Two weeks ago my colleague and I attended and presented at the OD Network conference. It was an interesting time with lots of conversation, chances to meet new and interesting people and then to reflect on the experience and see what emerged.
Perhaps the first thing that stands out for me was that the people who I met there and conversed with were really good people. Everyone seemed to be very sincere in their efforts to make a positive difference in the work they did and were at the conference to learn new things and meet new people that would help them in their work. It is nice to be with a group of people where you sense that sincerity alongside high levels of competence.
The second thing that emerged for me was that the primary and often unquestioned method by which OD practitioners look to help their clients was to assist them go ‘inside and deeper’. By this I mean to look inside oneself or one’s organization and try and go deeper inside until some core truth or meaning is found and then by bringing forth that deeper truth into the world, improvement could be made. This might be referred to as true vision, who you really are, deeper meaning, core self, or some other manifestation that resides within us to be found if we go deep enough.
This models the psychotherapeutic method and while this method can add value it struck me as the conference moved on how dominant this viewpoint and approach was and how little it was questioned let alone the investigation of alternative methods. In fact I would surmise that a large percentage of the attendees at the conference have never considered or been exposed to other methods of making sense of the work world. They have certainly seen a variety of ways of approaching the ‘inner and deeper’ approach (many illustrated at the conference) but not often exposed to a fundamentally different perspective.
As an example I was with a group of about 15 where the word psychotherapeutic was used and everyone nodded in agreement of some understanding what was meant by that. The word social construction was then used a little later and only one person knew what was meant by that, and they were an academic studying the subject. Intrigued, I then experimented in the same way with two other groups with almost identical results.
Our presentation was on complex responsive processes; the work of Ralph Stacey and colleagues which has a solid grounding in social constructionist thinking, or basically the ‘outward and broader’ view of the world and people in it. In contrast to psychotherapeutic thinking, social constructionism posits that we exist and develop in a world that is social and this social process is primary. It is not exclusive of inner and deeper approaches but would say that even if discoveries were made by going inner and deeper those findings came into being by a social process and do not gain meaning until played out in a social context.
I believe it is time for the OD world to be much more inclusive of social approaches to development and change. At a very practical level it matches what is actually happening in the world of our clients. They interact in a social process continually and if we engage that process we can work within it, not outside of it which is what the psychotherapeutic process requires. Too often the OD world asks, even demands that the work world slow down and go inner and deeper. Perhaps it is time to match the pace of the world and go outward and broader.
I have no doubt that the people I met at the conference have the capacity to do this. They were smart, awesome people. The theme for the conference was Now is Our Time. I would agree. Now is our time to move outward from the constraints of the psychotherapeutic model and seriously look to additional ways of adding value.
Author – Tom