30 September 2009

The Emerging Thesis Draft

You may have noticed that my blogging has been rather light of late. This is because I've been in heavy thesis writing mode. But fear not! If you would like to read along as I am writing, you're in luck! I have created a Valence Theory wiki site on which I am posting the thesis chapters as I write them (in raw, draft form). You can either read online, or download PDFs of the full chapters.

The first chapter (plus its accompanying "Conversation with Nishida") is now up and available. It is "A Brief, 3,000-year History of Organization" and tells the story of organization in Ancient Greece, through the Middle Ages, and into modernity, with the two parallel organizational discourses of the 20th century. It sets up what the thesis is all about:
If history provides any guidance whatsoever, it is likely that in retrospect, these two stories will be cast in the context of yet a third story that speaks to organization in a way that both is consistent with the UCaPP world into which the 21st century is transforming, and makes sense of the parallel discourses. This thesis aspires to be at least the first telling of that third story, and seeks to discover two things: First, the 20th century literature enumerated throughout this chapter describes various external attributes, behaviours, and characteristics – the ABCs, if you will – of two organization types: those that can be characterized as predominantly BAH, and those that Kraus (1980), and Heckscher and Adler (2006) call collaborative (that may well possess many more distinguishing characteristics, of which collaboration is but one), which I call UCaPP organizations. This thesis will describe some of the key differentiating aspects of the internal dynamics between these two organizational types.

Second, as a seminal version of that third story, this thesis will propose a theory that unifies both forms of organizational behaviour, BAH and UCaPP, and offers a model of praxis that will help those in either type of organization create a better understanding of contemporary organizational dynamics for more effective decision making, and organizational transformation and change that is consistent with the UCaPP world.
If you would like to be added to the notification list when new chapters are added, let me know.

Unlike most of my stuff, the wiki is copyright, and not yet available under a Creative Commons license, since the content is still in flux. If you might want to use any part of it before I release the final version in about six to eight months' time, please write to me. And, if you are able to provide any comments, thoughts, insights, or useful critiques, I certainly would appreciate hearing from you.

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17 September 2009

Requiescat in Pace, Mary Travers, 1936-2009

Mary Travers, the "Mary" of Peter, Paul, and Mary, passed yesterday. Her beautiful soprano voice, together with the grassroots voices of her two compatriots, gave us the anthems of the peace and equal rights movements through the 1960s. This is part of the music to which I grew up, singing their songs first at summer camps, and later hearing them in the context of peace marches and the early protest movements. May her Hammer of Justice, Bell of Freedom, and Song of Love between all brothers and sisters throughout the world ring out forever.

And, more recently, and more sweetly,

May you rest peacefully in your Honalee, Mary.

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13 September 2009

Mary Parker Follett on The Giving of Orders, and the Duality of Organizational Frames

Regular readers will note that my blogging is rather scant lately. I am now immersed in literature and drafting the "theoretical" framing of the thesis. In a month or so, I will begin to post chapters and ask for your assistance in reviews and commentary. But here's a bit of a sneak peak.

The story of management through the 20th century is usually told in a more-or-less linear fashion: each subsequent author, theorist, practitioner, and management guru builds upon the collective wisdom of those that came before. It is, as my supervisor describes it, like the unrolling of a ribbon that weaves through the last hundred years or so as organizations become progressively more contemporary in considering the factors that create motivation, good leadership, teamwork, and effectiveness.

However, I perceive another reading of that history or, to be more precise, the reading of dual histories. If one frames the 20th century as a time of transition from an industrialized, mechanized, Gutenberg-inspired world to a world of instantaneous, multi-way connections (a.k.a., the UCaPP world), one can tease apart two, distinct storylines to the 20th century: one that is primarily instrumental with functional primacy, and one that is considerably more humanistic, leading to relational primacy in understanding organizational dynamics.

My inspiration for this dual reading came not only from an expectation of what one might find during the nexus period from one cultural epoch to another, similar to the ambivalence that Plato displays in his reflections on the societal effects of phonetic literacy in ancient Greece. Mary Parker Follett (1868-1933), whom I would consider the great-grandmother of Valence Theory, initiated the parallel discursive track with her early understanding of human relations and the importance of affective connections. (As an aside, the great-grandmother of the other discursive line would undoubtedly be Lillian Gilbreth; however, there were many more prominent men involved with the instrumentalist line of thought, including her famous husband, Frank Gilbreth.)

In her classic, 1926 article, The Giving of Orders, Follett identifies the need to reconcile the inherent conflict in an individual between resisting taking orders, arising from the natural animosity felt towards “the boss,” and the requirement to follow orders necessitated by a desire to retain one’s employment. Follett claims that if both the boss and the employee “discover the law of the situation and obey that … orders are simply part of the situation, [and] the question of someone giving and someone receiving does not come up. Both accept the orders given by the situation” (p. 153). In that case, the order becomes “depersonalized,” according to the language of scientific management. That is, the requirement to act or perform in a certain way is removed from the arbitrary exercise of power that derives from the legitimated hierarchical power dynamic and becomes contingently based. It is, in effect, the situation and not one’s superior office that is giving the order. As well, the order is being given to both superior and subordinate equally and simultaneously.

This reasoning might be considered as an origin of organizational contingency theory. However, with shared knowledge and shared understanding of what is to be accomplished, individuals being able to figure out what is the optimal course of action can be read as an early precursor to what I now call organization-ba in the contemporary context.

I suggest that one can draw a nearly direct discursive line of theorists and practitioners from Mary Parker Follett to UCaPP organizations that defines a parallel discourse to that which has a primary focus on instrumentality, rather than mutual relationship. In fact, Follett herself suggests a primary organizing impetus of relationship:
I think [situational contingency] really is a matter of repersonalizing. We, persons, have relations with each other, but we should find them in and through the whole situation. We cannot have any sound relations with each other as long as we take them out of that setting which gives them their meaning and value. This divorcing of persons and the situation does a great deal of harm. I have just said that scientific management depersonalizes; the deeper philosophy of scientific management shows us personal relations within the whole setting of that thing of which they are a part. (p. 154; emphasis in original)
In that last excerpt, Follett expresses the two ends of the spectrum that I now define as BAH and UCaPP, leaning towards the latter as perhaps the more effective explanation of situational contingency. The age-old, proverbial question of “which came first…” is more appropriately reframed as, “which has primacy: the functional or the relational?” in organizational matters. In the managerialist (or functionalist, or instrumentalist) view, it is the former; in the context of Valence Theory, it is the latter. Depending on one’s perspectival frame, each can be true: an organization can technically exist via its externally imposed structure without people; witness the so-called shell company. That it can be thought of literally as an inorganic entity – lifeless, despite often being populated by people – is perhaps incidental; the purpose remains paramount. In contrast, primacy of relationship creates an entity that is (i.e., can be shown to be) an autopoietic, dissipative structure that perceives, processes through affective connections, and responds in a non-deterministic – but possibly historically and experientially conditioned – fashion. That characterization, according to Capra (1996), defines a living entity. The teasing apart of the paradoxical probe, “which came first…” enables organization members to choose and embody their preferred interpretive frame, and thus abide by a new, valence-relational appreciation of Follett’s “law of the situation.”

  • Capra, F. (1996). The web of life: A new scientific understanding of living systems. New York: Anchor Books.
  • Follett, M. P. (1992). The giving of orders. In Shafritz, J.M. & Ott, J.S. (Eds.), Classics of organization theory (pp. 150-8). Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole Publishing Company. (Original work published 1926).
(Update): The entire thesis draft is posted here.

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12 September 2009

Eyes Wide Open at TIFF

I don't usually attend the films at the Toronto International Film Festival, but this year is special. A former student of mine, Merav Doster, wrote the story and original screenplay for Eyes Wide Open (Eynayim Pekukhot), a provocative and moving Israeli entry. Through the minimalist but exceptionally effective direction of Haim Tabakman, Merav tells the story of two ultra-orthodox Jews in a small community in Jerusalem, a butcher and the stranger who enters his shop one rainy day and infiltrates his life, provoking latent homosexual desires. The relationship between the two men is set in counterpoint to the tractate of Talmud the men are studying, about the redemption of a sinner who can eventually resist temptation.

It is an outstanding film. I found it very intense, exceptionally authentic, and most important for this type of film, an understated but unambiguous portrayal of the conflicts and emotions that surround the complex situation of this enclaved community. Merav's story and script are powerful and convey a deep understanding of the human psyche. Director Tabakman's minimalist interpretation, and the actors' strong performances reveal the inherent tensions that engulf this community that is fiercely attempting to shut out uncomfortable contemporary realities.

Speaking about uncomfortable contemporary realities at this year's TIFF, and segueing from the title of the film, filmmaker Robert Lantos weighs in on the controversy surrounding John Greyson's and Naomi Klein's call for a boycott of Israeli films themed on the anniversary of the founding of Tel Aviv. Lantos's rebuke calls for those who would be seduced by the populist anti-Israel propaganda to, indeed, have their eyes wide open about the facts of the matter:
The difference between most people and professional liars is that the latter have no shame. They will proclaim as the gospel truth, without blushing and without the slightest hesitation, any falsehood that serves their cause, no matter how fictitious and regardless of consequences. Lying without shame and without reservations is at the heart of their strategy. They bank on decent people's assumption that when a statement of "fact" is made repeatedly and with emphasis, it must contain a modicum of truth.

This age-old but effective propaganda technique has, as of late, given rise to such blatant falsehoods as "Israeli Apartheid," or, to quote Ms. Klein's open letter to the TIFF [which the Post reported on in "Protesters object to spotlight on Tel Aviv" on Sept. 4], "The city of Jaffa was Palestine's main cultural hub until 1948." This seemingly factual statement fails to mention a little detail: There was no such thing as Palestine prior to 1948. The city of Tel Aviv was founded in 1909 in a Turkish colony, later a British colony and once upon a time a Roman colony, consisting of lands from which the indigenous Jewish population had been forcefully -- though never fully -- evicted.

The headline of her "open letter" protesting the presence of films by Tel Aviv filmmakers, "No Celebration of Occupation," implies that Tel Aviv is "occupied territory." That is more than just a lie. That is a regurgitation of terrorist slogans. We are not talking about the West Bank or the Golan Heights here. We are talking about the biggest population centre in the heart of Israel, where the first neighborhood was built in 1887. If that is "occupied" or "disputed" territory, then Ms. Klein and her armchair storm troopers are clamouring for nothing short of the annihilation of the Jewish State. They are effectively Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's local fifth column.

...Ironically, this whole "boycott Tel Aviv" affair began over filmmaker John Greyson's decision to withdraw his short documentary, Covered, to protest the presence of Israeli films. Mr. Greyson's film documents the disruption, by local homophobes, of the Sarajevo Queer Film Festival. As Mr. Greyson, Ms. Klein and their lynch mob know perfectly well, Israel is the only country in the region where a film such as Mr. Greyson's could be made and shown without government interference, where no one is persecuted or discriminated against because of his or her sexual persuasion. The Klein Brigade obediently kowtows to the party line of autocratic regimes and terrorist organizations who would not hesitate, given the opportunity, to dispatch Mr. Greyson and his film to a painful fate which, regardless of our differences, I would not wish on anyone.

The attack on TIFF and the films from Israel is nothing more than an attempt by a gang of well-fed, fashionable bigots to stifle voices they don't like. They have taken a page straight out of the fascist propaganda handbook. To create an environment in which a religious or ethnic group can be persecuted, it is first necessary to demonize and vilify them to the point that their humanity is in question. In this propaganda campaign, all lies -- no matter how foul -- are fair game.
Lantos rightly says, "enough is enough," not only at TIFF, but at our academic institutions, and those who claim to represent workers, but truly only represent the interests of a select, elite few, (and actively participate in the hatefest that is the so-called Israel Apartheid Week).

For the record: Although I support Israel and Zionism (since history has repeatedly shown - and contemporary circumstances continue to demonstrate - that after 2,000 years Jews are still not safe when hatemongers, including Jewish hatemongers, are given half a chance), I do not agree with the policies of the current Netanyahu government in Israel. Dialogue, proper education, and the creation of opportunities for Israelis and Palestinians to actually know each other as people marks the road to peace, security and prosperity for everyone. Klein, Greyson, and their ilk only offer sabotage and the continuity of enmity.

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Suicide is Painless, But Sadly, Cancer is not: Zichrono Livracha Larry Gelbart; 1928 - 2009

M*A*S*H, Tootsie, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. A genius when it came to observing and sardonically commenting on life and society in the late 20th century. Larry Gelbart passed on Friday of cancer. A montage from his most famous, endearing, and enduring television show, M*A*S*H.

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01 September 2009

To Those Who Think They Can Manage Organizational Change

Two words: You can't!

The trick is to stop thinking of organizations as stable entities - distinct ontological endpoints in the realm of business school models of reality. Tor Hernes (2008) refers to Tsoukas and Chia (2002) who replace the notion of organizational change with “organizational becoming,” the idea that organizations are continually in flux: organizations are continuously in a state of becoming something that may be intended but can never actually be achieved. Thus, the true nature of organizational change, considered from a process ground, is that the result can never be what was expected because (1) the actors directly involved can only direct their attention to a relatively small domain within the realm of the entire world, and (2) “nothing stops the outside world from inviting itself in, especially during attempts at organizational change when expectations of multiple stakeholders are at stake” (Hernes, 2008, p. 40).

The corollary to this idea is that what I call the purposeful organization is forever doomed to fail. Like the barking dog attempting to catch the fleeing delivery van, it grows increasingly frustrated and increasingly annoys the neighbours. Instead, an emergent, relationship-based organization (like that described by Valence Theory), recognizes and accepts the natural state of flux and its inherent predilection for discovering new opportunities for connections.

  • Hernes, T. (2008). Understanding organization as process: Theory for a tangled world. New York: Routledge.
  • Tsoukas, H., & Chia, R. (2002). On organizational becoming: Rethinking organizational change. Organization Science, 13(5), 567-582.

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