OD’s Fatal Flaw

20151104_145251The last three posts have investigated our drive for certainty and established that this drive seems quite natural, normal and needed. It is also a drive for certainty that creates so much of the OUCH! in organizations.

So what is going on here?

When we look at the last three posts there are two very important points about the drive for certainty:


  1. This drive is very broad and far reaching; it is not specific.
  2. This broad drive requires very little conscious thought and planning.

I think the quote from Norbert Elias fits well here:

Every small step on this path was determined by the wishes and plans of individual people and groups; but what has grown up on this path up to now, our standard of behaviour and our psychological make-up, was certainly not intended by individual people. (The Society of Individuals – page 63).

What our current and mainstream understanding of organizations has done; and what mainstream organization development supports is a perspective on the drive for certainty that is:

  1. Very narrow and very specific.
  2. Requires copious amounts of thought and planning to achieve this specificity.

Basically the opposite of what has occurred normally and naturally throughout history. And it is this specificity accompanied by the assumed thought and planning needed to achieve it, is what causes the current environments in organizations that are filled with blame, shame and guilt.


What is going on here is that we have taken the ‘small steps’ mentioned in the quote above and come to believe that these can indeed define what will grow up on our pathways, no matter how far those pathways may extend out to the future. And because of the specific nature of this viewpoint, this belief gets concentrated at the individual level and we come to believe that some individual should be able to create certainty.

This is the perfect breeding ground for OUCH! since certainty, quite simply, cannot be planned. And in our current world even the small steps are getting smaller.

Interaction Model

The reason for this can be illustrated in the interaction model. Interaction between people exhibits transformative causality (see this post). From transformative causality emerges outcomes that cannot be predicted or planned for. Those outcomes will not be unrecognizable, but they cannot be predicted to any degree of accuracy, especially as time frames increase.

We hear a lot of noise these days about the increasing pace of change. There is one reason for this. We are interacting more. With each interaction comes the possibility of novelty and change emerging. So as interactions increase the possibility of novelty and change increases as well.

It takes time to understand and adapt to novelty and change, it always has. Humankind has always and necessarily lagged behind in their understanding of the emerging novelty and change in their environments. This is not a failure, it is simply the nature of interaction, transformative causality and the capacity to understand and adapt.

We are not experiencing anything different from what people experienced when they first gathered together in larger groups; more interaction. Now however, our ability to interact has grown exponentially; our capacity to understand the emergent outcomes of this exponential growth has not.

Physical evolution has always lagged behind social evolution.

Yet mainstream understanding of organizations, supported by mainstream OD tells us not only should we be able to understand these increasing levels of novelty and change, we should be able to plan and account for them in ways that will produce some kind of certainty.

This for me simply feels so, so wrong….

I don’t actually think most people in OD have thought much about this. Humankind seems to have a very legitimate drive and need for some kind of certainty so why not try to invent things that we think will help this happen in our organizations?  This makes sense to me.

But it also makes sense to ask if any of these things are actually working? The resounding answer is no! There is no evidence indicating that a strategic plan creates future success, no evidence that a performance management system creates better performance, no evidence that a vision leads to itself or that a ‘wonderful’ leader creates any kind of certainty at all!

It is this lack of reflection on what is actually happening in our organizational settings that angers me most about the OD discipline. The people we work with deserve better from us!

As I have been writing these posts I have become more and more convinced that if we simply stopped doing 50% (maybe more) of the formal OD type of things we now do in organizations, nothing of significance would change at all, except maybe a lot less shame blame and guilt.

It is unlikely the above is going to happen too soon. But we can make our own changes, our own ‘small steps’ and see what might emerge on our own pathways.

That is where we are headed next.


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