What I’m Thinking About: Godless Morality and the Evolution of Organisations

I normally write the blog Monday to Thursday, and write my ‘Captain’s Log’ newsletter on fridays. But today i am publishing two blog posts, as it’s been a productive week! This, the second Friday post, is actually the section from the Captain’s Log that share ‘what i’m thinking about’. It’s a short essay that acts as a reflection on morality, and the context of the evolution of our Organisations. If you enjoy it, you can sign up for the weekly newsletter here.

The Captain’s Log

In his book, ‘Godless Morality’, Richard Holloway, former Archbishop of Edinburgh, says the following: “Obeying is what people did. There were always human ways to modify or soften the system, but they only proved the rule that society was a finely articulated command system in which we all knew our place and the places of those above and below us, and we took it all for granted. The system was protected by the claims of revelation and tradition… it was the way things had always been.

He was talking about the established church, but his words, written twenty years ago, apply equally well, today, to almost all our established Organisations: historically our role was to ‘obey’, to ‘take a job’, and to conform. The hierarchy gave us our place within the system, alongside a carefully choreographed ritual of progression, governed by both that conformity, and over time. Today, the established power of the Domain Organisation is protected by claims of the market, and tradition: it is how things are, it is how things are maintained.

The diminution (Holloway uses the word disintegration) of religion as the heart of life in the UK has been matched by the rise of secularism. The diminution of the Domain Organisation will follow a different path though: it is not the case that we will lose Organisations, but rather that we will build new ones.

In my own work, this will be what i call the Socially Dynamic Organisation, but you can call it what you like. It will essentially be an Organisation more in balance, held strong not so much by hierarchy and control, as by fairness and belief. And it will not be, nor claim to be, perfect, so much as governed by a humility in both individual leader, and system.

In my earliest work around the Social Age, i focussed on two key aspects: radical connectivity, and the democratisation of technology. These are the tools of the revolution. Connection allows power to flow outside and around of the hierarchy, it evolves and devolves control of the story, and permits the Organisation to exist in a world of parallel narratives, some formal, some social, all equally valid.

A core theme of Holloways essay, which explores the relationship between absolutist moral systems tied to belief, and evolutionary ones tied to human fallibility, is that systems must change to match our evolving understanding. If i read it correctly, his own belief is something he describes in dynamic terms: not rudderless, adrift from any anchor or foundation, but fluid within certain guide rails.

For example, he describes the murder is always wrong: that is one guide rail. But that when it comes to morality, we live within a broad church, within a broad range of belief systems, all of which are human interpretations.

Again, reflect that onto our view of society: the paradigms of work, or education, even of citizenship and home, all of these are fragmented by evolved technologies and opportunities.

I noticed that one of my friends, whose role had previously been ‘head of learning’ at a global Organisation, last week took on the role of ‘Global Learning Transformation’. ‘Transformation’ is the order of the day: we must change, but if we do not do so according to some natural law or edict from above, how will we do so?


At the heart of any Organisational approach to change must sit two key levers: one is Individual Agency, and the other, Interconnectivity.

You cannot change by applying pressure alone: not a belief system, nor a hierarchy. Ultimately belief is held by the individual, and when we consider the Organisation itself as a system of belief, the change must start with one.

Yesterday i spoke to a friend in a global bank, operating under new senior leadership: she described some structural and staffing changes, and then shared a view that things were changing. Her belief had evolved. In reality, some contracts may have changed, but the ‘sense’ of change, the belief in it, was a matter of a story that she told herself.

Senior leaders can give one perspective, but everyone has a story. The ways, the capability, to connect up, between disparate views, supports this.

I realise that this is a high level narrative, but a time of radical change must require us to shift our perspective.

We can still have Organisations, but if they wish to attract and retain the best talent, if they wish to innovate and change, if they wish to remain relevant and succeed, they must change.

The paradigm of the Domain Organisation still holds some sway: dogma and effect still rule. But the Socially Dynamic one is real too, and can co-exist, if we can hold the Dynamic Tension between the two to be true.

My own sense is that many Organisations are hungry for a new way, but not necessarily yet ready to pay the price. Holloway’s own price, for exploring his view of morality beyond God, was to have to leave his position within the church. Twenty years later, he reflects, in his nineties, that it was a worthwhile price, as he has seen the church itself evolve.

We have always been used to seeing Religion, and Business, as two of the three pillars of society, alongside Government, but with little cross over between them. But perhaps one thing we can take across is a view of relevance and change. The dominant church in Northern Ireland is no longer so. And our dominant views of commerce and control may equally fail if we do not listen.

About julianstodd

Author, Artist, Researcher, and Founder of Sea Salt Learning. My work explores the context of the Social Age and the intersection of formal and social systems.
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6 Responses to What I’m Thinking About: Godless Morality and the Evolution of Organisations

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