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Month: May 2008

So if I am not going to reify my organization, what should I do?

I was following up the new field of “performance studies“.   I have lost the link unfortunately.   Here are five statements and questions I re-phrased in “plain-language”.

1.  We make the company every day by what we do.

2.  Together we act out a story.

3.  Remember there is more that one story we could tell.

4.  Why do I have to speak for you?  What can’t people speak for themselves?

5.  What does the story we are acting out say about our relationships with each other and are we willing to talk about this question?

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Are you reifying your organization properly?

I hope my title caught your eye and made you panic a little – ooooooh, there is something I should be doing . . .!

Well, I hope to persuade you to do it less. Or, to run a mile from any organization where you hear it a lot.

Reify : To regard or treat an abstraction as if it had concrete or material existence

It really bothers me when we talk of an organization as if it has an existence beyond the people who are in it.

It is true sometimes the organization has a legal persona. We will eventually talk about the Democratic Party nominee, for example. But that is simply a decision that members of the Democratic Party will make following a procedure they devised and adopted.

Real thinking, breathing, living people who are quite entitled to change those procedures as and when they deem it fit. Indeed, they have anticipated doing so and have already laid down procedures on how to initiate change – as do all good organizations.

The rules that we lay down do not live and breathe without us. Every organization has rules that are still written down and have been ignored for years. Every organization also has rules that are extremely powerful and are not written down anywhere.

What the rules tell us, written or unwritten, are the relationships we have with each other.

This is why I think it is dangerous to reify an organization: this is why it is dangerous to present an organization as a mind beyond the minds of the people in it.

Compare the minutes of a meeting which say “it was decided” to “Mary proposed” “Peter seconded” and the votes was carried “10-5” with no abstentions. Compare these minutes with minutes which include the voting record of each person.

When we say “it was decided”, we are deliberately concealing who said what and who decided. Why are we concealing that information?

Because we don’t want to write down how we made the decision. Whatever we did that day would not, we believe, reflect well on us.

Most likely, we have made a decision we are not entitled to make. Most likely we have usurped authority that is not ours.

Can we get away with saying “it was decided”?

Yes. Often. Rensis Likert has written on this problem.

1. We may not talk about a problem.

2. We may not talk about not talking about a problem.

This is a mark of a festering trouble-spot in an organization. When the double-bind is widespread, the organization is likely to run into deep trouble.

I remember a colleague who used to send out memos headed “from the desk of . .”. Mmmm, she received a lot of replies addressed “To the desk”.

Survival guide to contemporary corporate life

1. Be wary of the passive voice. Ask ‘who dunnit?’

2. Be double wary when inanimate objects and abstract concepts are used to resume the active voice. Ask ‘who substituted a thing or an idea for a person’ , and then,  ‘what have they done that they don’t want me to know’!

3. And if you can, cut your losses. As Clay Shirky said, a four year old knows that any activity not designed for her participation is not worth sitting still for.

Don’t allow people to obscure who gains from an action and who has been cheated.   If you cannot restore a better atmosphere, then look for a better place to be.  It is important to be in a place which is honest in its essence. Where people intend to do well by each other even if they get it wrong sometimes.  Look for that essential honor and head there.

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Who moved my mouse?

Who Moved My Cheese?Image via Wikipedia

I am looking for my mouse

Clay Shirky at Web2.0 Expo tells the story of a 4 year old who gets bored looking at a DVD and crawls around the back of the screen: “I am looking for my mouse”. This is the story of child brought into a technological age where we expect to participate in whatever we do. “Looking for the mouse” is the mark of a generation who expects to take initiative.

Who moved my cheese?

Just ten years’ ago, we were delighted by another story, an allegory, Who moved my cheese? This story is about a generation who does not expect to take initiative.  Indeed, it resists taking the initiative.  It wants to ‘put the clock back’.

We spend a lot of time crying, “we want the cheese to come back.”  Or, words to that effect.  We celebrate the past rather than the emerging future.

The positive message of this allegory is that once we can move beyond fear, we are free to move on, and find fresher, more interesting, more enjoyable cheese.

My advice is “follow that mouse!”

I live a double life as I have said before. In my one life, I work with Zimbabweans who are frozen in terror about the changes going on in their country. Their fears are real, and justified. So too, is their desire to go back to a time when cheese was there for the taking. Their liberation will ultimately come when they stop protesting the unfairness of it all and start to explore their future.

In my other life, I work with HR professionals who are also frozen in terror.  In the case of HR, there is a little cheese left, but not much. The world has moved on to work patterns where there are new demands and new generation who says “I am looking for the mouse”?

For Zimbabweans and HR professionals, I am looking for my mouse has a sadder meaning The mice have already detected the dwindling cheese supply and have left.

My advice is “follow that mouse”!


Is 2.0 a passing fancy?

Both Scott McCarthur and Jon Ingham have been blogging on 2.0 recently. The big question in discussions about 2.0 is always whether or not 2.0 marks a fundamental shift in the structure of society.

Here is a video of Clay Shirky speaking at the Web 2.0 expo recently with a compelling story about why 2.0 is here to stay: “I am looking for the mouse”!

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This video was originally shared on by Web2Expo with a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs license.


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The deep challenge to positive psychology: war

Can and does positive psychology help us with the tragic and terrible events in life?

Positive psychologists focus on the positive and they raise two issues in mind:

  • How much use is positive psychology when life if really dreadful?
  • And aren’t we being rather patronizing to people in the midst of tragedy and despair?

I wonder what other positive psychologists would say.

Look at tragedy & despair squarely but not necessarily in the eye

I would say that we need to look at tragedy and despair squarely but not necessarily in the eye.

Be worldly

To use the analogy of wild animals, some animals become more aggressive if we stare them in the eye, but most will attack if we lose eye contact!  Worldliness is important and we need to understand the menace that faces us.

Have compassion for yourself and your journey

But there is a season for everything, and to continue the analogy, whatever drew us to the bush in the first place, has brought us to this predicament. We need to understand our predicament, and even appreciate it, within the context of our wider lives, within the journey that brought us to this place and will take us on to other places.

Poetry in dark times

It is so much more easily said than done.

In dark times, we value our poets as much if not more than we do in bright times. They mirror what we are feeling – our despair and fear – against a backdrop of our hopes and dreams.

Poetry from Zimbabwe in the dark days after the 2008 election

This poem is from Zimbabwe which you may know is in deep peril as they wait for long delayed election results to be announced. April has been a long month of waiting for them.

The poet is Comrade Fatso, a local musician, who has his own website and blog. I don’t have his permission to use his poem here. I hope he doesn’t mind. I hope, too, you visit his blog and leave a kind word. Or go to his website and listen to his music (it is for sale!)

Street fillers

The streets are empty.

The state has retreated.

So has the opposition.

All we are left with

are their torn posters,

pasted over each other

in a confusing collage of symbols and slogans.

We also have their space-fillers.

Riot police


walk the streets,

batons in belts

like forgotten cellphones.

Or sometimes


swung in the air

like a stick-picked-up-on-a-path.

They walk the streets

like the thousands

of unemployed H-town youths.


Like the pothole-filling youths

who have taken over the suburban streets.

Stopping traffic,

asking for donations,

filling potholes.


The state has gone back to the drawing board.

The opposition has stayed away from its stay-away.

Its re-count and re-plan time.

And all we have are their space-fillers.