Why Balancing is Important – Part 2

20151104_145251In the last post a visual was introduced; a field extending in front and behind you with two chasms on the left and right sides. We looked at what it was like to walk much closer to the left chasm, the psychological end point. This is the perspective of mainstream OD, perhaps even a mainstream, western worldview.

What about the right side? I don’t think we walk on that side much at all, we don’t really know that landscape very well. Perhaps we don’t even know it exists! Actually, I think we work very, very hard to ignore its existence, even if this work has mostly become invisible, a background of day-to-day struggle manifesting in the consequences noted in the last post.

The chasm on the right represents a social construction end point. As we near this right edge it is context that is primary. The individual, you, are simply a part of that context. What would this look like in organizations?:

  • Generalized expertise, experience or knowledge is devalued since specific context renders it inapplicable.
  • A reliance on reacting to the present with very little focus on the past or future.
  • A belief that we can personally adapt and change to any context/situation we find ourselves in.
  • A belief that the individual is no more important than other variables in a given context, and that personal choice is mostly irrelevant.

And as you fall off the edge into the chasm of social construction end point the individual is ‘relativized’, simply another random variable, one of countless others that may or may not have any impact on the context at hand. In this chasm nothing matters because the individual is swallowed by their relativity to everything else.

This, I think is the end point of a social construction perspective on organizations and what people are within them. I don’t think we often walk too close to this edge or even acknowledge its existence but what might the consequences of this perspective in organizations:

  • An almost endless need to react and respond to each situation as if it was new and different.
  • A deep sense of frustration that our knowledge and experience was undervalued
  • A belief that no one, not even us can resolve our problems and challenges.
  • A turning away from accountability and choice because our choices have no more chance of making a difference than any other random variables.
  • A feeling of powerlessness.
  • An insistent longing for something to believe in, something more significant than the here and now.

Another little OUCH! since just like the psychological end point, the social construction end point is simply a perspective; and that can be challenged, would need to be challenged.

So we fall into one chasm of determinism and the other of relativism; neither sounds very enjoyable do they! However, these two posts are about balancing and right now, in the mainstream OD world we are getting very close to the left hand edge, that chasm of determinism. I don’t think we are even close finding our way to the right side of this field we walk on, which would at least give us a chance to consider balancing.

What I see are more and more attempts, more and more complexity in trying to overcome the CONSEQUENCES of this psychological perspective and very little challenging of the perspective itself!

What might balancing look like?  That’s the next post and perhaps more….

Why Balancing is Important

20151104_145251Imagine you are standing in a field that stretches out of sight ahead and behind you. On your left a little ways away is a deep chasm. The same on your right, quite a bit further away. You are walking along quite close to that left edge, not even thinking about falling into that deep chasm and disappearing forever.  The deep chasm on your right is hardly ever considered, it’s too far away.

The deep chasm on the left is a psychological end point, the one on the right is a social construction end point. The world of OD and I think the way we understand life in general walks very close to this left edge, this psychological end point. However, each chasm is eerily similar even though the journey to fall in is very, very different. You really don’t want to fall into either one, since once you do, meaning, our own personal meaning is swallowed up.

As you near the left edge, toward the psychological end point it is you, the individual that is primary, paramount and alone. What does this look like in organizations?:

  • A reliance on individuals that are deemed somehow ‘superior’ to typical individuals – gurus, experts, people with power
  • A reliance and focus on leaders and leadership
  • A belief that we own our individuality
  • A belief that ‘context’ is mostly irrelevant and the individual can overcome, transcend and conquer any context

As we move nearer the edge, the individual, distinct and separate from all else becomes primary, and as you fall off the edge, the individual is ‘determined’, something outside of the individual has determined what they are, what they are to do and what their purpose is. In this chasm nothing matters because the individual is swallowed by the belief they are determined, controlled, manipulated, owned by something superior to themselves.

This, I think is the end point of a psychological perspective on what organizations are and what people are, in those organizations. I think we are walking far closer to this edge, to this chasm than we are the other. What are the consequences of walking close to this edge? Look around you at work or look in the mirror.

  • An almost endless onslaught of messaging that if we do ‘this’ thing, whatever some expert tells us, we will, in essence, be better individuals.
  • A deep sense of guilt or shame that we are not good enough to do those ‘things’ that will make us better.
  • A belief that good leadership is the answer to our challenges and problems.
  • A turning away from accountability and choice at a personal level since that leader is the one that really is accountable.
  • A feeling of powerlessness.
  • A need to protect ourselves, our individual selves from anything that may be seen as detrimental to our individuality.
  • An insistent longing for something ‘better’, if only we could find it.

A little OUCH! this time; there is a need for gentleness I think. For the above are not inevitable consequences, but consequences of a perspective, a perspective that can be challenged, one that needs balancing. When we look closely at almost all mainstream OD work, almost all messages from organizational gurus, almost all writing on leadership you will find some version of the bullet points above. It is this that needs balancing.

As I have noted in earlier posts it is this psychological perspective that is dominant in the OD world at present. The other dominant perspective is structural or systemic. I think this perspective fits very well with the psychological perspective and may be two sides to the same coin.

More on that perspective in a future post. The next post will focus on the right side of that field and what it is like to walk near that edge and what that chasm is like….








Moving Forward

20151104_145251It’s time to move forward. To consider what OUCH!less organizational development might actually be. OUCH!less OD is not necessarily a smiley, happy place. It certainly is not a place of certainty. It is however a place with much less shame, blame and guilt; at least shame, blame and guilt caused by the way mainstream OD understands and acts within organizations now.

In the first post of this series I stated that the mainstream approach of OD at present focuses on psychology and structure and that this approach needs balance.

The balancing perspective of psychology is social construction. The balancing perspective of structure is interaction.

Let’s start with social construction. I am going to use an older post to get us going. It was written in 2012 and was originally published in the TMS Learning Exchange. Of all the blog posts I have written over 10 plus years this is one of my favorites. A little longer than usual but a good start I think…


We seem to live in quite a ‘psychological’ world. A world where everyone understands the words ‘ego’, ‘personality’, ‘psyche’, ‘identity’, ‘self’ and so many other words and phrases that, in some way or other, have a sense of individual creation and then ownership attached to them.

The starting point for a world understood psychologically is internal and individual. The first sentence of the prologue of Carl Jung’s autobiography, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, captures this well:

“My life is a story of self-realization of the unconscious. Everything in the unconscious seeks outward manifestation, and the personality too desires to evolve out of its unconscious conditions and to experience itself as a whole.”

One of my sincere hopes for 2013 and ongoing is that we find ways to take the best of this psychological perspective and balance it with a social perspective. A perspective where the words ‘construction’, ’emergence’, ‘transformation’ and ‘interaction’ are better understood as part of what makes us who we are at any one point in time. And that who we are is seen not so much as an identity we own, but one that is more fluid, contextual, and shared in its construction by the countless day-to-day interactions we have with others.

I think the pendulum has swung too far to the psychological side and has created a place, for the individual that psychology has created, that too often is lonely and full of guilt, shame and blame. Perhaps with a little more balance toward the social we can find more ‘human’ places to ‘be’.

As the psychological perspective has taken precedence the idea of the individual has become paramount. We, as individuals, are seen as both born with and having created the identity we now own. We are alone in its goodness or badness, its rightness or wrongness, its worth or lack thereof. And it is the I, the individual, who is seen as having sole and unfettered domain over this identity.

As the concept of the psychological individual has become dominant, what that individual should ‘be’ has been idealized in almost every walk of life. We are inundated explicitly and implicitly with what we should be like as a leader, a manager, a mother, father, daughter, son, consumer, citizen and on it goes. These idealized identities are virtually impossible to attain, yet we are somehow supposed to measure up, and as sole proprietors of our identities it is up to us alone to attain these mythical standards of personhood. And when we cannot reach these heights on our own, we find ourselves in this place of guilt, shame and blame.

The gifts of the psychological perspective; deep reflection, a search for greater awareness, comfort with the transpersonal experiences we all share as well as the vast differences we do not, get lost as the pendulum swings too far. No perspective, exclusive of others, is healthy, and I hope we can let the pendulum swing back a little, and our health as perfectly normal humans can be reclaimed.

What does a social perspective bring, and how might it help us to find balance?

A social perspective brings context into focus. A perspective that reminds us that who we are is significantly affected by the place, time, and people we find ourselves in and with. A focus on context allows us to be a little more the product of the space we find ourselves in and a little less of the person that should be able to transcend that space.

A social perspective brings relationship into focus. Relationship and interaction as immediate causal factors in the emergence of our very selves. As we have discovered through complexity science, the relationship between things may be more important than the things themselves and this can be another way of seeing ourselves. A focus on relationship allows us to believe that the potential for true personal and social change resides in every interaction and allows us to see ourselves less as the expression of innate, unchanging characteristics.

A social perspective brings a focus to the present. A realization that the future resides in the here-and-now and that history can be reimagined by how we think about it today. An acceptance that nothing is more important or real than what, or who stands before us at this moment. An understanding that, while we are dramatically influenced by the weight of our histories and the lightness of our futures, we are not shackled to them since we have the capacity to choose in the present. We have the capacity to choose to act into an uncertain future.

A social perspective brings acceptance to irresolvable paradox. Where context is important, rightness and wrongness become more relative, truth is no longer absolute. The heroes and heroines of yesterday can be the pariahs of today. What is accepted in one place and time is not in another and this can be understood. We can find space for difference while not losing our sense of belief. Paradox need not be resolved.

The social perspective allows for the natural existence of uncertainty. George Herbert Mead talked of a ‘conversation of gestures’, where meaning is not found in the initial gesture alone. Meaning emerges from the interplay of gesture AND response. The incredible complexity of our past and as well as our hopes for the future come to bear on each interaction we have and the outcomes of those interactions are founded on this complexity. Uncertainty exists in every interaction we have. It is normal and natural. Acceptance of uncertainty allows us to fail or succeed and move on, rather than being racked by the impression we should have been able to somehow manage the uncertainty away.

Finding a little more balance toward a social perspective is a challenge. A broad challenge. The psychological perspective has influence from our first realizations that we are a separate being: from the first time we are scolded and told to ‘think about what you have done!’; from the first time we walk into a school and experience a teacher; from the first time we are told who the heroes and heroines of our society are; from the first time we are measured as an individual. We are taught from childhood that we are individuals, and that we are separate and distinct, and these teachings spread into the makings of our institutions, organizations and societies. It no longer seems to be a choice of which perspective we shall take. It is more like the water in our fishbowl, simply an unrecognized need of our existence.

My hope for more balance is not unfounded. As we struggle with the individual consequences of a pendulum swung too far, there are hints that perhaps a choice of perspective does indeed exist. The challenges of unprecedented levels of depression, stress, bullying, and a resurgence of fundamentalism are not being adequately addressed by a psychological approach. There are hints of change needed, some even from within:

James Hillman and Michael Ventura in their book We’ve Had a Hundred Years of Psychotherapy And The World’s Getting Worse say “…Because psychotherapy is only working on that ‘inside’ soul. By removing the soul from the world and not recognizing that the soul is also in the world, psychotherapy can’t do its job anymore.” Robert Aziz in his book The Syndetic Paradigm: The Untrodden Path Beyond Freud and Jung states, “In great contrast then, to the highest symbol of the Jungian Paradigm, the archetype of the self – which is linear as opposed to nonlinear, concretized and fixed as opposed to dynamic – the highest symbol of the Syndetic Paradigm is that of the Empty Mandala.”

But perhaps more importantly for me are the hints of change I see with the people I work with. Having shifted focus away from many of the dominant perspectives that inform organizational development work, most being psychologically based in the service of certainty, I now focus with people on the day-to-day interactions they have. And how those interactions create patterns that may be sustaining and how we might consider changing those interactions. We talk openly about the uncertainty of our organizational lives, and that even in the midst of this uncertainty we will move on together, because that’s what we do.

The stories and experiences people have in organizations resonate with this perspective. We see ourselves much more fully. In many cases we can position the trappings of organizational process and procedure as simply more formal platforms for the continuing conversations that make up what we call organizations.

It is a more balanced perspective I think, and one that seems to fit, just a little better, with what we experience, what we live in our lives and our organizations.

I hope for a balance since a swing too far to a social perspective may create a focus where context is paramount and individual choice is meaningless, where irresolvable paradox swallows belief, and where uncertainty paralyzes decision. No perspective exclusive of others is healthy.

In 1914, on the brink of the first Great War Natsume Soseki in his book Kokoro wrote “Loneliness is the price we have to pay for being born in this modern world, so full of freedom, independence and our own egotistical selves.” We have been paying this price for quite some time and my hope is that we now can begin to choose not to pay it quite so much.

I hope that we choose to balance a psychological perspective with a social one and perhaps find ourselves with a different way of understanding where such wars, both internal and external are no longer a price to pay.


20151104_145251Ok, just one more topic to sort of rant about and then we’ll move on to the so what of all this.

M O T I V A T I O N !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Most managers job descriptions I have seen will have some kind of a statement or a specific objective focused on motivating those that report to them.

Well no surprise here but I pretty much hate that.  I am quite convinced if they were all just deleted motivation would go up as well as performance levels.

Why? Two primary reasons; one we can look at by defining motivation in a different way than what the mainstream definition is.   The other through the lens of the interaction model

First, what is motivation?  I owe a large amount of gratitude to Dr. Ed Freedberg in shaping my thinking in this area.

If you ask people this question you will typically get a response that has some sort of passion attached to it.  Things like ‘Motivation is doing something I really like’ or ‘I am motivated by accomplishing something important to me.’  What this illustrates is that the mainstream definition of motivation has a definite ‘feeling like it’ component. We are motivated when we ‘feel like’ doing something.

If you are a manager and are supposed to motivate those that work for you then you have to make those people ‘feel like’ doing the things associated with their job.

So how many of us ‘feel like’ attending that budget meeting, having that performance management meeting, responding to that jerk of a customer, firing someone, staying late, dealing with that co-worker you really just don’t like?

There are simply just a lot of things in our day-to-day work that we don’t ‘feel like’ doing! Yet we do them anyway. Dr. Freedberg first added a word to the beginning of motivation; success motivation. He then described this as ‘doing what needs to be done, whether we feel like it or not.’ Note that this does not exclude the feeling like it component, but that component is not all there is, in fact it’s not even a big part of motivation. Feeling like it is kind of like a gift, a neat part of motivation we don’t need but it’s nice when it’s there.

Perhaps even more significant, when we look at motivation in this way, there is a shift to personal choice rather than the expectation that someone else can create our motivation.

This brings us to the interaction model.

Interaction Model

In the interaction model motivation is initiated as an intention that leads to interaction; the top arrow of the right loop. Motivation begins as an intention for the future and feeds back into choices we make about our present interactions that we hope will realize this intention.

So think for a minute what it means to have someone else be responsible for, heck even owning your intentions! This is what happens when we place the responsibility for motivation in the job descriptions and objectives of our managers, our leaders. At best, when this happens we are puppets and at worst we are victims. And the managers and leaders in this mess at best will fail in their efforts and at worst will be villianized.

Neither is very conducive to building a LEFT loop, a pattern of behavior that contributes to much of value in an organization, let alone motivation and good performance.

Yet, mainstream OD and countless books, articles, videos and presentations are created, and consumed about motivating people and why it is so important for managers and leaders to do this.


That’s our next step along the OUCH! journey.



20151104_145251Engagement has more definitions than can be counted in a reasonable lifetime. But most of them tend to have a similar thread. Some kind of alignment with a purpose of some sort.

There is an awful lot of hand wringing or chest thumping about this thing called engagement in organizations these days. A lot of it done by OD people. It seems endless amounts of data are generated on the topic and most of it says organizations suck at engagement and heaven forbid if they don’t get better.

I think most of this focus is at best misplaced and at worst just bullshit. The cause of both has to do with seeing people and organizations as having the same purpose.  In the OD world that purpose will have a strong focus on finding meaning in your work, finding your unique contribution and other things associated with a person being ‘self actualized’ at, in and through work. In other words, some idealized version of an expression of identity. So if you are to be engaged at work, you must be aligned with that purpose.

Given this, and that the data being collected about engagement is focused this way, it doesn’t take a lot of figuring out to recognize why engagement scores are low. Asking an organization to produce high engagement scores (alignment with the purpose of expression of identity) when its fundamental purpose is to be a viable economic entity is like asking me to dunk a basketball. Sorry it just isn’t going to happen. Except with engagement you will be made to feel guilt, shame or blame if it isn’t happening in your organization. This is the misplaced focus of engagement.

Now if you read the dunking comparison above and said well actually I could dunk a basketball if I had a trampoline or someone to lift me up or some other creative ‘solution’ and the organization, and especially leadership of the organization needs to be the trampoline or the ones to lift me up; well that’s just the bullshit part of engagement.

So let’s ask a question about engagement  that is aligned with the purpose of an organization being a viable economic entity.

‘Given that the purpose of your organization is to be viable economically and your job here is to contribute to that economic viability, do you feel your work is aligned with that purpose?

My guess is that if you ask this question, engagement scores go up, simply because the focus of engagement is not misplaced. It matches the purpose of the organization. You might feel a little depressed about the question and its comment on organization purpose but that’s just the remnants of belief in a fantasy about what organizations are all about.

Another thing happens when you focus engagement this way.  You realize that most of what actually contributes to this idea of engagement is 90% or more common sense and good manners! Common sense within the economic reality of the organization compared with other organizations of similar economic realities. And the good manners your parents hopefully taught you!

The real crappy part about this whole engagement thing is that not only are organizations (specifically leadership or management)  expected to deliver on this misplaced focus, but the rest of us (employees) have come to believe that they SHOULD be able to deliver on this misplaced focus as well!

It’s a breeding ground for guilt, shame and blame; and the OD world heaps on the fertilizer by continuing to treat organizations and people as having the same purpose.

So another challenge for the next week.  Just let that question in bold above stay present in your mind as you go about your work. At the end of the week answer that question using the following scale:


Since many results currently measuring engagement are showing engagement levels considerably less than 50%, if you answered You Bet!, Pretty Much or Maybe you probably scored higher in engagement than many studies are showing. And my guess is most of us scored one of those three because our jobs do contribute to the economic viability of the organization!

So now that you know you are ‘engaged’ you can ditch the blame, shame and guilt! How easy was that!