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Productive Organisational Paradoxes

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You can watch the slides with animations here: http://www.strategicstructures.com/?p=1511

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It is often said that organisations are full of paradoxes. But this refers to contradictions and tensions. It is understood as something that needs to be taken care of. When organisations are looked at as social systems, however, it becomes clear that they are only possible because of paradoxes, and particularly paradoxes of self-reference. Understanding how these paradoxes create and maintain organisations is an important skill for practitioners trying to make sense of what's going on and improve it. The basic generative organisational paradox is that of decisions. It brings new light not only on decision patterns and dependencies, but also on understanding the nature of objectives, power, and relations with clients.

Published in: Leadership & Management
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Productive Organisational Paradoxes

  1. 1. SCIO OPEN DAY 21 JANUARY, LONDON IVO VELITCHKOV rganisationalOP Paradoxes r o d u c t i v e
  2. 2. Paradoxes1. What’s a paradox? (a reminder) Why are paradoxes avoided? Why they shouldn’t be, when trying to understand social systems?
  3. 3. Growing interest in paradoxes but different perspectives Organizational studies: Paradoxes = tensions and contradictions in organisations Social Systems Theory: Paradoxes of self- reference produce social systems and they are everywhere, at micro and macro level
  4. 4. Paradox This statement is false self-reference
  5. 5. Paradox x2+1=0 self-reference 𝑥 = −1 𝑥 +1=-1
  6. 6. Self-reference is the infinite in finite guise. Louis H. Kauffman
  7. 7. z = z2+c Zn+1 = zn 2+c Mandelbrot
  8. 8. མུ་བཞི Catuṣkoṭi being not being neither both
  9. 9. 1.Everything that is, exists. 2.Nothing can simultaneously be and not be. 3.Each and every thing either is or is not. Laws of Thought
  10. 10. Nth order observation Laws of thought 1. A=A 2. ¬(A ∧ ¬A) 3. A∨¬A Laws of Cybernethics a≠a .1 a ∧ ¬a .2 a∨a .3 1. identity 2. noncontradiction 3. excluded middle 1st order observation paradox .1 ambivalence .2 control .3 Dirk Baecker, Aristotle and George Spencer-Brown, 2012
  11. 11. Nth order observation Laws of thought 1. A=A 2. ¬(A ∧ ¬A) 3. A∨¬A 1. identity 2. noncontradiction 3. excluded middle 1st order observation [mathematics] George Spencer-Brown LAWS OF FORM [biology] Maturana & Varela AUTOPOIESIS [sociology] Niklas Luhmann SOCIAL SYSTEMS THEORY
  12. 12. distinction …which is an indication of: 1. The inside (emptiness, void, nothing, the unmarked state) 2. The outside (something, the marked state) 3. The distinction as a sign (indication) 4. The distinction as on operation of making a distinction 5. The invitation to cross from one side to the other 6. The observer, the one that makes the distinction 7. …
  13. 13. Laws of Form = calling = crossing =a a re-entry More at http://www.strategicstructures.com/?p=957
  14. 14. Self-reference =a a =a … F. Varela: third state, “autonomous” state
  15. 15. Autopoiesis
  16. 16. rganisationalO2. paradoxes Why all decisions are by nature paradoxical? How organisations reproduce themselves through decisions? How decisions absorb uncertainty?
  17. 17. Social Systems communications
  18. 18. communications Social Systems
  19. 19. Reichel, A. (2011) ‘Snakes all the way down: Varela’s calculus for self-reference and the praxis of paradise’, Systems Research and Behavioral Science, 28(4): 646-662 The form of Communication
  20. 20. decisions communications 1 2 3 Organisations
  21. 21. Notation =
  22. 22. Social Systems
  23. 23. before | after event utterance | information | understanding communication Unity of distinction selected | not selected decision
  24. 24. Organisations decisions
  25. 25. "Only those questions which are in principle undecidable, we can decide“ Heinz von Foerster 1/5 The paradoxes of decisions
  26. 26. what a decision is is a decision 2/5 The paradoxes of decisions
  27. 27. 3/5 The paradoxes of decisions time = (before | after) decision
  28. 28. 4/5 The paradoxes of decisions Every decision has to: 1. Communicate its alternative & 2. Communicate that it is NOT its alternative regret criticism blame enables
  29. 29. The paradoxes of decisions t1 t2 enable produce 5/5
  30. 30. Pr o d u c t i v e3.Why “productive”? How to use this knowledge in practice?
  31. 31. Productive “Productive”, because: 1. Organisations are produced by paradoxes. 2. There is productive misunderstanding between organisations. 3. Understanding organisational paradoxes can be productive. (some practical application examples follow)
  32. 32. Applications Managing Constraints Decision Patterns Hidden Dependencies Understanding Power Decision Packages B2B interactions SASSY Architecture VSSM
  33. 33. Managing constraints • Deconstructing constraint “molecules” • Suspending constraints to enable innovation o Range of realistic expectations o Configuration of constraints Natural limitation Decision-based limitation
  34. 34. constraints constrained by options excluded due to consideredalso feasible … … …
  35. 35. D constraints constrained by options excluded due to consideredalso feasible D D D D D … D D … … D D D Planning = deciding decision premises D D D D D D
  36. 36. Power
  37. 37. My task is … Our objective is… I have a mandate for… It was decided that…
  38. 38. time power Decision: To implement “Business Analysis Dashboard” (BAD) Approved “BAD” business case “BAD” investment approved by the High IT Board “BAD” selected, using SWOT Prefer Buy to Build Trust Gartner reports Use SWOT in business cases, decided by X Recruit X, decided by B B can recruit, decided by A Start “BAD” project
  39. 39. time power Decision: To implement “Business Analysis Dashboard” (BAD) Approved “BAD” business case “BAD” investment approved by the High IT Board “BAD” selected, using SWOT Prefer Buy to Build Trust Gartner reports Use SWOT in business cases, decided by X Recruit X, decided by B B can recruit, decided by A Start “BAD” project
  40. 40. time power A B
  41. 41. Understanding B2B interactions system in focus client vendor
  42. 42. Observation 1: Local Optimum Project metrics Enterprise metrics
  43. 43. Observation 2: Duality Start End Project KPIs Client satisfaction
  44. 44. The project is successful Start End 1+ years after That project was a failure That project was successful The project is a failure Observation 3: How the evaluation evolves A B
  45. 45. Is it useful? End 1+ years afterStart Does it work? Is it used? The 4U test
  46. 46. (Productive) Misunderstanding client Organisation in focus
  47. 47. Two case studies from Australia Case Study 1 (CS1) Industry PM Scope Budget Time Construction Same as SC2 + 3 items - 0.15 % - 1.11 % Case Study 2 (CS2) Industry PM Scope Budget Time Construction Same as SC1 within + 40 % + 70 % Source: “Project Management Yinyang: Coupling project success and client satisfaction”, 2017 Greg Usher, Stephen Jon Whitty
  48. 48. SASSY Architecture SASSY: Semantic Architecture for Social Systems More at http://www.strategicstructures.com/?p=1410
  49. 49. system recursion LORV complexity autopoiesis S E M S decision Viable System Model Social Systems Theory information
  50. 50. “What this orthodox organization chart leaves out of account, when it comes to understanding institutions, is that we are not dealing with pistons, pumps, and distributor arms, but with people; and the connexions between the parts are not crankshafts, pipes, and electrical wires, but human relationships.” (Designing Freedom) “The heard of the enterprise is the human being.” (The Heart of Enterprise) Where are the people in the VSM?
  51. 51. See http://www.strategicstructures.com/?p=742
  52. 52. or rather, imagine it like this
  53. 53. The interest in decisions is very old The Dialogue of Pessimism (Mesopotamia, 1000 BC) Omens = God’s decisions (Mesopotamia, circa 2000 BC)
  54. 54. PM Fair 2017 Black Mirror Bandersnatch
  55. 55. MAKING BETTER DECISIONS UNDERSTANDING DECISIONS Decision Processes Decision Paradoxes Reasoning Information Management LED e.g. Garbage Can e.g. the 8 apps 1st order observation Nth order observation
  56. 56. More clarity by seeing… … through the lens of, or as a form of, decisions. Organisation Power Positions PlanningTasks Goals Constraints Time

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