Monday, February 18, 2013

If science provides critical insight, what prevents our learning from it?

What’s attitude got to do with learning?

As those who know me appreciate, it is not often that I let a raw view on Organisation Development (OD) pass me without scrutiny. Fatigue could tire me in patches, but, renew me when the content is about the process of OD. Recently, on a global forum, a senior in the field opined on the space of interaction between consultant and client. Here’s the opening premise, “ I do believe that optimism and idealism lead the consultant to be dismissive of reality as seen by the client. By being with the client in the depths of difficulty without being optimistic, just being with him, we are the enablers of his extricating himself out...not pulling him out with our pipe dreams. Like the Book of Job, where folks visited Job...just to be there with him.”.

Coming from a rather unorthodox consultant, I was only beginning to swallow the significance of that near meditative stance. I asked what came to my mind “Does the skepticism of science get perceived as pessimism? Does in converse a positive psychology approach preconceive the mood of the outcome/” Pat came the reply “Does the skepticism of science get perceived as pessimism? Yes. 
Does in converse a positive psychology approach preconceive the mood of the outcome?  -don’t know enough and try to stay away because it is so much unlike me.”

This may mean different things to different people. But it is worth a stop, on the lay-bye of the information super-highway...

Which way does one learn of the new winds?

Often we believe contrary to the real content of our argument, that we stand for a value, when in fact we do not understand the value. E.g. When a firm makes instrumental the value of fairness, would you expect it not to honor its commitment to a purchase expressed in writing? Well, yes they can if they do not understand the value of fairness. If they do not realise that they have expressed a commitment to a vendor, they would buckle in the face of a funds constraint, howsoever imaginary or real, only to obey the norm, that they are fair in their obeisance to their employer! 

Yes, norms that are not born of a shared understanding of values, do not make for value based practice. What chance does this firm stand to receive feedback on how it behaves, and of course to practice a reflection that value based practices actually demand? It is quite probable, that the same firm also espouses the value for transparency, as the social ‘system’ is skilled in its incompetence to understand norm based compliance from value based response! What seals the logic that seems right within the organisation? Performance evaluation is tailor-made to push professionals into a doom loop. The individual will trump the ‘organisation’ for short-term gain.

The attitude to learning is therefore a crucial piece. As Argyris first brought to our notice. What explains defensiveness in learning? Not attitudes about change or commitment to continuous improvement.  We really want to work more effectively.

Rather, the key factor is the way we reason about our behaviour and that of others. We tend to hold the company or organisation responsible in ways different than we hold ourselves responsible. Externalising blame is an ineffective way to protect the self, for escaping responsibility is an opportunity lost to grow – a waste in learning that often goes unchecked, uncontested and unverified. If science provides such insight, then critical reasoning cannot be selectively applied to problems that do not involve people!

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