29 January 2011

When UCaPP Companies Go BAH... and desperately try to halt the slide!

Some interesting juxtapositions apropos the subject line of this post: Over the past month or so - and especially over the past week, I've noticed some extended visits to my Valence Theory Wiki site from a certain search, video, blogging, and smartphone-OS-maker (among many other ventures) company who shall "Goo" nameless. And then, I noticed this cover story in the current issue of Businessweek. And finally, there was this nonsense posted by the creator of the fun distraction, Googlewhack, Gary Stock, in which a person clearly possessing a bureaucratic mindset had their judgment switch firmly in the "off" position (as required by all bureaucrats; some more senior person at the organization helped the administrator of Adsense come to his/her senses and subsequently retracted the ridiculous threat).

So how do I put all this together? In my research, I write about the nature of founder's-ba, the particular instance of coherent common sensibility, common values, common understanding, and common volition to action - collectively called organization-ba - that tends to be characteristic of start-up organization cultures. Among the key challenges for small organizations as they grow is to preserve the "special sauce," if you will, that engendered the greatness that is one of their hallmarks. Goog... err... the organization in question, had organization-ba in spades, and apparently manage to preserve it through some pretty substantial growth. But as any company increases its ranks with those who have been socialized in a BAH society, through a BAH-oriented education system, and especially if its advisors, board members, and managers have had formal MBA training, there is a tremendous pressure to begin to look like "real companies" - become isomorphic in fancy, academic language. And, it makes sense from a structural contingency perspective: an organization's structure - that is, its functions and connections - should correlate to the contingencies of the external environment in which its situated.

If you've read my work, you'll know that I dispute that contention in the context of a UCaPP world (not to mention that the work of one of the most influential authors of structural contingency theory was empirically tested and found to be a complete myth - it sounded good on paper, but didn't hold up to reality, much like Frederick Taylor's Principles of Scientific Management). Although it is true that members in any organization must have clear functional responsibilities, it is also true that (a) functional responsibilities neither necessitate reporting hierarchies nor preclude collective responsibility and mutual accountability; (b) the need to socialize information increases, not diminishes, as the organization grows; and (c) embodying and living the founding values of the organization becomes more challenging when an organization hires for alignment of required functions rather than for alignment of values.

Clearly, the organization is concerned, and that's a hopeful sign. So what can they do? Well, besides calling me for assistance (seriously: if someone reading this has an "in" with Larry Page, I'd love to help - it would be a great project, and someone there clearly likes my stuff based on all the time they've spent on the wiki), the organization can begin to do some cultural soul-searching through interventions involving action research, strategic dialogue forums, and culture change venues (where needed).

And, if your organization - even if it isn't as large or as prominent as the one in Mountain View - can use some help with organization transformation, I still have a couple of free spots on my dance card.

28 January 2011

Study: 89 Percent Of Networking Nonconsensual

A recently published study is reviewed today in The Onion, revealing that 89% of all networking is nonconsensual, and can actually create lasting psychological trauma in the victim. We're not talking about simple Facebook wall posts or Twitter tweets (which, of course, carry with them their own, distinct risks - not the least of which is self-embarrassment). The networking examined by the principle investigator, sociology professor Thomas Raybeck of Emory University, comprise the far more threatening behaviours that might occur in "a remote corner of a dinner party, or follow[ing the victim]  into the parking lot after yoga class. But these assaults have also been known to occur in full view of witnesses, who, more often than not, do nothing to stop it."

I don't know about you, but I think there should be a lobby formed to create a criminal charge of "Assault with a Deadly Blackberry" or "Criminal Negligence Causing Following Up."

14 January 2011

The Zen of Organization

There is no inside. There is no outside. There is only context.

(From a conversation this morning on systems thinking, complexity, the problematics of so-called interdependence, and Effective Theory.)

10 January 2011

The Value of Complexity Thinking

From an editorial by Dr. Jean Boulton, Visiting Fellow at Cranfield School of Management and Managing Director of Claremont Management Consultants in the UK, to appear in a forthcoming special issue of Emergence: Complexity and Organization on Policy and Climate change:
So what has complexity thinking to offer? One of the great difficulties in answering this question is that the question itself is framed within a reductive, Newtonian, machine paradigm. We want complexity thinking to give us answers and solid ways forwards because we believe that optimal solutions and predictable outcomes exist. Part of what complexity thinking has to offer is that is gives ample evidence that the future, whilst not being random, indeed being path-dependent, is nevertheless not predictable. There are often turning points where the future may evolve in more than one direction; the future is a complex product of the past, mitigated by chance and by choices; where different decisions in seemingly different spheres interact and mutually affect each other. So, whilst we might not like the picture it presents, complexity thinking emphasises interconnectedness and dynamic change and emphasises the limits to predictability and indeed to knowledge. And there is an argument to say that if we accept the reality of this, we may indeed do a better job of developing policy and creating processes.
It seems to me that there is an opportunity to focus learning, organization, social enterprise, and policy development in a context of complexity thinking, emphasizing diverse sustainability among cultural, ecological, and built environments, and resilience in the face of the inherent unpredictability of seeming intractable problems of our world.

Someone should create such a place.

It's All Fun and Games Until Someone Loses an Eye

Time to amend that old saw. Perhaps something along the lines of, "it's all just politics and freedom of speech until someone loses a life."

Whadaya say, Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, Sharron Angle, Fox News, the Tea Party, and to a lesser extent but not really different in kind, Stephen Harper? (...not to mention countless others on both sides of the political spectrum, spanning issues throughout the world, who believe that throwing epithets is productive and does not lead to throwing bullets and bombs.)


To be clear on my position: inflammatory, partisan rhetoric is contrary to the ideals of freedom of speech, and destroys, rather than supports, democracy and citizen engagement. Let us collectively resolve to respond in a loud voice as follows when next we are confronted with someone spouting hyper-partisanship and demonizing rhetoric : "WHY DO YOU HATE DEMOCRACY AND PEACE SO MUCH?"

05 January 2011

Living With Intention, and Without Goals

Over on Brazen Careerist, I was alerted to a post by Leo Baubata of Zen Habits in which he suggests that "the best goal is no goal." It is a provocative statement, to be sure, and one that is apropos the beginning of a new year, when many people resolve to accomplish this or that through the next twelve months. Leo argues:
I’d set a goal or three for the year, and then sub-goals for each month. Then I’d figure out what action steps to take each week and each day, and try to focus my day on those steps. Unfortunately, it never, ever works out this neatly. ... Your weekly goals and monthly goals get pushed back or side-tracked, and you get discouraged because you have no discipline. And goals are too hard to achieve. So now what? Well, you review your goals and reset them. You create a new set of sub-goals and action plans. You know where you’re going, because you have goals! Of course, you don’t actually end up getting there. Sometimes you achieve the goal and then you feel amazing. But most of the time you don’t achieve them and you blame it on yourself.

Here’s the secret: the problem isn’t you, it’s the system! Goals as a system are set up for failure. Even when you do things exactly right, it’s not ideal. Here’s why: you are extremely limited in your actions. When you don’t feel like doing something, you have to force yourself to do it. Your path is chosen, so you don’t have room to explore new territory. You have to follow the plan, even when you’re passionate about something else.

One must, I think, understand Leo's problem and prescription for living without goals with a Zen mind. It is not the goals themselves that are problematic, but rather, our attachment to them. Those who follow my work know that I express this using other words in my advice to leaders, and have developed it more fully and rigorously in my doctoral work on Valence Theory and practice of organizational therapy and healing.

Rather than goals and vision - notably, a sensory metaphor that connotes distance and separation - one must always be guided by values and tactility. Values represent one's deep-seated beliefs that guide her or his day-to-day practice of being in the world; tactility answers the question, "whom am I going to touch, and how am I going to touch them today?" Tactility is expressed in the effects we each, individually and collectively, enable and bring about in the world. Effects are markedly different from goals: a goal can be though of as an endpoint of activity; effects exist on a continuum of interactions through which each of us continually navigates. Ironically, they are often initiated by "accomplishing" goals (and may - or more often, may not - be what we actually intended to happen). It is the difference in value-based intention that provides the key distinction between mindful effects and often blind adherence to goals without appreciation of secondary or tertiary consequences.

By living one's values mindfully, guided by an intentionality towards the effects we wish to enable and bring about, goals become not only arbitrary but entirely unnecessary. More significantly, far more good in the world can actually be accomplished by each of us, and all of us.

01 January 2011

Why American (and others') Politics is Irreparably Broken

This initiative sends shivers down my spine. (Slashdot coverage is here.) Making explicit what has been implicit for years - namely, that the supposedly democratic systems of electoral politics in the USA, Canada, the UK, Australia, and elsewhere can be cynically gamed - should provide an incentive for some clever folks to rethink the nature of national (and global) leadership to be consistent with a UCaPP world.

Nominally democratic, one-person-one-vote, electoral politics is itself an artefact of a prior cultural epoch - the world of the 17th century and early modernity. Its success is predicated on an engaged, informed, and actively participating electorate. In the first decade of the 21st century, it has become clear that electoral politics has entered a state of reversal, and has become more about winning and losing (essentially adopting a team sports metaphor in which the electorate "root" for, and support, the popular team as identified by the colour commentators; in actuality, it's the politicians and vested, usually-corporate interests that win, and the citizenry who lose). What ever happened to active and thoughtful engagement in the careful consideration of complex issues, good governance, sustainability of material, social and cultural environments, and societal resilience?

What is needed, I think, is a fundamental rethinking of what it means to lead, what it means to enable active engagement in complex processes, and what it takes to build a cultural infrastructure that supports both. Ironically (or perhaps not), this is too important a job to be left in the exclusive hands of the politicians, and too practical a job to be left in the hands of academics, self-styled intellectuals, and pundits - both of these options merely replicate the existing ways of doing politics-of-the-privileged.

At the risk of being too cliché about it, perhaps it is time to listen to Gandhi, to be the change we want to see in the world. Of course this assumes that "we" indeed want to see such change, and that is a large assumption, indeed. I think there is a way through this, and it begins with changing the ways in which we educate and socialize leaders, and the learning environments we create for, with, and on behalf of organizations, governments, public institutions, and communities. Perhaps apropos the turn of the year, working on these ideas will be a major theme for me through 2011.