A Little Sunshine Please

February 26, 2011

In my previous post I described the paradox of knowledge as a chute that ends in a safe landing in the simple domain. We need to focus on this mysterious point for a moment. What we have here is an attractor that an organization’s first principles are anchored to.

Since we are looking for group knowledge as opposed to the individual form, we need to find something that is essential to groups. This attribute should favor groups over individuals in order to offset the easy defection that we have witnessed. It has to be something obvious, but not too familiar, otherwise it would be too easy to discover (and I wouldn’t be writing this blog). It also needs to be suitable for formal and informal organizations, communities of practice and the dynamic social networks of today.

As I had recently finished Juarrero’s “Dynamics in Action,” I began my search there. I didn’t find anything and was getting frustrated when I noticed the last chapter was titled “Agency, Freedom and Individuality.” Whoops.

I turned then to another familiar source of ideas, the Model I and Model II (espoused and in-action values) concepts from Chris Argyris. His skilled incompetence is an intriguing idea, although it seems to equate to the event horizon far better than to this mysterious attractor. His theory of Model II might help develop signifiers, but it doesn’t fulfill what I was searching for.

After a couple of other dead ends I recognized that familiarity itself might be closer to the mark. If we think of how people come together through social events and introductions, it might be considered an energy fueling group formation. Upon closer inspection it has been implicated as a contributor to groupthink and in the political arena to clans and cults. In action it seems to amplify power, not knowledge. The old saying of “familiarity breeds contempt” is too true.

Familiarity was a step onto the right path. I finally found what I sought in the practices of Appreciative Inquiry. Among its key precepts,

“AI seeks, fundamentally, to build a constructive union between a whole people and the massive entirety of what people talk about…” (2)

Appreciative Inquiry succeeds because it creates intimacy. Intimacy and identity together complement group dynamics, the famous “form, storm, norm, perform” activities. When intimacy is present the group will work through difficult problems. When it is not, there is little to keep people engaged other than the hierarchy of command, or passive cooperation because one has no other alternatives for connecting (think about meetings, company email, list servers).

I have described three characteristics of organizational knowledge – Tension, Potential and Intimacy. In my final post I will show how we can use these three characteristics as anchors when we deconstruct a social system.

1. “Dynamics In Action; Intentional Behavior as a Complex System,” Alice Juarrero, 2002, MIT Press
2. http://appreciativeinquiry.case.edu/intro/whatisai.cfm

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