What about those holes?

November 12, 2008

I have been chatting on and off with my Lacanian Psychoanalyst friend Julia about a range of issues and we are now talking about a joint paper on knowledge combining complexity theory. I find Lacanian theory interesting but largely rely on Julia to interpret it for me (read Lacan if you want to know why) and others have linked it to complexity before so the pathways to a new take on knowledge looks interesting. Either way as part of the exchange overnight she wrote: I have always found Peters & Waterman’s concept of knitting equals culture as helpful. The question is where is the identity? in the coherence or in the holes in the knitting?. Now given the debate that my little tirade on categorisation models (by the way, all categories have labels, but not all labels are categories) I thought this got to some of essence of the questions that we are now trying to understand. What makes us say that something is something? More on that on a future blog and in the article.

Incidentally I’ve known Julia for over twenty years now, she used to be in charge of training at a company called Datasolve which gave me my first break into general management. It went on to become Datasciences before its acquisition by IBM over a decade ago. I took over the decision support group I had joined as a consultant/designer/programmer (those were the days in IT, you did everything) as Manager and then General Manager as it grew. Every six months we took the whole team away for four days stayed in holiday cottages and ate in the local pub (other than the cholesterol heavy breakfast that I cooked every morning as an act of managerial humility). The weekend would see us do something silly together: walking, pony trekking, canoeing or the like. No trust exercises, just good friends having fun together and then we would spend Monday/Tuesday working through the last six months, planning for the next. It cost very little, my staff retention was the highest in the business and it provided a diffusion point for any issues within the team. Eventually I was told to stop, the excuse was hard times but reality it was because it worked and others didn’t understand why and from that point we started to loose people and the petty politics that bedevils many a business unit started to intrude.

So where was the coherence in that group? In effect the six monthly event was a ritual act which generated rich narrative material which defined the culture. The team appeared coherent, in fact I was heavily criticised by my boss for creating an elitist group although he never produced a single scrap of evidence to support the accusation. He tried a couple of times to imitate the process with his own reportees but blew it after two difficult days of discussion in which his team came up with a painful conclusion. He then pulled out a slide set and told us we had come close to what he had already decided.

You couldn’t place my team into a “category”, but it had coherence. Was it in the people, the process, the links or the holes? No it was an emergent property of social interaction over time, it could not be categorised.

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