Joel Orr commentary: The Computer-Aided Engineer

March 18, 2004
I am writing this on March 16, 2004—an epochal day for me. This is the day that the book I've been working on for over 20 years—Structure is Destiny: The Dandelion Paradox—went to the printer! Published by ZEM Press, it will be delivered, Lord willing, to our COFES ( event in Scottsdale, by April 1.

An Anchor

The courage of life is often a less dramatic spectacle than the courage of a final moment; but it is no less a magnificent mixture of triumph and tragedy. A man does what he must -- in spite of personal consequences, in spite of obstacles and dangers and pressures - and that is the basis of all morality.—John Fitzgerald Kennedy

I am writing this on March 16, 2004—an epochal day for me. This is the day that the book I've been working on for over 20 years—Structure is Destiny: The Dandelion Paradox—went to the printer! Published by ZEM Press, it will be delivered, Lord willing, to our COFES ( event in Scottsdale, by April 1.

It's been quite a pregnancy. The waters broke over a year ago, when I said it would be ready for COFES2003. Five rewrites later, it's done.

Dandelions? Yes, and pyramids, too. It's about organizational structure, and how it affects both the organization and the people in it. Most traditional organizations are hierarchical pyramids, which I contend do not—indeed, cannot—treat people as people. They want to use only the piece of the person that is perceived to be of value to the hierarchy, and disregard the rest.

Great organizations, excellent organizations, on the other hand, are shaped more like dandelions. Most work in them is project work, and each project corresponds to a dandelion puffball. The seeds are the project team members.

The dandelion is modeled on the family; and like the family, it has a very simple structure—and an acknowledgement of maturation processes, both of individuals and of groups within the family.

Pyramids are a place where great people are buried. They are tombs.

Dandelions are wild, beautiful, nutritious—and irrepressible.

Here's an extract, a segment titled, "Why now?":

When Alvin Toffler's Future Shock appeared in 1970, it was a powerful articulation of what everyone was feeling: "What's going on? Why does everything suddenly seem to be changing so fast? How can we cope with the accelerating rate of change in every aspect of our lives?"

So prescient was this work that if you go to and read its table of contents today, you'll still be intrigued by it and sense its resonance with the spirit of our time.

The mass shock Toffler described resulting from accelerating change has not diminished. Indeed, "shock" is a good description of the alienation and helplessness felt by most people today—and not just in Western countries—in the face of the constant turmoil brought about by unremitting technological and political upheaval.

We need an anchor. We need something to rely upon. And we have no choice but to individually find it or make it.

My anchor is God: Not any religion, but the Creator of the universe who speaks to every human in their heart, 24/7. Everyone hears this voice. Most people call it "Something," as in "Something told me to take an umbrella," or "Something told me not to trust that person."

Though everyone admits to having regular "Something told me" experiences, they're not happy about calling that Something "God." But I answer them with Pascal's challenge: It is better to live as though there is a God, and be wrong, than to live as though there is no God, and be wrong!

It was our founders' understanding of the Creator that gave them the insight that "all men are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights," natural rights that cannot be alienated—taken from us—without taking away our humanity.

The Dandelion Principle's "roots" are these natural rights: The rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness as we understand it.

To the extent that an organization's worldview is rooted in respect for those rights in each individual, it will resemble a Dandelion, and have the success of a Dandelion organization.

What is the basis for believing in such rights? Why not other rights—say, a right to medical attention, or a right to all the food you need? I can't find a logical basis for believing in unalienable rights—rights that exist whether any human or government acknowledges them or not—without believing in a God who can grant them.

However, just looking at people and their reactions to various environments tells us that life, liberty, property, and freedom to choose one's path through life are certainly at the top of most people's "gotta have" list!

And here's an important point to remember: Just as you needn't believe in gravity or in electricity to be affected by them, so, too, you don't have to believe in God to accept the notion of rights. And you certainly don't have to join a religion; I haven't, and don't intend to—because religions are not Dandelions but pyramids!

If you do believe in God, this book will easily make sense to you; the principles are consistent with His character, as described in Scripture.

If you don't believe in God, you can still benefit from the Dandelion Principle by understanding and applying it. After all, you may not understand electricity, but you can still turn on a light, and enjoy its benefits.

OK, then: Why now? Because in the tumbling whirlwind of accelerating change, everyone can gain from an organizing principle—a way to understand organizations, people, and events—that makes some sense out of the chaos around us.

is an author, consultant, and public speaker. He consults to Fortune 500 companies, high-tech startups, and government agencies on CAE issues. He is the founder of the League for Engineering Automation Productivity (LEAP) and has been an Autodesk Distinguished Fellow and the Bentley Engineering Laureate. A long-time Computer-Aided Engineering columnist, in the CAD/CAM monthly e-mail newsletter, Dr. Orr will continue with his reflections on all aspects of engineering. Contact him at [email protected] or visit his Web site:

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