Le Guin, high moders and systems thinking

E. Forrest Christian Coaching, Reviews - Books, Theory Leave a Comment

I wrote this to Matthew in reply to his unpostable comment about my post on Ursula K. LeGuin’s The Dispossessed.

And didn’t Ursula LeGuin also link all this talk up with something that sounded a lot like the internet?

Or did I imagine that…?

I think it was either in The Dispossessed or Always Coming Home.

Another thing to remember, LeGuin’s anarchist ‘utopia’ Anarres wasn’t purely utopian – the book was originally subtitled “an ambiguous utopia”, I believe.


Matthew then asked if I was going to write on High Moders any time soon, as I promised I would, and what I thought about minimum stratum to understand or apply systems theory stuff.

It was certainly an interesting book, although the ending was wimpy. I didn’t know about the original subtitle. That fits with how Annares comes off in the reading. It’s utopia but there’s always a shadow side to utopias. Even with the lousy ending, it’s a fascinating read. I’m recommending it to some of the bigger thinkers I know. Capitalism and market economies come off as evil. Or kind of evil. Or maybe it’s all a fallen world.

I will be writing something about high moders soon. I’ve been talking about it with the people I coach, especially as it relates to their behaviours in relationship to others. It’s amazing how much high moders all look alike. But I don’t see the “chosen ones” who got tapped in their twenties to be the next big thing.

There are several issues in that topic. High moders have a tendency to develop psychological issues that all look similar. They’re really good at obfuscating, at hiding their size. They often look like buffoons to mid-mode people (say up to mode 5). It’s so that they have some form of human companionship. And while many of them are incredibly patient with Stratum 1 and 2, they can be downright jerks to those in management authority. For obvious reasons. One of the fun things about what I do as a hobby is watching a mode 7 or 8 relax and reveal him or her self as we talk. Seeing a mode 9 or 10 do that is even cooler.

I don’t think that Elliott Jaques was right about their distribution in society. They certainly seem much more prevalent than his published numbers. If I know a handful of mode 7s and 8s, then they can’t be all that rare: I don’t get around that much. I think the issue comes in where they work. High moders are prevalent in IT because the field is so poorly managed. High capacity people can continue to work as technical experts, even though they don’t get paid well. It’s odd how many times I’ve seen a Str4 or 5 person working for a Str2 manager; an architect or systems designer reporting to a low-level manager because the hierarchy insists that you have to manage in order to get ahead.

In a company that is requisitely organizing, the managers are often reorganized first. So you get a set of managers who start being held accountable for their subordinates’ output. This means more oversight, really, and the high mode people start having to play more with others. This makes everyone angry so they get fired. Or they are seen as people who don’t do the work and get fired. So by the time you get to the bottom, you have already gotten rid of all your severely underemployed people who could solve your succession crisis (all the baby boomers retiring).


I think that the world is littered with high mode people. If you want to throw a monkey wrench into the works, wake them up and tell them who they are. God knows what will happen, but something will.

On systems theory: you know, I think that Herb Koplowitz has something on that. Or it may be Glenn Mehltretter. I’m not so sure that there is a minimum required stratum for using systems thinking. It depends on what you call a system. If it’s based on things, I can do that at Str1 or lower. If it’s based on a system of systems, that is probably more complex and grocking it may require a Str4. But it depends on whether or not you really need to groc things in order to use systems thinking.

Peter Senge wrote a blurb for Requisite Organization (96) so there is definitely work that has been done. Also, Stan Smith has been interested in the overlap and wrote something about it in a blog. Whose name escapes me. But it may be in my sidebar on the blog.


Working below your stratum is exhausting, especially when you are managed below it. I think that you can always do low-Str1 work as long as you’re left alone. I’ve observed one of my coaching folks have severe problems with Str2 work as he progresses through Str5. I think it has something to do with the strategic break. It’s like you are one of those poor enslaved Chinese girls who had to make those wretched tiny-stitch needlepoints for the West, where the work was so small and tiny that they ended up going blind. Str5 just doesn’t want to concentrate down there any more, at least not all day. It’s a relative thing, of course.

Oh, you know you might want to check out Luc Hoebeke’s book. It’s available for download at the GO Society website. But you may want to get a used copy somewhere: the download layout is awful. He combines several theories and I think has an interesting idea about levels. He hates RO though: thinks its bunk. But he likes General Theory of Bureaucracy and the Time book.



About the Author

Forrest Christian

Twitter Google+

E. Forrest Christian is a consultant, coach, author, trainer and speaker at The Manasclerk Company who helps managers and experts find insight and solutions to what seem like insolvable problems. Cited for his "unique ability and insight" by his clients, Forrest has worked with people from almost every background, from artists to programmers to executives to global consultants. Forrest lives and works plain view of North Carolina's Mount Baker.  [contact]

Tell Forrest how wrong he is: