I’m reading a book at the moment, called The Breakdown of Nations, by Leopold Kohr. Kohr was writing at the height of the Cold War, when it looked inevitable that America and the Soviets would collide in a third global war.
Kohr’s main argument is that humans in large numbers tend to behave badly to one another. The bigger an organisation becomes, whether it be a company, government or entire nation, the worse it tends to behave.
According to Kohr, little organisations produce greater wisdom in their policies because they are weak. Their leaders could not get away with stupidity, not even in the short run.
Everything in the world is about balance, and balance is dynamic and changing. Smallness offers flexibility, so changes in balance can be easily redressed. When the situation around you is dynamic and moving, being nimble is extremely important. Big things are inherently unstable, because they cannot react as quickly. Bigness creates its own self-supporting momentum.
I believe this is a fundamental rule of the world. It’s true in nature, in politics and in business. There’s a reason why cockroaches are still here, and the Tyrannosaurus Rex is not.
I was talking with a client this week about business structure. My opinion was that conventional employment contracts could eventually die, because employment contracts are only beneficial to big organisations who need to tie people in to their self-supporting bulk. They offer a false sense of security to the employee, when in fact the security is a mirage.
Essentially, employment contracts are a hangover from the industrial revolution. It’s now possible to run a business entirely from cloud based services, with a virtual team paid only as and when you need them.
Staying small does not mean you have to think small. You can still have big goals and objectives, I just think you don’t need the bulk of organisation that comes with a conventional business. Beauty exists in smallness and division, not bigness and unity.
Kohr tells a story about the professor of statistics, who after his demise arrives at heaven, briefcase in hand. He complains to the Lord about the poor and archaic manner in which He has organised the world.
“I have an infinitely better plan than yours,” he says, unfolding his charts and diagrams. “As things are now, life is divided into too many repetitious little tasks and activities. We arise in the morning after eight hours of sleep. We spend fifteen minutes in the bath. We chat for five minutes with out families. We read for ten minutes, and eat for fifteen minutes. Then we spend half an hour walking to our office. We work for four hours. We eat again for ten minutes. We nap half an hour. We use another half-hour walking home; another hour chatting with our families; half an hour for another meal, and finally retire for another eight hours of sleep.”
“All this splitting up of one’s lifetime is extremely wasteful,” he continued. “I have calculated that the average man spends twenty-three years sleeping, two years eating, three years walking, five years talking, four years reading, two years suffering, ten years playing, and six months making love. Why not let man engage in these activities in single chunks of sustained action, beginning with the unpleasant two years of suffering, and ending with a pleasant six months of love-making?”
As the story goes, the Lord permits the professor to try out his plan. The plan fails dismally, and as a penalty he is expelled from heaven. Arriving in hell, he immediately asks for an audience with Satan to submit a similar plan.
“Satan,” he begins, unpacking his charts and diagrams, “I have a plan for organising hell.”
At this Satan erupts into laughter that shakes every rock in the fiery caves.
“Organise hell?” he roars. “My dear professor, organisation IS hell!”