09 January 2008

A Picture of the Valence Organization

A person who is a member of one of my participant organizations asked if I could give her a diagram that illustrated my concept of the valence organization. Since the lingua franca of that organization is PowerPoint, I whipped up an infographic using PowerPoint that illustrates the concept.

You can read many more blog posts about Valence Theory, or just go for the nitty-gritty.

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James Marcus Bach said...

From this and the Nitty-Gritty material, I take it that a valence organization is not a special kind of organization. Valence is just a way to looking at organizations. Okay.

But what about enactment? What about things? What I see in your diagram are relationships among people. In Activity Theory we get people, things, and activities, all in interaction. In Weick's Sensemaking, enactment plays a big role.

I'm sure you must have accounted for that somewhere. I just don't see it in the diagram.

(BTW, I love your book)

Mark Federman said...

What about enactment? What about things? It is the extreme focus on functionality (so-called enactment) and things that have kept contemporary organizations mired in 100+-year-old constructs. For example, so-called knowledge management, and what are known as best practices are gussied up versions of what was proposed (fraudulently, I might add) in 1911 by Frederick Winslow Taylor.

By creating a different fundamental definition of organization, and then building up the management constructs that are consistent with a valence relationship orientation rather than a functional, or resource-usage orientation, significantly different approaches to decision-making and understanding organizational dynamics emerge.

It's "just a way to looking at organization" in the same way that the Internet is just a way of delivering content. Yeah, but...

James Marcus Bach said...

I'm sorry, I don't understand your answer.

Obviously I can reply, "What *about* things? Things are what I'm thinking about and stumbling over. What *about* enactment? When I take action I use the things and create things that influence the things that matter to me."

Are you saying that you ignore those issues in your analysis of people at work? Or that they don't exist for you to ignore? Or are you saying you account for them in some non-obvious-to-me way?

If I just look at valence relationships, will that help me sell more cars, or make a better ice cream cone? Or is Valence theory not something intended to help me do such things?

I don't mean to belittle Valence theory by saying that it's just a way to look at organizations. I merely want to confirm my impression: that you aren't dividing the world between "valence organizations" and "not valence organizations." Valence theory is an analytical lense, as Activity theory is a lense. Is that right or am I misunderstanding?

I don't mean these as rhetorical questions. I'm just trying to learn this stuff. I can go read more of your blog if the answers are there.

I have written lots about the stupidity of "best" practices. In my field of software testing it's a disease upon our craft. But isn't there a difference between criticizing the dim-witted reification of practice and the concomitant essentialism represented by the bestowal of a context-universal "bestness" label, and throwing out the whole idea that people "do" things and make "things"?

Mark Federman said...

Yes, it's clear that you don't understand. Making the assumption that you should be able to understand 2.5 years of original work and thinking about a new way to theorize organizations from an infographic recalls the famous challenge given to Hillel: "Teach me all of the law (Torah) while I stand on one foot."

I'm not as clever as Hillel. I cannot teach you all of the problematics and limitations of modern organization theory in one infographic. Neither can I set the stage for why contemporary Western society is at a historic nexus point, therefore necessitating a reconception of all of our societal constructs (such as organization), in a single blog comment.

Unlike the world of the Industrial Age, in a UCaPP world, organizations are not for doing things, they are for bringing people together. The selling of cars, the making of ice cream cones and even the testing of software are emergent properties of these dynamically forming and re-forming collectives of people. Valence Theory represents the reversal of the Industrial Age mentality in which most of us have been so well trained and conditioned that it becomes difficult to perceive. Or, put another way, in a UCaPP world, we don't come together to make cars; we make cars as a result of having certain people come together in very particular types of relationships.

James Marcus Bach said...

I sympathize with the challenge you face communicating these ideas. There seems to be a vast paradigmatic chasm between your work and that of many others working in this arena. As a self-educated man and fiercely oddball thinker myself, I can hardly complain.

If I may ask one more question: Let's say someone came to you in good faith, who has up to know been reading about Situated Action theory, or Activity theory, or Situated Cognition, Symbolic Interactionism, Semiotics, Naturalistic Inquiry or Ethnomethodology, and let's say this person convinced you he was serious about his education and truly interested in your ideas. If so, what one or three books or links would you encourage him to read before asking you any more questions?

Or is there no hope for such a person?

Mark Federman said...

Yes, I am seeking to effect the proverbial paradigm shift in the philosophy and theory of organization. After all, a Ph.D. is a doctor of philosophy. Although there are very pragmatic, directly applicable outcomes of Valence Theory (that I use in my consulting practice, and in keynote speeches), the doctoral work aims to set a theoretical foundation, not provide prescriptives.

To your request: I would suggest you read Why Johnny and Janey Can't Read... to understand how I read the history of societal changes from Ancient Greece until now. After that, email me and I'll send you a copy of my thesis proposal that describes the derivation of Valence Theory. The reference list in the proposal will direct you to further reading.

(You've read Garfinkel and Zimmerman on Ethnomethodology? Not bad at all!)

Leigh said...

Dang Mark you give me a headache sometimes!

One thought that might help - what about a traditional view on organizations diagram and then the valance view?

Would be most helpful to put your diagram and thoughts into context.

Mark Federman said...

Sorry for the headache, Leigh. Pictures of traditional view organizations are really easy to find. Here is a generic example, with some specific examples to illustrate the point that the traditional BAH organization is all about function and office, and relative hierarchical class and power relations.

If you ask me, it's for the birds.