Command Hierarchies and System Resilience

- Thursday, April 1, 2010

It seems obvious that centralized, autocratic management hierarchies are brittle and that decentralized, democratic management hierarchies are more resilient to change.

In fascinating research from Yale, it turns out that in organisms, the more complex the organism is, the more decentralized and ‘democratic’ the management hierarchy is.

In most organisms, he says, master regulators control the activity of middle managers, which in turn govern suites of workhorse genes that carry out instructions for making proteins.

Details of the study were published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

As a general rule, the more complex the organism, the less autocratic and more democratic the biological networks appear to be, Gerstein says.

In simple “autocratic” organisms such as E. coli, there tends to be a chain of command in which regulatory genes act like generals, and subordinate molecules “downstream” follow a single superior’s instructions.

But in more complex “democratic” organisms, most of these subordinate genes co-regulate biological activity, in a sense sharing information and collaborating in governance.

Organisms that have both qualities are deemed “intermediate.”

The interactions in more democratic hierarchies lead to mutually supporting partnerships between regulators than in autocratic systems, where if one gene is inactivated, the system tends to collapse.


Amazing article.