By Giles Hutchins
Much of today’s organizational management mindset (whether corporate, nonprofit, government institution or startup) is rooted in a flawed logic about how the world works.
"We have been, and still are, in the grips of a flawed view of reality – a flawed paradigm, a flawed worldview – and it pervades our culture putting us on a biological collision course with collapse," said Ray Anderson, once voted America’s most admired CEO.
"We have created a sufficiently strong propensity not only to make divisions in knowledge where there are none in Nature, and then to impose the divisions on Nature, making the reality thus comfortable to the idea, but to go further, and to convert the generalizations made from observation into positive entities, permitting for the future these artificial creations to tyrannize over the understanding," said British psychiatrist Henry Maudsley.
And yet, over time, due to various contributing factors, our culture has become mired in this ‘logic of separation.' Our ways of knowing and attending to life have been acculturated at deep and partly unconscious levels, infecting how we relate with our own sense of self, each other and the world around us.
By example, there is a deeply held philosophical believe amongst the well-educated in the West that decision-making ought to be separated from the undertaking of the work itself: strategic thinking and layers of management-control are separate from labour, and labour itself is separated and reduced into departmental ‘economies of scale’ for normalization, management and control. This separation is espoused by the scientific management thinking of Taylorism, industrial and post-industrial productization, and the quantification-obsessed ethos of management-by-numbers. It is a reductionist, mechanistic logic: hallmarks of the Age of Reason.
Today we find all too many organizations caught up in a top-down, hierarchic, KPI-obsessed, silo’ed, control-based mentality. While it is assumed that such an approach to work enhances efficiencies and effectiveness, the reality is that it undermines and erodes the greatness of our workplaces, turning them into places of drudgery, stress, political infighting and ineffective bureaucracies.
Instead of focusing on our sense of purpose and quality of value-creation for stakeholders hand-in-hand with the undertaking of enjoyable enriching productive work, attention is taken-up with ‘people management,' ‘activity management,' ‘production management,' ‘budget control' -- techniques aimed at managing units and numbers. The inter-relational, holistic and humane spirit of work is reduced into little more than reporting line items.
As organizational specialist John Seddon notes:
"Command-and-control management has created service organizations that are full of waste, offer poor service, depress the morale of those who work in them and are beset with management functions that not only do not contribute to improving the work, but actually make it worse. The management principles that have guided the development of these organizations are logical – but it’s the wrong logic."
The good news is, we are on the cusp of a radical sea-change in how we perceive our ways of operating and organizing:
Firm of the Past Firm of the Future
Economies of scale Economies of flow
Linear thinking Systemic thinking & being
Silo’ed units of production Systems of inter-relations
Machine-mentality Living organization
"The organisation of the future will be an embodiment of community based on shared purpose calling on the higher aspirations of people," said Dee Hock, founder of VISA.
We need to deal with root causes as well as the detrimental downstream effects this logic creates: unsustainable operations, mental health issues, lack of moral, low levels of creativity and performance, inflexibility in times of volatility, etc.
Firm of the Past Firm of the Future
Top-down hierarchy Locally-attuned
Control ethos Learning ethos
Remote management by numbers Distributed decision-making
Bureaucratic Participatory, self-organizing
Short-term shareholder profit Value-creation for stakeholders
Competition-orientated Collaboration and co-creativity
Private ownership and control Open-source, open-innovation
Self-preservation/maximization In service of something greater
Exploitation and enslavement Empathy and empowerment
To change management thinking one cannot just change the roles and measures (although that helps). To truly change our ways of organizing and operating we need to change our philosophy, our ways of thinking and knowing, our perception of how the world works and our sense of place and purpose within this deeply wise world. No small feat.
Let’s take a moment to ask ourselves these questions:
There is a metamorphosis in our midst. As with the metamorphosis of a caterpillar to a butterfly, the initial stages of transformation are resisted by the incumbent dominant paradigm, yet, as more ‘imaginal cells’ of the ‘new way’ form into clusters, a tipping point is reached where wider understanding and acceptance of these transformative ways operating and organizing systemically form.
We live in a volatile time of great potential. The question is: Do we wish to be a part of the emerging future or hold-on fearfully to old ways of working? Time to transform: It’s a time to let go of old ways and allow the new to emerge; it's a time to lead with courage beyond fear.
To explore ‘the new paradigm’ further, join the Facebook community here.
Image credit: Flickr/Terrapin Flyer