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Kidder Paper

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  1. Kidder’s Contribution to the Symbolic Framework 1 Running head: KIDDER’S CONTRIBUTION TO THE SYMBOLIC FRAMEWORK Tracy Kidder’s Contribution to the Symbolic Organizational Framework Michael Parent Seton Hall University
  2. Kidder’s Contribution to the Symbolic Framework 2 In Reframing Organizations, Bolman and Deal describe the symbolic framework as one that intentionally utilization of myths, fairy tales, stories, rituals, ceremonies, and humor to create a culture that is unique to an organization. These concepts and practices can be used to motivate, form, and sustain an organization in times of success, and serve as motivation in times of failure. Bolman and Deal cite Tracy Kidder’s novel The Soul Of A New Machine as an example of an organization’s effective use of symbols to create a culture of meaning within the Data General organization. The Soul Of A New Machine is the legend of Data General’s team of crafty engineers, neurotic programmers, and software nerds quest to create a min-computer that would “make or break” their competitive computer company. Kidder chronicles how Data General’s executives created a culture of meaning for their employees by employing tenets of the symbolic frame as the catalyst for advancement and coherence. Myths, Fairy Tales, and Stories. Kidder introduces us to Tom West, a stern and dream driven executive who is identified as a god in the culture of the company. In fact, The Soul Of A New Machine opens in a scene where West is portrayed as sort of Nordic god-man guiding a sailboat full of employees through a tempest. The story is one that paints West as a mythological hero braving the elements to bring his crew safely ashore, all the while maintaining a steady and firm constitution as his men lay sick and feeble, full of fear. Kidder also tells us of the personal story of West who came to Data General on a whim as an eager engineer and who rose to the ranks of executive through pure grit. His employees see him as the soul of the company, and, in turn, the primary soul of the new machine, the Eagle, they built under his tutelage. Even the building that houses Data General’s engineers and software minds, known only as Westborough, is of mythological proportions. The building is plain, void of any comforts.
  3. Kidder’s Contribution to the Symbolic Framework 3 Kidder tells us that this was intentional, to communicate the no-frills, simple and straight business model that made Data General an attraction to investors and stockholders. Executive offices are without beauty; plain and out of date furniture, dull and tasteless décor is the rule of thumb at Data General. Thus anyone entering the world of Data General is bound to hear and see what it means to be frugal. Ritual, Ceremony, Metaphor, Humor, and Play. Data General’s software developers and engineers (affectionately known as “The Hardy Boys” and “The Microkids” – themselves metaphors) routinely and religiously engage in a game of Adventure (a computer simulated world of magic, thievery, and exploration) to ease nerves and learn the mind of the machines they build and wish to create and improve. Both “The Hardy Boys” and “The Microkids” who helped build the Eagle organized special humorous award ceremonies to commemorate people and events during the building of the Eagle. West, too, Kidder tells us, was known in his younger days of hosting yearly pig roasts, attended not only by workers, but also by artists, writers, and philosophers, at his home to foster relationships and form bonds amongst his colleagues. Perhaps the most significant ritual at Data General was getting engineers and techies to “sign up” for projects. West and his team of executives would intensely interview and hound potential team members for recruitment on projects, then get them to “sign up” for the mission to die-trying-to-build-what-cannot-be, known as “flying upside down” in West’s world. Bolman and Deal note that managers can shape meaning by understanding and encouraging symbolic activities and forms to create a more effective organization. The Soul Of A New Machine is Kidder’s tale of how one company’s ambiguities and use of symbols positively affected the organization and helped to form coherence and shape the mission of a particular project.

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