TIMN, Tribes and Tom Haskins’ modelling

David Ronfeldt has offered a rather lengthy reply to the attempts at the modelling of governance and problem-solving processes by Tom Haskins, which we covered here.

Here is the text that David originally added in the comments field:

“I’ve looked at this and related posts in the ongoing series by Tom Haskins at his blog. He’s set out on a rather daring course. And I’m pleased to see continuing interest in the TIMN framework.

I gather he is trying to show that TIMN, which I have pitched at the societal scale, can also be used along with other frameworks — notably, Cynefin and Fiske’s relational models — to analyze what’s going on at the “micro scale” of discrete small groups, firms, and other enterprises.

He appears to be interested in analyzing dynamic situations where pressures for innovative changes are mounting, where old hierarchical and market ways are proving deficient, and where it would be advisable to adopt new network/P2P designs, but where stress and strain may drive the participants back into a kind of tribalism before they manage to advance anew. That’s not a full summary of his effort, but it looks like a major strand.

I agree with that thrust, for I have often noticed that the TIMN forms and related dynamics can be found at all levels of society, across all eras. I’ve even wondered about an assessment methodology for doing analyses at the micro level. But my efforts remain focused on the societal level.

So, I compliment Haskins for his efforts. But in addition to compliments, I also have some questions, issues, and suggestions for revisions. Perhaps I should offer them directly at his blog or via email (we had a preliminary exchange about Fiske’s models). But your blog has shown an abiding interest in and been a good venue for TIMN matters. So here goes:

1. The charts and related text appear to miscategorize one (if not two) of Fiske’s forms. Fiske’s CS (communal sharing/solidarity) corresponds to the Tribes category, not EM (equality matching). Fiske himself agreed that tribes mainly reflect CS. There is discussion somewhere at this blog about this. That’s not convenient for someone who wants to associate Networks or P2P solely with Fiske’s CS, but that does not mean it’s okay to miscategorize the Tribes form. There are circumstances where Tribes exhibit EM — after all, tribes are often egalitarian — but CS is their fundamental relationship.

2. The various charts and related text often read quite negatively about the nature of the tribal form. The charts tend to depict people being reduced to a raw kind of tribalism — full of defensive attitudes and behaviors — because of external pressure and disorder (note that I state “disorder,” not “chaos,” as explained below). But the charts do not recognize the bright aspects of the tribal form, or that tribes are not always faced with chaotic disorder — sometimes life is quite pleasant and orderly. And that applies to all kinds of tribe-like organizations across the ages, modern ones included, even inside corporate organizations. And when the tribal form is functioning well, it may help with the other forms. The blog postings note this at points, but only incidentally. Only the Networks form gets consistently positive depictions. Is some kind of bias going on here?

3. The charts and related text correlate the TIMN and Cynefin categories to each other in what may not be the most accurate way. This is the first I’ve come across Cynefin, so I’m not steeped in it. But I gather this: Cynefin is about four problem-solving situations and approaches — simple, complicated, complex, and chaotic. In addition, there is a fifth situation — disorder. It looks to me as though Haskins’s charts and related text are often more about disorder than chaos, given Cynefin’s definitions. It’s not clear to me how Cynefin defines disorder, but it views chaos as an unorderly (but not disorderly) situation where cause and effect do not have a fixed relationship — they’re unsettled — and if you solve a problem repeatedly, the answer turns out to be different each time.

The charts show a continual association of Tribes with chaos. But that’s tantamount to saying that Tribes are not patterned as to cause and effect, or that Tribes mainly arise when cause and effect are chaotically uncertain. But in fact, Tribes are often patterned and principled, even doctrinaire, especially when faced with disorder. Tribes are not “illiterate” (as one chart claims). Moreover, contrary to other charts, Tribes often do “sense” and “categorize” before they “act.” Tribes are not just a milling, messed-up mass of people acting impulsively that arise only in times of disorder. True, disorderly and/or chaotic times can lead people to revert to the tribal form — that is a TIMN principle, and I’m pleased these charts and related text reflect it — but that’s different from saying that Tribes pose a chaotic approach to problem-solving.

To the extent that the TIMN and Cynefin frameworks can be given a mash-up — and it’s an interesting, even fun idea — perhaps it would work better if the associations were rotated. Show that Tribes associate not with “chaotic” but with “simple” approaches to problem-solving — as indeed they really do in comparison to the other forms. Then, Institutions go with “complicated,” and Markets with “complex.” That fits with historical and current realities. It also fits with the principles used by the author’s of Cynefin to discuss their framework (though in one write-up they seem to warn against relying on these four simplifying terms).

Of course, that would deprive one of associating Networks with “complex” — and leave only the option of associating them with “chaotic” situations. That may not appeal to P2P proponents who like complexity theory. But why not? At least for current times. It makes more sense than associating Tribes with chaos. As noted above, unless I’m misreading, the essence of Cynefin’s chaos category is that cause and effect are not fixed — they’re unsettled — and if you solve a problem repeatedly, the answer comes out differently each time. Isn’t the rise of Networks having such effects?

Here’s a thought-experiment to try to illustrate it: Imagine a large but bounded set of people, men and women, in one place, where the problem is to pair up, perhaps in dining, dancing, or dating relationships. It’s not hard to imagine how a Tribe, or a hierarchical Institution, or a Market method in that setting might lead to a simple, complicated, or complex kind of solution, respectively. But how to imagine a chaotic solution that does not amount to utter disorder? I haven’t figured out an image for this situation that really fits the Network form, but here’s a way to make the situation chaotic: Have the session start on time, but also have the participants arrive at different times and from different directions. That would mix things up. The session would still get underway with the same set of people, but in an unorderly (not disorderly) fashion. And the problem of pairing-up would still get solved, but probably quite differently each time. No? In any case, I repeat, the associations between the TIMN forms and Cynefin models may bear rotation.

4. I have some issues with what I see on charts that associate TIMN and Cynefin with different modes of group work, in a spectrum that runs from action, to coordination, to cooperation, to collaboration. That spectrum is a start, one that draws on suggestions from another blogger. But it needs revisions too. In particular, the nature of group work for Tribes is rarely do-something-anything “action” as the charts claim. Work in Tribes normally revolves around rituals and codes of conduct — a collectively ordained mode not evident in their spectrum. For Institutions, their term “coordination” is fitting; but it’s more than that — it’s command, control, and coordination. In Markets, “cooperation” does occur, as the charts indicate; but that’s not the main mode — what’s missing from their spectrum is “competition” (and sometimes competitive cooperation, or cooperative competition). Associating Networks with “collaboration” is fine.

Anyway, there’s a partial set of comments to mull over. I admire the effort and enthusiasm that has gone into these charts and the related texts. The series amounts to quite a saga. I also gather that the blog author — Tom Haskins — may well have a particular set of “micro scale” circumstances in mind where his points hold up, and my comments are made moot. In any case, I hope to post more, new material about TIMN and its dynamics at my own blog before too long.”

3 Comments TIMN, Tribes and Tom Haskins’ modelling

  1. Michel Bauwens

    Tom Haskins, via email:

    Regarding David’s comments in para 1:

    When we apply any single category of Fiske’s relational grammar to anything as large as a single tribe, we risk anthropomorphizing the tribe. Relational grammars speak to the micro scale of personal relationships, coordinating interactions, social bonds, cognitive representations of significant others, interpersonal vulnerability/insecurity, self regard, differentiation of self from others, organizing mental representations of perceived inter-relationships, etc. Because tribes, institutions, markets and/or networks are comprised of many personal relationships, all four of Fiske’s forms would apply to all four TIMN forms.

    Regarding para 2:

    I admit to a conscious bias in all this and no doubt have some unconscious biases as well. I believe every situation is inherently complex, highly interdependent, cyclical and capable of yielding emergent solutions. The network response to situations is the only one sufficiently complex to be sustainable, resilient, and mutually effective when stressed by the complexity. The tribal, institutional and market forms are progressively more responsive to the inherent complexity, but each falls short. Thus tribal responses are the least sustainable and most vulnerable to the adverse impacts of the complexity, most likely to get regarded as expendable by institutions, markets and networks, and most prone to violent conflicts between other tribal responders.

    Regarding para 3:

    The confusion I’ve created appears to be between the categorizing of the situations themselves and the responses to those situations. I’m only using the Cynefin framework of (chaotic, simple, complicated, complex) to characterize the situations, not the responses to them. Cynefin also characterizes responses to situations differently (novel, best, good, emergent practices).

    I’m proposing that tribal responses are the only ones viable amidst chaotic situations. My take on the difference between chaos and disorder in the Cynefin framework regards disorder as outside their framework. No practice can be formulated because there is no basis for even experimenting, improvising or winging it. Chaotic situations allow for tribes to form, to provide safety to their members, to guard against traitors, and to continually experiment with its adaptations to the chaos (novel practice). When situations get simple due to increasing stability, institutions can form and provide complicated infrastructures, governance, etc (best practices). When situations get complicated by diversity, empowered middle class citizens, societal distribution of access, rights, resources, then markets can form and provide complex mechanisms, systems, etc (good practices). When situations get complex due to the predominance of markets, enterprises, commercial innovations, networks can form and function as complex adaptive systems which are living, self organizing, and congruent with P2P precepts (emergent practices).

    Para 4:

    Given the positional stances that emerged from that group work chart, I’ve concluded it’s a serious oversimplification. My second attempt is the TIMN practice post where tribal responses work the insider/outsider distinction, institutional responses belabor the upper/lower differences, market responses pressure themselves with responsive/arrogant distinction and network responses get refined by recognizing the difference between living and automated systems. The internal dynamics of a tribe handling their insider/outsider issues could easily involve some action, coordination, cooperation and collaboration. Likewise for the other 3 TIMN forms and all four forms of group work.

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