As you may have noticed, we’ve changed our name to Sociotechtonics. This offers a more professional-looking identity, consistent with our general theme of considering social and technological change.
“Sociotechtonics” is a principle I coined many years ago by combining “sociotechnical” with “tectonic“. Perhaps as a result of moving to California back in the 80s, I began to notice how organizational stresses can behave a lot like earthquakes, building slowly usually without visible effect until at some point they are triggered into erupting in sudden crises often serious out of proportion to their nominal cause. These crises can be as devastating as any 7.0 shake on the San Andreas or Cascadia Faults, at least for those they surround.
In retrospect, it’s usually clear how these crises result from various socio-technical imbalances that have been bottled up and suppressed by the organization for what seemed like good reasons at the time. Once such a crisis has erupted, it’s usually much more difficult to find an acceptable solution or solutions than it would have been to attend to the building stresses. Managers walk a fine line between “fixing what ain’t broke” and waiting for sociotechtonic Armageddon.
In theory, we ought to be able to do better than the geologists. Our raw material should be easier to observe, and certainly moves at a faster pace. But we don’t understand any better than they do why something suddenly slips sideways or under something else, bringing the whole thing suddenly crashing down. And our retrospective explanations are seldom either much more appreciated or useful in the next situation.
This blog operates in conjunction with our new Medium publication called Socio-techtonic Change. It’s intended to be a forum for thinking creatively about how these kinds of stresses build up and, if possible, how they might be averted or at least predicted. I want to encourage contributions by all those who want to consider how good sociotechnical thinking might reduce or alleviate sociotechtonic crises in organizations. I hope we can explore the value of this metaphor in as many circumstances as possible.