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Fieldnotes: Organizational Processes & Insider Intuition

July 27, 2014

Today I read much more deeply into how process thinking could unfold within organizations. The work today helped me realize a crucial distinction that, if followed somewhat courageously, could help to open an entirely new way of being within organizations and responding to the disruptions that are an increasingly common part of daily our experience.

For those of you reading along you already know that the last few days I’ve been contrasting a substance-thinking approach to organizational experience with a process-thinking perspective. (For those with no idea what I’m talking about, you may want to check out this and this.)

Returning, as I’ve been lately, to Tor Hernes’ great new book A Process Theory of Organization, the author draws the distinction between two very different approaches to understanding organizational processes. Hernes refers to these approaches as exogenous  (meaning ‘caused by factors from the outside’) and endogenous (‘caused by factors inside’).


Process: An Outsider’s View

Briefly put, an exogenous orientation is the far more common view of organizational processes. It asserts that all components within organizational processes are the product or response to factors that are outside the domain of that process.

As an example, think of a process that involves the hiring of a new CEO; from an exogenous orientation, this process would be understood as, say, the result of ongoing financial difficulties that, in turn, led to the board of directors firing the former CEO, and appointing a committee to install a replacement.

In such a view, the process per se is seen as a separate phenomenon from the factors that initiated it.


Process: An Insider’s View

Now, on the other hand, an endogenous orientation takes a very different approach. An endogenous perspective–while acknowledging that certain events or influences may be considered external to the process—is aware that such separations as illusory.

From an endogenous perspective, all the factors that influence a process are in fact an integral part of it; and, conversely, the process is also an integral part of them. There is no separation.

With this in mind, consider what Tor Hernes has to say on the matter:

To state an endogenous view of process implies simply saying that all is in the process. ‘It’s all in the game’, as gangster Omar Little says in the television series The Wire. According to an endogenous view, processes are analyzed without assuming the direct influence of an external context. This implies, of course, not a rejection of the importance of context, but it considers context to be important only as it is responded to, and hence converted into experience. (p. 48)

(Brief personal digression: If I wasn’t totally sold Hernes before, the fact that he quotes Omar Little to explain organizational processes totally seals the deal for me. Omar’s coming yo! )


It’s All Connected

So, back to our example of hiring a new CEO: Someone viewing this hiring process—with all its ups and downs, revelations and disruptions—and doing so from an endogenous perspective, would be keenly  attuned to that process as an integral extension of all the actions that preceded it. That includes the financial difficulties, firing, related board actions, and the like.

It is all inter-connected in a myriad of ways that we can never fully appreciate or even perceive. (As I’m now starting to see, this perspective much also include all the so-called “disruptions” related to the experience. Obviously, that is a topic I’ll be exploring in a great deal of detail later on.)


John Shotter: Process Thinking & Intuitive Insight

So after I got a general understanding of process from both an exogenous and endogenous orientation, I shifted gears a bit and starting reading a piece by communications scholar John Shotter. Shotter’s 2006 article “Understanding Process From Within: An Argument for ‘Withness’-Thinking” lends some absolutely game-changing dimensions to Hernes’ ideas of an endogenous approach to process.

There’s not enough time or space to go into Shotter’s whole thesis now, however to quickly sum up his main point it would be this: If Hernes’ says ‘Nothing is outside of process’, Shotter appears to add ‘and that includes all each one of us too!”

In other words, Shotter rejects any insinuation that we are can in any way be detached participants in organizational processes. Shotter’s point is that we are not only part of the process, but the process is also part of us. He goes on to claim that even more importantly, by tuning into our reflexive relationship with process we open ourselves to a deep level of intuition that can help us to anticipate and strategize in the face of the inevitable ambiguities that await.

To quote Shotter:

…instead of thinking about changes in a living, indivisible state of affairs from the outside…we can begin to think in accord with their changing nature from within our living relations with them. For, if we can allow ourselves to be spontaneously responsive to the temporal unfolding of their expressive movements, then we can, of course, find that same unfolding movement within our own bodily-felt experience.

Clearly, there is a lot to digest here—especially if we begin to think not only about the experience of disruption, but also of our role in responding to it.

In the next few days, I’m going to continue my reading of both Herne’s book and Shotter’s article along with a few other pieces.

I’m sure that process will provide a few answers and many intriguing questions.


2 Comments leave one →
  1. Ton Jorg permalink
    July 29, 2014 6:53 am

    Wonderful to read this. Only the metaphor of ‘unfolding’ seems not so helpful in this description of processes in organizations. This might better be replaced by ‘generated’, possibily in a nonlinear way, with potential nonlinear effects, unprecedented. In general, the notion of generative complexity being ‘at work’ in organizations offers a richer approach, opening new spaces of possibility in a world of the possible.


  1. Fieldnotes: Organizational Disruption as Dialogic Process | gonna.grow.wings

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