Tuesday, June 15, 2004

What happens in organisations 

There was a time... when you could look at the world and see what was before your eyes - complexity, uncertainty, variety; a time when there were more questions than answers; when who you and I are was more important than what we do.

Always, you sought to know. But clarity is not often a feature of reality; haziness and uncertainty and boundaries that shift and spread and dissolve don't make for easy understanding; they are awkward to map onto the boxes you make to contain the functions we perform that together make up our daily business. So you built structures of clear divisions, drawing lines - I on this side, you on that; creating boxes; we agree to define and measure what passes between us. We measure and codify, we write down, we gather data, and we call it knowledge. And it's manipulation we call Management. Cost, profit, winners, losers, success, failure.

These categories and divisions and boxes - they're just models, for sure, but you needed them to perform this function you called management. You lived with them day by day, breathing them in and out; what started out modelling reality became reality. A world once characterised by questions and uncertainty became deconstructed, described, categorised, codified, and finally reconstructed. Where once curled and twisted an ephemeral wisp of inexactitude, there now stands a distinct, solid, hard-edged clarity of perception. The world of questions is now a set of answers; all answers are there to be found, and if they're not then it is surely the question that is at fault.

For a while, you lived with both, reality and the model side by side. But one day, you stepped inside your model, and were trapped as the balance altered subtly and the model became more real than the world it described.

Suppose I could turn this world of yours inside out? Suppose what you call hard information came to be understood as a mirage, or dispersed like the smoke? Suppose you could see it for what it is: a product only of your desire to capture and control; to be Master, to have certainty, believing all those things to equate to knowledge? Would you then remember the time when questions were more valuable than answers, the time when you could see the person standing before you, when you could hear what they said to you, without the frame of reference of your precious model?

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