What are the unexamined meta-narratives of organisation and management
that both comprise the existing theory of organisation and hide that
theory from examination and dialogue? That is a most interesting question
for our pursuit of better organisational learning. I suggest that we will
find the source of the structures and practices that are inimical to
learning in those meta-narratives.
Some examples are the assumption that control can and must be exercised,
that such control must rest in individuals or limited membership groups
(such as an executive board), that control is an essentially rational
phenomenon based in logic and specific understanding. Is this one of the
fundamental and unchallenged assumptions of our organisational theory?
How effectively will learning occur inside of that one?
I also challenge those engaged in systems dynamics with being caught in
the same meta-narratives and suggest that the source of their relative
lack of success in producing organisational change can be located there.
I think the language of "flows", etc points clearly to that same cosmology
and the same meta-narratives.
Another example is that things "are" hierarchical. That order is provided
by hierarchy and (here's where the circularity of dialogue occurs) that
control can only be exercised if a heirarchy is present. This view of
things has us see hierarchy in every functioning system not because it's
"there" but because its "here" in the way that we look at things.
Less deep, but similarly damaging to the cause of learning are vision,
motivation and commitment. There may be gold in each of these ideas, but
the source of their meaning and their resulting application come from
unchallenged assumptions about human beings and their relationships to
things that come from the cosmology or world view of cause & effect,
reductionism and mechanistic relationships and lead to our current
organisational forms and, worse, our management practices in dealing with
the human beings in our organisations.
This, at any rate, is my understanding of postmodern processes and how
they can lead to some useful deconstruction of organisational and
>From there, design principles and management practices begin to suggest
The comment I most appreciate from Palmer is that philosophy is practical
and that we will not make much progress until we grapple with ideas or
theories at that level.
Michael McMaster <Michael@kbddean.demon.co.uk>