Sh_ _ Happens – The Sequel

Tom GibbonsOrganization Development1 Comment

In our last e-newsletter we looked at the above phrase through the lens of two types of causality, formative and rational.  We often try very hard to manage our organizations assuming it operates by formative causality when in fact it often operates by rational causality and thus, sh_ _ happens.  In this e-newsletter we take a look at another type of causality, transformative, a causality that often doesn’t get much air time.  This is because it describes a way in which unplanned things can happen or perhaps better described as, sh_ _ might happen….

When you really look at how things happen in organizations;  when you keep asking  “so how did that happen?”, or “what do we need to do to make this happen?” you eventually end up with a basic and very real answer.  People interacting make things happen.  This interaction may be individual, through reflection or together through conversation.  These interactions produce more interactions and things get done, things change.  It is in this all so common occurrence of interaction that transformative causality is found.

Transformation, newness, innovation, the unplanned happens when people interact.  Transformative causality is the cause of the unknown and unplanned.  When people interact they bring their entire history of experience plus their hopes and images of the future to bear on that interaction.  When these get combined with the vast perspectives and experiences of others it is impossible to predict specifically what might come forward.  Maybe something perfectly predictable or maybe something perfectly unpredictable.  If it’s the latter you have transformative causality at work and sh_ _ might happen, you just don’t really know.

Transformative causality needs interaction in order to operate and typically this interaction is in the form of conversations.  It is the conversations we have with people that create the unplanned in our organizational worlds.  It seems almost unbelievable that we have come to think we can plan, predict, control and manage our organizations when the very currency that makes organizations come alive – our conversations – carries the possibility of throwing it all into various levels of the unknown.  The paradox of this is that although we have come to think, or expect, and have been trained to believe we can plan, predict, and control our organizations, it is not what we do.  Ask anyone in an organization to tell you their organizational stories and they will tell you they act into the unknown all the time, and they survive it quite well.

The reason this is important is that we continue to think and learn about our organizations in one way and then experience it in another, and we devalue our experience in order to eliminate this paradox.  Simply look at the vast majority of management training and management thinking today.  Really look at it.  Go root out your last course on managing change or managing conflict or managing just about anything.  At the heart of it is formative causality.  No matter how participative it purports to be, you will find the assumption that you can manage these situations by doing something to someone and that that someone really doesn’t have a role to play in the whole thing.  Nowhere will you find in those courses the statement that says, when you interact with your employees around change, or conflict that something totally unpredictable might happen, something you could never have planned for.  Something that recognizes that when people interact, everyone has a role to play for no other reason than they are interacting.

Transformative causality gives a legitimate explanation to our day to day experiences in organizations.  It legitimizes things like agendas going off track and something of value still happening.  It legitimizes sitting down with people and talking and just finding out what happens.  It legitimizes our wonderful capacity to act into the unknown and just get on together.  And finally, it legitimizes that all those training manuals you’ve had on your shelf for years and haven’t looked at since the course, should sit there longer still.

Our challenge is to work with transformative causality in the formal aspects of our business.  Things like planning, change, project management and so on.  This will be the focus of our very first cohort initiative with our new subscription process.  Connect back if you are interested.

One Comment on “Sh_ _ Happens – The Sequel”

  1. Pingback: Flocking to Seattle – Sounds like ‘Simple Rules’ « TMS Americas

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