Tag: organization (page 2 of 2)

The 8 C’s of digital literacy

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Image by jared @ Flickr

Poets talk of a ‘muses’ and people talk of inspiration ‘just coming’ to them. Me, I’m a believer that connections come when you completely immerse yourself in something. About an hour ago I had a breakthrough with my thesis, the tentative title of which is What does it mean to be ‘digitally literate’? A Pragmatic investigation.

I’ve been looking for a way to organize the multitude of definitions of ‘digital literacy’ that there are – almost as many as there are writers on the subject! Then, as I was looking for categories, I noticed that almost every category I used began with ‘C’! I quickly wrote down eight and tweeted it out:

My original tweet

Josie Fraser, herself quite the expert on digital literacy, responded that I really needed a ‘critical’ element in there:

Josie - helpful tweet

She had a very good point and I noticed that the similarity between the things I wanted to put in the ‘cultural’ and ‘community’ sections I’d demarcated. Hence, I changed it round to come up with this, the 8 C’s of digital literacy. Each of the following I believe to be an element with which any definition of the concept must deal:

  • Cultural
  • Communication
  • Cognitive
  • Citizenship
  • Constructive
  • Creativity
  • Confidence
  • Critical

I haven’t numbered them as they’re in no particular order. I will, no doubt, be thinking and reflecting more on the subject. I just wanted to get this post out before anyone else tried to claim this as their own! πŸ˜‰

A reminder that you can view my thesis as I write it, if you wish. πŸ˜€

Surviving the matrix: 5 common leadership pitfalls and how to avoid them.

The Matrix

by Jamie Zawinski (Wikimedia Commons)

Jo Owen, in his excellent How to Lead: what you actually need to do to manage, lead and succeed has a wonderfully concise and vivid section on the ‘pitfalls of survival’ for leaders. This post outlines these and gives some advice as to how to avoid them. πŸ™‚

Owen calls the middle management of an organization ‘the matrix’. It can be an uncomfortable and difficult place from which to emerge, he says. The five most common pitfalls of survival are:

  1. The expert in the matrix
  2. The cave dweller
  3. The politician
  4. The boy scout
  5. The autocrat

expert

The expert in the matrix

The expert in the matrix has been promoted because of their technical competency. On becoming a leader they are out of their comfort zone and therefore lean on their exceptional technical skills. They are likely to demand almost impossibly high standards from their subordinates leading to friction and discontent.

cave_dweller

The cave dweller

Cave dwellers try to avoid the matrix as much as possible by hiding in their ‘cave’ of pseudo-certainty. In an attempt to recreate the security they felt lower down the organization they become more territorial and less valuable to the organization. These, says Owen, are likely to be the first to go in any organizational ‘rationalisation’.

Machiavelli

The politician

Coming across as rather too enthusiastic about ‘learning the dark arts of the matrix,’ the politician works hard to cultivate a power network. They are constantly on the lookout for new initiatives and seek a position in relation to them. Politicians seek to be close enough to projects to be able to claim a stake in them if successful whilst being able to distance themselves from projects that fail or are discredited. After a while politicians are seen for their true colours and are ignored.

Scout emblem

The boy scout

The opposite to the politician is the boy scout. They think that by working hard and delivering results they will automatically receive recognition and promotion. In practice, however, they got ‘lost in the matrix.’ Boy scouts need to stake their claim and show that they are leading and delivering.

autocrat

The autocrat

Autocrats act as if they are already higher than they actually are in the organizational hierarchy. Whilst they talk about the importance of being a team player, in reality they are chiefly concerned with people being loyal to them. If they perform well, autocrats can succeed and are promoted. If not, they become irritating and a burden to their colleagues.

winding_path

The path through the matrix

So how do middle managers be successful in and/or find their way out of the matrix? Owen believes this comes back to the ‘three and a half Ps’ that he outlines at the start of the book:

  1. People – focus not only on those you have direct formal control but those ou can motivate and coach. These widens your circle of influence.
  2. Professional – model the values needed as a senior leader. One of the best ways to do this, believes Owen, is to chair meetings well.
  3. Positive – being positive is especially important in the middle of the matrix. Treat ambiguity and change as opportunity instead of risk. Learn how to deal with conflict in your particular context and you will be successful.
  4. Performance (the half-P) – you need a ‘claim to fame’ to emerge from the matrix. Show that you can deliver exceptional results out of ambiguity and complexity. Actively take on challenge.

Conclusion

I really liked this section of Owen’s book In fact, the whole thing is becoming invaluable to me as I step up from being a an ‘expert in the matrix’ (and ‘boy scout’ at times) to, hopefully, becoming an effectively and successful senior leader! πŸ˜€

Four ways to make your organization live long and prosper.

Warp Field

Image by Trekky0623 (Wikimedia Commons)

I’ve been reading Arie de Geus’ The Living Company: habits for survival in a turbulent business environment. It’s somewhat tangential to my role at the Academy, but nevertheless contains some great metaphors and insights.

Arie de Geus spent most of his career working for Shell, the oil company. During his time there, Shell commissioned a study about what makes a long-lived and prosperous organization. They found the following were true of the longest-lived organizations:

  1. Sensitivity to the environment – this represents an organization’s ability to learn and adapt.
  2. Cohesion and identity – aspects of a organizations innate ability to build a community and persona for itself.
  3. Tolerance – de Geus’ term, but actually as much to do with decentralization. Both are symptoms of a company’s awareness of its ecology and its ability to constructive relationships with other entities (within and outside itself)
  4. Conservative financing – this enables an organization to govern its own growth and evolution effectively

To sum this up, de Geus talks about organizations being ‘living organisms’:

Like all organisms, the living company exists primarily for its own survival and improvement: to fulfil its potential and to become as great as it can be. (p.11)

In terms of the relationship of the above to educational institutions, although they are all (theoretically) applicable, the one most applicable to my mind is cohesion and identity. It’s really important for educational institutions to build a culture of inclusion and achievement as this helps towards both implicit and explicit reasons for their existence.

What would you add to the above list? Would you take anything away? πŸ™‚

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How to Lead: Being Professional

how_to_leadThis is the last in a short series of posts looking at the ‘foundations of leadership’ section of Jo Owen’s How to Lead: what you actually need to do to manage, lead and succeed. My previous two posts can be found here:

  1. How to Lead: Focusing on People
  2. How to Lead: Being Positive

The third chapter of Owen’s book, and the last in the ‘foundations of leadership’ section is entitled Being Professional. Owen explains what he means by professionalism as follows:

Professionalism encompasses the core skills and values that define the character and potential of the organisation and the individual. It is central to the success of leadership.

He adds that professionalism should never be taken for granted and that it comprises four main elements:

  1. Learning to learn leadership
  2. Learning the local rules of the game: understanding professionalism in the context of the organisation
  3. Learning some universal lessons of professionalism
  4. Learning business survival etiquette.

The rest of this post uses these elements as section headings.

Learning to learn leadership

Formal education systems, says Owen, teaches people exactly the wrong lessons about leadership. In fact, this is probably why Richard Branson and Bill Gates – both ‘drop-outs’ of formal education systems – have prospered. Formal education teaches people to work in highly structured environments in an individual way looking for logical answers. Instead, it is the ‘tacit’ knowledge that is important, embodied in Japanese education and culture, for example.

According to Owen, leaders develop their capabilities in ‘two and a half ways’:

  1. Learning from role models
  2. Learning from experience
  3. Learning from structured observation and discussion (sometimes)

If you want to accelerate your path to leadership, the two best ways of doing so are:

  • Set up your own organization. You will have to learn very quickly and even if it fails you will learn a lot.
  • Structured observation and discovery – actively looking, listening and learning.

Owen suggests creating your own worksheets for reflection using headings such as ‘interpersonal skills’, ‘management skills’, ‘personal behaviours’ and ‘commuication skills.’

Learning the local rules of the game

Dress codes are a trivial but higly visible sign of the local rules of the game. They can fluctutate and be highly political. You need to learn the local rules fast, but no-one will tell you and will look at you as if you have asked a weird question if you ask. Instead, you need to pick up clues and hints. The most direct question you could ask to get a useful question would be How could I really mess up?

Learning some universal lessons of professionalism

When Owen interviewed 700 top leaders and asked them about their expectations of emerging leaders, the following came out top:

  1. Loyalty
  2. Honesty
  3. Reliability
  4. Solutions
  5. Energy (incorporating stamina, commitment, resilience, optimism, etc.)

These are all closely linked traits and tend to go together in people.

Turning to the most common complaints co-workers make about their colleagues in 360Β° feedback, Owen lists them as being:

  • not communicating
  • public, not private, arguments
  • game playing and politicking
  • bullying
  • bad habits (turning up late, poor dress, etc.)
  • personalising feedback and comments

Finally for this part, Owen makes the Prisoners’ Dilemma relevant to business. If you’re not familiar with this, read about it at Wikipedia, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, or play the Open University’s game. It turns out that tit-for-tat teaches people a lesson. If they offer conflict, offer conflict back, but always then go back to an ‘offering cooperation’ model. This teaches them appropriate behaviours. :-p

Learning business survival etiquette

Owen begins the section by stressing the importance of etiquette and what it means in practice:

Etiquette is fundamentally about putting the other person at ease and making them feel valued, respected and important.

Basic etiquette therefore involves

  1. Promptness – respecting the other person’s time (you don’t lose friends or clients by arriving early!)
  2. Focus – good leaders have the habit of making you feel like you are the most important thing in their lives at that moment. How?
    • no interruptions from calls
    • mobile phone off
    • no playing with PDAs in meeting
  3. Courtesy – say ‘thank you’ a lot. And smile. :-
  4. Responsiveness – things like answering the phone within three rings, replying to email quickly and following up on commitments promptly shows you are in control and minimises effort.
  5. The Personal Touch – for example:
    • escorting people out yourself (perfect for that Columbo ‘one more question’ moment)
    • handwritten notes (valuable in an email culture)
    • learning names and using them.

Conclusion

I thought that the most valuable insights for this section were ‘learning the local rules of the game’ and the important of ‘the personal touch’. Of course, in a new Academy, the ‘local rules of the game’ will be in flux and it will be up to me, in part, to help set them! πŸ˜‰

Four ways to understand organizational change

River and Forest

cc-nc-nd by *wb-skinner

You cannot step twice into the same river. (Heraclitus)

The above quotation was on the wall of my classroom at my previous school. Heraclitus is also attributed as saying, “The road up and the road down is one and the same” (also on my wall). Heraclitus recognised that whilst there is nothing fundamentally new under the sun, nevertheless the whole universe is in a constant state of flux with nothing fixed. Heraclitus believed the secrets of the unvierse could be found in finding patterns in the changes that take place.

David Bohm was a quantum physicist who, in the 20th century, developed a theory that ‘invites us to understand the universe as a flowing and unbroken wholeness.’ (Morgan, 1998:214) A useful metaphor that Morgan uses pace Bohm is that of the whirlpool in a river. Whilst such a whirlpool has a relatively constant form, it does not exist separately from the movement of the river.

Four ‘logics of change’

Morgan addresses four ‘logics of change’ in his chapter Unfolding Logics of Change, namely:

  1. Autopoiesis
  2. Chaos & complexity
  3. Mutual causality
  4. Dialectical change

1. Autopoiesis

Traditional organization theories frame organizations in reference to their external environment. A new approach to systems theory was developed by Maturana and Varela which they termed Autopoiesis (from the Greek auto – for self- and poiesis for creation or production, literally ‘auto self production’). They argue that all living systems are ‘organizationally closed’ and make reference only to themselves. The idea, therefore, that such a system is open to an environment is the product of an external observer trying to make sense of it.

Maturana and Varela believe living systems to be characterized by autonomy, circularity and self-reference. These three features allow the system to self-create or self-renew. The aim of autopoietic systems is to produce themselves and therefore their own organization and identity is paramount.

Artificial BrainIn order to back up their theory, Maturana and Varela point to the brain as a ‘living system’. The brain, they contend, is ‘closed, autonomous, circular and self-referential.’ (Morgan, 1998:216) Although it seems obvious to us that the brain processes information from the external environment, Maturana and Varela point to the impossibility of the brain having an external point of reference:

If one thinks about it, the idea that the brain can make true representations of its environment presumes some external point of reference form which it is possible to judge the degree of correspondence between the representation and reality. This implicitly presumes that the brain must have a capacity to see and understand its world from a point outside itself. Clearly, this cannot be so. (Morgan, 1998:216)

Taken as a metaphor for organizations, the theory of Autopoiesis has three main implications:

  • Organizations are always attempting to achieve ‘self-referential closure… enacting their environments as extensions of their own identity.’
  • Many of the problems that organizations encounter are a result of their attempt to maintain a particular identity.
  • Explanations of organizational evolution, change and development must give attention to the factors that shape patterns affecting organizations.

Morgan contrasts what he calls ‘egocentric organizations’ with ‘systemic wisdom’. The former have a fixed notion of who or what they are and are determined to sustain this at all costs. ‘This leads them to overemphasize the importance of themselves while underplaying the significance of the wider system of relations in which they exist.’ (Morgan, 1998:219) The example Morgan gives is of ‘watchmakers’ and ‘typewriter firms’ failing to take account of developments in microprocessing and digital technologies. Their identity as producing a certain kind of equipment led to their downfall.

Contrasted with this is the idea of ‘systemic wisdom’ where organizations have an ‘evolving identity.’ Morgan believes that organizations can never survive being against their environment:

In the long run, survival can only be survival with, never survival against, the environment or context in which one is operating. (Morgan, 1998:221)

To be successful, therefore, organizations must be willing and able to transform themselves along with their environment in an evolutionary manner.

2. Chaos & complexity

complexityAlthough it is usual to draw a clear distinction between ‘chaos’ and ‘complexity,’ Morgan (1998:222) states, it makes more sense in terms of organizations and their environments to consider them to be parts of the same interconnected (evolving) pattern. Using evolutionary theory as a touchstone, Morgan talks about the ‘random disturbances [that] can produce unpredictable events and relationships.’ However, ‘coherent order always emerges out of the randomness and surface chaos.’ (ibid.)

Rather than internal complexity, randomness and diversity being organizationally-threatening, Morgan argues, they can actually become resources for change. Random systems develop an (albeit temporary) equilibrium as tension between two or more ‘attractor’ elements. These tensions will, every so often, lead to ‘bifurcation points’ due to changes in one or more of the attractor elements making the system unstable. Such ‘forks in the road’ lead to different futures and ways of operating for organizations.

Small changes can lead to huge consequences. The most famous example of this is the ‘butterfly effect’ where a small and insignificant event such as a butterfly flapping its wings in China can influence weather patterns on the other side of the world. The butterfly doesn’t cause in any meaningful sense the hurricane, but the tiny change it causes in its environment leads to another change and another change, and so on…

How can managers and leaders cope in the face of such chaos and complexity? Morgan suggests five key ideas:

  • Rethinking what we mean by ‘organization’ – especially in terms of hierarchy and control
  • Learning the art of managing and changing contexts
  • Learning how to use small changes to create large effects
  • Living with continuous transformation and emergent order as a natural state of affairs
  • Being open to new metaphors that can facilitiate processes of self-organization (Morgan, 1998:226)

What do we mean by ‘organization’?

Although somewhat frightening, chaos and complexity theory stresses that there is no ‘grand design’ or central organizing principle at work in such systems. Instead, ‘patterns have to emerge’ without being imposed. Hierarchy and control are temporary conditions or outcomes of the system, mere ‘snapshot points’ on a self-organizing journey (as Morgan puts it).

The fundamental role of managers is to shape and create “contexts” in which appropriate forms of self-organization can occur. (Morgan, 1998:227)

This is an extremely insightful point, and one that resonates with me. Take setting up a new online community, which I’ve done (and attempted to do) a few times. An authoritarian, top-down approach is guaranteed not to work in this arena. Instead, as I’ve attempted to do with EdTechRoundUp, procedures, norms and contexts are negotiated that allow the organization to evolve successfully.

Changing contexts

Sometimes, if a particular system is inappropriate within an organization – for example a school or hospital is ‘failing’ and not reaching external targets, then the role of managers and leaders is to cause instability that causes the system to change. The aim of such instability would be to cause those within the organization to re-assess their role and day-to-day practice to change the system for the better. ‘The important point,’ says Morgan, ‘is that the manager helps to create the conditions under which the new context can emerge.’ (1998:230) Without creating these conditions, organizations ‘end up trying to do the new in old ways.’ (ibid.)

Small changes -> large effects

If systems are conceived as involving several ‘attractors’ that are in tension, it follows that changes in context are achieved by either introducing new attractors or changing the influence each attractor possesses. Doing this will generate ‘bifurcation points’ that affect future development – often by creating ‘tensions between the status quo and alternative future states.’ (Morgan, 1998:231)

Creating a paradox leads to system instability, and therefore a need for a ‘reframing’ of the situation which would resolve this paradox. Managers and leaders need to help change the system incrementally so fundamental change occurs. Such incremental changes can create a ‘critical mass’ effect which leads to an overwhelming force for change.

Emergence as ‘natural’

Leaders and managers cannot force complex systems into lasting comprehensive changes. They can merely nudge and push a system in the desired direction. They should be aware of feedback loops and provide room for experimentation with ‘new realities’. Introducing new images and metaphors of the roles of individuals within the organization can help

3. Mutual causality

Feedback loopsChange, according to the theories outlined above, does not unfold in a linear fashion but via circular patterns (loops not lines). A does not cause B under such a system. Instead both A and B ‘are co-defined as a consequence of belonging to the same system of circular relations.’ (Morgan, 1998:234) Magorah Maruyama has shown how positive feedback loops can lead to complex systems:

[A] large homogenous plan attracts a farmer, who settles on a given spot. Other farmers follow, and one of them opens a tool shop. The shop becomes a meeting place, and a food stand is established next to the shop. Gradually, a village grows as merchants, suppliers, farmhands, and others are attracted to it… [T]he homogenous plan has been transformed by a series of positive feedback loops that amplify the effects of the initial differentiation. (Morgan, 1998:235)

Often, human nature makes us want to explain and analyze situations in terms of finding a specific ’cause’. However, phenomena actually reside within overall patterns of positive and negative feedback.

Peter Senge, leadership guru and author of The Fifth Discipline believes that many systems are unstable because of delayed feedback between elements. This leads to people within organizations either underplaying or exaggerating their behaviours.

Morgan comes across as a great believer in loop analysis and presents some of his reasons for thinking so. Here are three of them:

  • It cultivates ‘systemic wisdom’ – the approaching of organizational problems from a mindset that respects patterns of mutual causality.
  • It provides insights on how small changes can have large effects.
  • It invites us to understand the patterns that lock the system into vicious circles because of positive feedback loops.

4. Dialectical change

ying-yangIt is a truism that we cannot fully understand something without knowing its opposite. You cannot truly know the meaning of ‘hot’ unless you understand what ‘cold’ means. You cannot conceive of ‘day’ without knowing ‘night’. And so on. Such dialectical philosophy has a long history and tradition, chiefly through Taoist philosophy which originated in ancient China. This philosophy understands the universe to be subject to the dynamic interplay of yin and yang, creative and destructive powers.

Dialectical principles

Taoist philosophy influenced the work of both Hegel and Marx who developed some of its principles into theories of social change. Morgan uses a neo-Marxian perspective in this section to settle upon three main principles:

Principle 1 – Whenever one person attempts to control another a process of resistance undermines that attempt. ‘The act of control itself sets up consequences that work against its effectiveness.’ (Morgan, 1998:245)

Principle 2 – Negations of negations retain something from that form, leading to an evolution in patterns of control.

Principle 3 – Changes in quantity lead to changes in quality. Water absorbs increases in temperature up to the boiling point. Camels can be loaded until the straw that breaks its back. ‘A process of control and countercontrol may continue until control is no longer possible, leading to a new phase of collaborative or destructive activity.’ (Morgan, 1998:245)

Putting these three principles together we can see that organizational arrangements set up contradictions and opposition by their very nature. This leads to a Hegelian process of negation and counter-negation. This process continues until a limit is reached and the qualitative state of the organization must change or be destroyed.

Dialectical management

Dialectic analysis has two main implications for management, believes Morgan:

  • Restructuring is not a solution to a problem as it is itself a manifestation of a deeper problem. Instead, they should be dealt with through ‘social and political initiatives.’ (Morgan, 1998:248) Contradictions can only be tacked through an appreciation of what is creating the context in which they are able to flourish.
  • Managers and leaders cannot wait for ‘macro-problems’ to present themselves. They must deal with ‘microflux’ in order to keep an organization running smoothly and understand ‘creative destruction.’

Managing paradox

If not managed properly, new initiatives or directions instituted to cause positive organizational change can become ‘mired in paradoxical tensions that undermine the desired change.’ (Morgan, 1998:249):

Although there may we ways of resolving the paradoxes, the fact that the tensions are experienced as contradictory may in itself be sufficient to negate transformational change. For example, if people feel that the new demands for “more innovation,” “improved morale,” “more collaboration,” “increased decentralization,” and so on, are inconsistent with what seems reasonable or possible, inertia is the most likely outcome. (Morgan, 1998:250)

To my mind, this seems almost as though leaders and managers, although being explicit about the organizational vision, should keep the purpose of other changes and maneuvers ‘hidden’ as this could prejudice their outcome?

‘Paradox,’ says Morgan (pace Kurt Lewin, whom he cites), ‘cannot be resolved by eliminating one side.’ (Morgan, 1998:251) The task of the manager or leader is to find a way to integrate competing elements. They must create new contexts that reframe the key contradictions in a positive way. For example, Japanese manufacturers have transformed a traditional paradox by showing how improving quality (by elimating waste, simplying processes, etc.) can lead to lower costs.

‘Creative destruction’

cc-nc-nd by =keepwalking07Dialectical processes directly affect innovation. New innovations lead to the destruction of established practice and displace old innovations. In turn, the solutions the innovations provide create a new set of problems, which require new innovations. And so the cycle continues. As Morgan notes, this leads to important implications – not least that innovations create the basis for their own downfall. :-p

Many companies embrace the above and succeed in chaotic and turbulent environments because they ‘systematically destroy the breakthroughs created by their own products and initiatives by coming up with better ones.’ (Morgan, 1998:253)

Although so-called ‘creative destruction’ can be a powerful tool, it leaders must take care that it is not over-emphasized. Destruction should be a by-product of evolution, not a conscious aim.

Conclusion

Morgan outlines what he believes to be the three main strengths and the one major limitation of the ‘flux and transformation’ metaphor.

Strengths

  • Offers new understandings of the nature and source of change.
  • Offers new horizons of thought that can be used to enrich our understanding of management and leadership.
  • Offers to leaders and managers a powerful new perspective on their role in facilitating emergent change.

Limitation

  • Is ‘powerless power’ a message that managers and leaders really want to hear?

I’m a bit more cautious about embracing a ‘chaos and complexity’ model of organizational change. I’m much more comfortable with the ‘brain’ metaphor that I blogged about recently. However, I can see that if an organization is striving to become the ‘best of the best’ a decentralized anti-structure as proposed here would perhaps be the best method to achieve this.

What are YOUR thoughts? πŸ˜€

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Are organizations like brains?

Images of OrganizationAs part of my Ed.D. course through the University of Durham I had to take some taught modules. One of them that I took back in 2006 was entitled Management, Leadership & Change. It was an excellent course from which I gained a lot. Unfortunately, unlike many of my classmates, I wasn’t then at a time where I could use this knowledge being then only just finished my second year of teaching. Now that I’m in a position that carries more responsibility, management responsbilities and leadership opportunities, it’s time to revisit that course and related reading.

One of the books I read for the Management, Leadership & Change module was Gareth Morgan’s Images of Organization. I found it a revelation, especially being so fond as I am of metaphor. Morgan uses eight metaphors as a lens through which to view organizations:

  1. Organizations as Machines
  2. Organizations as Organisms
  3. Organizations as Brains
  4. Organizations as Cultures
  5. Organizations as Political Systems
  6. Organizations as Psychic Prisons
  7. Organizations as Flux and Transformation
  8. Organizations as Instruments of Domination

Each of these perspectives teaches the reader something about organizations; it’s a very clever and interesting way of presenting insights.

Having just come across this neat overview of Daniel Goleman‘s idea of the various leadership styles, I wonder how much overlap/synergy there is between the two?

Goleman - Leadership Styles

I’m especially interested in the idea of organizations as ‘organisms’, ‘brains’ or ‘cultures’ as I believe these lenses to be the most powerful for effecting positive change. The remainder of this post will look at organizations as ‘brains’.

Organizations as brains

Morgan starts off the chapter comparing brains to holographs where ‘everything is enfolded in everything else’, there is not centre or point of control and, most importantly,

Pattern and order emerge from the process – it is not imposed. (Morgan, 1998:73)

The philosopher Daniel Dennett, someone who I read fairly widely at university during my undergraduate degree in Philosophy, suggests that our highly-ordered stream of consciousness is actually the result of ‘a more chaotic process where multiple possibilities are generated as a result of activity distributed throughout the brain.’ (ibid.) Competing parallel activities can make complementary and competing contributions into a coherent pattern.

‘Just In Time’ and perceived chaos

Morgan gives the example of ‘Just In Time’ (JIT) manufacturing as being a process that is highly organized yet without ‘boundaries and patterns of membership’:

To an outsider, it may be impossible to distinguish who is working for whom. The fundamental organization really rests int eh complex informaiton system that coordinates the activites of all the people and firms involves rather then the discrete organizations contributing different elementsΒ  to the process. (Morgan, 1998:75)

Clay Shirky - Here Comes EverybodyThe above leads Morgan to wonder whether it is better to refer to a ‘system of intelligence’ rather than an ‘organization’ when describing such states of affairs. These systems break what Herbert Simon, Nobel laureate, called the ‘bounded rationality’ of human beings. To my mind it’s Morgan picking up on the start of what Clay Shirky has shown to be completely revolutionary in his excellent Here Comes Everybody (which I’m currently reading).

Understanding how organizations can become capable of learning in a brain-like way is similar to understanding how robots and other objects in the study of Cybernetics are able to ‘learn’. The latter discipline involves negative feedback. That is to say error-detection and correction happens automatically to maintain a course towards a desired goal. In order to be able to self-regulate, systems must be able to:

  1. Sense, monitor, and scan significant aspects of their environment.
  2. Relate this information to the operating norms that guide system behavior.
  3. Detect significant deviations form these norms, and
  4. Initiate corrective action when discrepancies are detected. (Morgan, 1998:77)

This negative feedback system is only as good as the procedures and standards that underlie it. So long as the action defined by these procedures and standards is appropriate dealing with the changes encountered, everything is fine. The ‘intelligence’ of the system breaks down, however, when these are not adequate leading to negative feedback attempting to maintain an inappropriate pattern of behaviour.

In order to prevent the above happening (so called ‘single-loop learning’) the model of ‘double-loop learning’ has been promoted by Donald SchΓΆn and Chris Argyris. This builds in a self-review ‘loop’ to the learning process:

Double-Loop Learning

Image cc-by-sa Ed Batista

There are three major barriers to double-loop learning: budgets, bureaucracy and accountability. One of the most famous examples of double-loop learning and organization being thwarted by these three barriers came with the US Challenger space shuttle explosion.

Learning organizations

So, how are ‘learning organizations’ created? Insights from cybernetics would suggest the following:

  • Scanning and anticipating change in the wider environment
  • Developing an ability to question, challenge and change operating norms and assumptions
  • Allow appropriate directions and patterns of organization to emerge (Morgan, 1998:82)

Morgan follows this with stressing the importance of ‘framing and reframing’ which reminds me of Lord Bilimoria’s discussion of the value of regular SWOT analyses (see this post). ‘Many organizations,’ says Morgan, ‘become myopic, accepting their current reality as the reality.’ (Morgan, 1998:84)

Organizations that embrace double-loop learning sound like the type of places I want to be part of:

For successful double-loop learning to occur, organizations much develop cultures that support change and risk taking; embrace the idea that in rapidly changing circumstances with high degrees of uncertainty, problems and errors are inevitable; promote an openness that encourages dialogue and the expression of conflicting points of view; recognize that legitimate error, which arises from the uncertainty and lack of control in a situation, can be used as a resource for new learning; recognize that since genuine learning is usually action based, organizations must find ways of helping to create experiments and probes so that they lear through doing in a productive way. (Morgan, 1998:85)

Emergent organization

Coming back to the metaphor of brains, the intelligence of the brain is not predetermined. It is not centrally driven. It is emergent. A top-down approach to management leads to single-loop learning and therefore is the opposite of such a model of emergence. To prevent chaos and incoherence targets should take the form of vision and value-sharing.

Morgan continues on to articulate a vision of ‘holographic organization’ based on five principles:

  1. Build the ‘whole’ into the ‘parts’ (i.e. ‘networked intelligence’)
  2. The importance of redundancy
  3. Requisite variety (i.e. ‘internal complexity must match that of the environment’)
  4. Minimum Specs (i.e. don’t define more that is absolutely necesssary)
  5. Learn to learn (i.e. ‘double-loop learning’)

Conclusion

After fleshing out these princples, Morgan concludes this chapter with listing the strengths and limitations of the brain metaphor.

Strengths:

  • Gives clear guidelines for creating learning organizations
  • Shows how IT can support the evolution of organizations
  • Gives a new theory of management based on the principles of self-organization
  • Addresses the importance of dealing with paradox

Limitations:

  • There could be conflict between the requirements of organizational learning and the realities of power and control
  • Learning for the sake of learning can become just another ideology

I can live with these limitations. I think the ‘organization as brain’ metaphor has a lot going for it. What do YOU think? πŸ˜€

How to promote organizational innovation.

future_of_ideasI’m reading Lawrence Lessig’s The Future of Ideas at the moment. It’s excellent. πŸ™‚

After charting the history of the Internet,Β  and especially relating to its ‘open’ nature after the government’s relationship with AT&T, he explains that there are three ‘layers’ to the Internet:

  1. The Physical layer
  2. The Code layer
  3. The Content layer

If all three layers are controlled then this ‘chills’ innovation. I agree.

It made me think about innovation within organizations and I knocked up this table to help clarify my thinking:

3 layers

Whaddya reckon? πŸ˜€

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Productivity, Organization & #tweetmeet

I’ve spent this afternoon and early evening at a ‘tweetmeet’. These are also known as ‘tweetups’ and are when people who have previously only met, or usually communicate, through the microblogging service Twitter meet up face-to-face. I’d actually met all of the people from the small tweetmeet we had today in Nottingham.* :-p

Such ‘unorganized’ meetings of people – TeachMeet is a similar, slightly more structured example – are the subject of this blog post. What prompted my thinking about organization was part of the discussion we had, foolowed up by listening to a Radio 4 podcast on the way home called Thinking Allowed. I suggest that you listen to it right now!

The whole point of organizations is to achieve something. These may be set in stone and known by all participants in the organizations, or there may be many (and possibly conflicting) objectives framed by participants. All organizations, therefore, have different degrees of productivity, both globally (as an organization) and, depending on their size, on a more micro-scale.

I say this because we discussed at the tweetmeet – which was itself a kind of exemplar – the concept of an ‘unconference’. This is defined by Wikipedia (as I write, anyway…) as ‘a facilitated, participant-driven conference centered around a theme or purpose.’ Our purpose, I suppose, was to discuss things face-to-face that we’d previously discussed online, and to get to know each other a little better. Then, on the way home, listening the Thinking Allowed podcast (above) it got me thinking more generally about organizational structures.

Michael Thompson, author of Organising and Disorganising, talked about going on a expedition to climb the South face of Mount Everest. He explained how there were two separate groups – ‘Team A’ and ‘Team B’ – with the leader and middle managers (as it were) in the former group and the rest in the latter. He explained how this rigid hierarchical structure led to those in Team B, despite being experienced and highly-motivated mountaineers, adopting a chaotic, somewhat anti-organizational structure.

The important thing, however, was that order in fact came out of this structure; order that depended on those involved. This is the thing that is missing in organizational planning these days: the role of individuality. Because, actually, someone who fulfils a role in an organization cannot simply be swapped-out for another person. The whole organizational structure depends on the talents, personality and individual attributes of that person. Change one part of the organization and the whole thing shifts. It may be a small amount in some cases – imperceptible to some – but a rearrangement and alteration does take place.

This helps to explain why organizations seemingly consisting of brilliant minds that should be amazingly productive and innovative fail to be so. An effective organizational structure is one that removes barriers and enables individuals within an organization to reach his or her potential. This, of course, cannot be at the expense of another, otherwise it is a futile exercise. One such way of going about organization, therefore, is to unorganize things, to mix things up a little.

So I’d encourage you, as Tom did me today, to once you’ve attended an unconference, to think about organizing (or un-organizing…) one of your own. You can’t really state in advance the specific things you’re likely to learn, but that’s part of the fun! I’ll leave you with a couple of things. The first is a Twitter message from @hrheingold which sums up in a far more eloquent way than I could ever manage the benefits of letting a little (controlled) chaos into organization:

The second is a link I came across, shared by Vicki Davis (@coolcatteacher), whilst writing this post. It’s called 8 Tips on How to Run Your Own UnConference. I hope that and this post change your thinking a bit and encourage you to think a little differently about organization, or the lack of it, and how it could impact the productivity of any organization of which you are part! πŸ˜€

* I knew Lisa Stevens originally from last year’s TeachMeet at BETT, Jose Picardo from an Open Source Schools event, and Tom Barrett from some work we did for a Becta-funded project into Web 2.0 in the classroom at Nottingham University a few months back. The reason it says #tweetmeet in the title is because on Twitter you can add tags by prefacing words with hash symbols. These then can be tracked by websites such as Twemes.com. You can see this in action on the front page of the tweetmeet.eu website!

Image credits: iPhone Matrix App -MoPhaic & Podcamp West, both from Flickr

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Classroom organization and its relation to pedagogy

I reorganized my classroom today. It went from this:

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to this:

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The reason? It’s temporary as I needed a cinema-like arrangement of chairs and tables for two lessons; my Year 11s are making copious notes on a rather important video on Vietnam for their coursework. The reaction of the students and, more tellingly, colleagues, said it all.

They were flabbergasted that I would countenance such an arrangement. And I suppose I can see why. Although I’m not a fan of the phrases ‘sage on stage’ as opposed to being the ‘guide on the side’ it does capture an important aspect of my pedagogical style and approach.

I think that one’s classroom organization both reflects and dictates the interactions we have with students. I felt somehow today that the students looked younger and behaved more immaturely when in rows as opposed to ‘islands’ or groups. Perhaps that was just because I allowed them to sit next to who they liked for just these lessons. I don’t know. I can’t help but feel, however, that I was more of a ‘control-freak’ and the dynamics of the classroom were fundamentally different because of the change in layout.

Perhaps changing your classroom round and mixing things up a bit is worth a try? I know I’m definitely going back to ‘islands’ ASAP! πŸ˜€

Thesis proposal mindmap

I’m coming back this week to my thesis proposal in order to try and get it finished off during the Easter holidays. My supervisor said of my last effort that it included some interesting ideas, but it was not coherent enough nor did it have a logical enough progression.

To help make it better, I’m deconstructing what I’ve written so far so that I can organise it better and add extra material. The following mindmap will help with this:

Thesis proposal mindmap

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