Replying to L02475, Richard raised the issue of anonymity in meetings. Don
and Alex sent some comments in reply, which I strongly agree with.
I want to mention three ideas in response to Richard's comments.
(1) THE ARIZONA FOLK. As many on the list probably know, one of the
higher profile groups that stresses anonymity as a great value is the
GroupSystems/Ventana complex in Tucson.
Anonymity, in their context, always involves a group of individuals, each
sitting at a computer, supplying input. It is the technology that
provides the anonymity, and thus, as Richard and others mention, hi-tech
and anonymity go together. Then, furthermore, of necessity, the software
or groupware gets connected.
It is possible, I think, to make a remark, not intended to be pejorative,
but simply descriptive, that the concept of anonymity would be more
credible, in this instance, if it could somehow completely be divorced
from vested interests in selling hardware and software. Presumably, it
would have to be discussed from a behavioral perspective.
2. THE DEFENSE FOLK. I think I mentioned before on this listserve that
Professor Henry Alberts of the Defense Systems Management College, Fort
Belvoir, Virginia, used Interactive Management over a period of six years
to redesign the U. S. Defense Acquisition System. In this iterative
application, most of the work was done in the "non-attribution"
environment that is traditional at DSMC--the program manager training
college for DoD. This is a little different from anonymity, in the
following sense. Because of the way IM is designed, it stresses
responsibility and thrives on non-anonymity. On the other had, because it
is only used to work with complex situations, threat of immediate
retaliation is absent, since the redesign process could not be
accomplished in a half day or full day of work.
In this situation, involving multiple groups of program managers over a
prolonged period, all generated information was open, but nobody could
remember who said what because there was so much of it. Nonetheless, the
participant identification was studiously withheld in all of the outside
While I was observing some of the IM Workshops, I never heard anyone say
that they wanted to be anonymous. I never heard anyone say that they
wanted to take advantage of "non-attribution". Nevertheless, DSMC
constantly told everyone about non-attribution, and stayed faithful to it.
One of the longer term consequences of the deliberate suppression of the
participant identification could be that when, in the future, issues arise
relating to particular outcomes, it will not be possible to go to the
sources of those outcomes because they remain unidentified. While it's
true that people can go to Professor Alberts himself, and find out on the
need to know basis, he is 67 years old.
Corporate memory, as usually described, is deliberately suppressed by
anonymity, thus anonymity fosters the practice of rounding up the usual
suspects instead of maintaining the thread of continuity needed to make
work on complex situations of lasting value.
3. INTERACTIVE MANAGEMENT IN GENERAL. Since IM's initial emergence in
1973, with introduction of the Interpretive Structural Modeling software,
there have been probably at least 500 applications of it (including the
approximately 30 done by DSMC) on five continents (leaving out the cold
places) with a variety of cultural groups. I have personally been
connected to at least 200 of them or about 40%. During all that time I
have never heard anyone express a desire to remain anonymous. It's worth
while to try to answer the question: "Why"? And it's not because I'm
hard of hearing!
Here are some conjectures:
o People are so frustrated with complex situations, that their desire to
create resolutions is so much stronger than any desire to remain anonymous
that the frustration totally dominates the work
o People understand that there is no quick fix, so anything they discuss
can be seen from a longer term perspective
o The IM methodologies themselves require behaviors that are almost
totally capable of frustrating anonymity.
o People quickly discover that original sources of ideas begin to be
forgotten as the ideas get clarified and reclarified, so that eventually
they do become community property
o Symmetry of participant treatment, in effect, denies rank and status as
a factor in the IM Workshops
o The facilitators are trained to manage the processes like dictators, but
to stay entirely out of the content--which is the province of the
participants, so that they know that whatever is produced will be their
responsibility, and not the concept of a facilitator
Most of these conjectures have to do with complex situations--not ordinary
situations. But that is one reason why it is important to know which type
one is dealing with. If everyone is working on something that has to be
decided in a specified, short time period, and has to be implemented in a
week, the whole picture changes, and Don's comment that "there's no pat
answer" is absolutely on target.
-- JOHN WARFIELD Jwarfiel@gmu.edu