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Fieldnotes: Organizational Anxiety and Taboo of Process Thinking

June 24, 2014

Ok, so remember how I used to write nightly about my research??? No? Me neither.

Well, it’s been a bit longer than I would prefer, but the method literature I’ve been reading talks about periods of low output being a part of the process and where incubation/integration happens. So that smoke you’ve been seeing ?? It’s me incubating and integrating. (Good thing I have a vacation coming up.)

Happily, the writing gears are cranking again and I’m thrilled to feel the momentum vibe creeping back in. Tonight was a little over 1000 words. Much of that was recapping or summarizing the key themes addressed so far. In addition, after reading Edgar Schein (thanks Rebecca!) I’ve also gotten a much better idea about exactly how organizations silence any influences that would want to veer from the traditional linear, Newtonian thinking. (But more on that later.)

For now, here’s how it is all shaping up,starting with this important quote from C. Robert Mesle:

…the world is not finally made of “things” at all, if a “thing” is something that exists over time without changing. The world is composed of events and processes. (Mesle, pg. 8)

While this is a simple enough premise, if applied to the deeper aspects of how we think about the world and ourselves in it, the implications can be quite startling. This is particularly the case in organizations.

With this notion in mind, here where my thoughts are headed:

• In most organizations, the approach to change and/or disruption is not effective and often exacerbates problems.

• This disconnect arises because organizational thinking is generally based on a way of seeing the world that no longer fits the rapid, continual pace of information flows and knowledge creation.

• Typically, this thinking is based on a mechanistic, Newtonian view of the world.

• In organizations, this thinking is experienced as the asumtion that explicit strategies are needed to stay on course and meet challenges, and that the source of this strategy is leadership–specifically, the superior knowledge and ability of appointed leaders.

• As Crevani, Lindgren, and Packendorff point out “the basic reason behind the dominating view that ‘leadership’ is to be found in the qualities and the doings of individual leaders is the modernist notion of stable, distinct material entities as building blocks of reality (p. 2)
.
• Our challenges demand a process approach, but not just a process perspective (Crevani, Lindgren, Packendorff). What is demanded is a new process-oriented way of viewing the world and the human beings in it. In short, organizations need a process ontology.

• But this need creates it own set of challenges.

• Trouble arises because to reconceive the world from a process perspective challenges the West’s fundamental assumptions about human beings and the world.

Schein calls these kinds of deeply held worldviews our basic assumptions.

• Schein says that when basic assumptions are challenged we experience an uncomfortable sensation of cognitive instability.

• In order to avoid cognitive instability, strong resistance and defensiveness take over.

• Within an organization, this creates resistance to any thinking—such as process thinking–that challenges a Newtonian-based substance view of the world.

• Process based thinking calls us to focus on the mundane micro-enactments (aka, the daily conversations and relationships) that people regularly engage in.

• To study this we have to look at what happens between individuals when they are responding to change and disruption.

• As Crevani, Lindgren, and Packendorff point out “If we want to take leadership research beyond the leader-centered heroic tradition, we must…try to redefine leadership into terms of activities in between people in interaction, and study what is being accomplished in that interaction without becoming preoccupied with what formal leaders do and think.

~Goodnight dear friends…

-=-=-

Tonight’s Sonic Fuel 

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