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    Holoptic Foresight Dynamics, Part 2: The Evolutionary Path
    In my last post on HFD, I covered the basics of holopticism, noting that a many-membered view of the direction and purpose of the ”Whole” (i.e. organizational vision, collective mission, global human transformation, universal cosmology, etc.) would allow for a greater foresight ability and futures-fit capacity. At this point, an evolutionary question emerges: Is a holoptic ideology and practice set in the larger context of general human development – social development and evolution – or is a holoptic environment something that must be intentionally created only within conducive settings such as a transformative or “learning organization,” as well as in social entities or collaborative initiatives? I believe that the answer is “yes”… and “yes.”

    3 States of Human Emergence

    In order to understand a movement toward holoptic organizational and social practice, I would like to offer a set of simple structural diagrams that highlight 3 general states of human emergence in terms of social and collaborative evolution. (It’s important to note when viewing these diagrams that they are overviews, and do not necessarily account for conditions of overlap, environments that supersede the next evolutionary step in human development, nor do they discount the complexities of leadership, organizational, and human development presented through theories such as Integral, Spiral Dynamics, Action Inquiry, “Theory U,” Appreciative Inquiry, S-Curve Thinking, Systems Thinking, etc. As I stated earlier, HFD is meant to compliment these theoretical frameworks, as well as provide an extended platform for “best practices” in Strategic Foresight, both within the world of business, as well as in the larger setting of global interaction and human futures.) In viewing these diagrams, a basic answer can be given to the question of why holoptic environments in general – and HFD in specific – is both a step forward on the human evolutionary path, as well as something that must be intentionally fostered in order to succeed. After all, as we further our social evolution, we are becoming more and more intentionally engaged in the process – technologically, governmentally, ecologically, bio-genetically, etc.


    The first evolutionary environment (organizational and social) is Monopticism. A monoptic environment is characterized by separation between “actors/players” and “leaders,” and can be seen in settings where strong top-down hierarchy, individual promotion, and “command and control” models are at work. “Monoptic” is primarily a medical term meaning “Relating to the presentation of different stimuli to one eye” or “single-eyed.” When applied to an organizational, governmental, or social setting, it can refer to an environment where their is limited vision in terms of what can be seen, thought, or enacted. In such an environment, the various actors/players, leaders, and nodes that make up the system are not seen as interconnected, thereby developing a culture in which the elements involved fail to move toward collaboration, creative diversity, and holistic innovation. (This may also be seen within the “First Tier Memes” of the Spiral Dynamics theory and model which express survival, tribal order, exploitive self-desire, authoritative obedience, strategic achievism, and even self-sacrifice for group harmony.)

    As can be seen in the diagram displaying a basic monoptic environment (see figure 1 at the bottom of the article), individual actors/players and leaders may communicate and have a sense of awareness of one another (certain actors/players “seeing” other actors/players, and some even having connective communication with each other; certain leaders “seeing” other leaders or actors/players, and vice versa), but overall, there is no systemic environment for collaborative connectivity, nor any platform for the development (or emergence) of a culture conducive to building holistic purpose and direction which would bring health to the individuals and organization itself.


    The second evolutionary environment is Panopticism, characterized by a greater ability in all of the actors/players and leaders in a system to “see” or sense the ideas and activities of the other actors/players and leaders within a given system. Traditionally, Panopticism is viewed as a social theory – originally developed by French Philosopher Michel Foucault – that describes an environment in which a central power has full visibility of all entities in a given system. This theory can be easily understood from 18th Century English Philosopher Jeremy Bentham’s architectural treatise entitled Panopticon:

    Bentham uses a prison as an example: it is a building with a tower in the center, from which all the surrounding cells are visible. The inside of the tower, though, cannot be seen. It individualizes and leaves them constantly visible; never knowing when they are being observed. The occupant is always “the object of information, never a subject in communication.” This type of design can be used for any population that needs to be kept under observation, such as: prisoners, schoolchildren, medical patients or workers… By individualizing the subjects and putting them in a state of constant visibility, the efficiency of the institution is maximized. Furthermore, it guarantees the function of power, even when there is no one actually asserting it. It is in this respect that the Panopticon functions automatically. Foucault goes on to explain that this design is also applicable for a laboratory. Its mechanisms of individualization and observation give it the capacity to run many experiments simultaneously. These qualities also give an authoritative figure the “ability to penetrate men’s behavior” with extreme ease. This is all made possible through ingenious architectural design… Although Bentham presents the Panopticon as a specified institution, Foucault insists that we consider it to be a model of functioning. It is a “mechanism of power,” a “figure of political technology that may and must be detached from any specific use.” Fewer people have to exercise power, while more are affected by its assertion. Anywhere the principals of Panopticism are applied, the flawless exercise of power is possible.

    In this sense, a Panoptic environment is only concerned with surveillance, control, and discipline of a system. However, in an open-source atmosphere of Panopticism – much like we are seeing in today’s global culture – everyone is given the key to the panoptic architecture, creating an environment where all actors/players and leaders within a system can freely “see” one another, or discipline one another through what may be known as “sousveillance” (a “watching from below” or monitoring of authorities – and everyone, for that matter – by the general public). This type of panoptic environment – which he calls the “Participatory Panopticon – has been expertly detailed by Futurist Jamais Cascio:

    Soon – probably within the next decade, certainly within the next two – we’ll be living in a world where what we see, what we hear, what we experience will be recorded wherever we go. There will be few statements or scenes that will go unnoticed, or unremembered. Our day to day lives will be archived and saved. What’s more, these archives will be available over the net for recollection, analysis, even sharing… And we will be doing it to ourselves… This won’t simply be a world of a single, governmental Big Brother watching over your shoulder, nor will it be a world of a handful of corporate siblings training their ever-vigilant security cameras and tags on you. Such monitoring may well exist, probably will, in fact, but it will be overwhelmed by the millions of cameras and recorders in the hands of millions of Little Brothers and Little Sisters. We will carry with us the tools of our own transparency, and many, perhaps most, will do so willingly, even happily… I call this world the Participatory Panopticon.

    This wider application of Panopticism is defined by open-source sharing and collaboration (and subsequent innovation), and its acceptance in today’s organizational and social settings is manifested in popular ideas such as “crowd-sourcing.” However, such an open-source environment does not automatically lead to “sense-making” of the direction and emergent properties of the “whole” of the system, but only grants access to its parts. (This type of evolutionary environment can also be understood as a transition between the “First” and “Second-Tier Memes” of the Spiral Dynamics theory and model.) As pictured in the Panopticism diagram, actors/players and leaders can all “see” one another, but there is no nodal connection bringing about directive and purposeful holism to the system.


    The third state of environmental evolution is the condition upon which the HFD model is based. As defined in Part 1 of this series, Holopticism is:

    … a combination of Greek words holos (whole, holistic, all), optiké (vision), and tekhné (art, technique). It expresses the capacity for players in a given organization (or group) to perceive the emerging whole of that organization (or group) as if it were a unique entity, be it in a natural physical space or an online space (virtual).

    The difference between a Panoptic and Holoptic environment can be expressed in the phrase, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” In Panopticism, the actors/players and leaders may be able to “see” one another, but there is little to no intentional interconnectivity that gives birth to the “whole” as a distinct entity (an emergent expression of the system). In a Holoptic organization, the nodes within the system are aware of both their distinct diversity or individuality within the system, and how the parts fit into ( and help to create) the larger purpose and direction that is unfolding within the system. This holistic awareness is a result of operating within the “Second Tier Memes” of the Spiral Dynamics theory and model, which is characterized by integrative and inclusive benefit to the system, but does not exclude the need for reciprocal benefit to the nodes as well. Such an environment displays a blurring of hierarchy, decentralization created by recognition of complex adaptive systems at work, and a “swarming” experience that is much more intentionally holistic than the disconnected sharing and intelligence creation produced in panoptic crowd-sourcing.

    In Part 3 of the HFD series, I will specifically speak to the 3 general states of unfolding foresight dynamics that can be inherent within an evolutionary holoptic environment: “Holoptic Resilience,” “Holoptic Transformation,” and “Holoptic Precognizance,” each of which adds a greater future-fit capacity within organizations and social settings.

    Tue, Dec 29, 2009  Permanent link

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