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Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Paradox of Change

@PG_Rule @leanstekel @flowchainsensei .

If culture change requires behavioural change, and behavioural change requires system change, where does system change come from? How is system change possible?


@PG_Rule retweets @leanstekel The best way to change and sustain an organizational culture is by first changing and sustaining management behavior ~ Jim Womack newsletter

@flowchainsensei No. Best way to change org culture is to change the system. Implies mgmt change first - but they're in a system too.

@leanstekel systems are man-made; who should initiate change? a system is not an excuse

@flowchainsensei Although, remember the story of the monkeys and the ladder. Sometimes the (mgmt) system has a life of its own. #zombie

@PG_Rule Splitting hairs. Snr management is responsible for designing the system of work. It can't change unless they change 1st

@richardveryard Perhaps the distinction between espoused-system and system-in-use (Argyris) gives you some wriggle room.

@richardveryard so the possibility of change emerges from contradictions within the (management) system



The paradox of change is that a completely closed and contradiction-free system would find change impossible. Advocates of revolutionary change have always understood the strength of the forces maintaining the status quo, and the importance of finding (or if necessary creating) contradictions as seeds of change. I think this is what Marxists call dialectic materialism.

For example, Mao Zedong On Contradiction

"The fundamental cause of the development of a thing is not external but internal; it lies in the contradictoriness within the thing. There is internal contradiction in every single thing, hence its motion and development. Contradictoriness within a thing is the fundamental cause of its development, while its interrelations and interactions with other things are secondary causes."

For "thing" read "system".

If we turn our attention away from the political systems that concerned Lenin and Mao, towards the kind of management systems that interest Bob, Rob and Grant, what are the possible contradictions that might trigger cultural change and behavioural change and therefore system change?

The most obvious kind of contradiction is often a conflict between values and outcomes, or between policies and outcomes. Perhaps the system is increasingly perceived (from within its own management subsystem) to be struggling to remain viable in the face of hostile events. Perhaps policies are perceived to be not achieving their intended results. (For this kind of contradiction to trigger productive change, it is important for these contradictions to be perceived by the right people. But as we shall see, there are other kinds of contradiction that may be able to trigger change without being consciously perceived or explicitly acknowledged.)

The next most obvious kind of contradiction is that there are multiple conflicting values and multiple conflicting policies. This is almost inevitable within a large complex system or organization. This pluralism creates opportunities for changes to emerge; these changes may not be consciously planned, and may be unwelcome to some or even to all stakeholders. (However this emergent change typically increases diversity, which creates a different kind of opportunity for change. Kevin Kelly's Nine Laws of God include two that are relevant here -  Maximize the Fringes and Honour Your Errors.)

A more subtle kind of contradiction is between the real, the symbolic and the imaginary. The official understanding of the system (what Argyris calls the espoused theory) always falls short of what is really going on (the theory-in-use). This gap between the official and the actual can provide space in which the most radical and productive changes can start to take root.

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