Category Archives: Holonics

Holonics, integral thinking, big picture thinking …

Behaving like monkeys

A couple of articles discussed recent research in to the genetic programming of fairness. A study by Keith Jensen of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology published in Science concludes that a sense of fairness is genetically encoded in humans, but not in chimpanzees. It is also apparent that some people are fairer than others. And the research suggests that it is as much a genetically programmed sense of fairness, rather than intellectually learnt.

Fairness is important to the stability and prosperity of social groups. The sense of fairness, and a willingness to punish the unfair even at some cost to oneself, is what allows large social groups to form. Without it, free-riders would ruin such groups, because playing fair would cease to have any value.

While I might frivolously accuse the “rich and powerful” of behaving like chimps when greed and power are displayed without empathy, the consequence of humanity having a significant proportion of the population without the “fairness gene” raises important paradoxes. If it is necessary that humanity’s social order becomes more equitable to resolve the pressures on the biosphere, and this requires individuals to give up excess consumption, how can those without the “fairness gene” achieve this? Perhaps it requires that those with the “fairness gene” behave less patiently (patience is the other advanced characteristic shared with the taxonomic tribe hominini) as this appears to help balance social exchanges. Further research might also indicate whether this “fairness gene” is more prevalent in some ethnic groups than others which might account for different social trajectories of societies around the world over the past 5 millenia. If so, as economic wealth reaches eastern and southern populations, the trend to equity would accelerate. We can hope so, anyway.

Further reading: Science Daily: Chimpanzees, Unlike Humans, Apply Economic Principles To Ultimatum Game; Science Daily: Genes Influence People’s Economic Choices; The Economist: Patience, fairness and the human condition; BusinessWeek: Of Economic Choices—Human And Otherwise

“Living” Companies Perform Better

We are especially drawn to this title being advocates of anthropomorphic business models and biomimicry. This article, Living Companies Perform Better, outlines the approach discussed in the book Profit For Life. While the specifics may differ from other proponents, the systems approach is common to this big picture way of managing complex organisations. It draws upon the lessons of nature to redefine ways of working with increasingly complex businesses. Here are the author’s, five common attributes that can be found in companies that mimic living systems:

  • The companies are built of layers of networks that relay information and feedback both internally and externally. Many of the networks are informal between people inside and outside of the company.
  • The companies are managed with people and relationships in mind. Companies actively let employees make decisions and hold employees accountable.
  • Living companies use natural resources wisely, conserving energy and materials, with the waste of one process, feeding other processes. Conservation of financial resources mirrors conservation of natural resources.
  • Living companies are open to input from all shareholders and employees, building trust and capacity.
  • Living companies are aware of the larger systems they are part of, i.e. nature, communities and markets.

Straight away one notices the open management approach so well described by Ricardo Semler in Maverick. Biomimicry also draws the parallel with nature, which extends one’s tool box by drawing on the encyclopaedia of the biosphere.

And the author offers evidence that this model increases returns and reduces risk too.

(The Ecologist  has a readable article on biomimicry in their October issue “It’s only natural”.  They also recommend the following sites for further reading:,,

Let innovation be free

The Economist reports on the changing face of innovation, its benefits and how to encourage it.  What is clear from the various articles is that openness, open systems, freedom to do business are the characteristics that allow creativity to flourish.  The internet is such an environment (you only have to browse YouTube to see that).  And that regulation , IP protection and similar distortions are not helpful in the emerging global economy of democratic capital.  Open systems are inherently innovative.

Is ‘Do Unto Others’ Written Into Our Genes?

An article by the New York Times based on a series of recent articles and a book, “The Happiness Hypothesis” by Jonathan Haidt, a moral psychologist at the University of Virginia, who has been constructing a broad evolutionary view of morality that traces its connections both to religion and to politics.  Here’s an extract:

Of the moral systems that protect individuals, one is concerned with preventing harm to the person and the other with reciprocity and fairness. Less familiar are the three systems that promote behaviors developed for strengthening the group. These are loyalty to the in-group, respect for authority and hierarchy, and a sense of purity or sanctity.

The five moral systems, in Dr. Haidt’s view, are innate psychological mechanisms that predispose children to absorb certain virtues. Because these virtues are learned, morality may vary widely from culture to culture, while maintaining its central role of restraining selfishness. In Western societies, the focus is on protecting individuals by insisting that everyone be treated fairly. Creativity is high, but society is less orderly. In many other societies, selfishness is suppressed “through practices, rituals and stories that help a person play a cooperative role in a larger social entity,” Dr. Haidt said.

Why snap decisions work

BusinessWeek reviews Gut Feelings: The Intelligence of The Unconscious which discusses the science cited behind the bestseller Blink.  The book helps understand how and why intuition works, but perhaps fails to elaborate on associated processes that help it work well – like being well informed.  The social profile in which the scenarios work also offers insight in to the sheep mentality of consumer behaviour.  Importantly it helps the reader come closer to merging their emotional and intellectual intelligences.