Re: Essence LO217

Michael McMaster (
Thu, 23 Feb 1995 21:31:30 GMT

Mariann says in LO164 that an organisation is "really a shared
> set of beliefs, attitudes and behavioral
> norms that coordinate: we agree to behave as if such a thing as "an
> organization" - IBM, TI, Intel, Ford, the Boston Symphony or the Catholic
> Church, for instance - existed. We act on its behalf (as if it had
> interests and needs), etc.

I suggest that an organisation is not anything more (nor less) than a
phenomenon which has emerged, maybe from the things and qualities she
mentions among others, but which _as an organisation_ exists in its own
right and is not a collection of any number of things. That is, its no
sort of "collection" at all but something that exists in its own right -
and at the same time, it isn't "really" anything.

We don't "agree" to behave _as if_ anymore than we agree _as if_ about
the rest of the world we operate in (nor any less). We accept both the
specific institutions and the existence of institutions pretty much as
we inherit them from our socialisation and they are as real as all the
other inheritances.

What that idea gives us is more depth to the next thing that Mariann says:

> All that says to me that some form of "organization mind" is real
> - but perhaps a bit different from the usual way organizations are
> construed. First, a fraction of that organization mind is embodied in
> rules, procedures, etc. This is the static fraction, though some
> organizations emphasize procedures of inquiry instead of rules, so that
> results are more dynamic. Next, the shared understandings of members
> embodies more of the organization mind, and individual members are "memory
> cells" that hold certain information

Take the view, for a moment, that an organisation is more like a standing
wave in a river. "It" doesn't exist, you can't find its parts except in
the whole, but it rocks your boat just the same. If the existence of the
organisation and its particular nature are all the flows of conversation,
dialogue, information, action, relationships - and the structures
(physical, habits, practices, etc) that form the "standing wave", then we
can begin to discover consciousness, intelligence, memory, learning and
many similar phenomena in more than metaphorical terms. And we can
certainly gain some mastery in our dealing with them.

I also think that we are misled by such things as vision. I know that
"shared vision" is a popular idea in these conversations. It appears to
me to be one of the unchallengeable meta-narratives of the learning
organisation conversations. But I notice that there are people who get
along fine without them. I notice that there are teams that get along
fine without them. I notice that there are organisations that get along
fine without them. Many of these not only survive, not only are
competent, but they create things and sometimes even lead the world. I
also notice that many organisations have spent fortunes and enormous
energy and produced nothing but conflict or the suppression of conflict by
agreeing to "pablum" statements of vision.

I suggest sharing of vision is not only not necessary but is probably
impossible and that frequently its pursuit is detrimental. What is often
valuable when conducted for its own sake rather than for purposes of
shared vision, are the dialogues centered in questions about "What are we
here for?" and "What's possible?"

> Tools like vision and strategy also contribute to this
> notion - and to maintaining the coordination and understanding that enable
> us to speak of an organization.

As a challenge to the value of "shared vision" in coordination, what is
the shared vision of a marketplace. Isn't the marketplace a structure and
a history where free expression (in trade) works on the interplay of the
individual interests of the participants. I think we like the idea of
shared vision because we have accepted the idea of central control and
hierarchy and then see that a shared vision will solve many of the
problems which arise in that form.

I love the opportunity of stimulated thinking that these dialogues
provide. Thanks for the wide ranging conversations.

Mike McMaster <>