The business anarchist

For some while now I’ve been using the term ‘business anarchist‘ to describe what I do in the business-architecture context – and yes, it is a sort-of joke, of course, but there’s also something very real behind it.

Real anarchy isn’t the kiddies’ concept of “all property must be liberated – but don’t you dare touch my stuff!” that I used to see so often amongst self-style ‘anarchists’ in my student days, rather too many decades ago. Functional anarchy isn’t easy at all – in fact it’s actually the most difficult of all political forms, because to make it work, it requires a relentless discipline of responsibility and self-responsibility. No rules: just a ceaseless demand to be aware of what’s happening, of the needs and constraints, in this moment, in the far past, in the far future, all of the times colliding together, and to respond accordingly. Hence, yes, definitely of interest in a business context, because that kind of proactive awareness is what we need most for an agile, responsive enterprise.

A few businesses have gone partway down this path already: see, for example, the post “The Business Anarchist Is The New Entrepreneur”, on the Bloginization weblog, which references two well-known food-retail chains on the US, John Mackey’s Whole Foods and Tod Murphy’s Farmer’s Diner:

…both share one thing in common as managers: they have disregarded and rejected the norms surrounding their respective industries and have forged new paths to reshape the food industry, arguably much like an anarchist does with a governing system.

But perhaps a better example of such an organisation is one that, technically at least, has been run on strict anarchist lines for almost four centuries: the Quakers (or, to give them their proper title, the Religious Society of Friends). There are clear, explicit guidelines, but no actual rules; clear principles for leadership, yet no formal leaders; no vote, and no majority rule – in fact the exact opposite, the dissenting voice has a near-priority in any debate. And probably the guiding principle is that of personal responsibility – which is perhaps why they’ve long had an influence in social issues and social reform far beyond their mere numerical strength. (And not without risk, either: the question asked each year at the worldwide Annual Meeting, “How many Friends have died in prison this year for their faith?” has never yet had the answer “None”…)

The business impact and importance of responsibility and self-responsibility is something I’ve already explored in some of my enterprise-architecture books, such as Power and Response-ability: the human side of systems and SEMPER and SCORE: enhancing enterprise effectiveness. But it might well be worth linking it more strongly to anarchist concepts, whether formal or not-so-formal (such as one of my favourite science-fiction novels, Ursula le Guin’s masterful The Dispossessed), and then bridging back to the business context.

So yes, it does seem that the idea of ‘the business anarchist’ could have some real value. I’m in the middle of working on yet another enterprise architecture book right now – provisional title Doing Enterprise Architecture: process and practice in the real enterprise, about which more shortly in another post – so I don’t have time right now to play with that idea in more detail: but feels like it’s something that would indeed make yet another book (yep, another one… 🙂 ), and perhaps quite an important one, too. Watch This Space in the coming months, perhaps?

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One comment on “The business anarchist
  1. Hi Tom

    I take descriptions of Whole Foods with a pinch of biodynamic sea-salt.

    Here are two alternative views.

    https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2009/03/perverse_securi.html

    http://www.salon.com/2014/02/07/5_of_the_worst_wealthy_libertarians_tom_perkins_is_just_the_tip_of_the_sward_partner/

    I think it’s interesting that people can arrive at such radically different ways of making sense of the same organization.

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