One of the most brilliant empirical observations of organizational behavior came in 1911 from German sociologist Robert Michels, who coined the concept of The Iron Law of Oligarchy. His conclusion that no matter how seemingly democratic or authoritarian an organization starts out, and in spite of its professed ideology that purports to dictate a democratic structure, all groups will eventually become ruled by an oligarchy. The Wikipedia sums up the premises that Michels’ based his conclusion on as “The reasons behind the oligarchization process are: the indispensability of leadership; the tendency of all groups, including the organization leadership, to defend their interests; and the passivity of the led individuals more often than not taking the form of actual gratitude towards the leaders.” That Michels reached this conclusion is a testament to his objectivity. Michels himself was a syndicalist (a form of anarchist) and did not want or desire oligarchy in social or governmental organization, but recognized its inevitability.
The failure to recognize or understand the Iron Law of Oligarchy is an important reason in the organizational structure of the private investigative world as to why there are periodic breakaway groups that split off from the large organizations at both the state and national levels. These dissident groups prate about the alleged dictatorial nature of the larger organization that they secede from and whip up a seemingly populist outrage against the supposed authoritarian nature its leadership.
In California, the prating in recent years has taken the form of the accusation that the leadership of the California Association of Licensed Investigators had formed a so-called “valued circle” which in conspiratorial terms is supposed to control the private investigator world with machinations befitting the Geheime Staatspolizei. However, in spite of its professed dedication to “grassroots democracy” and the avoidance of bureaucratization, eventually the smaller organization forms and becomes controlled by its own oligarchy.
Take the case of the organization PICA (Professional Investigators of California). It was formed initially by four (4) dissident directors from CALI that some of us referred to as “the gang of four,” a play on the Chinese Communist Party’s leadership faction that was overthrown in a coup de etat on October 6, 1976, a month after the death of Zedong Mao. That original “gang of four,”consisting of Mao’s wife Jiang Qing, Zhang Chunqiao, Yao Wenyuan, and Wang Hongwen, were aligned with Lin Biao, who had been ousted from power years earlier. I think I started the references to the former CALI clique as the “gang of four” initially from a sense of humor equated with the fact that one of them had a degree in political science (as do I) with a specialization in Sovietology.
Inasmuch as my specializations were in political theory and international relations, I was able to see the big picture of what was going on and what was likely to happen to a breakaway organization such as PICA. Inevitably, it was bound to form its own oligarchy and true to the Hegelian nature of pendulum-like change, that oligarchy would breed its own opposition.
Remember The Who song, “Won’t Get Fooled Again?” Listen to it and the Hegelian (or as Marxists would refer to the process, “Dialectical Materialism”) becomes self-evident:
We’ll be fighting in the streets
With our children at our feet
And the morals that they worship will be gone
And the men who spurred us on
Sit in judgment of all wrong
They decide and the shotgun sings the song
And the slogans are replaced, by-the-bye
And the parting on the left
Are now parting on the right
And the beards have all grown longer overnight
Meet the new boss
Same as the old boss
So, if you’ve been following the developments in and out of CALI, PICA, NCISS, NLLI, ISPLA, and other contentious factions in the PI world over the past decade, does any of this sound familiar? Consider the recent roles of some of the usual suspects who have floated in and out of de facto and de jure authority and power in PICA and some of these other organizations, like Ed Saucerman, David Herrera, Dan Alvarez, and Rick Von Geldern. PICA’s bylaws contain its credo on term limits which insists on a view of sociological reality that is at odds with the tried and true empirical observations of organizational reality that underlies the Iron Law of Oligarchy:
“No member of the PICA Board of Directors may serve more than two consecutive terms. After serving two consecutive terms on the board, the member would not be eligible for reelection until following a one year period of absence from the board. Why? PICA believes in constantly bringing in ‘new blood’ to the board as opposed to creating gerontocracy that becomes bogged down with favoritism and inertia.”
I’m all in favor of “new blood.” In fact, Rick Von Geldern has accused me of being a vampire, and I don’t deny the accusation: http://janbtucker.com/blog/2011/02/14/continuing-saga-of-the-saucer-man/
New blood needs to be pumped into a brain that has accumulated wisdom from experience and experience comes with time. The boards of organizations, whether in the private investigative arena or any other, benefit from long term institutional memories so that they don’t have to reinvent the wheel over and over again. The lack of institutional memory in PICA has led it to the brink of disaster and dissolution as a result of Rick Von Geldern’s recent lawsuit which seeks to overturn his expulsion from the organization. PICA explicit raison d’être being predicated on an anarchistic small “d” democracy model is simply incompatible with long term organizational success.
At the risk of using another musical simile, consider the efficacy of the tactics that Herrera, Von Geldern, Saucerman, and others have used to boost the fortunes of their faction in PICA, ISPLA, and elsewhere. That simile may be to the Beatles’ Revolution and the tactics that they employ may be compared to the lyrics:
You tell me it’s the institution
Well you know
You better free your mind instead
But if you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao
You ain’t going to make it with anyone anyhow
So, what do we do differently in CALI and why are we successful as the world’s largest membership based non-profit mutual benefit corporation of private investigators? Experience, institutional memory, and the wisdom it brings with just the right balance of new blood circulating through the body politic of the board and the committees that work hard on behalf of the membership every single day of the year.
Some of us on the board have a decade or more of experience on the Board of Directors, the legislative committee, and in other executive officer or committee experience within CALI and with other organizations from other spheres of society. In addition to President Chris Reynolds we currently have former presidents Jim Zimmer and Sean Walsh serving on the board. Our current chair, who I expect and hope to be re-elected for the coming year, Frank Huntington, has done an outstanding job taking over the shoes that I filled for the seven years preceding his election.
This year’s board will have first term members, second term members, and others with middle range experience, a number of whom came through the ranks of working on CALI committees and as District Governors before being elected to the board. Additionally, our board has grown more diverse over the years, reflecting both the changing face of California’s population and the changing face of our profession and membership.
These are all positive developments to value, which is why, to steal Rick Von Geldern’s rhetoric, makes our board a circle to be truly valued by our profession and our membership.