Mensa as a Network Organization

Recollections of 1966

Henry Roll's sketch Cash Network
Henry Roll’s Cover from The Phoenix
of Western Pennsylvania
1966 Cash Flow Diagram

To the Editor:

   I was specially delighted by the cover of the December [’97] Bulletin with Henry Roll’s web because it evoked memories of 1966. The image above is a copy of a sketch I made back then when I had to work out a rationale for Mensa’s internal financial arrangements. The similarity between the two “works of art” is apparent, although mine served a more utilitarian purpose.

   My sketch had a further function beyond the financial. Mensa had the image of a “round table” but was being run by people stuck in the ideology of the military/industrial pyramid with chains of command, lines of authority, and rules. I felt we needed a different, non-hierarchical form of organization, more suited to our ideology, and so conceived of the network alternative. Fully developed, the organization chart would not show only funds transfers between the “bubbles” (i.e., functional elements) but also what services are provided by each one for each other. Pyramidal organizations hide personal whims behind titles and rules; network organizations focus on functions and exchanges among component entities. Pyramids put the “ordinary” member at the bottom of the structure; networks have no preferential order and make clear that the individual member is the ultimate person to be served, not a nameless member of a group.

   The sketch was the conceptual basis for the way Mensa was successfully managed between 1967 and 1975. Beginning in ’75, however, the corporate ideology crept back in, and in 1982 it was made official by an ill-conceived rewrite of the International Constitution. The pyramid was formally imbedded in our basic documents. Very few recall that the first time Mensa tried to write a constitution (before 1964) the members refused to adopt any at all.

Sander Rubin
2032 Gauguin Place
Davis, CA 95616-0542

(530) 753-7263

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Created: 12 Dec97
Revised: 28 Dec 99

Copyright © 1997, 1998, 1999 Sander Rubin