SociaLens is ramping up to operate in a rapidly-changing environment. The world economy is in a state of flux, business and media are in the midst of a massive shift, and the field of “social media” has not yet been defined. So the SociaLens team faces a challenge common to many organizations. How can it put into place initial structures that will create enough cohesion as an organization to leverage the power of being an organization while still being smart and flexible enough to adapt quickly to its changing environment? If we are too loosey-goosey with structure, the SociaLens organization fails to gain the advantages which can result when a group of people share vision, goals and resources. If we are too structured and the SociaLens organization starts to exist purely for its own good, it risks becoming blind and unresponsive to its environment.
Our solution? Actively seeking to become a “learning organization.” Learning organizations are, as Peter Senge puts it, organizations in which “..people continually expand their capacity to create results they truly desire; where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured; where collective aspirations are set free and where people are continually learning to learn together; it is an organization that is continually expanding its capacity to create its future.” (Senge, 1990, p. 14).
While i like Senge’s definition, it is a bit general. So let’s get a little more specific. Donald Schön and Chris Argyris describe people within “learning organizations” as operating according to what they call the Model II Theory of action, which tries to satisfy the following values (Schön, 1983, p. 231-232):
- Give and get valid information
- Seek out and provide others with directly observable data and correct reports, so that valid attributions can be made
- Create the conditions for free and informed choices
- Try to create, for oneself and for others, awareness of the values at stake in decision, awareness of the limits of one’s capacities, and awareness of the zones of experience free of defense mechanism b eyond one’s control
- Increase the likelihood of internal commitment to decisions made
- Try to create conditions, for oneself and for others, in which the individual is committed to an action because it is intrinsically satisfying – not, as in the case of Model I, bacause it is accompanied by external rewards or punishment
Schön defines the following strategies for satisfying these values:
- Make designing and managing the environment a bilateral task, so that the several parties to the situation can work toward freedom of choice and internal commitment
- Make protection of self or others a joint operation, so that one does not withold negative information from the other without testing the attribution that underlies the decision to withhold.
- Speak in directly observable categories, providing the data from which one’s inferences are drawn and therefy opening them to disconfirmation
- Surface private dilemmas, so as to encourage the public testing of the assumptions on which such dilemmas depend
We are currently in the process of defining the ownership structure for the core SociaLens team. As we do so, i am taking some fairly radical, sometimes uncomfortable, and sometimes counter-intuitive steps (based on a Model I theory of action) to ensure that i operate according to these values with my clients and my team. It is clear to me from my organizational experience as well as my study of business, cultural and media history that the time has come where such models are not only possible, but also superior (in most situations) to other more Model I-type theories. (for a handy chart comparing the two models, check out Chris Argyris’s Wikipedia Page). We will also be considering, as a team, to what extent SociaLens will deal with its clients in according to a Model II theory of action.
I will continue to reflect on this process here in hopes that it will be informative to other researchers and entrepreneurs. Please leave your comments, questions or ideas below!
Schön, D. A. (1983). The Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals Think in Action. Basic Books.
Senge, P.M. (1990), The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization, Doubleday, New York, NY., .