Fieldnotes: Organizations & Disruption, 2500 Years of “Accidents”
A couple weeks ago I shifted gears a bit and began focusing far more intensely on my dissertation’s literature review. This has been an illuminating process for sure.
While some who’ve been following my postings may find it redundant, here’s a patch from the opening sentences of my rough draft for the lit review:
This dissertation explores organizational change as it arises in event and conditions thought of as disruption. For the purposes of this study disruption is conceived as a relational process that occurs as individuals respond to events and conditions that call for strategies diverging from known or anticipated problem-solving capacities.
As the following review of the relevant literature reveals, effectively responding to conditions of disruption has been a central theme in organizational and leadership thinking since well before the industrial revolution. In fact, by looking further back we see that much of today’s organizational thinking mirrors a split underscoring much of Western thought from at least the time of the Pre-Socratics; that being the uneasy relationship between conditions of stability and conditions of so-called flux.
This literature review traces that split as it was first seen from thinkers from antiquity to present day management writings. In so doing I will illustrate how the privileging of stability and delegitimation and disregard of flux continues to inform organizational thought while calling for an even greater awareness of the lived experience of those engaged with such conditions.
It’s going to need still more tightening and focus but a key point I want to convey is that the pervasiveness of disruption is forcing a reconsideration of a split in Western thinking that occurred about 2500 years ago; that being the privileging of stability over flux.
Disruption, Theory of Forms, and Final Cause
While Plato solidified it with his Theory of Forms (everything in our world reflects a more perfect “parallel” world inhabited by unadulterated “forms”), it really became ingrained in Western culture with Aristotle.
Aristotle thoroughly rejected Plato’s two-world model and his Theory of Forms. As Aristotle saw it, there was only one world in which all phenomena was guided by the Four Causes. I won’t go into all four now except to say that “Four Causes” thinking was a way to determine if something was a genuine part of the universal order or not.
For today’s discussion, the Cause of most interest is the last, the aptly-named “Final Cause” or as Bryan Magee refers to it as, “the ultimate-reason-for-it-all cause”. So according to Final Cause, we are able to understand the reason for a thing or event by the ultimate aim it is supposed to serve. (For example, the ultimate aim of a stack of bricks may be to become a house the builders are crafting.)
Final Cause and “Accidents”
Here’s they really important point: According to Aristotle, if a thing or phenomena cannot be connected to a Final Cause, there is a very good chance it is an “accident” or aberration of the universal order and should thus be disregarded.
Ok, so let’s think about what this means for so-called disruptive phenomena. According to Aristotle, phenomena that diverges from an intended outcome cannot meet the criteria of the Final Cause and should be dismissed as an accident—totally outside the natural order of all that is meant to be.
Suddenly, it becomes a bit clearer why states of flux and disruption are viewed than less-than-legitimate in the eyes of traditional management thinking. That thinking is simply following the line of thought established by Aristotle more than 2000 years ago.
More to Follow
Now to get from Aristotle to The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, there’s just a bit more going on than what I detail here. While I won’t even attempt to cover it all, in the next few days I’ll try to fill in a few more blanks such as Descartes, Newton, our pal Frederick Taylor (a.k.a., the creator of scientific management and the godfather of command-and-control business practices).
Stay tuned friends.