My working with these ideas started even before I set up Fusion Organic Cafe, and here I hope to offer a few of my opinions, grounded with some theory.
Power and control are arguably the hot topics of our time, and the beauty of organisation studies, is that is a meta-disciplinary field that studies where the rubber meets the road – where preconception and realisation lead to measurable results, and are validated by what transpires. Businesses tend to be more interested in what works, then in how beautiful or comprehensive a theory might be ‘in theory’.
An organisation in its broadest sense can be defined as any collective grouping working towards a common aim, which includes a family – and it is they who teach me the most in terms of validating whether my espoused values match up to my behaviour – this is why I think the insights gained from organisation studies are transferable, and worth spending a little time with.
In my experience the key to unlocking the usefulness of theory and meta-disciplinary research is the abandonment of the idea of certainty in knowing in absolutist terms – everything must be viewed within it’s context <for instance social backgrounds>, underlying assumptions need to be understood – and most importantly, our own individual embodied experience needs to be integrated. What is interesting, is how theoretical journeying, when connected with / expanding from embodied experience, can aid one’s ability to get in touch with the intuitive Self where true integrity comes from.
“Uncertainty in an uncomfortable position. But certainty is an absurd one.” Voltaire.
Reflexivity is key, and theory when used to ask better questions, is very helpful – so long as it’s enacted with ontological humility.
“Ontological humility is the acknowledgement that you do not have a special claim on reality or truth and, that others have equally valid perspectives deserving respect and consideration. This attitude is opposed to ontological arrogance, which is the claim that your truth is the only truth. Even though it may make sense intellectually that people have different perspectives, most people do not naturally act from this understanding, especially in the midst of disagreement or conflict.” – Fred Kofman, Conscious Business.
Theoretical praxis then become tools, some of which work well in some contexts, and less so in others, and the application/enactment becomes the mastery, rather than knowing. The assumptions upon which they are built then become the ‘lenses’ with which we can view things, each shining light on various elements that go on in the individual and collective ‘subconscious’ elements of the reality (context) one wishes to examine.
If we take Schein’s statement: “Neither individual health nor organizational/systemic health can be understood without the ability to take three different perspectives: (1) an individual perspective based on psychology; (2) a systemic perspective based on anthropology, sociology, political science and systems theory; (3) an interactive process perspective based on social psychology, sociology and other theories of dynamic processes.”
I am exploring the relevance/usefulness of these descriptions here.
Those familiar with the Integral model will immediately see how this relates to the three key perspectives: 1) ‘I’ internal/subjective view, which relates to personal embodied experience, reflexivity and self-awarness (of oneself, and the subjective perspective of individuals, 2) ‘It/its’ outer ‘objective’ view 3) ‘We’ inter-subjective / collective / cultural view.
This is just a snippet of what the integral model lays out – here my main purpose in mentioning it is for the use of framing topics in discussion, as each of these core perspectives, offer partial views of truth, that need to be integrated in order to build a bigger picture.
The limitations of adhering too closely to any one model, in my experience, leads easily to confusion between map and territory, because as soon as one strays into the stance of ‘knowing’ in a static sense, referring back to one epistemological framework conencted to one ontological view, one subconsciously falls back into ‘Modern’ enactment of certainty in knowing, built upon the construct of separateness. Without wanting to go into this further here, whilst the founders of Integral and Spiral Dynamics do give a complete picture that seeks to caution of this failing, it seems the allure of ‘knowing’ is all too easy to fall prey to. <I touch on this here – a lot more research to be done>
Ontological humility is a given when you really go through the implications of ‘post-modernism’, a journey which my main course lecturer John McAuley is very knowledgeable of. He embodies a ‘learner’s stance’ – remaining within the uncomfortable-ness of ‘post-modernism’, and soaking up what’s been coming through, he has managed to blow out every preconception I had of the limitations of ‘academic’ ‘intellectual’ and ‘business’ paradigms in bringing us closer to our integrity, in a practicable manner.
As OD consultants we have to be aware of the necessity to integrate paradigms, and be able to relinquish preferences (Nevis 1987), and for example I know for myself I will have to watch I don’t develop a one sided ‘value or ideology, e.g. a bias towards participative management and involvement of members of the client organization in a drive for empowerment.’ (p205) at the cost of practical matters such as basic financial performance.
‘Consultants will be better able to act on their values if they are fully aware of the negative consequences of their chosen path and the positive features of the rejected choices’ (Nevis 1987, p205).
In examining our experience, and behaviour, in relation to power and integrity, theory is a good starting point. In looking from the first perspective of individual leaders in relation to the sociological views and behaviours, and how these interact with external systemic elements through power, French & Raven (1960) gave us the idea of hard versus soft power – hard being the powers that come from position within the power-hierarchy – Reward Power, Coercive Power, Legitimate Power, which utilise coercion and payment. Soft being powers that can can be found and utilised regardless of position within an organisation – Expert Power and Referent Power. A further two soft powers were added by Cartwright (1954) – Information power, and connection power, both of which relate to the power that can arise by being in a certain physical or social position, by means of which one has leverage on how information may be accessed or disseminated.
I was struck by a glaringly obvious gap in the ideas behind what makes up soft power. Even Joseph Nye’s power seeks co-opting as an alternative of coercion (hard power), and he acknowledges that it’s still difficult to distinguish between when ‘soft power’ becomes coercive.
In reflecting on what I see as behind my successes at Fusion, I wondered of the true (non-coercive) power that comes from embodying espoused values, getting done what has been promised, and building up a social track record of being a person who communicates with humility – the power of integrity (Argyris 1970, Brown 2005, Harrisson 2011, Kofman 2007). I will reflect on this at the end, with the concept of Heshima.
I have found in my experiences of past work my integrity is where my ‘power’ comes from. It seems to be the key to confidence, yet is nearly impossible to grasp, or pre-plan, and only gets ‘unlocked’ when I have embodied the humility that comes with the acknowledgement that my view is limited, and a collective view is always more complete than a solitary one.
Experiencing lived-in values by being a part of the collective (which calls on humility) I think helps maintain a tangible sense of mindfulness that does not become skewed (Alexander 2011), which is perhaps akin to ‘the kind of empathy that serves as an antidote to the dark side of emotional intelligence – the manipulative use of talents in the service of one’s own interest, and at the expense of others.’ (Goleman 2014).
Hermeneutics – the study of interpretation, is an important topic for those that wish to engage with intuitive perception as any kind of basis for making decisions, which offers a sobering reminder to keep one’s self-awareness grounded in reality when engaging phenomenological ways of interpretation: “While it is a principle of hermeneutics that there are no facts, just interpretations, that does not prevent us from asking if they are bad interpretations” (McAuley 2007). The emphasis is on how to keep emergent thematic analysis free from preconceptions – a phenomenological perspective that seeks to expose what was ‘implicit, taken for granted, or misunderstood’ – in a sense, a ‘reading, an interpretation of the self-interpretation of others within a context’ (Cole 2011).
This un-graspable concept of the power-of-integrity could also be called wisdom , about which in enactment it can be said that: ‘by engaging in an extensive awareness process that attends to both positive and negative features of available alternatives, consultants are able to act wisely rather than dogmatically’ (Nevis 1987 p205-206). Integration of fields, views and paradigms offers a way to find this Self that is whole through integrity, and modern psychotherapy offers much in helping one bridge the gap between espoused values and actual behaviour in organisations – ‘presence is represented as an extension and higher-order use of self’ (Tolbert and Hanafin 2006. A very good example of an integrated model is Scharmer’s ‘presencing’ praxis model in ‘Theory U’.
In a refreshing addition to literature on consultancy, I have managed to find a bridge between Sufi wisdom (which has influenced me for a number of years) and leadership (Hawkins 2005), where such wisdom as that which Nevis alludes to, is delivered in short stories.
‘Organisations which have been poisoned by their own success are often unable to unlearn obsolete knowledge inspite of strong disconfirmations.’ (Hedberg cited by Hawkins 2005, p50)
‘Unlearning is the process by which organizations unlock the evolving of their culture’ (Hawkins 2005, p51).
This resonates very strongly with my experiences in organisations to date, where issues could be seen as arising from clinging to outdated knowledge, rather than a blame and shame game pinned to individuals who are ‘wrong’ – ‘only through this process <of unlearning> can the experience of regret mollify the influence of righteousness’ (Nevis 1987, p206), which to me suggests a need to think about unlearning as an element of organisation strategy <and by extension, society at large) that needs further consideration (Akgün et al2007, Hedberg 1979, Prange 1999, Thomas 2011, Tsang & Zahra 2008).
Integrity in culture starts from integrity within individuals – change truly starts with oneself, and a master of the modern path to Self-Integrity, is Rudolf Steiner.
“We must face ourselves with the inner tranquillity of a judge. If we achieve this, our own experiences will reveal themselves in a new light. As long as we are still woven into our experiences, and stand within them, we will remain as attached to the nonessential as to the essential. But once we have attained the inner peace of the overview, the nonessential separates itself from the essential. Sorrow and joy, every thought, every decision will look different when we stand over against ourselves in this way” (Steiner 1918).
This needs to be balanced, and a useful concept to keep in mind is the stance of ‘beginners mind’ (Suzuki 1987) – a state where there are many ‘possibilities (but in the expert’s there are few)’ (p1), but it also in my experience, this presence of mind takes cultivation – not so much in the practice of mindfulness meditation (though that can help), but in finding that inner space of ‘effortlessness’ within mundane, day to day tasks (Suzuki 1987), which is also a dedication to work. Paradoxically I find that this comes about by embracing in myself all of my failings, or ‘mind weeds’, which allows me to better see and understand them as they arise, either in others individually, or as part of the sociological system (Smith 2002) one is engaging with. ‘You should rather be grateful for the weeds you have in your mind, because eventually they will enrich your practice’ (p20).
This of course calls on more than reflexivity, as validation only happens through action. Resilience was the core attribute that got me through the tough times at Fusion – being alert, present and observant (Nevis 2013). ‘The effective consultant draws power from awareness and teaches client systems to do likewise’ (pxi), which is an ongoing process, differentiated from looking back in reflexive introspection. ‘True awareness is the spontaneous sensing of what arises or becomes figural, and it involves direct, immediate experience.’ (p23), which for me is a ‘learners stance’ expressed prophetically by Eric Hoffer: “In times of change, learners inherit the Earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.”
The key to finding resilience, is in my experience though embodiment, in turn aided by nutrition – both explored with artistic-pragmatic ‘self-science‘ approach to see what works for oneself, rather than the torture of following external sureties that are inevitably built upon assumptions, that mean they might not apply in every context.
We have to find our own ways, but theory and philosophy can help us to check hidden aspects.
To finish this long ramble, I have an experienced example of the potential power of words and symbols in changing power relations, and the power of having a tangible premise of integrity as a core attribute or ‘social currency’ – the cultural phenomena of Heshima on the Island of Pemba (an island of of Zanzibar), where my wife is from.
Heshima serves as a symbol for the power of honour and respect that comes from displaying a track record of humility and integrity, rather than coercive power (Kamwangamalu 1999, McMahon 2006) – a pragmatic realisation that can be felt and accessed, but not grasped, controlled, or owned – much like ‘ubuntu’ it’s premise is ‘a person is a person through people’ (Karsten & Illa 2005, Nafhuko 2006 p408, McMahon 2006, Swartz & Davies 1997).
To transfer such a concept as Heshima back into our organisations is totally possible, but not straightforward – and it begins with understanding – this is a very good working example of this kind of post-metaphysical’ approach to dealing with today’s complexity, with integrity.
Organisations of today, especially businesses, have an amazing amount of freedom in how they work with the systems around them – and with freedom comes responsibility – especially if one’s organisation espouses high ideals and values such as Rudolf Steiner’s
I proved to myself with Fusion that it is possible to go about building a ‘conscious business’ – one that truly walks its talk, but it requires a complete change of mindset.
In picking out the truth, one has to be very careful to incorporate what lies outside one’s view, and integrating corporate and academic knowledge on leadership, psychology, sociology etc is the only way to do justice to Steiner (who has in my opinion an incredible amount to offer to today).
“And besides, when the time comes, on account of the evolution of humanity, that the ideas and thoughts mentioned by me in The Threefold Commonwealth are no longer valid, others must again be found.” Steiner <it is my intention to try and shed some post-post-modern (ontologically plural / integrative, practice-focused) light on Steiner’s Threefold Social Order in my dissertation>
One person who is successfully updating Steiner is Otto Scharmer, with his ‘Theory U’ and subsequent works.
If you have read this far, I thank you for your time.
I am currently working freelance as an Organisation Development consultant, as well as facilitating workshops in healthy eating, for children, teenagers or adults. I can be contacted professionally though linkedin.
I also run a private catering operation where I operate the healthy-tasty ethos in full force.