Our Addiction to Getting Somewhere

Tom GibbonsStrategyLeave a Comment

One of the dominant worldviews in our organizations is that we can only be successful if we are working towards some type of goal, a vision, target, or some future destination that we have determined is of value. This worldview is so pervasive that we cannot seriously consider other perspectives because we have no framework for thinking about them. One very critical compromise this singular view creates is our inability to be present to our current, ‘in the moment’ environment; an environment that dramatically affects any hope we have of attaining the goals we hold dear. Even the Robert Fritz creative tension model, popularized by Peter Senge in The Fifth Discipline and subsequent field books requires us to remove ourselves from the ‘now’ of what is actually happening to stand back and analyze this ‘now’ from a distance in order to understand, and then act on it in the service of a vision.

Some time ago we were at a conference offered by the Plexus Institute, an organization that focuses on the science of complexity and how it can inform organization development, especially in healthcare http://www.plexusinstitute.com/ We had come primarily to see what was going on in the field of complexity and to meet Douglas Griffin who was one of the editors of the series Complexity as the Experience of Organizing and Complexity and Emergence in Organizations. These series of books, in conjunction with a research program headed up by Ralph Stacey and offered by the University of Hertfordshire in the UK provide a truly different perspective on how we see organizations and how they operate. It also takes complexity science to a new place.
During the conference, Douglas Griffin was part of a panel discussing how organizations can effectively grow and the issue of trust came up. As typical, trust was considered a critical thing to get everyone in an organization aligned with the vision of effective growth. Dr. Griffin simply asked the other panelists something along the lines of ‘What is it with this trust thing, what’s really happening as it happens?’ Just for a moment you could feel the impact of this completely process focused question, but only for a moment. The looks of confusion quickly changed to basically ignoring the question and re-focusing things to the normal, objectifying treatment of trust as an object needed to get us somewhere rather than a social process of joint identity formation.

Looking back on that rather quick interaction seems to illustrate how difficult it is to stay focused on the process of what is happening, the moment to moment occurrences that move us along, endlessly, in our lives. We are addicted to objectifying process into a thing, so that thing can be used in some way to get us somewhere. Processes like trust, listening, commitment, even basic management behavior are objectified into lists of skills that can be acquired by the individual and used to get us somewhere, completely independent of the people and process in which they are happening.

It is not that things like the creative tension planning model are wrong, it is just that a singular focus on a destination consumes virtually any frameworks for thinking about the here and now as what is really affecting the future. 
Try this as an example:
In preparing for your next strategic planning session, propose that what you want to do is take a couple of days and just talk about the organization and see what emerges. There is no need for formalized action plans or communication strategies, just interacting with who is there and seeing what emerges. 
Chances are people will be very uncomfortable with this. We don’t know how to think about things this way, this intensely process oriented, interaction based, in the moment way of thinking about how to be in our organizations. Compromising the value of the present as this destination focus does, almost inevitably causes us to be unaware of what is really going on. We move forward, half blind, toward some destination we think is important, unaware that things are changing every single step of the way.
If you begin to work with this present oriented perspective, you will likely find yourself very uncomfortable. We have met many people over the years that have a real affinity for being present to the here and now and acknowledging it as a critical part of developing organizations. Most will tell you they tend to work on the fringes, or they weave their process focus into more mainstream theories and activities. It is not easy to work in this way. There are hundreds, perhaps thousands of years of thinking about getting somewhere in organizations to push aside to find a little light for this way of thinking. Fortunately, the work of people like Douglas Griffin, Ralph Stacey and their colleague Patricia Shaw are moving along with others, to provide some additional light.
If you would like to explore a little further here is a link plus the Plexus Institute link above is an interesting gateway. http://perseus.herts.ac.uk/uhinfo/research/ssahri/ssahri-showcase/catalogue/ralph-stacey.cfm
We would really enjoy hearing your stories about this topic as well so please connect back at inquiry@tms-americas.com

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