Daily Archives: March 19, 2007


When is organizational problem solving in name only?

Let me sketch a curious case I was apprised of recently. I’ll put it very generally and suggest this conundrum is very common.

Basically there are two aspects. First, there is a problem that is always being solved. In other words, it is a perennial problem. Second, up the management food chain it becomes apparent high level managers believe this ‘perpetuity’ is (counterintuitively!) evidence of the problem being solved, although it’s obvious the problem is never solved.

Without going into important details, here is something of my response during a very informal discussion at which this case was presented.

The inability to see the ongoing existence of the problem as having the problem itself as predicate is indicative of some other compulsion(s) at work. Note-the given predicate is the solution that never works.

Guess: these compulsions are enabling and cause a lack of concordance, but, crucially, the problem of managerial identity, (after all , the implicit denial is significant and evidence of lack of competence,) seem elevated in this case.

In plain language: underlings subject to being blamed certainly can figure out the problem isn’t being solved. They would per force ‘see through’ the assertion of managerial competence and, probably, wonder why the problem isn’t being properly analyzed and why any ‘real’ solutions aren’t being hypothesized.

My comment points in the direction of compelling albeit counter-productive reasons for this pattern where a problem always exists, and exists so for these other reasons, or, at least, is allied with these other reasons.

(Always telling: “I’m a great manager even if there are all these problems below me.”)

Obviously there is in all of this a failure of accountability. “The buck stops below me.”

I lit upon the failure of deductive problem solving, the kind that concentrates on certain ineluctable causal factors. One thing about problem solving that misses the darn point of the problem is, if it plays out perpetually or perennially, it becomes evident that the complacent inductive problem solving is fascinated with a generalization or generalizations of the problem that aren’t attached to very worthwhile analysis and cannot be attached, then, to a cogent solutions.

But what drives the very odd resistance to solving the problem once-and-for-all? Somewhere are deposited implicit rewards for what is often bad management and, sometimes, what are very toxic behaviors. In such cases, simple problems are infected by other psychological factors, ‘people problems.’ These underlying features will only yield to a proper psychological analysis. In other words, the underlying blockage is about why people don’t really want to solve the problem, even if these same people believe that they are trying to solve the problem.

We know, in noting this, many organizations are not fit enough to “go there” and first try to get a handle on what seem to be compulsive divergences from actual effectiveness. So it is: the problem of accountablity often is the doorway into a dark organizational corridor. The perpetual problem is a kind of symptomatic chain barring this door.

It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his job depends on not understanding it.
– Upton Sinclair

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KW I’m interested in the way morphic fields might determine culture. For instance, repeating and idea with the intention of influencing overall human consciousness- if it’s thought about many times, will it have an effect?

RS You mean the more people think about something, the more it’s likely to happen? Yes. Basically, morphic fields are fields of habit, and they’ve been set up through habits of thought, through habits of activity, and through habits of speech. Most of our culture is habitual, I mean, most of our personal life, and most of our cultural life is habitual. We don’t invent the English language. We inherit the whole English language with all its habits, its turns of phrase, its usage of words, its s tructure, its grammar. Occasionally people invents new words, but basically, once we’ve assimilated it, it happens automatically. I don’t have to think when I’m speaking, reaching for the next word. It just happens, and the same is true about physical skills, like riding a bicycle, or swimming, or skiing if you can ski, these kinds of things. So I think the more often these things happen the easier they become for people to learn. Things like learning language have happened over- well, we don’t know how long human language has been around, at least 50,000 years, so there’s a tremendously well-established morphic field for language-speaking. Each particular language has its own field which is usually established over centuries at least.

Rupert Sheldrake in conversation with Ken Weathersby

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