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 below. To get back to this page, click on the title of the blog in the upper left.
Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6
We are continuing the set of six tiny essays inviting reflection about the construction of the conditions and situations in which wisdom can be cultivated and exercised in organizational settings.
Preparing for Ethical Action
The concern for action is central to the question of wisdom, and there is a direct relationship between the exercise of wisdom and ethics. Let’s take these one at a time. Wisdom has more to do with action and less to do with dry abstraction than a casual look at many traditions would have us believe. Even the extraordinarily rigorous contemplative activities frequently found in the practices of some wisdom traditions, when carefully examined, will be found to have to do with getting prepared for taking or being involved in action. We meditate, contemplate, and the like in order to be prepared to take action, or to support others taking action when the moment for action arrives.
Preparing the Way for Wisdom in Organizations – Part 2c
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 below. To get back to this page, click on the title of the blog in the upper left.
Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5
Next we turn to the implications of language-action for the design of systems. In their book Understanding Computers and Cognition, Fernando Flores and Terry Winograd outlined a three point theory of management and conversation in their that shows well many of the features of how software designs could embody the insights we are exploring here:
- “Organizations exist as networks of directives and commissives.” Directives include orders, requests, consultations, and offers; commissives include promises, acceptances, and rejections. (These names for performative verbs are from a different taxonomy than I use and present here, but the reader will see the relationships.)
- “Breakdowns will inevitably occur, and the organization needs to be prepared. In coping with breakdowns, further networks of directives and commissives are generated.”
- “People in an organization (including, but not limited to managers) issue utterances, by speaking or writing, to develop the conversations required in the organizational network. They participate in the creation and maintenance of a process of communication. At the core of this process is the performance of linguistic acts that bring forth different kinds of commitments.” (Understanding Computers and Cognition: A New Foundation for Design. p. 157.)
Flores and Winograd claim (and I am convinced that their claim is a good one) that the classical idea of decision-making is not well supported phenomenologically. (In ordinary language, this fancy expression means “bad theory” or “the evidence doesn’t fit the claims,” or, “that dog won’t hunt.” The problem is that when people are talking about decision making it appears to all concerned that they know what they are talking about, and, in fact, normally they do not.) Flores and Winograd recommended substituting the notion of ‘dealing with irresolution’ and supporting people in coming to resolution. (Ibid, p 144ff.)
Stay tuned. More to come.
© Copyright Chauncey Bell, 2003-4. All rights reserved worldwide.
Copyright © 2005, Idea Group Inc. Copying or distributing in print or electronic forms without written permission of Idea Group Inc. is prohibited.
[We revised this posting on Wednesday 26 March.]
This posting is inspired by the questions Joe Alberti asked here. Joe teaches theatre and acting, and is working on a PhD. Some time ago he began studying wierd stuff – the writings of Fernando Flores and Humberto Maturana in particular. I like the heart of Joe’s question: the central challenge he faces is changing the orientations, ways of thinking and acting – the behaviors – of the people with whom he works. That is the central challenge that a lot of us face.
Frequently people speak of “those not under our control” as emblematic of this challenge. The way we talk about work in modern organizations produces the illusion that we have some people under our control, and others not. This is an illusion. We don’t control cats, we don’t control goats, we don’t control dogs, we don’t control horses, and we don’t control human beings. We dance with them in consensual spaces. (Yes, I agree that there are places and situations in the world where, effectively, people move with guns held at their heads. That is not the common situation in the developed world today.)
The overall challenge is to design reliable structures in which the right kinds of actions can happen when people are working together.
Today I began the process of signing up for a new kind of primary healthcare services. What I am signing up for has not been available in most of the US since I was a child. I will have a primary care doctor who will be available for appointments on the day I call, or the next day, 7 days a week, and available by phone when I need help. The doctor will meet me in their office, and not in a hospital. The doctor will track my health with me, and advise me on how to design my life so that I can remain healthy to do the things I want to do in my life. Of course, the doctor takes time off, and if I get sick when he or she does, I will be served by one of their colleagues. For this service I will pay $55/month.
I will maintain my health insurance, because this is primary care we are talking about, and not care for what we pray we will not encounter – the terrible illnesses in which we might need the dangerous and formidably expensive services of a big hospital. But I will increase my deductible massively so that the cost of that insurance will come down from its current level of $1,000+/month for Shirah and me. After we finish balancing the various services I will pay a lot less for healthcare than I do today, and I will get far, far better service.
You can see what I am signing up for here, and you can see the inventor of the service talking about his invention here. I recommend you think about this as an important start on a new future for healthcare in the US. It looks simple, and on the surface very similar to what is already done. It is not the same; this is a radical departure from the approach found throughout the country today. One place where you can grasp the difference is that my new doctor will have under 1,000 patients, and a “normal” primary care physician will have 3-4,000 patients. The service I am signing up for is currently available only in Seattle, but it will expand rapidly to other parts of the country.
For some time now I have been preparing a new company, CareCyte. My colleagues and I at CareCyte have been speculating about and beginning the design of a new kind of primary care that is desperately needed here in the US and in many other parts of the world. The group that I am signing up with is working on the third generation of a design to address the same challenge we have been working on. They have arrived at the point where they are preparing to scale an effective new approach to primary care services that fits beautifully with what we have been preparing ourselves to do. And, better yet, they are our neighbors here in Seattle. We hope to help them spread this across the country by providing a new standard of high-quality facilities for healthcare service delivery at lower costs, and much faster than has been possible in the past.
From TED, again. Margaret McIntyre referenced this in a comment, but it is too good to be buried there. Here is a glorious example of what our friend Fernando Flores called the difference between listening — the act of interpretive attunement to the concerns of another human being — and hearing — the mechanics of receiving potentially meaningful signals of one sort or another.
“In this soaring demonstration, deaf percussionist Evelyn Glennie leads the audience through an exploration of music not as notes on a page, but as an expression of the human experience. Playing with sensitivity and nuance informed by a soul-deep understanding of and connection to music, she talks about a music that is more than sound waves perceived by the human ear. She illustrates a richer picture that begins with listening to yourself, and includes emotion and intent as well as the complex role of physical spaces — instrument, concert hall and even the bones and body cavities of musician and listener alike.” (Quoted from the TED introduction to the event.)