Crypto Cracy

Definition: A Cryptocracy (a term eye hope eye have coined) is any organization which has a hierarchy which is generally acknowledged, but no one really knows what it is or how it works. It may have an enormous, continuous shaft behavior as power moves through it depending on cosmic signs, recent bureaucratic victories, or injections of powerful personalities and their relationships to the population at large, and to each other as they build and betray alliances. It's fascinating to study.

If any of you have ever experienced this, please let me know at mailto:donolson@flagstaff.az.us or mailto:olsond@agcs.com. It may be that I am a) not observant, b) stupid, c) just plain unlucky, or d) all of the above, but I seem to have experienced this phenomenon quite frequently.

A common panacea to such an organization is the organization chart, which more often than not fails to map the true structure but does provide a placebo effect manifested in CargoCult adjustments. It also tracks the movements of such entities as the ScapeGoat, CulpableGoat, PeaceMaker, and DoorMat, and a collection of such charts over time makes an interesting historical artifact of the life of any organization.

Author: DonOlson 95/10/19
BrownianMotion is a possible prior state.


A TV programme (on UK's Channel 4?) on the Third Reich described the power structure under Hitler: there were five or six different departments ministering to him, each with a department head who thought he was Hitler's main administrative aide. The result was chaotic, fortunately for the rest of the world.

Sorry I don't have more on this - If I find more details I'll post them here.
Crypto is a good word for it, hidden or secret. I usually know who my boss is, the one who tells me what to do. I actually had a performance review by someone who said he didn't know how well I did on one assignment (for someone else), so he was going to put me as "average". (Of course, maybe he was just being tactful.)

Who works for you? Who can actually be made responsible to help you, or do what they say, is a whole 'nother problem. Who do you go to when things aren't working? Your boss first. Then the other guy's boss. Then their bosses. I have tried this, and it seldom works. (I'm probably just barking up the wrong organizational tree, or maybe I just don't have enough political muscle.) So who actually gets stuff done? I usually just have to look around. I have found asking my boss doesn't usually produce a useful answer.
Thank you very much for the term. Democracy has been wearing rather thin these days, and I have been wondering if mafiocracy, or perhaps just fascism was the apt term. But cryptocracy better adsresses the deceits and false-pretenses that buoy our sick world along, and it sounds less judgmental. It points straight to the root of the problems we need to solve. Crack the code! ;)
Does the concept of "cryptocracy" (which I think is a lovely name, BTW) also include organizations in which there is an established hierarchy that is ignored, while the actual hierarchy is amorphous and continually shifting?
That is not my understanding of a cryptocracy. A cryptocracy by my definition is a secret organization which is also the hidden force behind events. It is called a cryptocracy because it reveals itself slowly to the population through masterminding events which play upon the subconscious mind and internal archetypes i.e events become cryptic. Since the cryptocracy creates or leads the people into a consensus reality and then like a magician plucks things out of the air in order to create uncertainty and double-mindedness in the population, things appear to people who search out the truth as being totally out of whack. Things are totally out of whack. When someone comes across facts which are at odds with the consensus reality they must either ignore it (either consciously or unconsciously) or suffer the ridicule, contempt, violence and legislation of those trapped within the consensus reality created by the cryptocracy. Eventually it is hoped that the population will be so disoriented by the repeated distortions created that they shall fall as easy prey to become cattle for the elite of the cryptocracy who shall reveal themselves as some kind of saviours prepared to end the confusion they themselves created. In fact some cattle shall just be killed as a waste of space or because they don't "program" easily. . Ever feel disoriented by what is going on?
There are two distinct ideas being discussed here. the above interpretation of cryptocracy, and the one DonOlson is describing. DonOlson is talking about a -cracy which no one understands, no matter where they are in the hierarchy. The above interperation is describes a -cracy where most people think they know what the structure is, but what they think is is actually significantly different from what those in power actually know to be the structure to be.

The difference is like that between a Mystery and a Secret. It could be obvious that a mystery exists, it simply isn't understood. However, the fact that there is a Secret may itself be a Secret (such as Ultra/Magic level classification of allied intelligence during WWII).

The difference is that the secret-cracy wields effective power, but secretly, whereas the mystero-cracy does not wield effective power.

I think it is quite easy to identify a mystero-cracy in action, it means any organization where members know that they don't really know how it works. Such as an organization which pretends to have a set structure, as long as its members know they are pretending.

A Secret-cracy, on the other hand, will be much more difficult to positively identify because it may well be in the interests of the secret organizers to disguise the fact that they are secretly organizing things. This comes down, I believe, to the question: how to you tell if someone is MaliciousOrJustIncompetent??

Very interesting distinction indeed that the SecretCracy? on one hand and the MysteroCracy? on the other. We need dedicated definition and discussion pages.


not to be confused with a CryptoCrazy? :-)
This concept of emergent and officially unacknowledged hierarchies seems similar to the phenonema that the feminist pamphleteer Jo Freeman wrote about in "The Tyranny of Structurelessness" originally published back in 1970. An online text can be found for reference at http://web.archive.org/web/20041013065856/http://flag.blackened.net/revolt/hist_texts/structurelessness.html
CryptoCracy and especially BrownianMotion (both are closely related) don't seem to be just [anti]-patterns, but the natural state of affairs present in any system. In Deleuze & Guattari's The Thousand Plateaus, onset of CryptoCracy is a subtle, but binary, change of the regime of signs in a "brownian motion" system or on the plane of consistency in a semiotic system. BrownianMotion in this sense is not a negative characteristic, but just an aggressive, energetic, hyper-productive self-organizing liquid and it is not about keeping away from it, but rather taking the full advantage of its creative potential, while preventing the system from switching into, talking Deleuzian, regime of signs of signifiance.

Preserving the company in the Brownian state seems to be a cultural feature in Australian software companies. It's amazing how productive it can be.

-- Vsevolod Vlaskine
CryptoCracy sample in Middle-east companies

I worked with some Middle-East originated companies and the CryptoCracy syndrome can go quite far. Indeed, behind every hierarchic tree, there is some kind of occult organization with people dedicated to watch and ensure that the standard tree is performing well and that no-one is doing his little business of his own (which can be the case). The problem is that those guys can also give you direct orders and so generate perturbations in the org chart. At a certain time, it becomes difficult to know whom you're working for and whom you're reporting to. That is not really a problem when you discover that almost 80 directors are reporting directly to the CEO! Things aren't smooth for them either.

In this company, I was taken as a head office representative while traveling in subsidiaries even if I was also from a subsidiary (the IT one). I was considered as a financial expert while I was indeed the financial "IT guy". I was in charge of roll-out-ing processes while I was the provider and not the customer representative, and so had no competences nor qualification at the time to perform the job. But, all that didn't matter a lot, provided I stayed under the careful protection of difficult to locate executives directly reporting to I didn't know who, but people with the capability of making things happen.

CryptoCracy is often a problem of top-level management or of some executives that want to let a blur area in the organization to be able to benefit from everyone when they need to. For Middle-East companies, it appears also to be a matter of trust of loyalty, those notions going far beyond the organization chart. In that sense, it is crypto in both meanings: it is the secret organization that holds most of the power, and it is hidden because it does not fit with the org chart.
Indeed, CryptoCracy could be an OrganizationalAntiPattern.
CategoryOrganizationalAntiPattern

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