“Nor monkish order only slides down as field to fen. All things achieved and chosen pass, as the White Horse fades into the grass, no work of Christian men.” – G.K Chesterton
Organizations are like plants. They start off small and it’s hard to tell what they will be when they have grown. Just looking at the seed doesn’t tell you much (unless you’ve seen it before). Cliques, companies, websites, and governments are all like this. It’s hard to say at first where it’s going, or what it will become.
As the organization grows, it manifests its natural beauty. It spreads out, taking up space, full of promise. Grasses and fads shoot up quickly. Trees and businesses grow more slowly, but can reach terrific sizes. As the organization grows, it takes up more and more resources, but also uses those resources more efficiently. A large tree or corporation will easily out-compete a one man sprout.
However, as the organization grows, it begins to amass power and wealth. These nutrients and sugars are just waiting for exploitation, and soon the parasites, molds, and rot come flocking. A healthy company with a good culture will be able to hold them off, at least for a while. Fruits and profits are especially susceptible. Message boards stock in attention, and parasites soon begin sucking up members free time. Business amass cash and thieves swarm in. Governments accrue power, and power-hungry claw their way to grasp it.
At some point, whether after ten minutes or ten centuries, the tree falls over. Of course, if you’re inside the tree you may not even notice. The composition hasn’t changed. The sap still flows. Buds still sprout. But the organization is now dead. No matter how hard the members work, the mold will win. The mycelium will come creeping. It’s just a matter of time. This is a lot easier to see in a small organization, or from an outsider’s perspective. Once the organization is well decomposed, it may serve as the seedbed for new endeavors. The hard work is not fully lost. The rot breaks down so that life can go on.
Of course, this raises a few questions. Should we hang on to the familiar and fight the rot as long as possible, or move on once the end is clearly coming? Should we make lots of new organizations, or carefully culture the few that we enjoy? Should we strive to be a working part of the root, stem, and leaf, or join the parasites and fungus in consuming the fruits of the labors of others? I don’t have the answers, and maybe there is no one “right way.” Personally I prefer to move on quickly once the sap dries up.
One thing for sure though, don’t be surprised when the club or the corporation goes belly up. Your favorite forum community isn’t what it once was? No shock there. It’s just reached the end of the lifecycle. At some point, the rot will win. So keep making new things. The rust is right behind you.