The 3 Crumbling Pillars of Modern Management
As I survey mainstream organizational practices for the past 100 years, these are the principles I see underscoring nearly all mainstream leadership models and approaches to organizational change:
1. The universe was designed as an orderly, mechanistic system where permanence and stability are the norms. Change and/or disruption is an irregular event and indicate a breakdown in the natural, intended order.
2. Valid knowledge is based on rational thought that allows for order, stability, and the control of outcomes. Any knowledge based on collective experience or emotions is flawed as it is highly subjective and contextual.
3. To be effective, human action should produce order, stability, and
intended outcomes. Such action is assured through adherance to universal rules and rational planning.
Here we can easily see the influence of Cartesian thinking and the notion of a mechanistic universe. Even with those models considered “more progressive”, such as servant leadership, or self-directed teams, when you scratch below the surface, you find these same three principles.
The interesting thing is, looking at these practices throughout the 20th century, we also see the quiet but growing emergence of a so-called “counternarrative” of organizational thinking.
The earliest, and perhaps boldest, example of this counternarrative is in the writing of Mary Parker Follett. Writing in the 1920s–a time when Frederick Taylor’s “Scientific Management” movement was in full swing–Follett’s work is nothing short of revelatory.
Taking on the notion of an orderly universe that was understood through rational thinking and implemented through proper planning, Follett believed that, to be effective, management had to acknowledge the world’s inherenent complexity. Unlike Taylor, and nearly every other thinker of her day, Follett saw the world as a dynamic, ever-evolving creative process that was demanded strategey based upon collective self-discovery.
While management practices rooted in the three constraining pillars remained the widely accepted norm not only throughout the 20th century, but well into the 21st as well, what we also see is a slow but growing infiltration of more organic, humanistic influences vis a vis Follett.
Systems theory, Senge’s Learning Organization model, and complexity-based management theory all represented efforts to introduce a more dynamic, evolving worldview modern management practices.
As we now are starting to contend with disruption on an heretofore unimaginable scale we will see the emergence of even more radical advancements in organizational theory. While the particular shape or form of these models remains unclear, there is little doubt such advancements will need to go far beyond traditional task-structuring, power-distribution practices.
Instead we will need management thinking that addresses the radical developments not just in workplace practices but in personal identity. As we thinking about what each one of us is experiencing through the tsumani of digital disruption, the need for such new thinking should be clear.
We need a new awareness of organizations and management that do far more than what the thinking in these domains has done before; we need thinking that takes on our evolving relationship, not only to the workplace, but to each other and the world at large.
This means that–by necessity–organizational thinking has to begin accomodating fundamental human processes such as our rapidly evolving relationship to dialogue, and how our shifting notions of change and causality have now created an entirely new work environment than what we could have imagined even a generation ago.