Phyles and Neo-Medievalism

The August newsletter contained this contemporary gem this weekend:

End of Nations: Is there an alternative to countries?  by Deborah MacKenzie

Which immediately connected in my mind with Jon Evans‘ latest piece:


[in searching to it, I also came across another piece of his, touching the same theme, published just a couple of months before the MacKenzie piece]

The oddity of nation states is one of my earliest original intellectual thoughts that I seem to remember. There are very few events in my life that I remember so vividly: standing in the indoor porch of my grandmother’s house, sometime in my early teens, expressing my first contrarian thought on a topic as abstract and unprompted as “whether nation states make sense”.

It’s recently been on my mind a lot, after a colleague gave me Neal Stephenson‘s The Diamond Age (which Evans references in both his posts) as a going away gift before stating my new job.

While Stephenson’s phyles seemed like an interesting idea, trying to address some of the structural, systemic deficiencies of nation-states, it still felt outlandish, and as science-fiction-y as a novel idea can be.

Which made MacKenzie’s piece a joy to read, as she takes a much more pragmatic approach to solving the same problem, anchored in both history and and modern scientific discoveries. She is able to chart a path towards a post-nation-state reality which seems more possible and achievable.

If you bore with to this point, you may ask yourself: what does all of this has to do with organizations and org design? (the key themes of this blog.)

The answer is: a lot.

In many progressive, future-of-work pieces, the way traditional organizations are managed and led is often compared to monarchies and dictatorships with the CEO as the (hopefully benevolent) dictator or ruler at the top. An argument is then often made to use the more modern governance approaches, currently used by democratic nation-states, as blueprints for re-imagining the way organizations should run.

Reflecting on this topic in recent months made me wonder whether we may be setting the bar too low. Rather than trying to catch up with nation-states in the way we run our organizations, perhaps we should try to leap-frog them instead?

If we are already trying to lead a governance revolution, perhaps MacKenzie’s Neo-Medievalism is a better role model to aspire to than the modern nation state?






Phyles and Neo-Medievalism

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