Four TIMN Forms Compared

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David Ronfeldt:

"As an overview, the table conveys that each form, once it is subscribed to by many actors, is more than a mere form — it develops into a realm, even a system of thought and action. Each form embodies a distinctive cluster of values, norms, and codes of conduct; and these must be learned and disseminated for a form to take root and a realm to grow around it. Indeed, each form’s rise spells an ideational and structural revolution. Each is a generator of order, for each defines a set of interactions (or, if you prefer, transactions) that are attractive, powerful, and useful enough to create a distinct realm of activity, or at least its core. Each becomes the basis for a governance system that is self-regulating and ultimately self-limiting. And each tends to foster a different kind of worldview, for each orients people differently toward social space, social time, and social action. Indeed, what is rational — how a “rational actor” should behave — is different for each form; no single “utility function” suits all of them. Each attracts different kinds of personalities.

Thus each form becomes associated with high ideals as well as new capabilities. As each develops, it enables people to organize to do more than they could previously. Yet all the forms are ethically neutral — as neutral as technologies — in the sense that they have both bright and dark sides, and can be used for good or ill. The tribal form, which should foster community solidarity and mutual caring, may also breed a narrow, bitter clannishness that can justify anything from nepotism to murder in order to shield and strengthen a clan and its leaders. The hierarchical institutional form, which should lead to professional rule and regulation, may also be used to uphold corrupt, arbitrary dictators. The market form, which should bring free, fair, open exchanges, may also be distorted and rigged to allow unbridled speculation and profiteering. And the network form, which can empower civil society and its nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), can also serve to strengthen “uncivil society” — say, by enabling terrorist groups and crime syndicates to organize transnational networks. Thus, it is not just the bright sides of each form that foster new values and actors; their dark sides may do so as well. As Jane Jacobs (Systems of Survival, 1992, esp. p. 151) observed about what she calls the guardian (+I) and commercial (+M) syndromes, “monstrous moral hybrids” can take shape if they are mingled improperly.

Finally, note the bottom three rows. One points out that each form has a different architecture: Tribes, with their interlaced lineages and marriages, resemble circles and labyrinths (not to mention networks and webs). Hierarchical institutions are often depicted as pyramids or stovepipes, and markets as atomized billiard balls moving freely in space. Nowadays, information-age networks are said to resemble geodesic domes and “buckyballs” (after Buckminster Fuller). The next row observes that each form corresponds to a different aspect of anatomy: tribes to a body’s skin or look; hierarchical institutions to a musculo-skeletal system (as Thomas Hobbes implied); markets to a cardio-pulmonary circulatory system (as Karl Marx noted); and networks to a sensory nerve system (as Herbert Spencer thought, and many writers still suppose today). These are only analogies and metaphors, but they help impart the distinctive nature of each form.

The last row notes that each form is associated with a different information and communications technology revolution. In brief, the rise of the tribal form depended on a symbolic revolution: the emergence of language and early writing (runes, glyphs), enabling the storytelling that is central to tribal cultures. The rise of the hierarchical institutional form — as in the Roman Empire, the Catholic Church, the absolutist states, and their vast administrative structures — reflected a mechanical revolution: the development of formal writing and printing, first penned script and later the printing press. This was important not only for keeping records and issuing commands, but also for inscribing laws that chiefdoms and states could apply to growing populations who were not kinfolk and often not well-known to each other. Next, the rise of the market form and its far-flung business enterprises was sped by the electrical technologies of the 19th century: the telegraph, telephone, and radio. Today’s spread of the network form extends from the digital revolution and its technologies, notably the Internet, fax machines, and cellular telephones, which are especially empowering for civil-society associations around the world and across political spectrums." (

More Information

Related graphs:

  1. William Ouchi: Organizational Failures Framework
  2. Walter Powell: Forms of Economic Organization
  3. Jessica Lipnack and Jeffrey Stamps: Four Ages of Organization
  4. Bob Jessop: Typology of Forms of Governance
  5. Mark Considine and Jenny Lewis: Governance Types
  6. Federico Iannacci and Eve Mitleton–Kelly: Triarchy of Organizational Forms
  7. Paul Adler and Charles Heckscher: Three Principles of Social Organization