Wise Organizations?, continued …

With the permission of the publishers of the book, Idea Group, Inc., I’m sharing this chapter in a series of postings, to see what kind of conversation it generates. Idea Group’s copyright prohibits copying the text in any written or electronic form. Please help me protect this copyright by referring people to the blog, but don’t copy the text that is here.

Preparing the Way for Wisdom in Organizations – Part 2b

We have been talking about language-action and the constitution of organizations. To see the earlier parts of this long posting which reflects on the conditions and situations in which wisdom can be cultivated and exercised in organizational settings, click on the links. To get back to this page, refresh the blog.


Part 1

Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

Each language action has standard elements which, when recognized, can help guide designers as they specify elements of an organization: strategies, configurations, practices, systems, etc. The standard elements of a language action? Speakers, listeners, conditions of satisfaction, time of speaking, time of expected response, time of committed action, and so forth.

John Austin discovered performative verbs (language-actions) some 60 years ago. The implications of his discovery are vast and still mostly unrecognized. Dr. Fernando Flores Labra, currently a Senator in the Chilean government, was the first to point out the importance of performatives for understanding and guiding the behaviors of people in modern organizations, and as a potential underpinning for design in organizations. (Flores brought together many of the thinkers and the traditions of thinking on which I rely in this paper.)

Ask yourself the question, ‘What makes something be an organization?’ Within every culture there are a variety of standard modes of business operation that can be observed (sales, manufacturing, invoicing, shipping, and so forth.) Underneath all of the variety is a more fundamental set of practices. Whether a business is as simple as an individual sitting on the ground with a pile of fruit for sale or a multinational conglomerate, and whether it produces tangible goods in factories, provides janitorial services, or operates entirely “on paper,” as in the case of many financial businesses, …


A business is created when a person or group of people declares that they will recurrently make certain classes of offers to some population of customers, and that they will satisfy the conditions of those offers (deliver what they promised) in exchange for some offer the customer makes in return, or the fulfillment of some request they make to the customer.

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Intro to Blogging

I came across this lovely introduction to blogging last week. I recommend nearly everything about it, including its brevity. “Elegance” is an old term of art in many fields, including science and mathematics, referring to the combination of effectiveness and simplicity. This is an elegant posting. Read and tell me what you think. Here.

Wise Organizations? Continued …

With the permission of the publishers of the book, Idea Group, Inc., I’m sharing this chapter in a series of postings, to see what kind of conversation it generates. Idea Group’s copyright prohibits copying the text in any written or electronic form. Please help me protect this copyright by referring people to the blog, but don’t copy the text that is here.

Preparing the Way for Wisdom in Organizations – Part 2a

This is the second in a set of six essays inviting reflection about the construction of the conditions and situations in which wisdom can be cultivated and exercised in organizational settings.
Language-Action and the Constitution of Organizations

For the vast majority of the moments of our lives (including much of our sleep, in dreams remembered and not), we are doing things in language, and language is doing things to us. The opportunity of this topic is that “language-action” offers a radically improved path to observing what we are doing as we are speaking (and listening). When we speak we create new interpretations, moods, possibilities, and futures in the bodies and minds of those with whom we are speaking (and for ourselves). Therefore, one of the distinctions that will be essential for us is language-action: observing language as communicative acts.

The English philosopher John L. Austin (1911-1960) was the first to carefully distinguish a class of verbs that he called performatives – verbs that, rather than describing actions, perform actions. (John L. Austin, (1975). How to Do Things With Words, Second Edition. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, p. 148.)

When someone says ‘I promise to …,’ he is performing the action of promising, not reporting that he will, did, or might promise. It turns out that all human languages contain performatives. For the purpose of designing work in organizations, I distinguish six classes of performatives:

* declarations
* offers
* requests
* promises
* assessments
* assertions

The most important, and most interesting thing about these verbs is that, when we look carefully, we can see that it is with these acts that we human beings invent our futures. Very often we don’t actually use the words; people make promises all the time without saying “I promise,” and make requests even more often without saying “I request” (for example, “The soup needs salt” and “Don’t you think that it is cold in here?”)

How do these language-actions show up as we are inventing our futures?
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Superb Overview of Health, Population, Money in the World

In this wonderfully done TED talk, Hans Rosling, a Professor at a Swedish Medical School, not only shows in a lovely way a compelling picture of the state of the world today. He also shows the way that common sense is powerfully misleading people in the world about what is going on around the world, and he makes a proposal for new ways of grounding development conversations in the world in the future.