Limitations of symbols

August 28, 2006

I wanted to share a great quote from Gabriele Lakomski’s scholarly but very readable Managing without Leadership that picks up on the general question of nauralising as opposed to normative approaches of which more some time this week. The book is priced at £62 on Amazon which is pity as at a more normal price it could, and I think should sell well. I strongly recommend it and it will be added to our Reading List this week along with the Boghossian’s more academic book that I referenced in my attack on social constructivism last month.

The model of the human mind has been assumed to be akin that of a symbol processor, a computer like engine that allows us to manipulate successfully a range of symbols of which language is deemed the most significant. This view of the human mind is very limiting because it assumes that what we know, and are able to know, is expressible in symbolic form only. … because intangibles cannot be captured in the grip of such symbolic representations as questionnaires or surveys. It might rightly be pointed out that there are qualitative means of assessing transformational leadership in terms of interpreting certain leader behaviors, or by applying leader self-reports. These are imbued with their own problems because of the inability of differentiating between competing interpretations, a core problem of interpretive social science and hermeneutics, and by the endemic unreliability of self-reports.

Most people rejecting the concept of leadership do it from the perspective of what I will call post-modern dispair but Lakomski avoids this in a well argued case. She also avoids the pendulum swing away from traditional approaches to everything being about stories that is all too common at the naive or primative (in the worst sense of the word) end of the story telling movement. This quote (and indeed the whole book) is a good basis from which to pick up on issues of measurement and meaning in the complex world of humans and their environment and its a subject that I am writing about for my Frontiers piece in E:CO at the moment. That article will also explore where I think Lakomski goes a stage too far down the connectionist path in her book. I’ll pick up on this general theme as the week goes on and also start to link it with the concept of culture and an important announcement we expect to make over the weekend of a programme to run over my birthday (that was not planned) next year in Broken Hill Australia. Book your diaries now for the period around 1st April 2007 (and yes that is my birthdate)

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