Even Organizing Genius is Not a Sure-Fire Success

Source: Own Elicitation, Background Image: Office 365 Designs

Jointly Doing the Right Thing Right

Doing the right thing is more important than doing things right – thereafter just do it right anyways.

Inspired by: PETER F. DRUCKER

In another place I have already extensively described the differences between effectiveness and efficiency on a higher level. Furthermore their interwovenness, their relative rank and, as a consequence, the necessity of their joint appearance and hand-in-hand co-working.

This time I want to concentrate a little bit more on the right thing itself and aspects of how joint actions are (self-) organizing – like mechanisms relevant for cooperation, collaboration or co-creation – considering something like components of its autopoiesis. Especially as nowadays it is possible to view something like a trend in claims that pretend and almost mantrically celebrating collaboration. On the other hand you, at least I, can observe lots of the opposite, too – even though the showcase looks different. You can – and I will surely do in the future – dive even deeper into these and related aspects. But in the following sections I want to provide a first conceptual eagle flight through interdependentially influencing and subtle spheres on what it actually means to do the right things right – together. Some aspects might construct some shattered kaleidoscope. My intention is not to draw a nocturnal picture, but to show the complexity and essential components. To accompany the implicit behind the scenes into the limelight of the stage, asking it for an explicit dance. Which even if you want to align brilliant people towards common goals, do not disappear from the scene. Fasten your seatbelt, por favor.

What About Social Contracts?

The core competency of leadership is character.


At this point I want to remind us, as sometimes it seems like in some areas this is forgotten, that humanity – in a brief – more and more evolved based on collaborative concepts, on cooperation, on reciprocal support, exchange relationships and the like. Although, of course, these evolutionary steps were not for free, required huge efforts, compromises, consent and trade offs – concentrating on the less phlebotomic aspects of history. Nevertheless, we are endowed with these competences. We are gifted with these capabilities. Therefore, inter alia, we must use them at least by intelligence and some kind of virtue. Nevertheless this is not axiomatic, naturally, as a matter of course. It is a deliberate and active choice, a decision to action. The contrary is almost even more true, as there is a dilution and vaporization of co-creation principles visible. Anyways, we do have the capacity to turn visions into reality. Therefore, in many cases, there might be a perpetual negotiation process. From time to time even for once established routines – which is not a bad thing. “The success of the human species is based on its ability to produce cultures” (Kruse 2013).

What is the glue, the mastix, what are the lubricating agents?

Cooperation, collaboration, co-creation or similar concepts. All of these are always based on the foundation of some kind of contract. Especially a social contract, that is of exceptional nature and an idea of reason. Either by implication or explicitly by design. And very often, those contracts seem to be negotiated again and again – obviously between persons that meet each other for the first time in order to act upon or with each other. For now I would like to fade out some basic cultural differences, e.g. bowing or shaking of hands or different customal traditions (coming back later to a set of elements with regard to the latter). Apart from this I cannot provide a 100% complete and definite view on multi-facetted human behavior. I am talking about basal but complex and somehow universal as well as crucial and thus constituent aspects of joint actions. In order to do this, I want to distinguish the following contractual base concepts that contain the force of how actual contracts obligate or bind:

  1. Consent-based
  2. Benefit-based
  3. Risk-based

Whereas the consent-based contractual force represents autonomy, in the benefit-based force the reciprocal constituents of human partnerships – even the short ones – are epitomized. Their underlying moral force distinguishes these two. Nonetheless, in day to day life, every actual contract may fail to materialize those ideals, as no actual contract is guaranteeing the terms that they produce. Having a contract does not mean that the conditions are fairly balanced. The fact of an agreement is not sufficient to establish the fairness of the terms. An act of consent, is not only not sufficient, it is not even a necessary condition to establish an obligation. If there is reciprocity on the other hand, an exchange of benefits, there can be an obligation even without an active consent. Autonomy as well as reciprocity might not guarantee success. Both of them can fail to realize their ideal value for one or all parties. Due to differences in bargaining power, autonomy may not be realized at all. Reciprocity may not be realized, because the participants may misidentify what really counts as having equivalent value, which could lead to a – at least on the long run – major imbalance that may weigh down the relationship substantially.

Another aspect of contracts is the one with respect to risks. Specifically handling of risks, their mitigation, avoidance or transfer for example. This consideration takes into account the other two contractual foundations as well. Of course, everyone is careful to minimize their risk. But there is a huge difference, if you negotiate this in an participative or partner-like manner or if you start to establish a rat race, based on hidden information, hidden agendas, hidden actions, which is creating haggling shadow creatures, whose primary aim is the white-bleeding of one antoher, and if the only reason in doing so is mere winning – which  suddenly and easily may remind you of Jordan Peterson’s lobster theories.

Overall, what happens very easily, is the upcoming of attitudes and behaviors that actually, there does even not exist any obligation or binding with respect to social contracts on social behavior – morally spoken. Sometimes according to the motto: “Where no judge, there no executioner” or an attitude like “an opportunity makes a thief”. Respectively, if there is no instance that holds power for punishment, then often there is no necessity to feel committed to any form of obligation or bond. This increases and decreases dramatically, proportional to the probability of future encounterings, prospected value of possible exchange ratios, or estimated reputation-related aspects, for example – excluding further cultural considerations for the moment. All this should not be a reason. Or is it indeed, like Alasdair MacIntyre once said, somehow like the following: All power tends to coopt, and absolute power coopts absolutely. At least, most of the time you are usually not just flipping a coin in order to make a decision. But are we really suchlike as we are unremettingly chained to a normative poverty situation that is always, and as a necessary condition, strongly dependent on an external structuring and regulatory authority, which protects us from the liver-eating eagle? If this is true, then we are acting very relativistic regarding morality. Which could mean, whatever a particular community or a tradition says it means to act or behave adequately or with whom to cooperate and with whom not, due to contingencies, of what prevails in any given community, at any given time, is the only thing that counts. Consequentially it makes such concepts wholly conventional, a product of circumstance, which can be conceptually character-depriving.  Non-relativists rather tie the moral worth or the intrinsic good of the ends to those whom the concepts serve, honoring or advancing some important human good, which means its teleological elemets. But, of course, especially in a pluralistic society, people might disagree about what “good” means. There exist different and probably competing ideas about which human goods are honrable and worth for recognition. But at certain points, it is unavoidable and necessary to transform all of these subtle forces to be explicit – partner-like.

What guarantees an adequate contract?

What would be a contract that guarantees autonomy and reciprocity? What kind of contract would it have to be among parties that are equal in power and knowledge? If we are looking on an superiorily related topic, like justice and equality in general, John Rawls’ (1921-2002, a critic of utilitarianism) claim is that the way to think about this, is from the standpoint of a hypothetical contract behind the veil of ignorance, that creates a condition of equality by ruling out the differences in power and knowledge, that could lead to unfair results. This veil hides, who in particular we are, our race, our class, our place in society, our strengths, our weaknesses, whether we’re healthy or unhealthy. Therefore, according to Rawls, anybody would choose the following:

  1. Equal basic liberties, fundamental rights to freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, religious liberty, freedom of conscience and the like.
  2. Only those inequalities would be accepted that work to the benefit of the least well off.

These two considerations are the foundation of his “Difference Principle”: A system that goes beyond meritocracy is one that lets everybody establish his or her best talents but only on terms that work to the advantage of the least well off. Which can be applied at joint actions, specifically at social contracts, and on collaborative forms as well.

There exist some moral principles – maybe they might even be almost universally valid – that constitute contracts, that build the ground of these contracts. People that work jointly base their work on moral conceptions of the right things to do – and their individual ends that can be shaded very differently.

So, is there any guarantee at all? What seems like a fact is, at the one hand, that obligations and bindings are fluid and in some contexts more and more vanishing. But, on the other hand, we need those social contracts in order to jointly achieve things. At its best it is a balanced sake for all participants. There is no guarantee until we, ourselves, establish this guarantee.

Never-ending renewed negotiation?

We sometimes think very quickly, that some social accepted behavior is self-explanatory, natural or obvious. But moral principles cannot be derived from empirical facts alone. Because those “things” are changing over time. Just as the moral law cannot rest on the interests or desires of individuals. They even cannot rest on the desires of one single community. Furthermore, the mere fact that a group of people in the past agreed on something, is not enough to make that agreement just. Since people have different perspectives , e.g. on the end of happiness and what it consists of. Mere “utility”, like the utaliarists may think, cannot be the ultimate basis. Why not? Because this would require a society to endorse one conception of happiness over others. Besides the utilitarian character, it also reflects some aspects related to Aristotle’s “teleos”, a view that we always have first to figure out the best way to live. Then, shaping the character to cultivate the virtues of citizens, to inculcate civic excellence, to make possible a good way of life. But even though it would be the majority, that decides on what good signifies, would impose on some of the values of others and fail to respect the right of each person to pursue his or her own moral, ends, or an individual concept of what a “good life” means. Which is, obviously, a more Kantian view: Setting up a fair framework of rights within everybody so that everyone may be free to pursue their own conceptions of the good for themselves. For universally valid moral principles, the test of rightfulness might be an imaginary act of collective consent. Shaping an adequate character is anyways a pleasant thing.

What Game Theory is Teaching Us

We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.


Game theory shows us several simplified games that reveal dilemmas, that raise their dramaturgy when extrapolated on more complex settings. For demonstration reasons I am just focussing on two, as there exist a lot more. Furthermore I will just scratch the surface.

One of these examples is the Ultimatum Game, the other one is the Prisoner’s Dilemma in some adopted form.

Ultimatum Game

Source: Own Elicitation, Background Image: Office 365 Designs

The Ultimatum Game, is telling us, that cultural backgrounds can have a huge impact. As Scott Page (University of Michigan) stated in his lecture on Model Thinking from a study: There were two groups, one called the Lamalera, who are Indonesian collective whale hunters.  The other group was called the Machigenga, who are an Amazonian group, whose people did not even have proper names and having in general a more personal selfish orientation.

Applying the rules, that are mentioned in the picture above, the mean results were as follows:

  • Lamalera: EUR 5.70
  • Machigenga: EUR 2.60

So what we see, is a huge difference in what representatives of those two cultures offer other people. The Lamalera offer about 2.2 times more to other people as a function of their culture.

The Prisoner’s Dilemma

Source: Own Elicitation, Backgroud Image: Von I, Friman, CC BY-SA 3.0

In the prisoner’s dilemma, two people are getting caught, and the police is pretty sure that they have committed a crime. So they put these two prisoners in separate rooms. They say to each one of them: “Look, you can confess or keep silent – but we know that you committed a crime.” The polices alleges. If they both keep silent and cooperate with each other then they are going to get mild prison sentences. But if one keeps silent and one confesses, then the one, who is confessing, gets free and the one, who is keeping silent, is going to prison for 6 years. If both rat on each other, then they’re going to be worse off, than when they cooperate and keep silent.

TemptationConfessing when the other
is keeping silent
(Defection on Cooperation)
0 Years in Prison
RewardKeeping silent when the other
is keeping silent
(Cooperation on Cooperation)
2 Years in Prison
PunishmentConfessing when the other
is confessing
(Defection on Defection)
4 Years in Prison
Sucker’s PayoffKeeping silent when the other
is confessing
(Cooperation on Defection)
6 Years in Prison
Szenarios for the Indiviual Prisoner (based on Wikipedia GD)

Therefore you can imagine, it might not be easy for one to decide what to do in this situation. Stakes are high that you receive the “sucker’s payoff”, if the bona fide trusts the partner in crime and thinks that they will cooperate, but the partner will not.

Beware of the Zero-Trust Paradigm

Respecting human dignity means regarding persons not just as mere means to an end, but as ends in themselves.

IMMANUEL KANT (freely adapted)

On the other extreme of trusting each other – which are accelerated by digitization in times of also necessary and omnipresent alternative facts, information security discussions, and also infamous or rather notrorious GDPR/DSGVO controversies – we should also beware of a zero-trust pradigm shift. It is observable that more or less war-related conflicts currently emerge that very often resonate with this sphere, in order to increase “security” or rather surveillance and control.

We should beware of a surveillance-society, because one of the main ingredients of flourishing relationships is trust, which usually is not an issue until it actually is an issue – hypothesized there does not already exist a destroyed trust trauma, which can also be irrevocable. Trust between people is indispensible. We could exemplarialy never learn anything useful from anyone else if we never trusted anybody. Just remind yourself of beeing a baby that trusts his or her parents. We could not cooperate with each other without a certain amount of trust. Therefore “trust” is sine qua non for human relationships – although or despite the facts that after all, other people might not tell us the truth or realizing their part of a deal – like exemplarialy mentioned with respect to the ingredients of social contracts like autonomy and reciprocity. Nontheless it is a precondition for a well-functioning society or as a way to handle complexities of living, that can also be baneful.

We should remind ourselves, what Kant once postulated as well, that if we behave like beings, almost inferior to wild animals, seeking after pleasure and avoidance of pain, in an incessant kind of survival mode, we are not really acting freely, but we are acting as the slaves of this particular hunger or appetites. We are acting according to necessity, which is the opposite of acting freely. We are destroying necessary bonds of humanity, that are – at least in the long run – rather non-negotiable. Of course, if your aim is to be “the last”, like “the Highlander”, you will not negotiate at all. In this case I wish you loads of fun, maybe you will find yourself in a situation comparable to the Jungle Book. Otherwise lethality dramatically increases and it if that is not enough it might become lonely, which is unfavorable for a social creature combined with an insidious decay. But then again, it must not be, as Benjamin Franklin is being said to have stated, that you should use venery rarely but for health and offspring. 

Trust is a crucial ingredient. It is additionally expressing our respect for ourselves and others. We treat others with respect when we place our trust in them, and expect them to deal honestly with us. And, rather usually than – hopefully – the other way around, we want to be ourselves trustworthy people, too. Some might argue that this is all too idealistic. Well, it might be idealistic, right. To my mind such an argument targets on just one thing: You too, please throw your values off-board, because it’s useless, it is futile anyways and you will for sure get the sucker’s payoff. Eventually nothing more than insubstantial killer argument to attact an idealistic view of mankind, so that you might not even start trying its achievement. I do not mean something like “fully blue-eyed greenness” or unreflected ingenuousness, like getting won over by a fluffy toy. Mistrust is also a human capability that holds its raison d’être. But: A zero-trust world is – to my mind – for sure not what you want to design out there. Deception and coercion, the antitheses of trust, may not be universalized. It would be a grey, dark and dystopian world, with a humanity that is living in a panopticon. Anyways, as it might be the case that you even never fully know your spouse – which is on the other hand vivifying – security measures, combined with specific regulations are important preconditions for trust, supporting an moral environment for trust-based relationships. But they must not necessarily just exist oberserving and intervening from the outside.

What Else Can We Do?

The exercise of the virtues is itself a crucial component of the good life for man.


pallas-athena-bueste-mit-rabe-nevermore-the-raven-bronziert-1When talking about moraly tinged building blocks, it happens – sometimes within a very short time – that you get to a point at which you will find a big amoutn of “beliefs” in statements, the truth of which no further reason can be given. Whatever you discover through science cannot decide moral questions, because its essence stands at a certain distance from science. And that is the reason, why no science could deliver moral answers, and certainly not a universally valid manual. What we can do, is – as always – using our capabilities acurately. Going ahead as role models. (Pro-) Actively designing the world we are living in. This will have effect, as the exercise of our prismatic practices, as a form of established cooperative activity, that might have changing goals, and their passing on to the future, have a powerful impact. But even in what is commonly considered as the same tradition, it is not guaranteed that there exist the same core conception of morale or identical definitions of virtuous behavior – same same but different? Different societies have different encodings of virtues like truthfulness, equality or justice. But they are underlying our practices. These build our narratives, our life stories or the personfications of role models that embody those practices. Out of this, traditions emerge, if all of this is passed on to future generations. Even though, idividually, we might remain co-authors of ourselves.

All of this is paramount in order to understand, how to influence and design collaborative (as one aspect of joint action) organizational behavior. Establishing a culture of reciprocal trust and just a small amount of control, as your organization my be hijacked subversively. Creating informal social contracts. Without internal goods, which is also an outcome of excelling in a discipline and must be distinguished from external goods like money or prestige, this is impossible. Without a set of virtues, no internal goods are achievable, whereas on the other hand, too much focus on interal goods can hinder achievement of external goods. Nevertheless, the opposite is worse – much worse. Additionally, the desire for achievement can also lead to behavior of decay and subversive arbitraries can invade. Starting at an indiviual level that cascades down into all forms of institutions and due to its bidirectional nature influence is going up again as well – reinforcing each other. Vice versa, this is also true and the lever of impact and scale at the same time. Therefore: Leading by example? Designing practices, based on values and some kind of appropriate virtues – an aretai, being a free morally agent simultaneously.

Tell me a fact, and I will learn. Tell me a truth, and I will believe. But tell me a story, and it will live in my heart forever, manifesting in reality.

UNKNOWN (evolutionized by Andreas Steiner)


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