22 May 2010

Valence Theory in the Forest

The Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement is a landmark achievement. I don’t mean that in the environmentalist sense, although the caribou habitat will indeed be preserved with species preservation taking priority. I don’t mean it in the business sense, although calls for boycotts of Canadian forest products will cease. And I don’t even mean it in the zero-sum game sense, although each side of the long-standing controversy and enmity between the forestry and environmentalist industries can claim some sort of victory. All of these are, in one way or another, true enough. But for me, the landmark aspect of the agreement is in how well it illustrates the principles of Valence Theory, and how its success over a very long and difficult series of negotiations may retrospectively point to the language of Valence Theory as a means to discover shortcut, effective approaches to seemingly intractable problems.

The details of the Agreement, and loads of commentary, are widely available. As I read the story as reported in NOW magazine, several aspects jump out at me. First and foremost, there has been a shift in approach by all parties from a focus on outcomes, goals and objectives to a predominant awareness of effects, as I suggest in Effective Theory. This switches the supposed “vision” of the various organizations involved to something closer to tactility: what effect does each participant organization want to have on each of the other constituencies; in other words, whom do they want to touch, how do they want to touch them, and how do they anticipate being touched themselves?

Second, there seems to have been another shift in the various relationships that exist among the many diverse, constituent organizations from strictly fungible to more ba-like aspects. For example, throughout the years of the controversy, each organization was vested in its purpose: the environmentalists in stopping old-growth logging, the forestry companies in maximizing profitable “harvests.” They wore their purposes as a large part of their identities, and their organizational well-being was vested heavily in the external representations of their success relative to their respective, but single-minded, purposes. However, over the period of what is described as “hard-nosed negotiating” all parties achieved a common understanding, a meeting of minds, a common sensibility about the totality of the ecosystem (both natural and economically constructed), and a common volition to action—all of these characterize organization-ba for the newly emergent “CBFA organization.” And, there is indeed a (closer) balance among all the valence relationships: Economic, Identity, Knowledge, Socio-psychological, and especially Ecological.

All in all, quite a remarkable accomplishment, and easily understood via the dynamics of Valence Theory. As Forest Products Association president, Avrim Lazar, observes, “This is of global significance because it is the way we all hoped the world would work. This is a business strategy.” Indeed, but it’s much more than that. It’s a model for significant social change, and new ways of understanding the complexity of emergent organizations across the planet.

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