Life Beyond the Org Chart: The Radical Future of Emergent Orgs

Life Beyond the Org Chart: The Radical Future of Emergent Orgs

EmosQuorum Model
July 26, 2023

Most of humanity’s largest coordinated efforts are organized from the top down: Fortune 500 companies, nation states, intergovernmental organizations, and more.

The natural world is not organized from the top down. Natural structures are not designed, they grow organically over time through never-ending evolutionary cycles of expansion and contraction. You could say that natural structures are emergent.

How can the organizational structures we use to run our companies, communities, and institutions be made to evolve organically like natural ecosystems? And what might that help us to accomplish?

Quorum1 has been collaborating with two of our partners, FuzeQube and Emerge Tech Lab, to explore the novel concept of “Emergent Organizations”. This article is an introduction to the concept and a call to action for leaders in the space.

What is an Emergent Org?

Emergent Orgs (Emos for short) are defined as organizations where structure and power emerge organically, largely from the bottom up.

Emergent Org as a term builds on concepts like decentralization and collective governance and adds a particular focus on organic member-driven evolution. Within an Emo, the architecture of the system should evolve continuously through the collective action of its members. Emergence—as used here—is dynamic, describing attributes of a changing system.

Emos include most-but-not-all DAOs, many-but-not-most traditional Coops, a very select group of traditional corporations, and many other community-centric groups both online and offline. Though applicable to all manner of companies and communities, Emos are uniquely well suited to groups in the areas of sustainability, community equity, and social impact.

The term Emo defines a broad class of orgs and isn’t linked to any particular organizational model, though operating an Emo would generally require adopting some type of non-traditional org structure: Holacracy, Sociocracy, DAO governance, Platform Coops, the Quorum Model, etc.

Why do we need Emos?

Hierarchical structures are designed to be understood logically by an individual human and then easily explained to other individual humans. Imagine an org chart, or the structure of a federal government, or taxonomies like Linnaean Classification and the Dewey Decimal System.

So how would one go about designing a hierarchical structure to manage phenomena which are more complex than can be understood by a single human mind?

It’s not possible. For ecosystem-level complexity, top-down design is simply an insufficient tool. When we create massive hierarchies, we scrape away so much of the underlying complexity that the resulting abstractions no longer correspond meaningfully with the complex reality we are attempting to manage.

Emergent structures, by definition, arise through the interaction of complex causes which cannot be analyzed as a simple sum of their effects. Emergent structures may be analyzable by a single human mind, they may be easy to communicate to others. Or they may not. Just like reality.

In order to confront the global polycrisis, we must acknowledge that our hierarchical systems of control are fundamentally dissonant with the emergent structures of the natural world. Resolving that dissonance, that globe-crushing tension, is a critical problem space for us to explore if we want to survive as a species.

Put more succinctly: Hyper-capitalist hierarchies are working to ever more efficiently convert all of the earth’s resources into currency. To bring greater sustainability and resilience to our global economic system, we must explore architectural responses which rebalance hierarchy and decentralization—competition and collaboration—such that our human-made systems more closely mirror the natural ecosystems they are currently destroying.

An ongoing conversation

Much like Emos themselves, the term Emergent Org is in a state of nascent growth. At this point we have far more questions than answers.

As Lucia Gallardo stated during one of our foundational discussions, we’ve had centuries to study how hierarchies work but the study of decentralization and emergence within human-made institutions is comparatively new.

What’s needed now are more perspectives and more input as we seek answers to challenging questions. Here are some of the questions we are exploring:

  • What role do competition and collaboration play in the innovative landscape of the future?
  • Is there such a thing as a fully decentralized org?
  • To what extent can leadership truly emerge from the bottom up?
  • What new forms of ownership might arise from more distributed structures?
  • How can we share IP while still incentivizing innovation?
  • Is the pursuit of more collaborative innovation ethics-oriented? Results-oriented?

To see some of the unique viewpoints being brought forward already, we offer two sibling articles to this one:

How to join the conversation

If you are a thinker, researcher, or leader, and are interested in emergent social architectures, then we'd like to invite you to get involved. We’re hosting a global community engaging in ongoing discussions, writing, research, and events.

The first step is filling out this form.