This intriguing image contains two possibilities for organisations, and the people who spend their lives in them

It’s the first modern organisation chart, and here are the stories.

One story is that this was created after the first fatal railroad accident. They hired an engineer, so he saw the railroad as a big machine. The org chart is to allocate blame – ‘let there be no question as to who was delinquent in his duty’.
This shows us why organisations are crushing, miserable jails for the human spirit.

The other story, though, has you take a look at the chart. Beautiful, isn’t it? It doesn’t *look* like a machine. It looks alive, organic. And it’s ‘upside-down’ – the branches, at the top, are given maximum discretion, consistent with safety and coherence. The board of directors, like a nourishing root ball, get the best overview and information to plan and direct the big picture.
This story is of organisation as an enabler, challenger, developer of humanity.

The bearded man’s name was Daniel McCallum and, to this, day, organisations contain both possibilities. Because both stories are true.

What do you see, when you look at the first modern org chart?


2 thoughts on “This intriguing image contains two possibilities for organisations, and the people who spend their lives in them

  1. Remind me who said

    “More than one thing can be true at once”

    Was it that local government bloke, you know, chippy northerner, what was the book called?

    Ah yes

    “Managing the Complicated”

    I liked the illustrations.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You can see the actual organisation chart in all its beauty from the Library of Congress at,0.964,1.05,0.525,0

    But I highly encourage you to have at least a look at the 1854 annual report of the superintendent of the NY and Lake Erie, which is arguably the first modern enterprise architecture:

    (A dropbox link as I can’t find it in google)

    The negative story is told in the (wonderful) Leader’s Handbook, by Scholtes – and well summarised here:

    Lots of versions of this story have been told, some of them linked below.

    View at


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