed to apply for vacancies inside the company. Managers resisted the freedom of choice of their subordinates.

Systemic role patterns are extremely persistent, therefore, real societal change mainly happens after a country first is going through a dictatorship and then through a lost war. The dictatorship destroys most of the old social infrastructure and a lost war destroys the remaining. Mancur Olson sees that as the main explanation of different speeds in economic development. The longer a period of stability and peace, the more the growth of "collusive" organizations, the more the system calcifies.
We see similar processes in families, where family patterns repeat themselves through the generations. Sometimes we can trace them back to their origin: usually times of war, revolution, famine and pestilence. By the way, the social consequences of epidemics are liberating and the social consequences of famines are stifling, as Pitirim Sorokin demonstrated. Think why.

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