Jungle Warfare, Darwinism, Machiavelli and OD

The birth of OD was rooted in establishing a type of organizational life which would never allow the atrocities of WW2 to occur again, and as such, OD  has a very humanistic bias in its very foundations.

The achievements of OD in establishing a humanistic compass are enormous. And while I believe that Hannah Arendt hit the nail on the head when she claimed how banal evil is, OD does provide a context for preventing certain types of evil from happening again in certain cultures.

But let’s put aside the last war for a moment, and let’s look at the present war. There is basically one dominant economic model –  is global capitalism. Other economic models do exist but they are minor players. Without competition, this dominant economic model gets more hard core, cruel and cut throat. This has impacted the economy and organizational life.

Organizational life is often a cess pool of political intrigue by folks struggling to keep a job by doing everything it takes not to be in the way of the swinging axe of the downsizing department. Everything goes when it is all about survival.

In my experience, jungle warfare within organizations seems to “pay off” by those  skilled in that art. Darwinism is a great key to understanding present organisational politics. And Machiavelli’s insights were never more apt: “Men should be either treated generously or destroyed, because they take revenge for slight injuries – for heavy ones they cannot” comes to mind.

I believe that in order to be relevant, we OD practitioners need to better understand jungle warfare, have a better grasp of Darwin and reread Machiavelli. We need to ask ourselves what can we change, and what can’t we change. And we need to ask ourselves if the solutions we provide suggest going unarmed into the battle ground. If indeed this is the perception of our work, OD has a real problem of being relevant for the present war.

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5 thoughts on “Jungle Warfare, Darwinism, Machiavelli and OD

  1. Just wondering how long the ‘jungle warfare’ can last? The low wages need to be increased one way or the other or cities will have to build many homeless shelters. Workers with higher level of education working in an environment where knowledge and collaboration are important need more flexibility (not less) and more peace of mind (not less) if organizations want to survive the current deep technological evolution.

  2. I used Machiavelli teachings in a MBA course I taught many years ago. I used novels as the primary reading material. I was criticized by other faculty and the students initially hated it. The students loved the course by the time it ended and the course received the highest evaluations of five sections being taught that year. Power and control are often ignored as part of the organization culture that must be understood to thrive. This does not mean you have to slash and burn to be successful.

  3. I work a lot with international organizations, and in the recent years the “cheat-lie-steal” trend among them becomes almost overwhelming. On my two last evaluations I was explicitly asked NOT to mention any organizational weaknesses (though they were at the core of all their problems and everyone interviewed talked only about it), and to drop three (out of five) internationally recognized evaluation criteria (efficiency, effectiveness, sustainability). “Tell us we’re nice and deserve being paid for it,” was the message. Indeed, survival rules!

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