25 December 2008

Zichrono Livracha: Harold Pinter, 1930-2008

Nobel laureate, and tremendously influential absurdist playwright, Harold Pinter passed on Wednesday. Perhaps someone should throw a Birthday Party.

I remember seeing The Birthday Party when I was in high school, and have been a fan of Pinter's work - and those who were influenced by him, including Tom Stoppard and David Mamet - ever since. It was his use of language, silence, and the nuance of spoken interaction, that enabled him to probe the depths of the human condition:
Pinter once said of language, "The speech we hear is an indication of that which we don't hear. It is a necessary avoidance, a violent, sly, and anguished or mocking smoke screen which keeps the other in its true place. When true silence falls we are left with echo but are nearer nakedness. One way of looking at speech is to say that it is a constant stratagem to cover nakedness."

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23 December 2008

More on How Does an Organization Scale?

In response to one of my Emerging from the Mists of the Data posts, How Does an Organization Scale?, Joanna noted this comment: "As an aside, reducing redundancy requires an expenditure of resources that does not directly contribute to the purpose or objectives, and thus is counter-productive to the BAH organization." She then asked, "Please, expand - I need to read that post! It might help me understand or form an effective strategy for change. I responded in the comments, but I think the answer merits its own post.

Admittedly, Joanna, I have not yet worked out a detailed argument that offers an appropriate alternative - that's yet to come from the research. However, the first part of the argument - that reducing redundancy is an act of externalizing expense based on a preconceived functional decomposition - is fairly straight-forward. And, I might be able to provide some guiding thoughts for the second part, as well.

In a BAH organization, the purpose or objectives are predetermined according to conditions at the time and place when and where the organization is called into being, with occasional reviews from time to time. The requisite tasks, workflow and resulting hierarchical structure are decided, and the (supposedly) best people are hired to fill those legitimated offices, according to teachings derived from principles of scientific management, and the unholy trinity of Taylor, Fayol, and Weber. Expansion via acquisition means that there will be multiple people filling what is legitimately one office, and considerable effort (read: expense, cutthroat internal competition, and manipulative game-playing - one of my participants called it a "feeding frenzy" - all of which are counter-productive) must be made to determine which of the supposedly redundant people to shuck off. That effort and expense does not directly go to fulfilling the purpose or objective of the BAH organization; rather it is a non-productive, but deemed necessary, expenditure that transfers the expense of soon-to-be-former employees to other organizations (e.g., the state via unemployment insurance payments, one's family via digging into savings, etc.).

A Valence Theory analysis of this situation suggests that this need not be the case. For example, scaling by extending effects may not necessitate acquisition of another organization and cold, calculated divestiture of suddenly dehumanized people. This is a model used quite successfully by one of my participant organizations. Since purpose and objectives in a more-UCaPP organization are emergent from the relationship connections, the new (combined) organization may want to either discover new objectives, or facilitate a spin-off organization as part of its new (emergent and reciprocal) obligations that come from the ba-aspects of the various valence relationships.

What this means in terms of praxis for change is two things, I think. First, all the valence relationships need to be carefully considered and given equal priority in any merger or acquisition. In my experience, this is never, ever the case: economic considerations based on the nominal purpose and the so-called requirements of investors always take priority, with any other emergent considerations or opportunities taking second, or third, or tenth priority. Second, (re)developing ba rarely, if ever, is among the priorities of the merged organization. Instead, fungible aspects of the various relationships are almost exclusively emphasized, creating a mercantile atmosphere among people who are, at the very least, psychologically and emotionally displaced. Such a mentality may encourage the "feeding frenzy" and survival-of-the-most-ruthless mentality, but, in the long run, does not make for a great or sustainable organization.

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Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown! (And Everyone Else, Too)

Gary pointed me to this article at EMusic, describing how that timeless classic, A Charlie Brown Christmas, came into being, featuring the wonderful music of jazzman, Vince Guaraldi.
It was also 1965, of course, and the hormonal juggernaut of rock & roll was detonating not only American music but the very tempo of American life — the Beatles were going supernova, Bob Dylan released "Like a Rolling Stone" and youth culture seemed destined to revolutionize the entire world. Guaraldi's gentle, genteel jazz leapfrogged Schulz's show out of the frenzy, perfect for the story's anti-commercialism theme. More subtly, jazz provided a light, safe allusion to the existential alienation of the hep-cats and beatniks of just a few years prior, a precursor to Charlie Brown's eternal "why me?"; the music's Latin and African-American influences reflected an increasingly cosmopolitan society.

To all my readers and friends, I wish you a very happy holiday season, and a bright, healthy, happy and peaceful New Year.

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15 December 2008

EMD III: Dealing with Disagreement, Dissent, and Outright Opposition

If you have arrived at this post directly, and are not familiar with my research, you may want to also visit some of the posts under the Valence Theory and Thesis labels, as well as reading the very quick primer.

How does an organization, and its leadership, deal with disagreement, dissent and outright opposition to decisions and processes in the organization? When does “drinking the Kool-Aid” become mandatory in an organizational culture, and when do opposing viewpoints cause a leader to question whether the dissenting individual is “playing on the same team?” The semantic of “dealing with” itself needs to be unpacked and probed: in what contexts does “dealing with” necessitate ensuring compliance, as opposed to finding a way to create consensus, as opposed to being able to manage polarities and hold tensions? Under which circumstance is it important for specific, pre-conceived objectives, approaches or outcomes to prevail, irrespective of secondary (or tertiary) effects, as opposed to those circumstances for which a new, synthesized approach, objective or effect is appropriate? Are there characteristic behaviours relative to this situation of dealing with disagreement, dissent and outright opposition that distinguish BAH and UCaPP organizations?

It would seem to me (and indications are emerging from the data that inform this intuition) that more-BAH organizations, used to processes of control and deterministic outcomes, would seek to resolve ambiguities that lead to opposing views through whatever means might be necessary. A somewhat enlightened BAH organization might strive to create such means that are close to espoused theory, be it the legitimate leader making a final decision after some process of consultation, or an attempt at consensus-building (either authentic or passive-coercive). Diverse opinions may be sought in such an attempt either by honestly considering differing contexts and meaning-making, or as part of an engagement designed to flush out dissenters and convert their opinions to something more acceptable. On the other hand, a more-UCaPP organization might be comfortable with allowing the ambiguity to remain, allowing guidance to emerge over time – holding the tension of the polarity, as Barry Johnson (and Marilyn Laiken) say.

Dissent or opposition can be distinguished by its target – it is either directed at the fungible forms of valence relationships, or against their ba-aspects. This, in turn, translates into “dealing with” dissent or opposition to either (a) the objectives, goals or outcomes of the organization; (b) the effects or intentions of the organization; or (c) both. In the latter case, the individual is clearly a member of the wrong organization. The other two cases are far more interesting; the chosen resolution of each of (a) and (b) may prove to be characteristic of the more-BAH or more-UCaPP organization. In particular, an attack on the ba-aspects might well be anathema, not to mention fatal, to the UCaPP organization in ways that the analogous attack on the fungible-aspects might be survivable by the BAH organization.

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EMD II: How Does an Organization Scale?

If you have arrived at this post directly, and are not familiar with my research, you may want to also visit some of the posts under the Valence Theory and Thesis labels, as well as reading the very quick primer.

There are two ways to scale an organization, depending on whether one wants to scale the objectives, goals, outcomes and purpose, or the effects of that organization.

In the former case, the organization adds resources under the control of legitimated leadership that augment the functional ability of the organization to accomplish its purpose. This can be accomplished either by internally growing resources – adding people, raising capital, increasing production capacity and ability – or by acquiring an already existing organization that has an appropriate suite of resources, ideally with a minimal amount of redundancy. (As an aside, reducing redundancy requires an expenditure of resources that does not directly contribute to the purpose or objectives, and thus is counter-productive to the BAH organization. It is akin to externalizing waste products. A Valence Theory reading of the notion of “reducing redundancy” might provide BAH-managers with more productive options, but that’s for another post.) In either case of internal growth or external acquisition, there is a necessity to control the deployment of those resources to ensure the successful accomplishment and growth of the organization’s objectives, goals, outcomes and purpose.

To scale the effects of the organization in a relational context, that is, a Valence Theory conception of scaling, one can internally or externally add resources, bearing in mind the wider choice of integration options available in a Valence Theory paradigm. Alternatively, the organization can create the appropriate relationships with other organizations that can enable, create, or both enable and create the desired effects in the respective local contexts in which the relationships of the organizations in question are constructed. This alternative necessarily requires all participants to cede overall control while simultaneously requiring all to participate in strengthening the mutual ba-space that they jointly occupy.

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EMD I: Questions of Legitimate Leadership

If you have arrived at this post directly, and are not familiar with my research, you may want to also visit some of the posts under the Valence Theory and Thesis labels, as well as reading the very quick primer.

What do we mean by someone being a legitimate leader, that is, how do we understand the notion of legitimation in the context of organizational leadership? Traditionally – that is, in a BAH construct – legitimation is created through mutually agreed-to processes that often are created through functional decomposition of overall objectives, agreement on the necessity of control over each of the offices created by that functional decomposition, and the bureaucratic appointment of people to positions that are so-legitimated.

Many of us take the pre-existence of legitimated positions (read: bureaucracy, or “rule by the office”) for granted – whether one enters an existing position, or participates in the creation of such a position, the position itself is pre-eminent. Even a person who is playing a particular role outside of bureaucratic recognition is not legitimated until the position is “officially” created. In a so-called equitable BAH organization, people are often made to compete for a newly legitimated position, even if that position has been created specifically for them, according to the specification of the role they have already been performing (one of the unfortunate outcomes of the collective bargaining process that suggests the obsolescence of unions in a UCaPP world, but that's a post for another day). Part of the process of legitimating a position requires a demonstrated business need for the position; that is, functionally rationalized, and justified according to the objectives and outcomes of the organization. Irrespective of whether a person has been playing a role that, according to the common understanding, contributes to said objectives, if the position cannot be rationalized and justified according to the pre-existing functional decomposition of the business (a.k.a. the business model), the position cannot be legitimated.

Thus, legitimate leadership presupposes a functionally and objectively justified need to lead (read: control) whatever processes occur farther down in the functional hierarchy (read: bureaucracy) of the organization. The converse is automatically presumed to be true in a more-BAH organization: that there is a de facto requirement for a legitimate leader to exercise control. That functional hierarchy is often presumed to map directly to a hierarchy of class and status in a BAH organization - those that exercise control belong to a higher class, possessing a greater status, than those who are being controlled. Not surprisingly, this is a direct throwback to Frederick Winslow Taylor, and scientific management, circa 1911.

In a more-UCaPP organization, legitimation is collaboratively constructed through a process of emergent (near-)consensus that combines all aspects of the valence relationships. In this context, a legitimate leader is one who people will “follow” without the need for external coercion or reward, or necessarily the legitimation of office. For example, someone who is considered a “thought leader” in contemporary jargon possesses many aspects of UCaPP legitimation. Referent leaders – prominent exemplars might include people like Mandela, Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Theresa, and arguably, Barack Obama – possess UCaPP legitimation, even if they additionally enjoy BAH legitimation as well. Interestingly, a UCaPP-legitimated role does not necessarily have to be functionally justified relative to the objectives of the organization, but must contribute to the intended effects of the organization, according to effective theory. Note as well that this explanation accommodates both traditional organizations and non-traditional, emergent forms that occur daily in unexpected places, often enabled by UCaPP technologies like Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Meetup, and good-old-fashioned email.

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Emerging from the Mists of the Data [EMD]

Update (1 March 2010): The research and thesis are now complete, with the full text available here. Two paragraphs down in this post is a brief primer. The thesis wiki site delves deeply into these concepts, discussing a 3,000-year history of organization, a brief treatise on why positivist and deterministic approaches to researching human systems are inherently limited, a description of each of the five participant organizations ranging from über-BAH to ultra-UCaPP, a detailed exposition of Valence Theory (the five valence relationships, two valence forms, and Effective Theory of Action), and guidance for organizational transformation, collaborative leadership, and consistency among organizational constituencies.

I am currently in the process of deeply analyzing and massaging the research data contributed by eighteen individuals from across five organizations. Two of these organizations I would consider to be more-BAH, two are more-UCaPP, and one is enjoying the UCaPP aspects that seem to characterize a contemporary entrepreneurship while simultaneously and inexorably being pulled to crystallize into something more traditionally isomorphic – in other words, to become more-BAH. These next three posts emerge from the mists of the data, as it were, to explore questions that I think are key to understanding some of the differences between those organizations that are more-BAH and those that are more-UCaPP in nature.

If you have arrived at this post directly, and are not familiar with my research, you may want to also visit some of the posts under the Valence Theory and Thesis labels. A very quick primer: BAH is an acronym representing Bureaucratic, Administratively controlled, and Hierarchical organizations, essentially the Industrial Age model. UCaPP describes contemporary conditions of being Ubiquitously Connected and Pervasively Proximate. Organizations are rarely, if ever entirely BAH or entirely UCaPP, but tend to have tendencies and behaviours that are more consistent with one or the other end of a spectrum delineated by these two polarities. Valence Theory of Organization defines organization as being an emergent entity whose members (individuals or organizations) are connected via two or more of five valence (meaning uniting, bonding, interacting, reacting, combining) relationships. Each of these relationships – Economic, Socio-psychological, Identity, Knowledge, and Ecological – have a fungible (mercantile or tradable) aspect, and a ba-aspect, the latter creating a space and place of common, tacit understanding of self-identification-in-relation, mutual sense of purpose, and volition to action. Organizations with more-BAH tendencies will emphasize the fungible valence forms, and primarily tend to focus on Economic valence; more-UCaPP organizations tend to emphasize ba-valence forms, and are more balanced among the relative valence strengths.

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08 December 2008

A Lesson for Mr. Harper

No, I'm not talking about the bullet he dodged last week. On the night of President Obama's election (yeah, I know he doesn't officially assume office until mid-January, but he is the President) the Prime Minister said that his team would be closely examining and analyzing Obama's success. Of course, Harper was thinking simply of Obama's stunning victory. What Harper is unable to learn is that Obama did it by engaging honestly with people, by listening to advice, and by paying attention to the critique of his detractors and correcting course. Harper has proven himself to be incapable of any of these acts. And now, have a look at this analysis, and the remarkable way Obama is remaking the process of setting policy - by actually being open, and inviting commentary and participation.

Referent leadership is the most powerful form of leadership. I would argue that it is the only sustainable form in a UCaPP world. Demagogic leadership by intimidation cannot succeed, save for a very brief time. And most certainly, our country deserves better than the small and petty man who now occupies 24 Sussex Drive.

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03 December 2008

A Letter to the Leaders of the Four Federal Political Parties

[This letter accompanies a copy of my letter to the Governor General]

To Messrs. Dion, Layton, Duceppe, and Harper,

I am forwarding you a letter that I wrote to Her Excellency, the Governor General of Canada, concerning the current parliamentary situation. As I suggest in the letter, the time now is not for a coalition of power, but a collaboration of ideas and diverse contexts. Mr. Harper, your actions of late indicate that you are unwilling to live up to your election night pledge, in which you said, "This is a time for us all to put aside political differences and partisan considerations and to work cooperatively for the benefit of Canada. We have shown that minority government can work, and at this time of global economic instability we owe it to Canadians to demonstrate this once again."

Specifically, Mr. Harper, your Finance Minister's Fiscal Update, and the subsequent backpedalling, suggest that your interest is solely in retaining power, and not listening to the overwhelming majority of Canadians that did not put their trust in your leadership or policies. You had a chance to engage with other parties, to collaborate in the way Barack Obama is demonstrating in the U.S., and truly live up to what we now know was a fictional image shown during the election campaign. Such behaviour is beneath a man of your intelligence, and avowed love and care for this country and all Canadians. Please do not further damage your image or your legacy by living down to the low expectations of those who would call you "coward" for being unwilling to face the House in a timely fashion.

To the leaders of the putative coalition: I encourage you not to back down on forming a collaborative government via a coalition (please pay close attention to that wording - collaborative government). Equally, however, I encourage you to extend an olive branch to Mr. Harper, to enable his active participation in developing the economic strategy for this country, assuming he is willing to truly collaborate. Although the majority of Canadians mistrust both his actions and his motives, there is still a sizable minority who look up to Mr. Harper for his vision, his passion, and his principles. A true collaboration invites those who can bring diverse contexts into an environment of active and dialogic engagement. The process is far more complex than debate (or worse: the type of public grandstanding that passes for debate in the House of Commons), and takes careful listening and understanding.

Gentlemen: It is redundant and obvious to point out the unique situation in which the entire world finds itself. What seems to be less than obvious is that the approach we must all take - including every citizen of this great country - must, of necessity, be different than those attempted in the past.

Welcome to this side of the break boundary.

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A Letter to the Governor General: On the Matter of a Potential Coalition Government

Her Excellency
The Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean, C.C., C.M.M., C.O.M., C.D.
Governor General of Canada

Your Excellency,

I am writing, with respect, to express my hopefulness and optimism for the future of our great nation. I do not presume to be a constitutional expert. I can only imagine that you are seeking counsel from the best that Canada can offer to navigate these challenging times. However, I do claim some expertise in understanding the historical context of change, and in particular, the effects of the technological context that defines our conteporary world. This is the area of my research at the University of Toronto, and a topic on which I have written and spoken many times around the world.

We are living in a world that is ubiquitously connected, and therefore we all feel the effects of being pervasively proximate. We have, as a society, recently passed through what I would describe as a "break boundary" between a cultural epoch that was defined by industrialization and power hierarchies that relied on a singular authority, and the current epoch that is defined by the juxtaposition of multiple contexts and emergent stability from complex interactions.

Although U.S. President-elect Barack Obama is hailed as the first "Internet President," the crisis facing our country can indeed be characterized as being consistent with this notion of juxtaposition of multiple contexts, with the opportunity to create emergent stability from complex interactions. According to the research that I have done that identifies some of the most effective organizations in a contemporary context, the ability to create collaborations among people who bring diverse contexts, and to accomplish the objectives that emerge from that complex collaboration, is determinant and characteristic of organizations best suited for, and consistent with, contemporary times.

Canadians have the opportunity to be the first in the world to enjoy such collaborative governance. The ability to meld such diverse contexts into a functioning government is a rare chance to face the global crises in an innovative way: not only the immediate economic crisis, but the ecological, peace-building, and social justice crises that plague the world, as well. As President-elect Obama is assembling a Cabinet and advisors that will inform his policies from diverse contexts, so too will Canada have the benefit of non-doctrinaire, non-ideologically driven leadership from among the three parties now proposing what is technically called a coalition government, but in fact could be the first collaborative government.

Unlike minority governance situations that have occurred in other countries, ours is not so much a matter of achieving power through coalition, but rather a matter of being able to achieve progressive objectives through collaboration.

According to news reports, you have already received a formal letter indicating that the current Government does not enjoy the confidence of the House, and that there are sufficient members who will be able to govern with that majority confidence. Together, they do represent the majority of Canadian voters. Additionally, you may soon be asked by the Prime Minister to prorogue Parliament. It is now eminently clear that this request is being done for the sole purpose of avoiding a confidence motion that will inevitably come sooner or later. I respectfully suggest that such an action by the Prime Minister demonstrates a blatant disrespect for Parliamentary will, and equally, a cynical disrespect for the 60% of Canadian voters who did not vote for the Conservative Party.

As you are well aware, our country and the world at large are facing multiple crises of unprecedented proportions. To allow Mr. Harper to defer the ability to deal with these crises for yet another month for the sole purpose of retaining power - power that he has recently demonstrated his government will irresponsibly wield - would be, I suggest, tremendously unfortunate for our country, and especially for those who are the most vulnerable to economic turmoil.

I urge you to deny any request by the Prime Minister to prorogue Parliament. Instead, require that he follow the Constitution and ask for the confidence of the House as soon as possible.

With respect,
Mark Federman
Ph.D. Candidate
Ontario Institute for Studies in Education
University of Toronto

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02 December 2008

The World's First UCaPP Government

The United States may have elected the first Internet President - one who seems to truly understand the messages of the UCaPP* world. Canada, on the other hand, is about to form the very first UCaPP government in the world - one that appears to be problematic when viewed from a BAH perspective, but very much in tune with a Valence Theory reading.

If one considers this situation with a fogey mind, the proposed coalition government between the Liberals and NDP, with the support of the Bloc Québécois, appears to be an act of political opportunism, with the objective being the acquisition of legitimated power (i.e., the Prime Ministership and Cabinet posts) for the sake of power. Particularly for those who support our now hapless Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, the game has always been about acquiring power, and wielding paternalistic influence to create a right-wing, reactionary, neo-liberal government.

Sorry... my political biases are showing.

But those who consider the world from today's perspective - with the eyes of the 21st century, rather than the 19th - a collaboration among three political parties that have each put aside their purposeful objectives and carefully considered each other's contexts, is entirely consistent with the dominant effects of a UCaPP world. Valence Theory can explain the emergent government-in-waiting through the five valence relationships that are now strengthening and binding what otherwise might look like strange bedfellows. They are indeed strange, but strange in the vocabulary of complexity theory (the precise mathematical definition, from Wikipedia):
An attractor is a set to which a dynamical system evolves after a long enough time. That is, points that get close enough to the attractor remain close even if slightly disturbed. ... An attractor is informally described as strange if it has non-integer dimension or if the dynamics on it are chaotic.
It does sound a bit like our political situation, doesn't it?

Seriously, though, collaboration is the name of the game in a UCaPP world, and creates the most effective organizations that are, in fact, the most democratically representative. With the small plurality that he achieved, Stephen Harper cannot lay claim to a unitary mandate from the people. His pseudo-moral position that, having lost the confidence of the House, a coalition is somehow undemocratic, rings hollow - the last gasps of a desperate man who can no longer get what he wants through bullying and political cynicism, justifying his actions on deceitful technicalities.

I agree with the Conservative talking points on one issue: now is the time to put Canada and ALL Canadians first, ahead of political power games. Mr. Harper: Jim Flaherty's Fiscal Update was a political power game. Proroguing Parliament is a political power game. Organizing anti-coalition rallies is a political power game. Calling for another general election is a political power game. It is time to put Canada first, accept the inevitable non-confidence vote quickly, and step down.

Like George W Bush set the stage for, and ushered in the world's first UCaPP President, you will have the historical fame for ushering in the world's first UCaPP government. And that, indeed, puts Canada first.

*A note on acronyms: BAH is Bureaucratic, Administratively controlled, and Hierarchical, which characterizes most organizations to a greater or lesser degree. I argue that BAH structures and their consequential methods of management became dominant in the Industrial Age, and remain to this day, albeit gussied up with names like "best practices" and "knowledge management."

UCaPP abbreviates the concept of being Ubiquitously Connected and Pervasively Proximate, which is the way that I characterize the massively interconnected world in which we live. Because we are, or soon will be, connected to everyone and all available information (ubiquitous connectivity) we feel the effects of being next to, or proximate to everyone and all available information (pervasive proximity). This condition changes one's direct experience of the world relative to those of us born before the 1990s (approximately), especially for those who are born directly into that experience.

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01 December 2008


Schadenfreude [noun]: Taking delight at another's misfortune. See, Stephen Harper. Related: hubris, Roman Emperor Nero

And just to add to the enjoyment, here's the great number, Schadenfreude, from Avenue Q:

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