The Faustian Pact

by Philip Boxer

North-South dominance works when the environment can be assumed to be symmetrical to North’s assumptions about it. As the variety of actual demands on the organization increase, making this assumption increasingly less valid, it is useful to distinguish the faustian pact. This pact arises when the individuals at the ‘Easterly’ edge of the organization present what they are doing as if they are complying with North-South strictures in order to cut themselves some slack within which to do what is actually needed East-West (and perhaps also to protect their personal stake in the way they do their jobs).

This can create a dangerous collusion which ends up insulating the North from the increasing complexity of demands the East is actually responding to because they are doing it within informal systems ‘under the radar’, for example through horizontal barter between budgets, or calling in personal favors.  As a result, the Faustian pact delays the moment when the North learns from what is actually going on until presented with catastrophic breakdown of its North-South dominance. (I wrote about the effects of this delay under the heading of ‘facing facts: what’s the good of change’ within the context of the UK’s National Health Service, where doctors often find themselves having to ‘play the system’ in order to deliver appropriate care to their patients).

East-West dominance requires horizontally networked forms of organization that can hold ‘the edge’ accountable for the way it uses the resources of the supporting organization, but in relation to the way West’s know-how is used to respond to the particular demands arising in the East. This contrasts with the hierarchical forms of control associated with North-South dominance. What is at stake is the performativity of what is done in relation to the different demands at the edge, rather than the performance of what is done against centrally (symmetrically) defined criteria. It is not that hierarchy isn’t still necessary, but rather that it has to be pragmatically rather than universally defined. That’s where asymmetric design is needed.

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