Home » Future Skills Overview » Background: Self-Organisation


The principle of self-organisation is the basic principle of the Next Organisations – the new working and living reality of people in ever-increasing parts of society – the Next Societies. As a principle, it underlies many social developments. It develops into such a pervasive concept that we refer to this development as „Drift to Self-Organisation“.

Apart from institutional actors and political guidelines and in combination with a higher degree of self-responsibility it seems to be increasing. As a result, the first phenomena of a „progressive we“, emerge as Kruse (2009) calls them, describing them as a continuation of the new social movements of the nineties. Other and new forms of community and solidarity emerge. Depending on one’s perspective, self-organisation as the central concept of Future Skills and the future world of work can quickly be understood as neoliberal action – especially if it is provided without a protective net. The economist and sociologist Oliver Nachtwey, for example, describes the transition to the newly designed German welfare state in the „regressive modern age“ beyond the „paternalistic principle of leadership care“ and identifies self-organisation and personal responsibility as the increasingly dominant concepts (Nachtwey 2016).

It is important that any vision of the future that focuses on self-organisation and self-responsibility does not lose sight of these political, social and societal contexts. Klaus Schwab, head of the World Economic Forum, examines in his book „The Fourth Industrial Revolution“ its potential impact on companies, states, countries, society and individuals. He emphasises that self-organisation is the most serious effect of digital transformation: „One of the most far-reaching changes in all these areas will be due to a single force: empowerment“ (Schwab 2016).

Empowerment to self-determination changes everything: the relationship between the state and its citizens, between companies and their employees, between shareholders and customers, between superpowers and smaller countries. This adds a new quality to the solely systemic considerations of Bronfenbrenner’s ecosystem theory (1981), which emphasizes systemic interrelations between the different levels (the micro-level, the meso-level, and the macro-level). The quality is that the actors acting at the different levels produce a new unpredictability and uncertainty through a new orientation of self-organisation and personal responsibility. The disruptive effect of what Schwab calls „The Fourth Industrial Revolution“ (2016) will make it necessary for actors to see themselves as parts of a widespread system that can only be successful with cooperative forms of interaction.

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In their study „Next Germany“ Brühl et al. put it this way:

„By their very nature, these systems are no longer limited to local or regional contexts but are at various levels communicatively and processual interwoven organizations or social systems that influence each other in their digital processes in an accelerating way.” (Brühl, Koppel, Schomburg & Schuldt 2017)

Self-organisation as a principle, self-responsibility as an impulse from within and active intervention as an expression of growing impatience – this is how Handelsblatt editor Gabor Steingart describes in his book „Weltbeben. Leben im Zeitalter der Überforderung“ (Steingart 2016) (“Earthquake. Living in an age of Overload”, translated) the zeitgeist of the Next Society. In the chapter on democracy, subtitled „Citizens‘ Uprising,“ it says:

„The coming uprising will be one that will change the Western more than any election in the past decades. The centre of this change is not a party or a religion, a leader or a guru, but a self-confident bourgeoisie that wants the overthrow depending on respective circumstances that are perceived as unfavourable“. (Steingart 2016)

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