so long as I get SOMEWHERE

July 29, 2016

I intended to complete these three posts linking ideas from Alice in Wonderland with the work of Agryris (and in part Schon) over a week ago but there is only so much time in a day. I’m a little frustrated though as I thought I would get a daily post in for the whole of July and that will not be possible. .However the comments also occupied me in response and I was reluctant to make the final post while that was going on In the first post I looked at the difference between espoused theory and theory in use. In the second I went on to the related concept of single and double loop learning.

I may not have been entirely clear but I was arguing that both concepts, like mental models to which they are linked, had utility at the time but that our scientific understanding had now progressed beyond those models which made (I argued) false assumptions about intentionality as well as causality. Instead I argued by reducing the granularity, distributing condition and intermediating decision makers (the essential three heuristics of complexity work) we could make the problem that both theories address irrelevant.

In my first post I referenced Humpty Dumpty comment about mastery through controlling language; a statement of naked power if there ever was one. In my second, the cloying sentimentality of the mock turtle, is so bad that it starts to lack in credibility and becomes unbelievable. Today I have referencing the Cheshire Cat’s famous commentary on direction:

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’
‘That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,’ said the Cat.
‘I don’t much care where -‘ said Alice.
‘Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,’ said the Cat.
‘- so long as I get SOMEWHERE,’ Alice added as an explanation.
‘Oh, you’re sure to do that,’ said the Cat, ‘if you only walk long enough.

These do all hang together least in my own mind so let me spell out what I mean by avoiding the two problems addressed by Agryris and Schon. I will do that as a series of numbered statements:

  1. The whole approach suggests that the unit of analysis is the individual and the organisation. The later considered as an aggregation of individuals under some degree of direction and purpose determined by leaders. From an anthro-complexity* approach this is the wrong unit of analysis, instead we should be looking at identity. Identity is a consequence of adoption of roles in context, something that can be catalysed by ritual.
  2. Identity is easier to manage and while coherent, has a degree of fussiness which allows for mutation and novel discovery. It is also more ethical to manage identity than to try and determine/train/mandate individual behaviours. At an organisational level some identities are propensities some dispositions (see other posts on this but I will come back to it in the future). By this I mean that some appear stable over time, others are shifting but the shifts can be monitored and influenced.
  3. With SenseMaker® we capture micro-observations self interpreted at the point of origin by the originator. In consequence the dispositional map (which can also be an identity map) is a real time representation of underlying attitudes and beliefs. It can be influenced by actions: what can we/I do to make more observations like these, fewer like those.
  4. So it is not about mental models, or intentional switching between models of learning. By changing the granularity we mean that the dissonance between theories of what we intend and what we do lowers to a point of insignificance; action and narrative form an authentic short cycle real time feedback loop.
  5. By encountering different identities we can create rapid evolution and innovation. Exaptive databases allow rapid repurposing of existing capability for novel purpose. I’m working up a series of slides and posts on this as part of the post conflict work that is occupying me at the moment.


Given all of that I hope my use of quotes and illustrations from Alice in Wonderland is clear, but just in case:

  1. Power lies in language and is most effectively changed through action. It is not about the assertion of mastery (guess who had a great fall) but about the sustained understanding of people’s own self-interpretation of their situation and context.
  2. Preaching an ideal to the choir is no use if you loose the congregation in the process. The words of many a leaders and too many coaches and OD specialists is the language of the Mock Turtle and equally credible.
  3. What matters is that you get somewhere, remaining open to that is more resilient than specific goals. Avoiding things that we have learnt are non-beneficial is valuable; hence worst practice systems have more learning potential. Deciding where we should be is non-resilient and lacks ethics.

Hopefully it now clear, tomorrow I will talk about walking …


*I cannot claim to make statements for complexity as a whole, nor can anyone else, it is a broad church. So when I am making definitive statements I am referencing the body of theory based on my work and that of close colleagues

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