leadership & management

We Aren’t Machines

I like this tweet from Jan de Man Lapidoth:

 It would seem that leading politicians and executives still think humans can be “changed” or directed like machines. Fascinating.

It reminds me of a piece I read some time ago by Margaret Wheatley where she highlighted how much of our language is mechanistic. Here is one example:

Machine thinking has been the dominant paradigm of western culture and science for over three hundred years. Almost all approaches to management and organizational change have used mechanistic images. We build organizations piece by piece, engineering them for efficiency, detailing ahead of time who will do what and how the organization will respond. We believe in simple cause and effect, and that it is possible to fix any problem by identifying the faulty part (or person). As soon as we replace that one errant part, everything will work fine.

Ever since I read that I’ve made a conscious effort to avoid using mechanistic images or metaphors in my language. My favourite one I’ve tried to stop using = drive change. To instead describe life in terms of interdependency, connectedness, of human possibility.

As Meg writes:

Therefore, we can abandon many of our mechanistic assumptions about what is required for organizational change. We don’t have to achieve “critical mass”, we don’t need programs that “roll-out” (or over) the entire organization, we don’t need to train every individual or part, we can stop obsessing if we don’t get the support of the top of the organization. Instead, we can work locally, finding the meaning-rich ideas and processes that create energy in one area of the system. If we succeed in generating energy in one area, then we can watch how our other networks choose to notice what we’re doing. Who lights up and takes notice? Where have our ideas traveled to in the organizational web? If we ask these questions, we learn who might be ready to take up this work next. Myron describes his approach to organizational change as: “Start anywhere and follow it everywhere.”

You choose. Would you rather achieve critical mass or work locally? Roll-out a program or discover what creates energy in one area of the system? Train everyone or watch who in your network lights up? Pander for the support of those at the top or discover what unexpected place your idea has travelled – starting anywhere and follow it everywhere?

aloeCreative Commons License Kai Schreiber via Compfight

2 replies on “We Aren’t Machines”

Nice!!! I too have been trying to move away from mechanistic language. One of the bees in my bonnet is “tools”. It’s not a terrible word – I just find it limited. I like to use “palette” instead. With tools, each one is built for a single specific purpose, whereas with a palette you can mix and match and create new combinations!