The “Disappearing Organizer” and Accountability

Ideas and Issues
(Photo credit EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images)

New Orleans    David Brooks, a columnist for the New York Times, has written an interesting piece arguing that there is a “new power structure.”  This structure, he says, is non-hierarchical and decentralized with a diffusion of ownership and loose affiliations.  He claims this new notion of building organizational formations responses to a new level of distrust in authority and the fact that people involved “want to see people who look like them running things,” though nothing seems very new or modern about those notions.

What really caught my eye was his argument that such groupings are formed by what he calls “disappearing organizers.”  By this he intends to mean that someone comes up with an idea or a “compelling concept” that gives people a “sticky group identity” that is “spreadable, actionable, and connected” so that folks can in his words “subcreate in local and flexible ways.”  He quotes someone else calling this new organizational miracle something that creates “optimal distinctiveness.”

If any of this makes sense to anyone with their feet on the ground and walking on concrete, please contact me immediately.

Admittedly, lightning can strike, but that doesn’t change the fact that you can get very wet in the rain. Some things that we throw up on the wall do in fact stick, but that doesn’t change the fact that many, many other things fall and crash to the ground.  To give credit where credit is due, Giving Tuesday and its wannabe organizations in 100 countries are fine and outstanding things.  But, that does not argue that they are either unique in the way of the world or a new organizing and structural model, especially one that defines or builds power.

Reading a new book called Hinterland by Phil Neel, it was impossible to ignore his devastating critique of the faux democracy of the Occupy movement and how easy it was to see subgroups acting as the real organizers, decision makers, and the glue that maintained the movement while it existed.  These “disappearing organizers” are still organizers, even if unseen.  The point Neel makes that Brooks misses is that without more transparency and visible organizers and leaders there is no accountability.  There is no commitment.  There is no sustainability.

This is not to argue that organizational formations do not evolve and that there isn’t adaptation necessary to absorb technology and current sentiment, but structure does matter, and we should not trust anyone or anything maintained by a “hidden hand” without a clear structure. In an article some weeks ago that also ran in the Times, a reporter was raising the issue of the inability of New York airports like Kennedy to deal with snowstorms compared to Logan Airport in Boston.  At some length they talked to Thomas P. Glynn, III, the CEO of the Boston port authority managing the operations and his team about how they were able to pull this off.  Tom is an old friend and comrade and though wry is also plain spoken.  His takeaway quote, though undeniably controversial, was simple as he said, “Top-down management is sort of out of fashion these days,” but he added, “top-down management works here and it works because people have respect for those at the top.”

It takes a horse to beat a horse, and loosey-goosey won’t allow planes or ideas to take off or land easily.  Disappearing organizers are like rabbits in a hat.  They are an illusion rather than reality most often.  Cheers to all the bold experimenters who will teach us so much but beware the invisible strings and learn from what works in building real power rather than simply great things of the moment.


Please enjoy I Need a Woman to Love by Kesha off of Universal Love: Wedding Songs Reimagined.

Thanks to KABF.