Transcending Duality through Tensional Integrity
Part 2: From systems-versus-networks to tensegrity organization
- / -
Working paper prepared for the sub-project on networks of the
Goals. Processes and Indicators of Development Project of the Human and Social
Development Programme of the United Nations University (Tokyo), coordinated
from the Institut universitaire d'etudes du developpement (Geneva).
Originally published in Transnational Associations, 1978,
5, pp. 258-265 [PDF version]. See also Part
1 and subsequent
|If "domes blow peoples minds" ....
What would "tensegrity organizations" do ?
Psycho-social Parallel: the Parts
Those who have handled models of tensegrity structures (discussed in
Part 1 of this article,
pages 248-257) are tantalised by their relative indestructibility despite
their apparently extreme fragility - they seem to have some as yet hidden
significance. The principles have only been used so far to build geodesic
domes, whether large or small (13), although they are important to design
for space missions (14). But, as Hugh Kenner notes; "If tensegrity has a
practical use... the first principles of that usefulness remain to be investigated"
(p. ix-x). Anthony Pugh goes even further: "Tensegrity systems are
so fascinating that one instinctively feels they must be significant, even
if it may be difficult to predict their most important application... The
major importance of tensegrity may not be for structures but for something
entirely different, such as philosophy." (p. 56).
Fuller's own focus is on tangible structures, but he uses them in his
somewhat elusive fashion to demonstrate principles that are far more general.
They do not apparently exclude relevance to psycho-social structures (as
the title of his book indicates). He argues, for example, that if tension
is secondary and local in all men's structural projections, that tension
must also be secondary in man's philosophic reasoning (p. 350).
The first task then is to explore some of the lines of equivalence between
psycho-social structures and the architectural elements referred to in
the previous sections (see Part
1, pp. 248-253).
The meaning to be attached to "structure" is a topic of continuing debate
in the social sciences (15). Attention in this article is focussed primarily
on structure in organizations as networks, and in networks of organizations
(16), "world problems" (17), and concepts / beliefs (18).
Such concepts of structure are not purely descriptive but lend themselves
to an element of design in any social transformation process. Structure
is therefore considered to be the relationship among elements in a psycho-social
At the nodes compression and tension elements meet. Fuller gives a very
abstract description of them that is valid for psycho-social systems (see
footnote 12, Part 1).
In the case of organizations, they may be tentatively thought of as roles,
functions, or function-roles since these are indeed the focal points for
energy events in an organization system.
3. Compression element
If nodes A and B are linked in "compression" then the nature of the
compression element in an organization system appears to lie in the common
factor in the following:
A is counter-function of B, and vice versa
A and B are mutually controlling, or mutually "marking" (to use a football
A acts in counter-response to B, and vice versa
A is constrained by B. and vice versa A acts to eliminate the effects of
B, and vice versa
A "struggles" and "bargains" with B, and vice versa.
In some way A and B each act to keep the other "backed against the ropes"
(to use a boxing term), to keep each other under pressure. They "work",
or "operate" on each other and in response to each other, providing input
to each other and transforming each other's output (19). It is a stimulus-response,
action-reaction relationship. It is the essence of a working relationship
in which contiguous boundaries are defined in order to maintain the operational
distinction between two fundamentally different approaches (to energy transformation,
in its most general sense), which are nevertheless each the prime justification
for the other's existence (20).
The concept of the classicial syzygy is also indicative: state of being
yoked together; a pair of correlatives or opposites, the existence of which
is maintained by its essential complementarily. Complementarity itself
is intimately associated with the concept underlying compression (21).
At best, it is a relationship of creative opposition appreciated for its
real and meaningful challenge, fundamental to the dynamics of the system.
At worst it is a source of extreme hostility whose consequences constantly
endanger the integrity of the system (or possibly even prevent its creation,
in the case of an organization).
It may be argued that many psychosocial systems do not appear to have
such opposed elements within them. However, as will be argued below, such
"systems" are usually sub-systems whose elements do have such relationships
to elements in other sub-systems, which are the justification for their
continued existence. The "other" sub-system need not be an organization,
for example, it could well be a problem complex, which is the focus of
the first sub-system's concern. In fact, it may well be argued that a system
is not stable if such opposed elements cannot be integrated within it to
provide it with adequately structured dynamics.
If there is a parallel between the building principles favoured and
those embodied in social structures, then most of our social structures
should have a "compressive" element predominating, whereas the "tension"
element should be secondary. In the case of a conventionally structured
organization (whether a government bureaucracy. a commercial enterprise
or a military unit), the nature of the compressive element seems to be
embodied in the constraint associated with formal lines of authority and
command, or in the employer / employee relationship of management and orders.
Such formal relationships are usually asymmetric: A constrains B by
directives and not the reverse. Similarly in buildings, beam A compresses
beam B and not the reverse. (Although, in both cases, A is not unconstrained
by its relationship to B.) In compressively discontinous tensegrity structures,
however, A acts on B as much as B acts on A, since they are forced together
by the continuity of the tensional elementc to which they are respectively
linked. The relationship is symmetric, although momentary asymmetry may
emerge whenever the equilibrium of the tensegrity system is disturbed (22).
The corresponding tension element would then be associated with liaison
and advisory relationships or influence (as opposed to command). Clearly
it is standard practice to maintain continuity between the compressive
elements of the organizational system, with occasional (i.e. discontinuous)
tensional (liaison) elements where necessary to keep the organization functioning
coherently as a whole. With this approach society has succeeded in constructing
extremely sophisticated organizational hierarchies - and there is a parallel
with the progressively more sophisticated techniques for constructing load-bearing
arches (see Diagram 1), if one considers the resemblance between multi-level
arches and any conventional organization chart. Such structures are not
proving adequate to the times however. They are cumbersome and ineffective
in many ways - the term "spastic dinosaurs" has been used.
Fuller suggests however: "Compression is that "realistic hard core"
that men love to refer to, and its reality was universal, ergo comprehensive.
Man must now break out of that habit and learn to play at nature's game
where tension is primary and where tension explains the coherence of the
whole. Compression is convenient, very convenient, but always secondary
and discontinuous" (p. 356). The same could prove to be true for organizations.
4. Tension element
If nodes A and C are linked in "tension", then the nature of the tension
element in an organizational system appears to lie in the common factor
in the following:
A shares with C, and vice versa
A has an affinity to C, and vice versa
A responds in sympathy to C, and vice versa
A adjusts itself in relationship to C, and vice versa
A relates to and communicates with C, and vice versa
A defines itself in relationship to C, and vice versa
A cooperates with C, and vice versa.
In an organization, tension is closely linked to the notion of a bond in
its most general sense and the consequences of the associated information
In contrast to compression elements which are by definition discontinuous (in
a tensegrity system), the special nature of a tension element only emerges in
terms of its relationship to the continuous tensional network as an integral
pattern (23). (This is considered below). In social psychology, this has been
explored (although perhaps not exhaustively) under the concept of small group
"cohesiveness" or interpersonal attraction, namely "The resultant of all the
forces acting on all the members to remain in the group" (24). One consequence
of cohesiveness can cause another, and many of the consequences can cause interpersonal
attraction, particularly in small groups. Communication, which is both an effect
and a cause of interpersonal attraction, may however be of greater significance
to the cohesiveness of larger groups where face-to-face contact is limited-and
may thus be more relevant to the notion of a tensional network.
Fuller makes the point that little use has been made of tensile structural
elements and that it is only in this century that materials have been developed
of comparable strength to compression elements. Whether or not this is true
in psycho-social systems, it can be argued that tensile liaison-type bonds characteristic
of most organizations (including "cooperative relationships", "old boy networks",
etc.) have been relatively weak compared to other bonds that have been used
in the past (e.g. "blood bonds" or the "binding oaths" used by secret societies,
religious orders, and extremist political groups). Alternative kinds of strong
tension bonds may be possible - some may result from the operational bonds between
those intensively linked in computer conferencing networks, for example.
"Tensegrity and Philosophy"
"Tao is obscured when men understand only one of a pair of opposites,
or concentrate only on a partial aspect of being. Then clear expression
also becomes muddled by mere word-play, affirming this one aspect and denying
all the rest. Hence the wrangling of Confucians and Mohists; each denies
what the other affirms, and affirms what the other denies. What use is
this struggle to set up "No" against "Yes", and "Yes" against "No" ? Better
to abandon this hopeless effort... The possible becomes impossible; the
impossible becomes possible. Right turns into wrong and wrong into right
- the flow of life alters circumstances and thus things themselves are
altered in their turn. But disputants continue to affirm and to deny the
same things they have always affirmed and denied, ignoring the new aspects
of reality presented by the change in conditions.
The wise man therefore... sees that on both sides of every argument there
is both right and wrong. He also sees that in the end they are reducible
to the same thing, once they are related to the pivot of Tao. When the
wise man grasps this pivot, he is the canter of the circle, and there he
stands while "Yes" and "No" pursue each other around the circumference"
(The Way of Chuang Tzu, interpreted by Thomas Merton London.
Psycho-social Parallel: the Whole
1. Tensional integrity system
At first sight, a model of a tensegrity system surprises by its seeming
improbability and fragility, as well as by the unexpected harmony of its
various symmetries. But it is in its "beauty" that lies its very real strength
(as handling the model quickly shows). Explaining the nature of the totality
is not easy, however. Clearly it consists of a number of compression elements
balanced with some degree of symmetry within a tensional network. But ability
to comprehend the phenomenon tends to be limited to a ("two-dimensional")
understanding of the collection of parts before the tensional network
is tautened. Indeed, when constructing a tensegrity model, its suprising
nature only emerges:
when sufficient tensional links are made to cause the flat network to curve
when the final links are made to bring out from the confusing complex of
elements the full spheric symmetry which renders it comprehensible, and
when, as a result of pulling on one or more elements (or bouncing it on
the floor), it becomes apparent how the system responds as a dynamic whole
(quite capable of "taking care of itself").
If a "tensegrity organization" does constitute a radical departure, then
there will be few parallels by which to explain how it would function.
What is done, however, is to take pairs of essentially opposed or "incompatible"
function-roles and to "bind" them into a mutually constraining relationship
within a communication network, possibly based on some special social bond.
The network of bond-based communications is then "tightened" to the
degree permitted by the set of incompatibilities. Consequently, the latter
are collectively forced by the symmetrical sphericity of the tensional
network towards the "centre" of the system. The greater the mutual incompatibility,
the greater the tendency of the compression elements to avoid confrontation
and proximity to the centre, the greater the tension required to maintain
them in position, and the greater the energy inherent in the system (25,
To avoid creating the impression that this is simply another way of
forcing people or groups into unsatisfactory relationships, the following
points may be emphasised. The "incompatible" function-roles are brought
into a stressful relationship by the binding nature of shared understanding
amongst those involved (of which the centre represents the focus),
which brings out as much of each functional incompatibility as the role-occupants
are prepared to handle within that context.
It is the unique equilibrium (made possible by a tensegrity pattern)
between what unites (i.e. the tensional network) and what divides (i.e.
the many distinct compressional incompatibilities) which gives rise to
(and derives from) the new kind of organizational structure. The functional
incompatibilities are those which have to be faced (to create a viable
organization) when all the functional realities (i.e. negative feedback
loops ?) are accepted and brought into focus rather than avoided, whether
deliberately or out of ignorance. The more functional incompatibliities
explicitly incorporated, the more specific each becomes (and the less vulnerable
will be the organizational integrity to imbalance in any one of them).
Also the more viable and resource-conserving the resulting organization
- namely the more spherically symmetrical the resulting tensegrity pattern
and the more elegant the dynamic equilibrium between the functional elements.
Perhaps one suggestive parallel is the naval term for keeping or running
a "tight ship", by which is meant that all elements of the crew are bound
into a disciplined pattern of relationships to one another and there is
"no slackness". The parallel is unsatisfactory in that this is usually
achieved by hierarchical discipline and ordering. Another illustration
is the notion of a "system of checks and balances" frequently advocated
in drawing up a constitution. A final illustration is the situation frequently
explored in fiction in which an objective can only be achieved by a group
which overcomes its inherent weaknesses, and that of its members, by obliging
incompatible individuals to work in a team (i.e. a tensional network) and
to transform creatively the energy and stimulation of their mutual hostility
- leading to mutual respect for the contribution of each, and of both together,
to the whole.
It may well be the case that under special circumstances groups slip
into a tensegrity configuration semi-deliberately. Extreme examples might
include family networks provoking schizophrenia (27), or military and fanatical
"suicide" squads. Such examples however only reflect intuitive or instinctive
understanding of the nature of such systems. An advantage of the tensegrity
approach is that it can give considerable precision to a whole range of
patterns for consciously ordering such relationships. System
and network: An especially interesting characteristic of tensegrity
is the manner in which "network" and "system" are explicitly and interdependently
blended. For a number of years now, "systems" (despite their so-called
efficiency) have been condemned as typical of the inequitable "establishment"
mode of centralised organization. "Networks" have come to be regarded by
some as a more equitable and participative alternative, less subject to
abuse, and more appropriate to the needs of society at this time.
The distinction between the two remains elusive, as a recent debate
demonstrated (28). It is certainly not clear that networks can replace
systems in all instances, although they may complement them in many cases
(e.g. environmental networks vis-a-vis industrial corporations), or be
viable where people or groups do not wish to become members of organized
systems (e.g. the civil rights network). In a tensegrity model, by definition,
a continuous network of tension elements is clearly evident. None
of the nodes is privileged in this respect-there is no central node or
group of nodes. On the other hand, as the term "tensegrity system" implies,
the interplay between the tension and compression elements may be interpreted
as a whole as systemic behaviour unpredictable from the behaviour
of the parts considered individually. It could be argued that the network
and systemic characteristics counter-balance each other at a new level
of synthesis at which the usual weaknesses of each are by-passed.
The usual disadvantage of a network in society is its inability to achieve
a consensus with regard to implementing any precise course of action (if
such can even be defined). It has difficulties in acting as a whole without
being partly hierarchized. An organizational system is only able to act
by martialling resources in a hierarchically ordered manner and thus alienating
or eliminating many who are unable to conform to its operational exigencies
- thus eroding its own support and rendering its policies progressively
cruder, since those who could refine them are excluded (or exclude themselves).
It may be argued that an appealing feature of network organizations
is their openness to participation of other nodes and to extension of the
linkage pattern, and this is apparently not a feature of tensegrity. Additional
nodes or tension compression elements can however be added to any structure.
This may affect the "symmetry" with consequences to be explored below.
This question will be considered later in connection with the growth of
tensegrity organizations and their relation to "potential associations".
It may also be argued that tensegrity organizations would seem to lack
the coordinative element essential to the effective operation of conventional
organizations. This question is considered in the following section.
2. Symmetry and coordination
If tensegrity organization is to be considered a viable alternative
to conventionnaly hierarchized organization, it must be possible to demonstrate
how the coordinative features of a hierarchy are recovered within a tensegrity
organization. For those impressed by the need for transitional phases,
it is desirable to view this as a transformation in which a degree
of continuity should be evident (29).
A typical (and simplified) organization chart has features like those
shown in Diagram 5, which incidentally is always two-dimensional, however
complex the organization. This may be compared with the two-dimensional
"net" of a tensegrity model based on a regular polyhedron (see Annexe 1).
In what way could one be "mapped" into the other ? (30).
|Blending networks and systems
There seem to be several clues:
Coordination in a hierarchy is achieved by having a focal person ("the
boss") or body to which the coordinated bodies report and from whom they
receive orders. In a tensegrity system, the coordinated response of the
parts results from the symmetry of their positioning within the whole.
There is no hierarchy of "bosses", but there are various kinds of symmetry.
If the coordinative elements in the hierarchy could be transformed into
symmetry features of the tensegrity organization, then coordination would
be achieved without having to be "organized".
A spherically symmetrical tensegrity system is a balanced and integrated
breakdown of a functional whole. In other words, depending on the number
of elements, a greater or lesser number of sub-functions are rendered explicit.
It may well be the case therefore that a particular hierarchy may be missing
explicit functions (perhaps left implicit in job descriptions) which would
need to be explicit in the tensegrity organization because of the special
importance of functional balance.
The concept of a compression element requires that there be genuine (creative)
opposition between the two nodes. It may well be the case that this is
absent from a particular hierarchy because the "functional opponent" of
the unit in question is either a problem with which it is struggling or
a functional unit in the hierarchy of a competing organization. This brings
out a very important point. A tensegrity system is by definition complete
and independent. A hierarchy invokes a counter-hierarchy, whether of problems
or of competing organizational units (or of the problems which they represent).
A tensegrity system can only maintain its form and characteristics by integrating
opposition into its structure. A hierarchy can only continue to justify
its existence by maintaining the importance of its external counter-part(s).
In terms of the mapping problem therefore it may be necessary to integrate
two or more countervailing hierarchies into one tensegrity system to achieve
A polyhedron is usually the basis for a tensegrity system. There are very
many polyhedra to guide selection of appropriate patterns of symmetry.
It is probable that the range is much richer than is required by the kinds
of hierarchies in use at present or our sensitivity to the possible variety
of organizations which they represent. On the other hand some configurations
may be inherently less probable for reasons which remain to be clarified.
In the light of these points, preliminary investigation has shown that
a transformation is possible. Space limitations and the need for more detailed
exploration preclude further discussion at this point.
The manner in which spherical symmetry "coordinates" the tensegrity
system has been explained in an earlier section. (There is however no substitute
for personally handling a model as suggested above.) In practice, the great-circle
tensional pathways in a tensegrity organization could possibly be constituted
by direct information / communication links (perhaps by topic, operating
mode, etc.). Elements can fail or be omitted, or "redundant" elements could
be added but Fuller makes it very clear that in the case of geodesic-type
systems, the presence or absence of many elements does not affect the integrity
of such systems.
The full significance of the various kinds of symmetry (centre of symmetry,
plane of symmetry, axis of symmetry, etc.), of which Fuller identifies
seven (pp. 668-672), remains to be explored, although clearly they constitute
"reference bases" about which equilibrium is maintained. Fuller considers
that each (internal) plane indicates the existence of a (sub) system (31).
Of special interest is the significance of the centre that is defined by
the spherical symmetry. This is obviously a "coordinative focus" although
it is not "occupied" by any element of the system (32). In a psycho-social
system it represents the integration of all the system elements and as
such is an abstraction in relation to the system itself as are the other
It would be useful to explore the relationship between the system of
"matrix management", developed for complex organizations (33), and tensegrity
coordination. The former permits coordination across the matrix in two
dimensions, whereas the latter offers the coordination associated with
spherical symmetry, namely the great-circle linkages and inter-linkages.
It would also be valuable to relate the concepts of symmetry and coordination
to that of structural balance (34).
3. Nested and linked tensegrities
The centres of the faces of the regular polyhedra defined by the tensional
network of tensegrity systems are not occupied in any way, even though
they mark the position of axes of symmetry. Polyhedral "duals" are in fact.delineated
by linking the centre points of neighbouring faces. In this way, for example,
the cube is the dual of an octahedron (Diagram 4). This sort of
approach may be used to "nest" one tensegrity within another, linking the
two by tension elements to the nodes at the face centres. Although many
could be nested in this way (and they need not be duals), the significance
in terms of the coordination of the equivalent social organization is not
|Diagram 4: Polyhedral "duals": Icosahedron within dodecahedron
Instead of nesting two or more tensegrity systems they may be linked
together (i) by matching surfaces or volumes, (ii) as masts or trusses,
or (iii) as grids or skeletal structures. Although this implies a rich
variety of structures, again it is not clear what is the significance in
terms of the equivalent social organization.
"When the tension members of a tensegrity are taut, it is in a state
of equi librium. To this state, however stressed, it always seeks to return...
It is impossible to pull any line so tight that it could not, with sufficient
effort, be pulled a little tighter. Hence the capacity of the system to
absorb displacements and restore itself" (35).
Tensegrities are extremely resilient under light loads. A complex tensegrity
model is never quite still, however tightly the tendons are stretched.
On the other hand it stiffens rapidly as loading increases. However the
system is disturbed, the tendons are stretched, hence at equilibrium the
total length of the tendon system (and of each tendon) is minimal. A tensegrity
is therefore brought to its equilibrium state by pulling everything as
tight as possible (36). Thereafter any outward or inward force, in attempting
to make the system larger or smaller, must also strive to make the tendons
longer and will be inhibited by their restoring elasticity (37). Tensegrities
multiply the elasticity of tension members.
It might be supposed that if a strut were displaced by 10 per cent a
tendon would break because of inability to stretch 10 percent without failure.
In fact, depending on the material and the tensegrity, a 10 per cent strut
displacement may be absorbed by an increase of tendon length of 0.167 percent
- effectively multiplying the tendon elasticity (especially for small displacements,
e.g. by 600 for 1 per cent, by 60 for 10 per cent, by 10 for 60 per cent).
By analogy, the tensile network hidden in geodesic domes quite defeats
all normal calculations of their strength (37).
"Tightening up" the tension elements may possibly be related to increasing
the rate of information exchange in an organization. But exactly how to
interpret these properties in the case of organizations remains to be seen
(39). They do however recall a point made by Stafford Beer regarding reformers,
critics of institutions, consultants in innovation and people who "want
to get something done": "They cannot understand why their strictures,
advice or demands do not result in effective change. They expect either
to achieve a measure of success in their own terms or to be flung off the
premises. But an ultrastable system (like a social institution)... has
no need to react in either of these ways. It specialises in equilibrial
readjustment, which is to the observer a secret form of change requiring
no actual alteration in the macrosystemic characteristics that he is trying
to do something about" (40). The "alterations" he makes are simply
absorbed and adjustements are made around them.
This could imply that tensegrity type organizations already exist effectively
and are in fact a characteristic of our society-and it is the lack of understanding
of their nature which prevents their amelioration in response to current
social needs. Clearly if such organizations can be created, they could
probably be used as effectively to maintain a status quo as to maintain
a change process. The question is how to switch between tensegrities and
what is a "better" tensegrity system ?
Tensegrity: Choice and Change
Which tensegrity should be used to represent or construct an organization
? There is a large range of polyhedra that have only been partially analyzed,
and rarely as a basis for tensegrity systems. There are fascinating patterns
of symmetry, regularity and transformation relationships between many of
them. But since the whole area is very new and as yet has few applications,
there is still much confusion. One would expect a comprehensive "periodic
table" of polyhedra and associated shapes and structures to be produced
in the near future (41). Until that is done, each useful point of entry
cannot be seen in an adequate context and exploration is therefore confined
to well-defined paths of investigation. Most of the published material
converges on the construction of geodesic domes based on the octahedron
or the icosahedron-a single application of a tiny fraction of the range
If Fuller's approach is accepted, the range of polyhedra and related
tensegrities effectively map the more or less viable ~ work paths a. A
"periodic table" of these "energy patterns" would indicate the variety
of ways of organizing and operating - although only a proportion could
give rise to tensegrity-type systems. The question is then how to "improve"
the energy pattern by switching from one tensegrity to another. It is not
clear what the advantages of different types of structure might be in the
case of organizations. The extremes, discussed earlier, of the tetrahedron
and the sphere are however suggestive: the first, being most suitable to
with standing external forces (as in an organizational hierarchy
?), and the second most suitable to handling internal forces (the current
organizational problem, isomorphic with the "global" problem ?).
Switching between tensegrity patterns might be relatively easy if the
organization was supported by an appropriate information system (42). The
relationships between the regular polyhedra are well-known: a node can
become the centre of a face (triangular, square, pentagon, etc.), or the
centre of a face can become a node, etc. These "operation" options give
rise to the notion of pathways between tensegrities, some of which are
dead-ends or unexplored. All such changes are ways of restructuring in
response to different kinds of stress: "retreat" into simpler structure,
"expand" into a more complex structure, "integrate" into a more comprehensive
structure with greater symmetry, etc.
Ultimately the challenge is not one of switching from a "bad" structure
to a "good" one, but rather of having sufficient grasp of the whole range
of patterns to be able to switch between any structure according to need
(43). American football, for example, lays great stress on the ability
of the team during the game to switch between 10 to 50 patterns of play.
A form is always necessary, but any one of a variety of forms may be used,
whether changed irregularly or regularly, frequently or infrequently.
A set of people, groups or organizational units could therefore "flip"
between forms in responding to different circumstances, provided that each
knew what "position" to take in each new patterns, and what functions to
take care of.
A given network of people might therefore be maintained in tension by
a variety of tensegrity configurations. This possibility has been explored
in connection with the notion of a "potential association".
Communication Net Experiments
Experiments on communication nets were originated by Bavelas (1948,1950)
and Leavitt (1951) and have been followed by a large number of studies.
According to one literature review (Glanzer and Glazer, 1961): "The
area has been worked not only exhaustively, but to exhaustion. After a
promising start, the approach has led to many conflicting results that
resist any neat order". And more recently: "It is almost impossible
to make a simple generalization about any variable without finding at least
one study to contradict the generalization"(45).
Such research is only partial relevant to that proposed, for the following
It is based on groups of 3 to 5 persons. On the basis of Fuller's analysis
of structures, such a small number of elements do not give rise to stable
tensegrity configurations. The simplest 3-D tensegrity requires 3 compression
elements (i.e. 6 function-roles). The first two which are spherically symmetrical
(and enclose a space) require 6 or 12 elements. The first with extensive
great-circle symmetry requires 30.
The communication nets investigated are necessarily conceived in two-dimensions.
Their patterns, in many cases (e.g. triangle, square, pentagon, wheel,
etc.) of course constitute parts of a tensegrity tension network,
but not the whole which requires specific combinations of such sub-networks
(see Annexe I).
The emphasis is on communication, whether one-way or two-way, and the nets
do not distinguish between tension and compression features (essential
to the formation of a tensegrity configuration)
Little attention is paid to the differentiation of roles. Although H. Guetzkow
distinguished factors operating to allow role formation from those which
induced interlocking roles into organizational structures (46), only 3
roles (plus a role-less role) emerged. As groups get larger, and the task
more complex, more specialised roles tend to emerge-to a point where there
is only very indirect interaction between some roles (47). As the group
gets still larger, distant roles have problems knowing of each others existence
and understanding each other's relevance to the purposes of the group-namely
an ~ horizon effect a, if the differentiated function-roles are represented
as distributed around a sphere (48). Opposed or counter-functions are required
in maturer groups to counter-balance each other's excesses. It is at this
level of complexity and functional "incompatibility" that tensegrities
could prove of value.
Such task-oriented groups in fact are dependent on external factors for
the justification of their artificial (laboratory) activity. As such they
are essentially sub-systems for which a state of equilibrium can only be
reached within the context of a larger system. Tensegrity is primarily
of interest in exploring systems at equilibrium (or switching between equilibrium
states), namely systems with a richer variety of counter-balancing functions.
Possibilities for Experiment
Clearly further thought is required before any actual experiments are
possible. However, at least three areas of investigation should prove fruitful
at some stage. The first could be an attempt to set up a relatively small
group (e.g. 12 to 60 individuals) such that each was paired with another
in a compressive relationship and had defined tension links with some others
in accordance with the selected tensegrity structure. If necessary one
individual could fulfil several roles (i.e. act as several distinct nodes)
since it is the activated role-functions which are directly interrelated
by the tensegrity pattern, and not necessarily the individuals (Or two
individuals could handle one role). A more ambitious experiment would have
each role-function activated by a small group or organizational unit. A
third approach would focus primarily on the design and functioning of an
information system whose nodes would be distributed and interlinked according
to the selected tensegrity pattern (49).
Two questions need to be clarified before (tentatively) undertaking
such experiments. The first concerns the breakdown and distribution of
role-functions for a tensegrity of a given complexity. Normally in an organization
the number and relationship of functions is settled empirically in the
light of past experience and in response to foreseen weaknesses. Such insights
need to be used to work out for an organization with N function-roles,
just what they tend to be. The second question is how such organizational
tensegrities are to be "tightened up". Two approaches seem possible. The
first involves increasing the rate or intensity of interaction between
the role-functions in tension relationship. The second is to add more compression
relationships to the network until it is forced into a state of tension,
namely by increasing the effective number of elements in the tensegrity
(50). In either case, it should be noted that tensegrities are very tolerant
of considerable departures from symmetry.
As any one who has built a tensegrity model knows, until almost all
of the elements are tightened in place the result looks like an "unwholy"
It is unlikely that creating a tensegrity organization would avoid this
stage, particularly in view of the lack of experience and the uncertainly
as to exactly what are the snags -- if such an organization can be constructed
at all. The significant moment, as when constructing a model, would be
when suddenly the symmetry and dynamic integrity of the whole emerges from
the jumble of the parts. Whether and in what way, this awareness is more
richly structured than that of a group which suddenly recognises that "we're
a team", remains to be seen.
Other Possible Implications
As indicated in the introduction, the significance of tensegrity is
not limited to organizations. Since it is a very general approach to tension
/compression relationships, wherever they may occur it may be significant
wherever there is any question of organization. It could be useful to order
sets of world problems in tensegrity patterns to clarify why it is so difficult
to have any impact on such equilibrium systems (51).
The approach could be useful for clarifying conflicting values and needs
(possibly in relation to problems). It could provide insights into a new
approach to ordering and interrelating concepts to bring out interdisciplinary
dimensions (linked to great-circle patterning and symmetry ?). It also
has interesting implications as a kind of three-dimensional mandala (or
"psycho-cosmogramma") with whose elements an individual can associate and
interrelate a complete range of psycho-spiritual functions (52). "In
becoming conscious, we gain awareness of the dualities that have moulded
our psyches: activity-passivity, competition-cooperation, independence-dependence,
logic-intuition, and many more... the human psyche is comprised of many
different dualities that must be kept in balance in order for the individual
to be whole, to be truly human " (53). Hitherto we have lacked bridges
between such dualities, precisely related to a larger whole, and which
are at the same time isomorphic with external realities.
Tensegrity ordering restates a problem of organization. By the method
of handling the dualistic compression relationships, it is no longer a
question of what one is "for" or "against", of what one considers "right"
or "wrong ", or "correct" or "incorrect", etc. Each such polarised perspective
merely invokes the activation of the other and any associated conflict,
of whatever form. Tensegrity ordering balances and interrelates such dualistic
perspectives within a wider context, but without suppressing their significance
-- the reality of each dualistic dynamic is in fact essential to the structure
of the larger whole. The challenge is then more to see:
how such dualities interweave,
whether irregularities in the pattern are due to inadequate attention,
discrimination or detachment, and
what emerges from consideration of the whole and how this affects understanding
of the parts.
A possible step then becomes one of switching to new tensegrity patterns
by "reinterpreting" the whole. Each such pattern may bring out or suppress
nodes, although each is always potentially present.
There is also the possibility that tensegrities may be used to represent
stages in a process over time, rather than processes at a particular time.
Tensegrities also seem to be helpful in relation to the dialectic approach,
especially in the manner in which they represent thesis, anti-thesis and
synthesis within a larger whole, itself susceptible to refinement.
Another important possibility arises from the fact that the most fundamental
dyadic relationships are of such a degree of abstraction that they cannot
be properly contained by verbal descriptors whose elements are often themselves
determined by, affected by, or in some way incorporated within such relationships.
It is therefore difficult to comprehend them adequately, because of the
proportion of the totality of experience which is inherent within them.
They may however be "projected" down into a system of more elements in
which aspects of the dyadic relationship are represented.
It may well be that only such aspects can be understood and that not
even the existence of the basic relationship is suspected. This is particularly
so because at each new step down in the projection, new axes and planes
of symmetry may emerge accompanying the new surface features. Each of these
may help to say something different about the fundamental relationship
and be closer to everyday experience.
The implication of the suggested parallel seems somewhat incredible.
It appears preposterous to expect that any useful social structure could
emerge from any approach that involved weakening the continuity within
formal lines of authority (normally considered as primordial and sacrosanct)
and ensuring a continuity of liaison-type bonds (normally considered as
unfortunate. necessities, if they cannot be avoided). Aside from the break
with tradition, it is personally very threatening to the extent that conventional
structures provide some support for a person's own personality structure-
because, of course, some personalities match well with the usual hierarchical
structure. Sophisticated hierarchies seem to constitute the epitome of
order whether personal or social (54).
It is not to be expected that a conclusive case could be made in such
a limited space for what constitutes a rather dramatic departure from conventional
approaches to organization. The questions raised are very instructive,
but further investigation is of course required to substantiate the argument
if it is valid. The social system equivalents of compression and tension
need to be related more closely to existing organizational concepts. In
particular it would appear that they are equivalent to some characteristics
associated with formal and informal organization respectively, rather than
to all such characteristics. The same distinction must be made in the case
of "communication" and "task performance". The extent to which the concepts
cut across such conventional categories, or are more fundamental (56),
remains to be determined -- as does the manner in which the contrasting
characteristics are integrated within a tensegrity pattern.
The balance struck between "system" and "network" - both sophisticated
concepts of organization compared to those that came before (55) -- certainly
suggests the possibility of the kind of "quantum leap" in organization
that is being sought everywhere with some degree of desperation. It is
particularly interesting in that systems are now being seen by some as
masculine, yang-type structures, whilst the rise in interest in networks
is seen to be associated with a feminine, yin-type influence. The global
problems we face are however unlikely to be adequately met by switching
between extremes, however great the need to compensate for past imbalance.
It is intriguing therefore that tensegrity offers the possibility of a
kind of "androgynous" organization which could take us beyond the swings
of the historical pendulum (56). It could prove fundamental to the creation
of a "New Transnational Social Order".
13. Lloyd Kahn, et al. Domebook 2. Bolinas, Cal., Shelter Publications,
1971. John Prenis (Ed.). The Dome Builders Handbook. Philadelphia, Running
14. J. Clinton. Advanced Structural Design Concepts for Future Space
Missions. (NASA Contact NGR-14-008-002, 1970). Distributed by National
Technical Information Service (Springfield, Va) as: Advanced Structural
Geometry Studies, Part 1.
15. Roger Bastide (Ed.). Sens et usages du terme ~ structure. dans les
sciences humaines et sociales. The Hague, Mouton, 1962.
16. Anthony Judge. International organization networks; a complementary
perspective. In: Paul Taylor and A J R Groom (Ed), International Organization,
Frances Pinter, 1977, pp. 381-413.
17. Union of International Associations / Mankind 2000. Yearbook of World Problems and Human Potential. Brussels, Union
of International Associations/Mankind 2000, 1976. Now Encyclopedia
of World Problems and Human Potential
18. John N Warfield. Structuring Complex Systems. Battelle
Memorial Institute, 1974, Monograph 4.
L Tesler, et al. A directed graph
representation for computer simulation of belief systems. Mathematical
Biosciences, 2, 1/2, Feb 1968, pp. 19-40.
19. The compression elements may be conceived as "transformative"
paths whereby energy/material at one end is converted through an appropriate
work cycle into a different form at the other end. The finite time for
this process establishes the "distance" between the two ends.
20. Compression accumulates
potential ccording to Fuller. It is specifically directional. It is dispersive. inherently
partial and tends to local dichotomy and multiplication by separation (p
21. Gerald Holton. The Roots of Complementarity. Daedalus, Fall
1970, pp. 1015-1055.
22. Asymmetric effects are also introduced by the tensegrity's orientation
with respect to gravity.
23. Fuller makes the following points about tension. It is comprehensive,
attractive and inherently integral. It is both omni- and supradirectional.
It is universally cohering and comprehensively finite. It is inherently
total (p. 359).
24. D Cartwright and A. Zander. Group Dynamics: research and theory.
Row Peterson, 1960, p. 74.
25. In sociology this is known as the equilibrium problem noted by R.
Bales (1955). The group solidarity acts in opposition to differentiation
and divisor of labour necessary in adapting to its environment; all groups
are caught in transient equilibrium resulting from these forces. A structure
most effective for the ends of the group may not be most satisfying interpersonally.
(The meaning of "most satisfying interpersonally" remains to be explored
26. The question of synergy in small groups has been investigated by
R. Cattell (see Cattell and Nice, 1960). He also explored "syntality" (as
the small group equivalent of individual personality), and the problem
of the classification of syntalities.
27. R V Speck and C L Attneave. Family Networks. Pantheon,
28. Anthony Judge. Organizational systems versus network organization.
Transnational Associations, 29, 1977, 9, pp. 360-364 (Part 1); 11,
pp. 479-484 (Part 2).
29. Rather than as a simple dismantling of hierarchy, which also has
its advocates. There is inherent elegance in the expectation that better
organization will emerge in transforming from a planar unidirectional representation
to one which curves back upon itself symmetrically in a plurality of directions.
31. "It is experimentally demonstrable that an apparent "plane" is a
"surface" area of some structural system" (p. 270).
32. The geometry requires that a compression element passing relatively
close by the centre should constitute a longer chord than one passing further
away. The former could then only be part of a tensegrity based on a simpler
and less spherical polyhedron (e.g. a tetrahedron), increasing length may
then be associated with greater functional incompatibility and "cruder"
(or more fundamental) systems. In the extreme case, when the chord passes
through the (coordinative focal) centre, opposition is at a maximum and
may be uncontainable within the system -- as is typical of unmediated conflict.
33. Anthony Judge. Matrix organization and organizational networks.
International Associations, 23, 1971, 3, pp. 154-170.
34. D Cartwright and F Harary. Structural balance: a generalisation
of Heider's theory. In: D Carwright and A Zander. Op. cit., pp. 705-726.
35. Hugh Kenner. Geodesic Math and How to Use It. University of California Press, 1976, p. 12.
36. "If you just tauten one point in a tensegrity system, all the other
parts of it tighten evenly. If you twang any tension member anywhere the
structure, it will give the same resonant note as the others...Until its
tension is altered, each tensegrity structure... has its own unique frequency."
(Fuller, p. 395).
37. Hugh Kenner. Geodesic Math and How to Use It. University of California Press, 1976, pp. 32-35.
39. Note also the sense underlying the phrase "tightening up" an argument,
a proof, or a legal case.
40. Stafford Beer. Chairman's Address to the International Cybernetic
41. Keith Critchlow. Order in Space; a design source book. Thames
and Hudson, 1969; Robert Williams. Natural Structures: toward a form language.
Moorpark, Cal., Eudaemon Press, 1972; Anthony Pugh. Polyhedra; a visual
approach. University of California Press, 1976.
42. Anthony Judge. See articles on computer conferencing. Transnational Associations,
29, 1977, 10.
43. In fact Keith Critchlow has attempted to show that the pattern of
relationships between suuch structures can itself be mapped by them. See
Order In Space. pp. 18-23, pp. 38-39.
45. B E Collins and B H Raven. Group structure: attraction, coalitions,
communication, and power. In: The Handbook of Social Psychology, Reading,
Addision-Wesley. 2nd ed.
46. Harold Guetzkow. Differentiation of roles in task-oriented groups. In:
Cartwright and Zander. Op. cit., pp. 683-704.
47. There is also the question of the structuring effect of the limitation
on channel capacity and the effects arising with more than 7 channels per
role. See: G. Miller. The magical number seven plus or minus two; some
limitations on our capacity for processing information. In his: Psychology
of Communication. Basic Books, 1967.
48. There is then a tendency for each role-function to act as though
it was at a central point on a "flat-earth", rather than appreciating
that it has to deal with "functional roundness" -- and that even the most
distant and apparently "irrelevant" are in no danger of "falling off" an
49. This raises very interesting problems in the case of computer based
information systems, particularly the file design in the case of conferencing-type
systems which should reflect the "great-circle" tensional pathways between
participants, possibly only permitting certain links for each participant.
Even more interesting are the computer implications of "flipping" between
tensegrity patterns according to the problem faced by the group
50. "A fully relaxed spherical tensegrity structure may be crumpled
together in a tight bundle without hurting it, just as a net shopping bag
can be stuffed into a small space... As struts are inserted into the spheric-tension
network, the whole spheric system is seen to be expanding omnioutwardly
as do pneumatic balloons when air is progressitely introduced into their
previously crumpled skins" (Fuller, pp. 386-7)
51. Union of International Associations / Mankind 2000. Yearbook of World Problems and Human Potential. Union
of International Associations / Mankind 2000, 1976 (especially Introduction; now titled Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential, commentary)
52. Giuseppe Tucci. The Theory and Practice of the Mandala.
53. June Singer. Androgyny. Doubleday, 1976, pp. 1 and 5.
54. A few years ago Fuller's geodesic domes (one application of tensegrity
principles) seemed equally preposterious. Yet an early dome, 145 feet in
diameter, was erected in 22 hours for immediate use as a concert hall.
Another, 384 feet in diameter, weighs only 1.200 tons, compared to the
10,000 ton dome of St Peter's in Rome (diameter 131 feet). A three-quarter
sphere, 250 feet in diameter, weighs 600 tons (USA pavilion at Expo 76).
55. Anthony Judge. System-Network complementarity. Transnational
Associations, 29 1977, 9, pp. 365-368 (especially the table).
56. June Singer. Androgyny (op. cit.) discusses many of the more fundamental
aspects of psycho-social duality and their integration, which should help
to clarify equivalents to tension and compression.