<<Some of the questions I have: can we create learning organizations
under the current socio-economic paradigm?
What is the relationship between transforming organizations and
Mr. Manga, I like your questions. They're begging a certain
contextualization of learning organizations within a set of economic and
political presuppositions. Something to chew on...
First, I would suggest, being the good systems thinkers we've all
become, it might be better not to refer to a "current socio-economic
paradigm." Makes it sound as if it were some massive, monolithic entity.
Adds even more credibility. Although, I would agree that there is
certainly a "dominant voice," which tends to talk AS IF there were a
current socio-economic paradigm - the "Real World," as some even call it.
But taking it on it's word is part of the problem, IMHO. I like to think
of the economic environment as bubbling and frothing with various
"paradigms," some of which will probably produce better learning
organizations than others. They might not be as BIG as others, get as
much PRESS as others, but that's another story (and metaphor). However,
it is important to treat them with *validity.*
And I'm not suggesting that instead of, say, a neo-American or
Anglo-American model, there's also a Rhine Model and an Alpine Model and a
Japanese Model. I'm implying that we need to be attentive to and
encourage old or new, burgeoning or hidden economic standards WITHIN these
reductionistic, much touted models. After all, emergent phenomena need
love. They need recognition. Otherwise, they may die of neglect. So in
order for transformation to occur, whether in organizations or in
"paradigms," I think it's first and foremost a matter of *seeing.* The way
one reads complexity. I think one has got to look past that which merely
stands out as more obvious, know a good thing when one sees it, and help
it along. Walk your talk, so to speak.
<<Why is not democracy considered a discipline in the current
learning organization tools and dialogue ?
I am curious about how to create institutions that support human beings
working, playing, learning in love and peace in this beautiful planet.>>
I would hate to have to actually go out and "define" democracy.
And, today being today, I would be VERY suspicious of any management guru
wanting to help me at it. Probably because it's such a loaded word. It
takes on different things to different people, that is, different
paradigms. Being a New Englander the word "democracy" always evokes in me
idealized, pastoral images of the Town Meetings of yesteryear. Concerned
citizens with thick woolen cloaks, square pewter buckles, and oxen on
leash passionately extolling the virtues of husbandry and rallying
together against excessive taxation. Neo-medievalism all'americana.
Yet consider this quote by Benjamin Rush, scientist, physician and
all-around respected guy, one of the first to promote "manufactures" in
the staunchly agrarian American colonies, speaking in the 1780's: "Our
schools of learning, by producing one general, and uniform system of
education, will render the mass of people more homogeneous, and thereby
fit them more easily for uniform and peaceable government... I consider it
possible convert men into republican machines. This must be done, if we
expect them to perform their parts properly, in the great machine of the
government of the state." Teeny bit mechanistic, wouldn't you say? (Add
Adam Smith and shake well.)
Perhaps because the early years of the American
democratic/republican experiment happened to coincide with the dawning of
the Industrial Revolution, it became inevitable that the ideals of
democracy in the US would become so profoundly infused with ideals of
technological and, then, economic progress. The survival of the
democratic ideal seemingly dependent upon a sense of a millennial destiny
of growth and production. Onward and upward. The sense of trailblazing
into the future through technological prowess in order to sustain the
noble national experiment. Hmm...
It is, possibly, this intertwining of democratic/republican ideals
with technology and economics which makes "free trade" such a rousing,
patriotic call these days. American-style popular economics has come to
take on symbolic proportions of freedom and justice. It now occupies for
many the untouchable position of modern American mythology. Challenging
economic principles for some people is roughly equated with political
treason. This mix of economics and state is also most likely the reason
why many people are comfortable with the metaphor "the nation is a
corporation," subsequently considering it as having the same interests and
objectives as a business enterprise. And, conversely, "the corporation is
a community," since this is probably as close as many people get to one.
(And maybe why employees seem to spend all their time there??) And, I
suspect, Manuel, that this might help explain why there is often much more
energy put into explaining organizations than into explaining democracies.
Hey, ya never know..
A major downside of an unexamined, "hard science" economics as
guiding mythology is that some basic ideas go unchallenged, becoming
considered merely "good business sense" in the folk business tradition.
(Wink, wink, nod, nod, say no more, say no more.) Resisting even when
confronted with sound argument to the contrary. It comes to contain an
emotional, cultural element. Such as those dealing with, umm... "human
resources," or rather.. "labor." I was certainly taught economics in
college by professors who had the smugness of those revealing the
objective truths of unshakeable tenets. I hope others had a better, more
open, university experience. It took a while to "unlearn" many of the
biases I had picked up. Systematic short term thinking taken as truth.
Here's a contrast I encountered the other day. I came across the
same company name in two different places. First there was Joe O'Keeffe's
entry on Charles Handy's book (LO2704). He talked of a salesforce that
has all the authority of the Chairman 'when they are with customers.'
Others who have 'centralised reporting' not 'centralised control'. Very
exciting. Unthinkable just a few years ago. Sounds great. Next, I read
the newspaper. The Italian headline reads: "As America grows, the jobs
get fewer." Citing a New York Times article the correspondent in the US
talks about the growing trend of exporting, not just "poor man's work,"
but also middle and high paying jobs to places like India, Indonesia,
Singapore, Mali, and Taiwan, since it costs about twenty to thirty times
less to employ workers. The correspondent adds ironically: "As one can
see in the US - model for the world - there's everything for moving
towards the future: new organizations, new technologies, new solutions.
Everything except jobs. An important political problem, wouldn't you
think? Yet no one seems to have noticed. Or has it in his or her
interest to do so."
So this same company, it appears, is giving more freedom and
responsibility than ever before, while at the same time ostensibly saying
"the minute we can farm your job out to a lower paying country, we'll do
it." Maybe the employee is even thinking "the minute I get my MBA paid
for and know enough to start my own company, I'm OUT of here!" (Which
came first, the chicken or the egg?) But, certainly, these are the
exceptions and not the rule. Yet within this mindset, it seems that even
for the employee who might believe that continuously learning and
sharpening his or her skills is the way to job stability, he or she is
entertaining a delusion. He or she may merely happen to live in a country
with a high cost of living, and have the category of skills which this
company suddenly believes no longer has a competitive advantage there. Is
this in the control, and perhaps comprehension, of the individual? (Hence
the levels of wrecked self-esteem abounding these days??)
The "theory," or "mythology," depending on one's viewpoint, is
that companies will always act *rationally* in optimizing performance, so
it's up to the employee to stay on his or her toes. Globally chasing the
lowest payable employee is economically *rational* behavior for many.
Employees, according to the argument, have access to perfect information
and should foresee when their skills are becoming obsolete and choose
another set. Perhaps start up their own "information economy service."
Use getting fired as a new lease on life. A mechanism of renewal.
"Anyway, nuke 'em, it's not our problem." "Rational" companies take such
measures since, although painful, they are necessary for creating the
types of structures which will maintain enough flexibility to dominate
foreign markets. It's a credo, a leap of faith. Not a recent phenomenon
either. (Any long term profit or productivity analyses to back these
drastic measures up??) Some, I suppose, *know no other reality.* Do not
perceive any other workable solutions. Rather mechanistic, I'd say. And
even if a company is not entirely convinced of the "truth" of this, and
doubts that we are all heading towards a new information-based service
economy, they can still play into this mythology, avoid public flack, and
at least get their profit margins up for the next quarter's reports to the
stockholders. "After all, everybody else is doing it."
Again, I think it important to resist the perception that there is
ONE "current socio-economic paradigm," perhaps assuming it to be a
"global" one, the "real" one. The danger I see in not appreciating the
variety, complexity, and vigor of the *many* different flavors of
"economic paradigms" already existing is that you can get hooked into the
"Pied Piper Syndrome." Well-publicized accounts, perhaps caught up in
metaphors of "limitless growth is good" and "bigger is better," are rather
sexy and play into the insecurities of less visionary companies who merely
follow unquestioningly the ONLY socially validated, "authoritative"
reality available to them. ("Gosh, they've got all those *resources* they
must have an edge on the what the companies of the "future" are going to
be like and should be doing.") Perhaps it even makes them feel part of
"conquering of new frontiers," the spirit of danger, adventure, forbidden
passions, and meaning missing from their everyday lives?? The Lemmings
Theory of Finance Management. When you come to the ocean, jump.
Hey, but, then again, I may be wrong.
-- Jackie Mullen J.Mullen@agora.stm.it