A couple of weeks ago I was out digging away at a small garden we were replanting beside our house. The little guy from next door rides his bike up beside me to see what’s going on. He’s 6 years old and talks like a high speed conveyor belt. He got going on the why, why, why track; “Why are you digging?” – “Why do you want different stuff in there?” – “Why are there snails in the dirt?” etc, etc. I did my best to answer his questions as most of us do in these situations but it looked like nothing was going to stop the onslaught.
After what seemed like question 100 I said “Just because Tyler, and sometimes, because is all there is.” Amazingly he got back on his bike and rode away and I heard him saying to himself “Sometimes because is all there is.”
As I continued to dig away it occurred to me that in many ways this is one of the big problems of many of the dominant organization development theories in use today. They just can’t let ‘Because’ be all there is
Almost all the dominant thinking in organizational development theory today is founded on the following premise:
We act into a knowable future
Things like work dealing with Vision, things like Systems Thinking, Change Theory and even newer approaches from Complexity Science typically rest on the above premise, very often without even really considering this premise exists.
What this means is that there has to be a predictable, causal link from our activity in the present in order to create this knowable future. This means that there is always an answer to the question “Why are you doing something?” ‘Because” can never be all there is. Yet everyone reading this knows that sometimes ‘Because’ is truly all there is.
The problem with not having theories or tools that allow for ‘Because’ being all there is, is that they still have to deal with the reality of its occurrence. And when this happens these theories will inevitably slip very subtlety, out of their logical and predictable perspective into the mystical, the magical or the impossible to understand as if it was the logical next and deeper step with the theory. It is the only way these theories can deal with the alternative premise:
We act into an unknowable future
This subtle slip into the mystical happens with Senge’s Presence, Jaworski’s Synchronicity, Wheatley’s Simpler Way, and countless other dominant viewpoints of how organizations develop and change and how they can be managed. I think Senge, Jaworski and Wheatley and many other management ‘gurus’ are doing some very good and important things in our world. But I do not think the process of what they are doing matches the theoretical foundations they describe it with. And this is a very big problem.
We read their theories and try to act on them. We are often met with limited success. We see them doing wonderful things and wonder what’s wrong with us, why isn’t it working for us? We are trying to replicate these theories when their actual behavior is not representative of the theory itself.
Imagine viewing the world from the premise that we act into an unknowable future. It will be recognizable when we get there, but unknowable from the present. You will likely find that this premise much more closely matches your actual experience. You will still work intently and passionately to realize your intentions. You will still imagine a future you want. You will still wonder, worry and celebrate the present. But you will not plan so fervently to make every action so causally predictive. You will not angst so much over mistakes or unintended consequences. You will say “Let’s go ahead and try it” more. You will say “Maybe” more and be ok with that. You will let the magical and the mystical have their appropriate space. And most importantly you will watch what people are doing and choose what to replicate and what to do differently, not because of the theories espoused, but because you trust your own experience and have a much smaller need for the gurus to tell you how.
And yes, maybe some day you will even walk away and really believe that sometimes ‘Because’ is all there is.
Author – Tom