Human Nature and Social Networks

By Dr. John H. Clippinger

John H. Clippinger: Human Nature and Social Networks


This chapter argues that a variety of scientific discoveries are radically changing our understanding of human nature and that they offer new approaches to achieving effective command and control within edge organizations.

Different models of organization vary in their assumptions about how people are motivated to work together for a common purpose. To characterize the alternatives in the extreme, in one camp there is the “Hobbesean” view that people are primarily motivated through a combination of fear and self-interest. According to this view, the challenge of effective command is to align the enlightened self-interest of individuals with the overall goals of an organization. For these “social realists,” human beings are not naturally trustworthy, but will “defect” to act on their own behalf unless appropriately monitored by authorities with special powers. This group sees hierarchical controls as a natural, necessary, and efficient means for achieving order, clarity, and accountability. In the opposing camp are the “social idealists” who argue that it is inherent in human nature to trust, to help one another, and to act for the common good. This group contends that hierarchy is not a prerequisite for effective control and that individuals will naturally act for a common good, given the proper conditions. Whereas this point of view is often dismissed as utopian, it is nonetheless one of the primary values of highly effective combat groups and is found to be the principle motivator behind highly respected leaders in all sectors of society.

The position taken here, however, is not to oscillate between these two extremes, but to attempt to identify the rationale for why some models of social organization are more effective than others under varying social circumstances. Fortunately, there is a growing body of research that is beginning to identify a repertoire of both innate and learned social strategies that human beings use to build trust, identify cheaters and free riders, and cooperate within and across groups. Some of these are hierarchical in nature; others are peer-based, cooperative, and trust-based. In either case, it depends upon the context and the nature of the group task.