Epistemic status: a curiosity, part of an exercise done with one of the groups that began as a cohort of the RedQuadrant tool shed

Dear tomorrow

I remember 2020 as tsunami — wave after wave of crashing overwhelm to deal with — Covid, collapse all around, ultimately of the ecosystem, and grasping systems for attention and energy of all kinds, and the swirling in the waves, fighting and like being in a washing machine, occasionally a moment of calm, then my own attention and desires pulling me back into the turmoil. Actually, looking back, my own holding on to things.

Somehow, in the Autumn, it began to start. A great giving up, a turning away — much more like riding just a few waves, but perhaps closing out the storm with shutters, connecting to those who seemed to resonate, withdrawing investment from the roiling systems — at first it felt scary, post-apocalyptic, even irresponsible. One by one, many of the podcasts on sensemaking and Game B and post-conventional Buddhism and the like came to an end, like little stars winking out. People left social media, I lost touch. More and more people were growing food at home, opting out but not radically, just quietly, connecting more where it was important. Some people couldn’t handle it, they couldn’t find a place in the arena where the fights looked increasingly staged, for entertainment and drama, and they couldn’t connect to the soft threads of the new connection. …

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It doesn’t matter how much the world shouts at them, how much the market pushes back, how much customers gather in defensive blockades. The organisations can’t hear, can’t feel, can’t change direction.

The implications of this are huge. If you’re trapped in a stumbling zombie organisation, you might be heading off a cliff. Pulling the levers of power just doesn’t achieve everything. Everyone’s busy, and has to try to believe they’re doing something important… it can be soul-destroying.

What would it mean for an organisation to be conscious?

I don’t mean some mystical state of enlightenment — I mean the state of being aware of and responsive to one’s surroundings. …

A photoshopped images of a large stack of tortoises on each others’ backs
A photoshopped images of a large stack of tortoises on each others’ backs

We want the world to be manageable, organisational life to be simple…

…so we can apply ‘best practices’. Or even complicated — so we can simulate, model, and plan. We want this so bad, we’re prepared to break everything that’s living and special about organisations to make it true.

But organisations are truly complex and unpredictable. There are:

·no ‘non player characters’, people all have a life of their own

·no closed-off worlds; everything can be impacted by a bigger system (why we say ‘VUCA’)

·no guarantees that we can all agree on one version of reality

We often say ‘the map is not the territory’. The organisational Jedi understands that ‘reality’ is just what pushes back and shows us that our maps are not it. …

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A quick summary of my series on the Force in organisational life so far. Which one of these do you think has the greatest impact on organisations, and why?

1) The purpose of the systems is what it does — there’s no point talking about ‘our purpose’ when you reliably and predictably produce something else

2) The hidden essential organisational logic — organisations must be viable systems if they are to survive

3) Leaders create culture through their behaviours — whatever the ‘values statement’ says

4) We all live in our own ‘world’ and make sense of things the way they make sense to us — that means we all see ‘reality’…

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Image of Yoda action figure with a lightsaber

‘The Force’ in organisational life is the unseen energy that can shape and control you and your organisation — often towards the Dark Side — or you can learn to use that power to shape things positively.

In this piece, elements 5–8:

5. How natural human responses systems create system fragility…

6. …and patterns of resentment and separation which destroy partnership.

7. Structural coupling between the organisation and environment, and

8. Control, framing, paradigms, politics, self-knowledge, and lust for power!

I use 13 elements in much of my core work — for the first four, see here:

  1. ‘The purpose of the system is what it does’ — look at what it reliably and consistently produces. …

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Definitely not the opening image of Star Wars part III: A New Hope, with the quote below superimposed over it

“Well, the Force is what gives a Jedi his power. It’s an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us; it binds the galaxy together.”

Obi-Wan Kenobi

(and if you want to hear that once again in Sir Alec’s voice: https://vignette.wikia.nocookie.net/starwars/images/3/3a/Theforce.ogg/revision/latest?cb=20051024184257 )

The Force in organisations is real. It can shape and control you and your organisation — often towards the dark side — or you can learn to use that power to shape things positively.

I’m not a fan of ‘neat-and-complete’ whole theories of life, the universe, and organisations. But I am looking for the core underlying irreducible realities that we must face. A number of these have the attributes of ‘The Force’ — they surround and suffuse everything human in organisation, and have tendencies that will pull us in particular directions. …

What the world needs now is *not* another management fad. Everyone is looking for the ‘new agile’ — some impressively deep thinking which can be simplified, commoditised, and sold. The smarter sharks in the ocean are preparing the accreditation programmes…

Yet we do need something. We face the ongoing and unpredictable elaboration of the universe, and time and time again, we are forced to revisit our understanding of the fundamental laws of organisation, and realise we have forgotten or mistaken them once again.

Acceptable ideas are competent no more and competent ideas are not yet acceptable.”
Stafford Beer

There is, as noted, no shortage of people offering to help with this dilemna — ‘when the student’s chequebook is ready, the teacher will appear’. …

Benjamin wearing a light suit — the image has been obfuscated by the Deep Dreams algorithm so that images of animals emerge.
Benjamin wearing a light suit — the image has been obfuscated by the Deep Dreams algorithm so that images of animals emerge.
Deep dream

Like many people in these weird, liminal times, I’ve been doing some introspection. I’m not very good at it. I’m better at doing, challenging, thinking out loud, working. But a realisation of how little I am ‘essential’ to the world at these time of crisis has been evident even to me.

I want to help people to have better, more healing, more whole, and more rewarding experiences. Both RedQuadrant and the Public Service Transformation Academy, the organisations I lead, have had some real contribution to make (the former with some critical projects and placement of great project, programme, startup leads — all available through COVID and other frameworks — and the latter with our learning community to ‘build back better in the days after’). …

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Don’t waste the reboot. Make this ‘next normal’ better than the last. Presented by The Yak Collective

Join me to learn and help define what spoopy consulting is — see below.

Something exciting is happening; the fringes of organisational and business thinking and advice are becoming self-aware. Like a slime mold taking form, the disparate elements have come together and risen up into something other than the sum of the parts.

Over the last couple of weeks, a group led by the truly creative Venkatesh Rao (who seems to have, if not a God-like then at least an Adam-like ability to clarify the existence of things by naming them), and ably Sergeanted by people like Tom Critchlow, Paul Millerd, and Pamela Hobart, have formed up an emerging group called the Yak Collective. …

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Photo public domain — GlacierNPS, Regrowth after the 2017 Sprague Fire https://www.flickr.com/photos/glaciernps/43406521695

Previously published at https://www.publicservicetransformation.org/2020/04/the-days-after-a-learning-community-to-build-back-better/

Over 50 organisations have already joined the build back better learning community, including housing associations, charities, health, police, local and central government.

We’ve been dynamic in dealing with the crisis — amazing things have been achieved.
How do we learn from these breakthroughs?

Things are still chaotic and confusing! And will be for some time as the ramifications continue.
How do we make sense of things right now and for the future?

How do we prepare for a real reboot in ‘the days after’ the crisis?

We have been working with some core organisations to start to think about these questions — and are now expanding to set up a wider learning community. There is no obligation and no charge. This is a place to share and build learning together. …


Benjamin P. Taylor

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