The Parts Do Not Make Up The Whole

Business people
Image used for representation only


On May 23, 1977, the then US President, Jimmy Carter, commissioned a one-year study of the probable changes in the world’s population, natural resources, and environment through the end of the century.

Dr. Gerald Barney, the Director of the study, presented his findings in a three-volume report Global 2000. This remains the only global study commissioned by a head of a national government on the world’s population, natural resources, and environment. It is also the only compilation of the sectoral models of different government agencies of a national government.

One of the most profound insights of this report was that each government department (and each sector) acted independently of the others, and assumed that “data sharing” through the publication of reports was sufficient for consistency needed for the government’s global analysis. 

Dr. Barney’s study is an excellent evidence of what those who understand systems describe as design failure. It is evidence that the government agencies function independently, with fragmented understanding, narrow mandates, and with closed decision processes. It is evidence that the government is a collection of agencies with their own models, policies, and procedures, rather than the agencies being the organs of the government’s models, policies, and purposes. 

These findings were echoed by the World Commission on Environment and Development’s report Our Common Future released by its Chairperson Gro Harlem Brundtland on March 20, 1987. The report states “Most of the institutions facing those challenges tend to be independent, fragmented, working to relatively narrow mandates with closed decision processes”.

Do a thought experiment in your head.

Put together the human resource department from Google, the research department from Bell Labs, the design department from Apple, the marketing department from Tesla, the development department from Microsoft, and the finance department from the World Bank. Would you have the world’s best company? In fact, would you have a company at all? Unfortunately, that is what companies and governments are busy doing all the time.

Is it any surprise, then, that the average lifetime of businesses shrunk from over 50 years in the eighties to less than 7 years in this decade? 

Try this in your head now. Create autonomous or independent government agencies or government procedures to address every problem you can think of. Would you have a government capable of addressing a single problem? Would you have a government capable of governing? 

Just as increasing the efficiency or power of your heart does not make you healthy, increasing the marketing department’s performance does not make the company viable. So also increasing the performance of the agencies for surface transportation, you do not have a well governed country. Nor do you make the country well governed by having a ministry of urban development. Or for that matter by having a ministry for environment, forests, and climate change. Or a ministry for industries.

A well governed country has a government whose organs are set up to interact to accomplish what is good for the country, not for individual ministries or government agencies. In fact, for the country to be in good health, some ministries or agencies may even have to be less active than they are. 

The parts do not make up the whole. The whole is made up of interactions of the parts.

How do you get parts to act as if they were co-dependent and not independent? How do you get the whole to integrate their fragmented parts? How do you get the whole to broaden its mandate and have open decision making?

Recognizing the need to integrate the parts, Dr. Barney used the opportunity of the study to bring together people from these different agencies. He set up the Institute for 21st Century Studies to encourage interactions across national and regional institutions through “21st century studies” modeled on the Global 2000 Report.

At the turn of the millennium he disbanded the mission to do 21st century studies and set up the Millennium Institute to create interactions to address the challenges of the millennium.

Known as Jerry to his friends, Dr. Barney uniquely connected the world of models, so much a performance of the mind, with the ethereal world of spiritualism, a symphony of the heart. He worked together with religious and spiritual leaders from across the world to try to integrate the planetary mind with the planetary heart. He brought together the energy of the youth, the wisdom of the elderly, and the brilliance of the scientist. On the 9th of September, Jerry joined the eternal and sustainable group where, perhaps, there are no parts, no independence, only oneness.

He is the one person I knew who walked the grand vision of creating interactions of the parts of the planet, so that it may make up the harmonious whole.

May the integration, co-dependence and openness, that Jerry strived to create, be a reality in our lifetimes as a tribute to his vision and effort.




#All views expressed in this column are those of the author and/or individuals who may be quoted and Pune365 does not necessarily subscribe to the same. 

Anupam Saraph

Anupam Saraph

Dr. Anupam Saraph grew up in a Pune that was possibly a tenth of its current expanse and every road was lined by 200 year old trees. He’s committed to the cause of de-addicting the short-termers.

He can be reached @AnupamSaraph
Anupam Saraph

Latest posts by Anupam Saraph (see all)