Postmodernism LO225

Michael McMaster (
Fri, 24 Feb 1995 09:48:57 GMT

I have sent the following message directly to a request from a
participant and I have had a few similar requests. The requests
are "tell me about postmodernism and where to find more".

I sent this response and thought it might be worth posting to
the general list. I haven't figured out how to recreate it for
an automatic response so this would save me time and might be
generally interesting enough. I assume because it was a personal
request and I responded directly that you wouldn't have seen it.

The response follows (with additions in brackets):

Joe, if you send me your snailmail address, I'll send you some material
from workshops for managers on the subject (of postmodernism) - which we
no longer do - that has pretty good (short) introductory material.

The simple answer is that postmodernism is based in "scepticism towards
meta-narratives". That is to say, there are unquestioned narratives that
underly all of the narratives that we have (thinking, dialogue, writing,
beliefs, mental models, etc) that go unquestioned. These are generally
handed down to us outside of our awareness by the cultures we are
initiated into. What has those cultures be strong and stable is that
they have hidden the foundations or meta-narratives from view, from
questioning, from challenge.

The approaches of postmodernism are to question the meta-narratives by
"deconstructing" "text". That is, anything that is said or written can
be starting place and only a small section of text is required because
it will reflect the whole meta-narrative when explored. Deconstruction
is the process of analyzing what is said in continuous iterative loops.

The mesage I take from this, again in my simple and pragmatic terms, is
that we will always start in the "wrong" place (that is, in the middle
of something rather than at the beginning), that we will always go about
it in the "wrong" way (that is, the inquiry will reveal better starting
places after we have started), we will always have asked the "wrong"
questions and will always have involved the "wrong" mix of people. Given
that, we should just begin at whatever seems the best place and let it
unfold. Hence my previous comments about starting at the top or starting
at the bottom as hiding what is relevant behind what is not.

The postmodern writers are very difficult to read. I have them translated
via dialogue for me by a wonderful philosopher who is my mentor. Some of
the main philsophers of the domain are Derrida, DeLueze, Lyotard, Habermas,
Foucault, Baudrillard and Quine.

I have found Heidegger as interpreted in a very easy read by Dreyfus in
"Being-In-The-World" as a good background to what has developed in this
field. I also like Richard Rorty as a related and easy to read philosopher
in the field.

Some other access are provided by "The Postmodern Organisation",
Postmodernism and Organisation" and "Postmodern Theory: Critical
Interrogations" and some inquiries based in this thinking are in my
new book "The Intelligence Advantage: Organising for Complexity".

My favourites, however, are those which would be scoffed at by the academics.
These are "Reality Isn't What It Used To Be" by Anderson, "Grammatical Man"
by Campbell and "The Social Construction of Reality" by

Happy explorations!

Mike McMaster <>