I propose that Owens’ Law explains the cyclical rise and fall of bureaucracy.
The Cyclical Rise and Fall of Bureaucracy
While at the same time answering the age-old question:
“What happened to the Maya?”
I’M NOT GIVING YOU ANYMORE CORN TO BUILD PYRAMIDS
"The Mayas were intelligent; they had a highly developed culture. They left behind not only a fabulous calendar but also incredible calculations. They knew the Venusian year of 584 days. . . " (p.55)
Von Daniken, Erich. Chariots of the Gods? Bantam Books: New York.
For years people wondered where did these peaceful geniuses go. Did the mother ship come down and carry them back to Jupiter or wherever peaceful geniuses come from? Did they evolve into a higher state of being?
All this wondering provided the gist for popular speculation and pseudoscientific pontification for many years or at least until Yuri Valentinovich Knorosov and other linguists translated the Mayan language. Then it was learned that they might not have been so peaceful after all, and as a matter of fact they may have been one of the most warlike of all peoples. And low and behold archeological data began to supply the required evidence and the problem was solved: the Mayan had destroyed themselves in an orgy of fire and arrows. It all seemed so neat, scientific, and profitable.
Then some smart aleck historian, who also happened to be an organizational leadership researcher, made the mistake of interviewing some of the Native Americans who today make-up a sizable portion of the population of Guatemala and Mexico who happen to look surprisingly like the people depicted in the Mayan bas-reliefs. And inconvenient as it may seem once all this speculation, pontification, and general wondering had made several careers and helped some otherwise starving publishers buy much needed yachts and mansions this eager young researcher emerged from the wilds of Northern Arizona and declared, “The Maya had NOT disappeared after all.”
“What!” Cried the popular speculators.
“Away with him!” Yelled the enraged pseudoscientific pontificators.
“Quick, have him write a book about it!” Yelled the copious publishers from their thousand foot yachts docked outside their hundred room mansions.
Since it is impossible to categorically answer the question, “What?” And since no one really ever feels like following the Red Queen’s advice and conveniently being, “Away withed.” I figured I might as well at least write an article and do my little part to help keep poor, disadvantaged publishers supplied with at least enough caviar, truffles and European blended coffees to avert any relief from the high cholesterol and gout which serve as their red badge of courage.
So where did the Maya go? To quote one of my sources, “We got tired of giving those guys all our corn to build pyramids so we moved to the next valley and kept our corn for ourselves or something like that.”
This somehow brings me to the breakthrough Organizational Leadership concepts that should make my career as a leadership expert and hopefully get me an invitation to sip European coffee and eat truffles on one of those yachts.
Are you ready?
Here they come:
1. Bureaucracy is a good thing.
2. History supports the theory that bureaucracy is fundamental to the human condition
3. Bureaucracies all start out as pyramids with a large base, a small peak, and a proportional center, which adequately supports the top and adequately covers the base.
4. Bureaucratic pyramids all eventually become diamonds as they bloat in the middle.
5. All organizational diamonds eventually collapse due to the bloated weight of the expanded center.
6. The top is always lost in the crash.
7. A majority of the center plunges back to the base.
8. The natural leveling process of change never leaves a level playing field.
9. A new peak immediately appears because there is always a point that rises above the field.
10. The remaining middle coalesces to support the new peak in order to accentuate and solidify its difference from the base.
11. Another pyramid establishes itself on the ruins of the preceding one.
I call this Owens’ Law of the Oscillating Pyramid. I propose that this Law explains the cyclical rise and fall of bureaucracy. This Law is based upon observation and research and upon the fact that eventually the costs outweigh the benefits and someday, somewhere someone is going to yell, “I’m not giving you anymore of my corn to build pyramids!”
The collapse of the Soviet Union provided a perfect example of this phenomenon. For decades, this highly bureaucratic “Evil Empire” had enforced its rule by giving benefits to one group (the communists) to brutalize and dominate other groups (everyone else). As the model predicted the Soviet system admitted more and more people into the middle of the pyramid thus bloating the mid-level brutalizers and increasing the number of people who supposedly had a stake in the system. But unfortunately for the Evil Empire the inefficiencies of the system didn’t allow the pyramid to provide the material advantages needed to continue the inflation nor to even sustain the growing weight of the middle level. Therefore with no incentive to continue supporting the regime the pyramid collapsed.
Bureaucracy = hierarchical structure, division of labor, written rules, and records.
This has been evident since the beginning of time.
Revolution every generation
Revolutionary youth becoming Reactionary adults
Luther from 99 theses to peasant revolt
British bureaucracy “the ministry” goes on though ministers may come and go.
Pyramids are made of pyramids, each department or group has a head, and each head is supported by layers.
When a pyramid falls these component pyramids tend to seek independence (Chinese mandarins – Roman Empire) and then they begin to coalesce into succeeding pyramids, such as exemplified by the successive Egyptian and Chinese dynasties or the Frankish Empire of Charlemagne.
Signs that the end of a pyramids cycle is approaching:
• “I was just following orders,” or “That’s the way we’ve always done it,” as an excuse for doing things that common sense tells us are foolish.
• Malicious obedience. When a subordinate follows the nonsensical orders of superiors in the hopes that doing so will bring about change.
• Geritocracy. Look at Congress. Almost automatic re-election ensures a constantly aging pool of leaders with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.
In modern American society we have moved from Trueman’s “The buck stops here,” to Clinton’s “It depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is.?’ ” From Bill Gates leading an industry to change the world to octegenarian politicians whose secretary’s have to turn on their computers deciding what shape that industry should take.
At the time of the American Revolution there was no direct taxation there was instead taxes on various transactions which in total added up to a miniscule percentage of their income. Today, for many it is now over 50%. How much corn are we willing to give to those we don’t trust to do things we don’t want? How long can this continue? We are spending the money of the unborn to pay for the repose of the unproductive. This is the ultimate expression of taxation without representation.
The Oscillating Pyramid Cycle:
Formless base - pinnacle dominated true pyramid – bloated middle diamond shaped twin pyramid – out of balance wobble (component pyramids strive for increasing individual autonomy) – collapse
Historical opportunity to break this cycle:
The Israelites at Mt. Sinai. Instead they reject God’s offer to reinstate a personal relationship and demanded that Moses build them a social pyramid instead.
Proposed Exception to the Rule:
Steady-state primitive (Neolithic, pre-agriculture) societies both ancient and modern have been advanced as being different then the cultures of the present and therefore by implication exempt from this theory of bureaucratic/organizational structure. There is not enough social or organizational data to make informed statements about unknown cultures. Every one that has been extensively studied and reported on exhibited the pyramidal, hierarchical social structure and rule based operation even if a lack of writing precluded the development of true bureaucracy.
Long running societies (China, India, and Rome) exhibit this oscillating character within the ebb and flow of civil war and dynastic change.
In modern democracies, elections are designed to provide stability through a peaceful, periodic change in the pinnacle thereby allowing the base to exert influence and buy into the existence of the pyramid through nationalism. Economic self-interest has also become a major factor in modern democracies. Periodic major changes, Andrew Jackson, FDR, etc. change the tenor but not the shape as the middle continues to bloat. Modern democracies are still too new of a phenomenon to contend that they will break the pattern and at the moment they appear to be textbook cases of its operation.
Change of focus for modern consideration: Bureaucracy is a GOOD thing. The oscillating nature of its natural life cycle should be understood, recognized, appreciated, and factored into current calculations for what it is, the natural course of human organization. Change is a constant component of life.
So the next time you’re standing in line to renew whatever permit happens to need renewing at the time tell yourself that, “Bureaucracy is a GOOD thing.” Tell yourself that about a thousand times as you wait for the clerk who has been standing at the window for ten minutes waiting to open the window at exactly 9 AM and not one second sooner. And as your mind numbs through this exercise you can comfort yourself with the thought, “Eventually all pyramids fall,” as you fight to keep yourself from standing on a chair and yelling,
“I’M NOT GIVING YOU ANYMORE CORN TO BUILD PYRAMIDS!”
Then again as every pyramid falls another takes its place. That is Owens’ Law of Oscillating Pyramids.