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In the last post, I wrote about the “Three ways of looking at organizations” and used performance evaluations as an example. The post I wrote was based on the work of Ralph D. Stacey, Douglas Griffin & Patricia Shaw who introduced the thinking of Complex Responsive Processes.

As it is evident that the thinking of Complex Responsive Processes is quite challenging for most people I have met (including myself), I have been thinking about the way these different thinking frameworks are developed. I seek to provide a viable option of how we could see people to develop their thinking of what is happening in their societies. I call this concept “Spiral Causality Assumptions Reconstruction Process”. As with Wu Wei Coaching, you should see this more as a finger pointing towards the concept than the concept itself. This process is inspired by the stage theories of developmental psychology, e.g. Piaget and Erikson, and the social theories of Vygotsky and G.H.Mead. I also expand these theories with some insights coming from the complexity sciences.

Causality Assumptions

More than 200 years ago, Immanuel Kant was developing theories of teleology/causality, i.e. theories of different cause-effect relations. I have written about those more in depth elsewhere. To give you a brief summary, the causalities he identified were Rationalist, Efficient and Formative. Stacey expanded those with Transformative causality, which utilized insights from modern complexity sciences.

In the organizational context, managers are usually utilizing a “splitted” causality. They see themselves been governed by their intellect, the Rationalist causality, and the others in the organization with either Efficient or Formative causality. This can be seen to lead into different management styles.

Usage of causality assumptions in the organization

My experience with working in the different organizations is that most of the people use the Efficient/Rationalist split when relating to the organization. In practice it means that people are assumed to be rationalist beings who simply choose their actions based on the processes and punish/reward schemes that are established in the organization. Perhaps some emphasis is put on the feelings too, but they are seen as secondary – the rationalism will overdrive them eventually. The effectiveness of work is seen to be the speed and accuracy of performing the given tasks. This thinking applies both to the supervisors and subordinates. Also the subordinates relate to the decisions of the managers as something that are given for people who are ruled by Efficient causality. In effect, they think themselves to be governed by the Efficient causality.

In recent years I have seen more and more people utilizing Rationalist/Formative split (systems thinking), when making interventions to the organization. Instead of seeing the people as autonomous rationalist beings making their own choices in the organizations, people are seen to be parts of a system. The efficiency isn’t the sum of individuals doing their tasks with speed and accuracy, but more about the smoothness of interactions and cooperation between the people. Instead of suboptimizing parts of the system, the goal is to optimize for the whole.

The thinking of Transformative causality seems to be quite rare. I have seen only a handful of people that are utilizing this kind of thinking in their work in the organizations. And mostly they don’t have very good vocabulary to talk about it. I have also been struggling to make sense of what it was that I was seeing in the organizations. What I was trying to do in my work, was to look at what is really happening in the daily activities of people. I tried to always come up with some new viewpoint that wasn’t available in the ongoing discussion. So, in a sense I was quite heavily concentrating on the ongoing dialogues, trying to find polyphony of voices describing the situation from different angles. I was practicing reflexivity without any framework or theory to rely on. When I found a training course where Ralph D. Stacey & Douglas Griffin were teaching, I got a chance to really talk about my experiences in the organizations with people who had developed vocabulary on the topic. It enabled me to develop my own approach even further.

Causality assumptions reconstruction process

Another thing that I have seen, is that people tend to jump from one causality to other depending on the situation. It isn’t uncommon to see people (me included) to first discuss about the situations with clear understanding of e.g. Rationalist/Formative causality, and then immediately turning the discussion to mechanistic decisions or action points to control other people (Rationalist/Efficient split).

But I think there is also a tendency to utilize one of the causality assumptions more than others. Contributing factors for this are probably the practice, skills and experience, but also the social context. When you move away from the Rationalist domain to Rationalist/Efficient domain, it requires more and more skills to keep the inner dialogue linked to this more difficult domain. This is especially true when the other people in the group are not using this way of thinking. With practice and experience it gets easier and easier. The more you have experiences that you can map to this initially foreign thinking, the more familiar it becomes.

Basically it is the same phenomenon you can see in the Developmental Stage Theories. Piaget wrote about assimilation and accommodation. As a baby you don’t have any abstract concepts that you can use in your thinking. You just act and during the activities you are building habits that will become concepts in your later development. Then those concepts feed back to the activities, making some changes to them, which then further develop the concepts…

Piaget wrote: “Organization is inseparable from adaptation: They are two complementary processes of a single mechanism, the first being the internal aspect of the cycle of which adaptation constitutes the external aspect…The “accord of thought with things” and the “accord of thought with itself” express this dual functional invariant of adaptation and organization. These two aspects of thought are indissociable: It is by adapting to things that thought organizes itself and it is by organizing itself that it structures things.” (The Origins of Intelligence in Children, 1936/1952)

Vygotsky had even more sophisticated views to how development occurs. He developed the concept called “zone of proximal development“. Vygotsky described it as follows: “the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance, or in collaboration with more capable peers“. (L.S. Vygotsky: Mind in Society: Development of Higher Psychological Processes, p. 86) This means that child (or adult) with assistance from more capable peer is capable of doing things that are beyond his current level of acting/thinking. Within this social interaction he develops abilities to reach what was previously unreachable for him. Language plays an important part here, as people use language, “self-talk” to help themselves to solve problems. This self-talk is usually not audible with adults, and thus it is actually inner talk. This is actually quite similar thinking that G.H.Mead uses describing public and private dialogue.

I can see similar development happening in the causality assumptions we use in the organizations.

People new to organizations are observing what is happening around them. They pick up ques of how people talk to each others, to the managers and how they act in different situations. They then more or less skillfully adapt their own behavior to something they think the others anticipate them to do. Social psychologist G.H.Mead developed sophisticated theories of this phenomenon (cult values & functional values, symbolic interactions, generalized other, etc). At the same time the acting develops the thinking and the thinking develops the acting. In reality they are not separate phenomena. It is in this process that we develop the causality assumptions.

Initially it is easier to map our experiences to simple concepts that we have developed during our childhood and adolescence. For most parts these are what we call here the Efficient and Rationalist causalities. We see ourselves to be autonomous, rational beings and the world around us functioning by the laws of Newtonian mechanism. With experience we start to see something that isn’t very well explained by the concepts that we use. We start to develop more sophisticated theories by experiments and by engaging in dialogues with other people about what it is that is really happening. Depending on our abilities and motivation, we might read some books or attend trainings. If we read books like “The Toyota Way” or “The Fifth Discipline” and we have enough opportunities to engage in discussions with more experienced people, we start to develop our understanding on the Rationalist/Formative causality. By thinking and acting with this assumption, we start to experience things that map to this thinking. These experiences feed back to our thinking and change them further, which then further changes our actions. We gradually lean more and more towards this new thinking/acting model. The social environment has a big role here – not just by helping with the reflexive process, but also by competing and cooperating with the dialogue.

The same phenomenon happens with the Transformative causality. But here the things gets a bit more tricky. There aren’t actually any solid concepts that you can use in this thinking domain. Like the title says, in this domain everything is seen to be in constant flux. You develop a thinking framework that works within some situation and then you throw it away because it was context specific model. Even the thinking of complex responsive processes isn’t a concept or framework. It is more of an ongoing dialogue that is all the time trying to look at what it is really that is happening in the organizations. So in practice you are always acting towards the unknown with this causality assumption. You can’t relax and put it in a box, instead you have to continuously reflect what is happening from new perspectives. The complexity sciences, social psychology, philosophy, sociology, etc are the fuel for your thinking/acting – as well as the experiences you have in the real daily activities of the organizations. But they are not the answers. This makes it really hard to stay with this causality assumption. Also the fact that there aren’t that much opportunities to engage in dialogues with these things makes it hard to keep the inner dialogue going on.

Spiral Causality Assumptions Reconstructing Process (SCARP)

Learning isn’t quite as simple process as illustrated above. For example, there are almost endless amount of possible focus areas in any situation to concentrate on. In practice the same activity with same results can be seen from hundreds of different perspectives. I like to think about learning as a fractal process. Like in the fractal pictures, you can see the same pattern repeating over and over again, always in bigger and bigger form. I have also found it helpful to think of it as a spiral process. You basically have similar basic assumptions or experiences happening over and over again, but each time they happen they have a history of past events behind them. Because of this they are always experienced little differently.

So what this means is that the first time you experience something, you can only perceive a little amount of information on that phenomenon. The next time you experience the same thing, you can perceive more because you have already started to build your mind around that phenomenon – you have a set of (thinking) patterns you can use to work with it. Think about it as a fractal spiral – the first time it makes a 360 degree circle, the circle is very small, almost just a dot. Each time the circle is completed it gets bigger and bigger. As it becomes bigger, it becomes easier to see all the details of it. In fact, like in the fractal pictures, you can see little spirals emerging everywhere from the bigger spiral.

The learning path with the causality assumptions is similar. You begin with reflexivity (Rationalist) and proceed to perceive fixed patterns of phenomena (Efficient causality). You continue to reflect the experiences with the Rationalist causality but each time you encounter new events you are more and more able to perceive the same phenomena including attributes that are related to the Efficient causality. This might be as far as it goes with some people – perhaps there are no need to develop the causality assumptions beyond this. The social environment plays a part here too, if this is the dominant model it might be hard to question it even if one happens to come up with different viewpoints.

But if this isn’t the end of thought for you, more sophisticated models of relating to the world will be iterated. Perhaps you start to experiment with thinking/acting/discussing about organizations with Formative causality. Again, you will continue to apply the Efficient/Rationalist causality thinking, but every time you succeed to understand your experiences within Rationalist/Formative causality it changes your thinking/acting. These changes then make you better able to perceive the world with this new viewpoint of Rationalist/Formative causality. For most people in the organizations this seems to be enough.

Now, if this doesn’t satisfy you, you might start to study philosophy, psychology, sociology, eastern philosophy, zen meditation or what ever to make more sense of what it is that is really happening. And if you are like me, you might end up questioning all those concepts you had previously learned. It is inevitable that one uses such concepts when figuring out what is happening around him through dialogues, but if there is enough motivation and inner drive, it is possible to question those concepts and methods over and over again.

For me, I started to focus more and more on the dialogue and less to the methodologies such as Agile or Lean. I even gave up my zen training and took the path of Krishnamurti, questioning all the authorities of thought and practice. But still, in all that questioning you inevitably reflect your experiences also with the previously learned causalities. Like in the fractal spiral, each circle goes through all the past causality assumptions, but with more and more clarity on the details. And each causality assumption has fractal elements of the previous ones. In time the ability to reflect upon these assumptions the expertise grows and you see things with more clarity.

Mapping the causality assumptions with methodologies

I conclude this long post by showing a picture where I have drafted some thinking about how the different methodologies/thinking styles in coaching and organizational development map within these different causality assumptions. Even though it would be easy to make a mistake that the lower items would be more intelligent than the upper ones, that isn’t the case. There can be really sophisticated theories and model that utilize e.g. the Efficient causality (Taylorism or Newtonian mechanics are good examples), but the underlying causality assumption is limiting the possible viewpoints to perceive what is happening. It has to be noted that with each iteration of the spiral process these theories will become more sophisticated and reveal very interesting and useful insights. A person that has just started to explore the depths of Transformative causality doesn’t possess the experience of a person who has developed expertize in his thinking/acting in the Formative/Rationalist model.

This is something I have been thinking about for sometime, but obviously it is a “work in progress” (like the Transformational causality suggests). Perhaps it would be best to see this “SCARP-model” as a gesture to think about why we think like we do. The real meaning of this model will be created in the responses.

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