On the Road to Fadom

20151104_145251Systems thinking, although one of the espoused foundations of mainstream OD is just one of many potentially valuable concepts that get severely compromised when applied with a perspective of being able to create certainty.

Two more recent examples getting a lot of OD focus right now are VUCA environments and Neuro coaching. My guess is that they will have a ‘popular’ lifespan of a handful of years and then they will fall into the background as the process of disillusionment with the inability of these things to create certainty repeats itself. Other new and promising concepts will come along.

VUCA stands for volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. Put the word environment behind the acronym and you have a catchy phrase to describe the organizational environments most of us experience daily. However since the OD world has jumped on the complexity science bandwagon, VUCA now has a ‘science’ to hang its hat on. And mainstream OD is desperate to attach itself to some kind of science to justify and legitimize itself.

Complexity science actually does have a lot to tell us about volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous environments. Perhaps the most important lesson is that these environments are unpredictable! It is also unpredictable in these environments to determine which variables in the environment may actually cause the outcomes we eventually see. In other words, these environments truly are VUCA and you can’t plan or design yourself out of them to some kind of certain future.

Yet, mainstream OD does exactly that. If you read up on VUCA, attend a talk or training session you will in all likelihood be given the impression you should be able to ‘figure it out’ and you will also likely get exposed to some ‘complexity tools’ to help you do just that! Again, the pathway leads to big doses of blame, shame and guilt when it doesn’t work out as it should.

I wrote a blog post a while back on this topic that you can find here.

Neuro coaching is another example. The scientific advances in understanding how our brain works and how our brain and body work together over the past number of years is extraordinary. So, much like complexity science in the VUCA example above, mainstream OD has jumped on this bandwagon as well. Now that we have some idea of what various parts of the brain do, it’s a short leap to say we should be able to control, or perhaps manipulate other brains to get what we want.  I actually heard a presenter not so long ago use the term ‘amygdala hijack’ as if this part of the brain could take over the rest of your brain and body and force it to do its bidding. No amygdala anywhere has ever hijacked anything! Certainly the feeling of anger may have a lot to do with the neural networks in the amygdala but knowing this does nothing in terms of what we choose to do with that anger. Nor does it allow you to control your amygdala. Your grandmother probably told you to count to 10 before you did anything based on your anger and that’s still good advice no matter how much we know about the neurobiology of the amygdala!

But put a little science and some cool words together, wrap it all up in the promise of certainty and you have a mainstream OD initiative waiting to happen.

OUCH! OUCH! and more OUCH!

Interestingly, this very dynamic happened with a model created by one of the people that has significantly influenced my thinking about organizations. The person is Ralph Stacey and the model is the Stacey Matrix. Stacey created this model to help illustrate the types of environments we find ourselves in and some of the characteristics of those environments using a two axis matrix, certainty and agreement.  Stacey was trying to illustrate and describe organizational environments, not what to do about them. It wasn’t long however that people began to create lists of things that should be done within the various parts of the matrix to create higher levels of certainty. Stacey subsequently distanced himself from this Matrix stating the problems with its use; using it to give the impression that you could solve this problem of uncertainty.

The problem is not with the ideas of VUCA, Neuro coaching or the Stacey Matrix; it is the overlay of this belief that we can create certainty by using these ideas. It seems we have a very strong drive or need for certainty and mainstream OD willingly and mostly without question feeds this need. Besides the need for mainstream OD to take accountability for this it is valuable to ask why we may have this need for certainty.

Where might this need come from? This is what our next posts will look at.


One Response

  1. […] the last post I noted that it would be good to better understand where this drive for certainty may be coming […]

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