Points of differentiation

As I'm applying David Snowden's Cynefin framework to explore David Ronfeldt's TIMN framework, I inevitably twist both authors' original meanings. Here are some of the ways I've taken liberties with the TIMN framework:

Historical progression or simultaneous options?
Ronfeldt's inspiration for his TIMN model appears to the historical progression from "uncivilized" hunter gatherers to post-industrial cyber-citizens. Thus his definitions for the four categories relates effectively to how each form first emerged over time. He also explores how prior forms linger as societies evolve. My focus is on what he calls our contemporary quadriform society which incorporates all four forms (T+I+M+N). I'm exploring how each subsequent form incorporates it's prior form to co-exist with it. Thus my definitions will not provide mutually exclusive categories. This also makes me more likely to see a progression of good coming from a bad episode, rather than a regression from bad to worse tribal chaos. When all four forms are co-existent, the potential to innovate is more likely than whenever it requires a historical progression which must outgrow an incumbent order.

Leaderless or tribal leader of the pack?
In his seminal paper, Ronfeldt equates tribal forms with leaderless communities:
In keeping with the primacy of kinship and the codes of conduct that stem from it, the classic tribe is egalitarian—its members share communally. It is segmentary—every part looks like every other part, and there is little or no specialization. And it is “acephalous” or headless—classic tribes do not have strong, central chiefs. (The “chiefdom” is a transitional phase between tribes and early states.) (page 10)
I include chiefs, tribal elders, and leaders of the pack in my definition of tribes. Even animals and swarming insects exhibit power differentials among members. When I apply an psycho-developmental lens, I perceive tribes as operating in "weak ego states" that lack self control and depend obsessively on authoritarian rule. Tribal members resemble children who need parental figures or domesticated livestock that need a shepherd. Thus, in my view, tribal leaders are not an "early state" of an institutional form, they are an inherent feature of tribal order amidst chaos.

It follows that I perceive differences between tribal and institutional leaders. Within an institutional context, the same difference is evident between the formal and informal leaders. The formal leaders receive gratuitous respect for making official pronouncements and for being in positions of power over others. Informal leaders earn the respect of the their followers from the way they personally perceive situations, respond to challenges, relate to other viewpoints and make difficult decisions. Formal leaders are inherently insecure in their titular positions and surround themselves with people who both tell them what they want to hear and shoot messengers who discredit their blind spots. Informal leaders are inherently confident in their roles and attract informants who share conflicting viewpoints and disrupt their cherished assumptions to get a better read on unfolding situations. Formal leaders get promoted by decision makers in positions of authority. Informal leaders emerge from conversations, meetings and rumor mills in the back channels of an institution. Thus tribal leaders closely resemble any informal leaders within institutional contexts.

Marketing preceding or following institutional forms?
In his most recent valuable blog post, David Ronfeldt relates his TIMN model to several others which lack his tribal component. Several of those models reversed the order, as if markets precede institutions in evolution, complexity or societal development. They seemingly assume markets are SIMPLE mechanisms that merely find optimum prices and more efficient interactions between supply and demand. Institutions are then COMPLICATED structures that make more elaborate plans, pursue more diverse goals and serve more differentiated constituencies. This is the view of markets held by free market economists who have sought to de-regulate financial institutions, investors and speculators while vehemently opposing any bill of rights for holders of mortgages, credit cards or other consumer debt.

I regard this view of markets as SIMPLE and congruent with the outlook of SIMPLE-INSTITUTIONAL insiders. This over-simplified view makes markets seem manageable, easy to manipulate, ideal for maximizing profits and supportive of expanding institutions. It fits the self-serving premises of institutions. Thus it's a characterization of institutions which precede markets, not a characterization of markets. I agree with the "I before M" in Ronfeldt's framework. I'll explore my view of COMPLICATED MARKET order in a forthcoming post.


  1. Thanks for these posts, Tom. I appreciate the additional insight you've given on one of my favourite subjects - complexity.

  2. You're very welcome, Harold. There will be plenty more exploration of complexity as this blog series unfolds!