Objections to Learning Organizations LO24152

From: Jan Lelie (janlelie@wxs.nl)
Date: 03/10/00

Replying to LO24059 --

Good morning Debby and the other friends of OLLO,

I'm sorry if i appear to be too smart. I do not want to outsmart other
people, but i always seem to do this. (nb: is this another objection to
the LO: "if you're so smart, why do you not have a LO yourself?")

> Top-down imposition by management is water off a duck's back if the
> organization and all its members march to a strictly hierarchically
> defined, handed-down style of the past. Not only is that structure no
> longer necessary, it is dysfunctional and wastes many opportunities for
> direct work accomplishment or task completion AND to enjoy the by-products
> of more flexible operation and recognition of the value of intangible
> assets such as knowledge.

I thought so too, but over a period of time i've learned that it is not
the hierarchy or structure that is wasteful, but the way the hierarchy is
perceived in relation with the situation. Marching members in a top down
style is just one way of working within a hierarchy. Another one is
working in an informal style, skipping or bypassing the boss when
necessary. Another one is creating a number of cross functional teams from
a matrix organization to get a project done. Another one is hierarchy
based on sentiments, feeling, cultural rules and experience. It is not an
informal hierarchy but a different criterion for ranking people (a family
is the best example i can think of). These different modes are very well
illustrated in 'The wheel of learning, mastering the Rhythm of a learning
Organization", Field book page 59.

All these "modes" are available to us, have value for us - and it may be
that what i appreciate is not what you would prefer - . We have to decide
and decide and decide again what to use when: some situations require a
top down command way of working, like the famous army example. Another
time one would rely on the cultural hierarchy (he is older, or has more
experience, or she is able to listen better). People are able to step from
one mode into another, sometimes not even noticing that they do. Basically
assume that there are a number of solutions available and it might be a
different one that is needed.

Two aspects may be observed:

1. the choice for a certain kind of interpretation of an hierarchy
generates a counter movement that in the long run favours the opposite
choice. When we think we can reduce a problem by imposing a top down
solution, after some time, we'll need a more divergent approach, like a
grass roots movement. On the other hand, a solution that means getting
people involved, committed, requires people to join, a solution that
invites new and different inputs, will inevitably lead to imposing a top
down structure to get work done. The more pressure is applied to a
solution that did work in the past (for instance the informal team, or the
project organization, or the entrepreneurial organization, or the family
approach), the more a different "mode" will try to establish itself. Also
i would like to add on a personal node that i think that this is reflected
by the "difference" between being and becoming: two counteracting modes,
each creating and destroying the other.

2. These (counter)movements in turn generates equivocality - psychological
tension - : the "solution" to a "problem", might depend on the way the
"problem" is experienced, defined, eanacted or seen. But a "solution" was
designed to reduce equivocality in the first place. Note that a hierarchy,
any of the four, reduces equivocality by imposing a structure based on an
idea, an assumption, a lemma of a paradigm. And by doing so IN THE LONG
RUN shows that this way to reduce something will not work. Should we blame
the idea? Should we not think?

This, i'm taking the lift to the top of the ladder of interference, this
may be the very cause of creating and creating ever more complex
organizations. As we do not recognize this pressure - it is felt, but not
accepted - we become tense. Being tense we react in the only way we've
learned: action-reaction, working harder, not using the tension in a
creative way. And working harder we still create an ever more complexing
mixture of realities.

The real tragedy is, is that we know that this happens - we have been
taught so, and - at least in the business school i went to - we've learned
that there is this variety of solutions, that the world is full of
possibilities, we've been warned by our oracles. Yet it is used not to
switch from one mode to another (off course explaining, having a dialogue
why a different view is required, why you feel moved to speak, so to say).
It is rather used to prevent from another mode to take over. In stead of
"going with the flow" and let the natural swing of change take over, we
try to constrain it. It is like you have been told that you'll kill your
father and by trying not to do so, you do.

By restraining flow or a rhythm, we do not stop the flow or the rhythm.
Like building dikes in The Netherlands. We - the Dutch - may even think
that we can constrain the water for always. But lately you can hear
another tune: we - the same Dutch - should again be able to inundate
polders, to give the river more space, should no longer build in some
areas. In Holland we thought we were safe from floods because of these
dikes, but in recent years we've realized that this will not work in the
long run. Perhaps i should call my forthcoming book: "How to be(come) a
Dutchman?": being born in The Netherlands is NOT required.

But this was a sideline. What i wanted to say was this: the flow of rhythm
will always show up, muffled, damped, distorted at first, but gaining
power and momentum from the same source that tries to constrain them.. The
feelings that you do not want to have, that you do not accept, will
express themselves strongest.(Or, vice versa: the attachments).

> I can't say I know for sure we have a 'new economy'. But I do know the
> world has changed, and that change is continuing, significant, pervasive,
> and swift. This environment has new demands, and learning is one of
> several modus operandi now prerequisite for addressing them most
> effectively and for maximizing successful use of resources and
> opportunities. In addition to performing the explicit job at hand, we are
> talking about secondary benefits derived in the process, including
> creation, accumulation, and the ability to use the 'soft capital'
> generated.

The"stored programm machine", as a technology, is a neutral enabler. The
idea sat quietly waiting for electonics to advance. Here you can nicely
see how this world works: - i have a set of picture to go with it, but are
unable to show them here, i think - at first IT was for us a tool to
strengthen the hierachical organisation (it was called automation, in
those days). While trying to harness the power of information, IT started
to become information systems, starting to drown the classical
organisation, creating tensions and change everywere. Then it became
apparent that flood gates were opened, and we called it IT, a technology.
Now here in Holland a C has been added: ICT, communication. And still we
try control the powers that are being released: it is learning to

> I admit to addiction to information technology (IT). Percy Barnevik is one
> of my heroes. He said "IT changes everything". Well, I insist it is the
> USE of IT, but please accept my zeal. He led Asea Brown Boveri to a lean,
> responsive organization, with a kernel headquarters staff and the smallest
> number of layers I know in an organization of that scale between the
> executive and the customer.

Resistance to <anything organisational> is, in my view, a change in the
"velocity of change" or the change of change itself. This change is
induced by crossing over from one reality perception to another. Change,
as you've also said, is continuous, like a light wave traveling along a
straight line. On the other hand, change of change is also happening, like
the light being "broken" by a prism. Our "way of changing" is different
from the change in the path of light ray by a prism, because we also can
reflect on the change and thereby change the changing.

There is nothing "wrong" with an organization when there is resistance to
change. And also nothing with the question of "what?". I would only advice
not to leave it at that, but also to seek answers on the question: "who?",
"why?" and "how?" and only then to move towards increased learning.

> If there is resistance to organizational learning my first question would
> be 'what is wrong with the organization?' Using that information could be
> the best first step towards increased learning.

If you stop reading now, i'll stop typing ;-)

Jan Lelie

Drs J.C. Lelie CPIM (Jan)
LOGISENS  - Sparring Partner in Logistical Development
Mind@Work - est. 1998 - Group Decision Process Support
Tel.: (+ 31) (0)70 3243475 or car: (+ 31)(0)65 4685114
http://www.mindatwork.nl and/or
taoSystems: + 31 (0)30 6377973 - Mindatwork@taoNet.nl

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