Organizational Mutations & Intro - Marilyn Darling
Mon, 14 Nov 94 11:27:19 EST

Today, in response to the Tony Robbins conversation, "Mikeg" wrote:

"I don't think that "unlearning" in an organizational context is as simple
and straightforward as is being suggested here. The reality in
organizatins is that "learned knowledge" is embedded in a variety of
elements of an organization--the manuals/rules and procedures, the formal
oragnization charts and the informal processes by means of which things
conventionally get done, but most significantly in the expectations and
memories of organizational incumbents.

"I think "unlearning" is both a process of breaking with the past,
discarding the rituals and hymnals of the past, and creating a useful
transition in behaviours and expectations to the new condition. Without
such a transition and without it being successfully achieved (very rare
in my experience) you have in organizations pockets of old practices,
sometimes reflecting multiple previous experiences with attempts at
change, each of which is operative influential in its own microsphere.

"From my experience trying to get most complex organizations to walk on
beds of fiery coals just results in a lot of burnt feet."

I appreciate the complexity "Mikeg" has described. It has been my experience
that an operating principle or belief within an organization gets a life of its
own by embedding itself in many ways, both formal and informal, at many levels
in the organization. To try to initiate change by addressing only the most
obvious "artifacts" of that principle operating, or by creating a new mission
statement that articulates a set of beliefs that is counter to that operating
principle is unlikely to succeed.

When operating principles become ingrained enough in an organization to be said
to "have a life of their own," they have, in my mind, become seeded genetically
in that organization. As Meg Wheatley has described, then, these simple
genetic principles get displayed in unendingly complex manifestations.

When I work with an organization to define a desired change, I try to find ways
to express that desired change as a "mutation" of the original principle --
something that is close enough to make some sense to the organizational
incumbents "Mikeg" describes.

For example, a client of mine wanted to "make" his organization more
ecologically responsible. The company had gone through a period of almost
exclusive focus on growth at (almost) any cost. I counseled them to start by
introducing the idea of being more economically sustainable -- an important
next step for them, and a nice bridge to the idea of being ecologically
sustainable as well. To try to jump from conceiving of oneself as a "high-
flyer" to being ecologically responsible was too large a gap.

By the way, I have not introduced myself. I am a consultant and organizational
coach, working mostly with various schools at Harvard. I was previously
president of "Learning to Learn," a company that provided critical thinking
skills courses to universities and corporations. I have been interested in
individual and organizational learning since the mid-seventies, when I was
introduced to Gregory Bateson's thinking about logical levels and levels of
learning. I also was exposed to ideas relating to transformational grammer and
cybernetics at that time, which "seeded" my thinking about learning and brought
me to my current profession. I am enjoying this list very much!

Marilyn Darilng