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Jurgen Appelo calls himself a creative networker. But sometimes he's a writer, speaker, trainer, entrepreneur, illustrator, manager, blogger, reader, dreamer, leader, freethinker, or… Dutch guy. Since 2008 Jurgen writes a popular blog at, covering the creative economy, agile management, and personal development. He is the author of the book Management 3.0, which describes the role of the manager in agile organizations. And he wrote the little book How to Change the World, which describes a supermodel for change management. Jurgen is CEO of the business network Happy Melly, and co-founder of the Agile Lean Europe network and the Stoos Network. He is also a speaker who is regularly invited to talk at business seminars and conferences around the world. After studying Software Engineering at the Delft University of Technology, and earning his Master’s degree in 1994, Jurgen Appelo has busied himself starting up and leading a variety of Dutch businesses, always in the position of team leader, manager, or executive. Jurgen has experience in leading a horde of 100 software developers, development managers, project managers, business consultants, service managers, and kangaroos, some of which he hired accidentally. Nowadays he works full-time managing the Happy Melly ecosystem, developing innovative courseware, books, and other types of original content. But sometimes Jurgen puts it all aside to spend time on his ever-growing collection of science fiction and fantasy literature, which he stacks in a self-designed book case. It is 4 meters high. Jurgen lives in Rotterdam (The Netherlands) -- and in Brussels (Belgium) -- with his partner Raoul. He has two kids, and an imaginary hamster called George. Jurgen has posted 145 posts at DZone. You can read more from them at their website. View Full User Profile

Self-Organization (Part 3)

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In part 1 and part 2 of this multi-post article I told you that self-organization does not distinguish between valuable and harmful results. This distinction is only made by humans, because we have learned to assign value to things. And command-and-control was invented to consciously steer self-organization towards that which is valuable. Like health. And gold. And chocolate.

But still, anarchy is the norm. And (imposed) order is the special case.

In his 2001 paper Agile Processes and Self-Organization Ken Schwaber wrote:

Agile processes employ self-organizing teams to handle the complexity inherent in systems development projects. A team of individuals is formed. They organize themselves into a team in response to the pressure of a deadline, reminding me of the saying, "Nothing focuses the mind like a noose!" The pressure cooker of the deadline produces cooperation and creativity that otherwise is rare. This may seem inhumane, but compared with non-agile practices for dealing with complexity, self-organization is a breath of fresh air.

Indeed, for some people self-organization was like a breath of fresh air. But the fresh air existed long before humans came and invented command-and-control. And I don't agree with Ken in claiming that cooperation and creativity are otherwise rare. I just spent two entire blog posts explaining that the whole universe, and everything in it, is the product of cooperative and creative self-organization. How do you mean rare?

Of course, there's nothing wrong with a little command-and-control, if applied sparingly. But unfortunately, as I pointed out in the previous post, most humans (and managers too) have a linear and simple-minded world view. They often think that many things need to be directed in a command-and-control style, or otherwise anarchy unfolds. Oooohh, scary! Well, that same anarchy just constructed an entire universe, so it cannot be all that bad. All that top-down management isn't really necessary, and often works counterproductive.

Fortunately some of the smarter people on earth (including Ken Schwaber) understood this. And the words empowerment and delegation appeared in management literature, and self-organization was picked up by agile software development. Even though there was nothing new about it. And again, people have been seeing things the wrong way around. There is actually no such thing as "delegation" (giving more responsibilities). The real issue is "non-restriction" (taking away fewer responsibilities). Remember: self-organization was here first, command-and-control came later. It's the same with my pet peeve: taxes. People talk about "tax relief for tax payers" while the proper description should be "taking away less money from tax payers".

In his article No More Self-Organizing Teams Jim Highsmith wrote "While self-organizing is a good term, it has, unfortunately, become confused with anarchy in the minds of many." I disagree with Jim. My view is that self-organization equals anarchy. The real issue is that self-organization alone is not enough. At least a little command-and-control is needed to steer self-organization in a direction that is valuable. For some.

Jim Highsmith calls it Light-Touch Leadership. That's cool.

I might call it Smart-Minded Management.

And that, my dear readers, is how I see self-organization. I hope it was worth reading...

Read more: "NOOP.NL: Self-Organization = Anarchy (Part 3)" -
Published at DZone with permission of its author, Jurgen Appelo. (source)

(Note: Opinions expressed in this article and its replies are the opinions of their respective authors and not those of DZone, Inc.)


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