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There is no piece of paper which justifies what the beggar has and
what I have. Standing naked beside the beggar-there's no difference between
her and me except a difference in luck. I don't actually deserve to have
a thousand times more than the beggar has. I don't deserve to have two crusts
of bread more.
- Wallace Shawn, The Fever
I proposed in my learning agreement to study
leaders or consultants could do to help a particular company become leaders
in their field. As I considered the topic and literature a larger concern
overshadowed this original intent: can consultants help raise the questions
necessary for a global set of values for sustained human and environmental
maintenance? This paper explores many possible places consultants may join
in to help build sustainable global values, behaviors, and relationships.
Articles about the growing inequalities in the distribution of wealth (Bluestone
1995a and 1995b) and the social disruptions caused by disproportionate wealth
and power wielded by corporations (Marris 1996, Yankelovich 1994, Turknett
1997) abound. How can consultants support a reconsideration in the West
of the concept of "growth" of material wealth, privately pursued?
This concept seems to be the justification of corporate policies of massive
"down-sizing" "outsourcing" and so forth. What characterize
many of these painful "change" events may be their obvious disruption
and overturning of previously tacit understandings of community and reciprocity
(Marris 1996, Turknett 1997, and Yankelovich 1994). In other words, one
"side" unilaterally breaks the tacit "rules of community"
whether that community be understood as a company, nation, or our community
John Adams suggests in "Working Today as if Tomorrow Really Mattered:
A Challenge to the Profession" (1996 Internet) that it's time that
organization consultants went beyond their narrow concerns with business
and took on global crises. Adams recounts a common set of statistics about
the minority of humanity-primarily in the Western nations of Europe and
the United States and Canada and Australia and Japan-consuming disproportionate
amounts of Earth's resources. The vast numbers of people are either very
poor and tied into this so called global economy or they are poor and outside
of it, still in a village or subsistence economies.
Adams locates the "doing/having" way of living as the greatest
threat to our well-being. Adams affirms Daniel Quinn's (author of Ismael)
observation that the human species' "master plan" apparently is
to "go on consuming until there is nothing left to consume!"
The ideology of growth, as in, "grow or die,", doesn't say anything
about what is of value to "grow." Upper management in corporations
announce that it means that return on investment, or profits. Stockholder
returns, and CEO salaries, must grow without attending to what is permanently
consumed in the process. This has spawned some painful paradoxes as corporations
seek to increase the participation of their workers in increasing efficiency
or reducing waste while at the same time limiting their ability to share
in the gains of this increased return on investment (See Freeman and Rogers
The undiscussed phrase "grow or die" virtually requires single-minded
selfish concern with our personal, private material comfort. Perhaps it
is a zero sum world to the degree that the more we think solely of "growth"
as being material, we crowd out thinking that the immaterial can be grown
as well. It may be at the expense of the immaterial; it may be at the expense
of relationships-to nature, to each other, to our own soul's and our spirit.
So, what if we reversed one of the consultant field's metaphors, just for
fun, and we said we have to learn to live inside the box, Let's play with
this concept of staying inside the box, staying inside limits, staying inside
the material well being of everyone, so its not just that I'm worried about
myself but, if I can work my life so that I am reasonably well fed, well
housed, well transported, whatever, but, I exercise it with the knowledge
that everybody else is playing along in such a way that we actually are
able to restore some forests, that we're able to restore the rivers, that
we're able to restore the air to breath-ability, that we're able to restore
time-another intangible to grow.
Let's say an organization rethought their whole way of being and they established
a certain level of work load for their employees and they felt with that
work load they could maintain a fair income for all and any efficiencies
would be rewarded with a shorter work week. Everyone must work and everyone
would have to get the same income to avoid divisive resentments. But with
the changes, rather than people working harder, harder and harder, the "system"
rewards smarter effort and increase efficiency with more time off. The company
continues to "grow" but it grows time for the workers.
Norms. We need two sets of norms, one set for structuring conversations
and another for day-to-day behavior and its associated feedback for improvement
and corrections. As a norm for structuring conversations, I suggest Open
Space (Owen, 1992). It offers the possibility of letting people understand
what their mind is across the planet by the ease that it can be used, the
ease that it can be taught and adapted, and its facility for working across
all cultural conditions around the world. As a first start at what global
principles might be, of course would be open space technology four principles
1. Whoever come are the right people.
2. Whenever it starts is the right time.
3. Whatever happens is the only thing that could have.
4. When it's over, it's over. (Owen 1992: 70).
If Open Space norms succeed in helping the people on earth discuss policy
concerns, what would be the norms the rest of the time? Egalitarian communities
have been laboratories of new norms for centuries. If inequality of wealth
dampens hope and increases injustices and environmental degradation, then
the balancing philosophy of egalitarianism offers more hope than the laissez-faire
capitalism which belies our current "global economy."
Ganas community in New York has been experimenting with simple norms since
their founding in 1980. Ganas in Spanish means "enough desire or motivation
to act." They live with a limited set of rules:
We limit ourselves only to four firm rules:
1. Non-violence to people or things.
2. No exploitation. Everybody is required to work productively or pay their
3. No illegality, including illegal drugs.
4. No non negotiable negativity. This is a new rule. It requires that people
bring their complaints about the community or people in it to the group,
where the problem can be discussed and resolved with the people involved
or a member of the core group, who will bring their issue up before others
for them. If that doesn't work and they are still unhappy with their life
here, they are asked to either adjust without negativity or complaint or
to leave (About Ganas 1993: 24).
Ganas, and other egalitarian communities actively experiment with building
interactions based on fundamental equality in all regards, especially in
the material or "stuff" domain. Interestingly, egalitarian communities
have a special IRS category, 501(d), which requires each member to file
identical income tax returns.
A tremendous role might be carved out for organization development (OD)
practitioners of simply helping the world have a few explicit norms like
those at Ganas. Above all I suggeste two meta-norms: (1) we will abide by
our explicit norms or explicitly work to persuade people to amend them (similar
to Ganas's Rule #4), and (2) new norms can be added at the request of anyone
at any time, provided the world agrees. As a start I will discuss three
potential global norms: cooperation, reciprocity, and reflexivity.
Cooperation. To move from global competition to global cooperation
will be a controversial change. Non-violent controversial social change
draws on deep human values of mutuality and cooperation. For Austin (1997),
controversial social change
is change that challenges organizational norms and broader societal
norms. Generating peaceful, controversial social change in an organization
is difficult, and doing it well is important. Organizational change theorists
recognize the importance of organizational traditions and norms, but few
examine the important role societal norms play in organizational change
attempts. Controversial social change in an organization directly challenges
widely accepted organizational norms, and, to be successful, it must change
not only the members' behavior but also the members' interpretation of societal
norms (p. 102).
Using this as a frame, Austin shows how Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson
integrated major league baseball using a profound understanding of the role
norms play. Branch Rickey deliberately and publicly sought to "put
his intellect to work on issues that 'mattered outside of the park'"
(p. 103). This lifted his thinking to the rare level of triple-loop action-learning.
Neilsen (1993) used the term triple-loop action-learning to explain a procedure
first developed by the eighteenth century Quaker abolitionist John Woolman
in Pennsylvania. In single loop learning change occurs within understood
values and constraints. "In double-loop action-learning there is a
change in the governing value and the action strategy," Neilsen notes,
but organization ethics remain unexamined (p. 120).
In the Rickey/Robinson effort to integrate baseball, the unspoken ethics
of racism silently supported the continuation of segregation. This is where
triple-loop action-learning makes its value known:
The governing values that drive actions can be nested within
embedded social traditions. In triple-loop action-learning, the embedded
social tradition system is both criticized and treated as partner in mutual
action-learningThe agent considers changes in actions, governing values,
and the embedded social tradition system within which governing values are
nested. More specifically, the agent holds open for learning and change
the effectiveness of the action strategy of not talking about controversial
issues, the appropriateness of the governing value of short-term conflict
suppression, and potential positive and/or negative biases in the embedded
social tradition that might be causing individuals inappropriately to accept
the governing value of short-term conflict suppression (p. 121).
The OD field could start within itself by demonstrating how an discipline
with wildly divergent theories and methods learns to cooperate for larger
social benefit. Edmondson (1996) in an article in Human Relations recounts
her experience of observing the interactions of three well-known OD gurus:
Edgar Schein, Peter Senge, and Chris Argyris. Though the three men decided
to collaborate at the new Center for Organizational Learning at MIT, differences
in their theories and methods impeded their success. Each has carved a separate
intellectual discipline and approach for himself: Schein emphasizes corporate
culture; Senge focuses on system dynamics; and Argyris pushes a theory of
action (p. 592).
By modeling the ways in which the three approaches might be integrated,
Edmondson essentially rediscovered Woolman the hard way. Notice the similarities
in the following chart.
Reciprocity. My second candidate for a universal norm is reciprocity.
Rebalancing power relations to increase felt and demonstrated reciprocity
would help to ease many of the destructive drives disturbing human and ecological
interactions. Most tribal and traditional peoples understand reciprocity;
they cannot survive as a people without it. It would take a great deal of
discussion and airing of suppressed conflicts in the Western nations, however,
but part of the intent of proposing it is to build contexts for the ensuing
discussions. One "safe" goal might be conversations to simply
define it in appropriate local language and behavior worldwide.
Among organizational theorists, William Torbert is the most passionate visionary
for a peer-based world, or as he calls it, for The Power of Balance (1991).
"The power-of-balance model postulates that power can be exercised
to balance oneself in relation to others and to cultivate the capacity for
such mutual self-balancing, if lifetime efforts are committed to developing
such power" (p. 5). Torbert makes a strong claim for this new power:
"whereas other types of power corrupt and require balancing by one
another to limit corruption and injustice, the exercise of the power of
balance generates increasing self-balancing, increasing personal integrity,
increasing institutional efficacy, and increasing social justice" (p.
Balancing of power would provide the opening doors to fresh forms and structures
for human experimentation and sharing. We would find the freedom that Mary
Parker Follett calls for:
New surges of life are pounding at circumference and centre;
we must open the way for their entrance and onflow. Today the individual
is submerged, smothered, choked by the crowd fallacy, the herd theory. Free
him [sic] from these, release his energies, and he with all other Freemen
will work out quick, flexible, constantly changing forms which shall respond
sensitively to every need (from the New State, cited in Martin 1994: 115).
Reflexivity.1 To solve our planetary puzzles will take a different order
of reasoning than the scientific method which seeks ultimate "truths"
in the "objective" world. Karl Popper, a philosopher of science,
felt that for a society to continually improve, it must remain "open"
so that conjecture and refutation can be freely engaged in. Through this
process of thinking and correction we would grow our knowledge ever closer
to the ultimate Truth. But can the global "truths" we need for
a sustainable world be refuted in the same way scientific theories can?
George Soros believes that they cannot because they are of a different order
of reasoning. Soros claims to have used Karl Popper's ideas about epistemology
to make his fortune. He has certainly made a fortune-the foundations he
has founded annually give away over $350 million. Financial articles which
reference him always put "superstar" before his name. But it is
in the area of philosophy that he would like to leave his contribution.
Soros, writing in the Atlantic Monthly about Popper's ideas about the Open
Society, said this about the vexing difficulties of refuting social theories:
I was driven to delve deeper into Popper's philosophy and to
ask, Why does nobody have access to the ultimate truth? The answer became
clear: We live in the same universe that we are trying to understand, and
our perceptions can influence the events in which we participate. If our
thoughts belong in one universe and their subject matter in another, the
truth might be within our grasp: we could formulate statements corresponding
to the facts, and the facts would serve as reliable criteria for deciding
whether the statements were true.
[Beyond the natural sciences] the relation between statements and facts
is less clear-cut. In social and political affairs the participants' perceptions
help to determine reality. In these situations facts do not necessarily
constitute reliable criteria for judging the truth of statements. There
is a two-way connection-a feedback mechanism-between thinking and events,
which I have called "reflexivity" (pp. 46-47).
Soros wants us to leave the binary, two value thinking of true and false
by introducing his third value, reflexive:
How does this fit in with our generally accepted notion of truth?
It seems that we need more than the two recognized categories-true and false.
The logical positivists asserted that statements which are not true or false
are meaningless. I thoroughly disagree. Theories that can affect the subject
matter to which they refer are the opposite of meaningless. They can change
the world. They express the active role that thinking can play in shaping
reality. We need to adjust our concept of truth to account for them. I propose
that we need three categories: true, false, and reflexive. The true value
of a reflexive statement is indeterminate. It is possible to find other
statements with an indeterminate truth value but we can live without them.
We cannot live without reflexive statements. I hardly need to emphasize
the profound significance of this proposition. Nothing is more fundamental
to our thinking than our concept of truth. (Soros, 1995, Internet).
Adding reflexivity offers some insight into any global process of norm discussion
and adoption. Not only must people, governments, and institutions master
new mechanical or social system procedures, they must also master the meaning
of that change and what it means about our world and our place in it (reflexivity).
Harrison Owen understands that the "effective power of an organization
is directly and fundamentally related to the quality of its mythology"
(1994: 95) and Krysl (1991) reminds us that "sometimes a person need
a story more than food to stay alive." Though not literally true, such
mythic communications generate a reflexive force much greater than literal
scientific truths. The Third Reich offers one disturbing example while Mississippi
Freedom Summer demonstrates a hopeful one.
OD consultants can contribute by helping people understand how reflexivity
works and to help us all think clearly when we use theories, symbols, metaphors,
and analogy. These symbols, metaphors, and theories influence how everyone,
plans, acts, and reacts. Neustadt and May (1986) offer an excellent exercise
of clarifying just where the analogy fits or mismatches the topic under
discussion. The goal would be to help people see that the tools of thought
that they are using can be adjusted, they're not given from outside and
if they don't quite work with what you need to do in the local situation
they can be modified or replaced.
Love is the glue. What if we lived without fear? Deming's fifth point
is drive fear out of the work place, but why stop there, why not the whole
world? What if we listened anew to the messages and practices of Robert
Owens, the early 19th century Scottish cotton mill owner who pioneered many
enlightened practices. Owens believed that happiness is the greatest human
drive, but this can only be secured through the happiness of the community.
The production of wealth, then, ensures happiness for all, while poverty
and consequent unhappiness, results from mis-distribution of wealth. One's
own happiness followed from the building up the happiness of others, not
the accumulation of one's own material wealth. (Harrison 1968: 13-18; also
see Nicholson 1907, Internet).
Could "community happiness" become the unifying global belief?
That we will add joy to one another, add joy to those with less joy? This
is not outside the realm of what is possible. Merck Drugs, for example,
has distributed at its own expense Mectizan, a drug which cures "river
blindness" to the million people affected by the disease around the
world (Collins and Porras 1994: 47).
Gathering Information. Gannon and Associates (1994) wrote an excellent
introduction to global cultures by using a cultural event, ritual, or game
as a symbolic metaphorical expression of a nation. For example, the marketplace
in Nigeria was used to understand much about that culture, while football
helped to interpret the culture of the United States. I think another tremendous
important global goal would be to survey every identified culture that would
like to participate and to find out what are four or five qualities about
its way of living that cultural members want to share with humanity as a
"global treasure." For starters, some questions worth exploring
might include: What are three things about how you raise children you want
to communicate? What are three things about how you make decisions? What
are three things about how you deal with differences of opinion, conflict,
and disagreements? What are three things you appreciate about your courtship
rituals? What foods do you like, and how do you like to obtain them (hunting,
gathering, farming, etc.)?
Composing that list of questions and asking communities, through their customary
way of making decisions, to add into this list would be a tremendous project.
This would help do-good projects work with local values and traditions as
they address cross-cultural international concerns. At minimum, it might
alert well meaning helpers that others have their own, well-loved values
which might not match those of the helper's native culture.
Second, we need to simultaneously articulate global "big, hairy audacious
goals" (BHAGs) (Collins and Porras 1994), and small wins (Weick, 1984)
objectives or missions. The methods and specifics of these goals and wins
must be continually and openly discussed. We do need time frames which are
elastic, with continual reminders that our goals are just our best estimates
of how long something will take. We work sincerely with good heart as well
as we can as coordinated as we can and we push on. A national or international
organization of consultants could manage the discussion, dissemination and
tracking of the BHAGs and small wins.
A Theme for Getting Started. When King George II granted a charter
to the "governor and Company of Adventurers trading into Hudson's Bay,"
or the Hudson Bay Company, on May 2, 1670, he created a new institution,
the corporation. Every corporation starts with a built-in moral flaw. By
making the abstract concept of "corporation" a legal "person"
corporate law undermines the pressures on the "governor and adventurers"
of corporations to suffer the personal penalties they would if committing
the same acts as private citizens since the corporation would suffer any
legal repercussions, not themselves. Since the purpose of corporations has
been private gain and not community happiness, corporate leaders and their
counsel have sought to exempt corporations from reciprocal expectations
between corporations and workers, corporations and the communities where
they operate, and corporations and the natural world they consume on their
way to making money.
The year 2020 will mark the 350th anniversary of the first corporation,
and the intervening years between now and then could be used to discuss
the concept of corporation and ways to reconceive it so that the people
who manage and own them have better grasps of their social, moral, and environmental
reciprocating roles and responsibilities. The philosophy of capitalism,
that the few will benefit from the work of the many, and the mantras on
ownership, home ownership, owning share, shareholders, stakeholders, a lot
of ways we touch on ownership. OD consultants can host permanent conversations
on ownership and the responsibilities incumbent on current owners and holders
of wealth as the species shift from a owning to a stewarding role.
In closing. Consultants and other "leaders" need to look
at how we add joy in all arena. Consultants can begin with a private, personal
vow to where their heart calls them to service and stewardship, include
a short announcement of their passion, when appropriate for the remainder
of their careers and allows others with like passions to find them this
way, to learn to work together with other consultants so that we model working
with diverse methods and understandings.
We might create a loose network of consultants working on this project.
We need to commit to supporting one another, either through procedures such
as re-evaluative counseling or using whatever skills they have for therapy
or listening or feedback or just bumping along and learning how to support
as we go. The network's role would be to foster learning, sharing, mutual
support, and dissemination of discoveries.
We also need to stretch and play in order to create room for greater cross-disciplinary
synergy. What if we reverse one of the popular OD metaphors, just for fun,
and we said we have to learn to live inside the box? We could learn what
"enough" means and how to grow spirit by adding to the happiness
of the community.
Branch Rickey found his appropriate "symbol" in Jackie Robinson,
but he also found a human being. If we can find our symbols of our peer-steward
selves in the human qualities that we express, and in the symbols of humanity
we uphold as "leaders" or heroes, this would "grow"
our reflexive wealth. We can learn to appreciated the immaterial and delight
in accepting the limits of the material world, and allow it to be sustained
by accepting self-limitations of our materialistic desires. The best inoculation
to our fears of insecurity is not more "stuff" which only increases
the instability of the overall system, but in high-quality human interactions-a
deep and sure reciprocity.
Let's make this planet a shining place of joy and laughter, adequate material
comfort, music, dance, art, storytelling, mutual benefit and global safety,
lush forests, and abundant clear air and water. May ourselves, and all our
relations enjoy the dance of life without fear of extinction.
So be it.
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1 Note: portions of this section adapted from my "Presearch" paper
for another component of my learning agreement.