Emergent forms of TIMN

The natural world is a living system where every part is highly interdependent with others. What comes about is emergent from the complexity. No one life form is making it happen all by itself. With an understanding of this complexity in principle, we can wonder about questions like:
  • How did that expanse of wildflowers manage to flourish on this barren rock outcropping?
  • Where did that meadow come from next to so much marsh land?
  • How did that hardwood forest appear when there is not another tree anywhere near here?
To answer questions like these, we have to take our attention off the thing in question and study the interrelationships. When we've got a sense of the underlying interdependencies, we can realize how the thing in question emerged from the ambient complexity. The thing came about from many contributing factors that combined into an opportune situation, ripe condition or fertile breeding ground.

I've been pondering very similar questions about the conditions defined by the Cynefin model (chaotic, simple, complicated, complex). I've been wondering:
  • How each condition shows up in the first place?
  • What previous dynamics (practices, interaction patterns, infrastructures, etc.) contribute to each condition's emergence?
  • What contributes to the ripeness or fitness of the emergent condition for the related societal form to take hold (tribal, institutional, market, network)?
In a recent comment on Michel Bauwen's summation of my exploration to date, David Ronfeldt introduced some very useful thoughts about the relationships between the tribal, institutional, market and network societal forms:
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.
Where I've been saying tribal forms respond TO chaotic conditions, David is saying the tribal responses ARE simple compared to institutional form and responses. Likewise, I'm seeing institutional forms respond TO simple conditions while David sees institutional forms ARE complicated compared to simple tribal forms This suggests to me that institutional forms are highly dependent on the simple forms and novel practices of tribes. The tribal responses increase the simplicity, stability, knowability of situations that allow institutions and their best practices to emerge.

We can imagine that it takes a critical mass of tribes to generate enough situational simplicity for institutions to not fall prey to lingering chaos, instability, disruption and unpredictability. Without a critical mass of simplicity, the societal scale institutions would disintegrate as failed states, fallen dictators, or constant civil wars. The market scale institutions would go out of business, get bought out by a bigger rival or liquidate some of their holdings to sustain a faltering core operation. Tribal responses successfully put the chaotic situations into remission. Local scale institutions would cut back on police protection, social services, educational offerings, road repairs and other affordances.

It then follows that when tribes are entangled in their dark side (-T), they merely contribute to their chaotic situations. When they realize their bright side (+T), they generate simple solutions, practices, rituals and relationships. Those successes set the stage for subsequent institutional forms. The simplicity that tribes can provide to overall situations gets realized as a spill over effect of their being successful, cohesive, productive and energizing.

A similar argument can be made for institutional forms providing critical mass of the prerequisite complications for complex market forms to emerge. Likewise, market forms introduce the needed complexity that enables the emergence of chaotic networking forms and responses. It then may come back around full circle, where networks provide the ripe chaotic conditions for simple tribes to reemerge -- perhaps as hyper-localized nodes in a resilient, sustainable network.


  1. I wonder if we are not talking about very different things ... David is talking about the historical forms of tribes, arising in 'simple' conditions; Tom is talking about contemporary authorititarian and pathological tribes like L.A. gangs which respond to chaotic and imploding social conditions; myself at the P2P blog and people like Seth Godin are talking about self-administered affinity groups solving complex solutions in ways that the state nor the market can solve ...

    Don't we need to really differentiate them?

    Michel Bauwens

  2. Michel: Thanks for working on clarifying our confusion. Here's how David Ronfeldt writes about the "N" in TIMN:

    "Its key principle is heterarchic (or, to offer another term, “panarchic”) collaboration among members who may be dispersed among multiple, often small organizations, or parts of organizations. Network designs have existed throughout history, but multiorganizational designs are now able to gain strength and mature because the new communications technologies let small, scattered, autonomous groups to consult, coordinate, and act jointly across greater distances and across more issue areas than ever before."

    "Now, the innovative NGO-based networks are setting in motion new dynamics that promise to reshape civil society and its relations with other realms at local through global levels. Civil society appears to be the home realm for the network form, the realm that will be strengthened more than any other—either that, or a new, yet-to-be-named realm will emerge from it. And while classic definitions of civil society often encompassed state- and market related actors (e.g., political parties, businesses and labor unions), this is less the case with new and emerging definitions—the separation of “civil society” from “state” and “market” realms may be deepening."

    Thus we're all talking about "self-administered affinity groups" that trump public and private sector mechanisms. That's the "network" in David's framework that I claim is a good fit with the "emergent practice in response to complex situations" in the Cynefin model. It's not the "tribe" that I match up with "novel practice in response to chaotic situations".

    I'm having trouble with the words "tribe" and "network" as I'm interrelating all this recent exploration with pattern languages and McLuhan's "extending, reversing, retiring, reviving" technological transition pattern. Sorting out this confusion over the meanings of "tribe" helps me.