Enablers

This is the next installment of the series considering the secular religion of Management-ism.

Prior installments:


How We 'Managed' To Screw It Up,
Getting Off The Grid
Off The Grid
Abstractions
Going Organic
Interview With A Management-ist
eXtreme tAylorism
Changed By It

Posting on a ListServ (honest, these things just appear. Really!)

"I'm working to reinvent our company's operational practices. As I understand things, technology is a key enabler for making processes more efficient. At the same time to really improve things new processes should be developed which take advantage of increased communication and automation now available. I'm looking for a good forum which talks about "use this to do that", "this tool allows you to do this better", and possibly discuss streamlined processes."

Parse the language in this posting. Notice what isn't there!

What isn't there? People are missing, replaced, as F. W. Taylor long-ago predicted, by "the system." Who performs these 'operational practices?' Who does this disembodied 'communicating?'

What IS there? 'New processes,' 'technology,' 'efficiency,' and 'automation,' enablers for an unmentioned community of ... ... (wait for it) ... PEOPLE?

Isn't this where we've learned to go? What we've learned to do? To chase ephemeral efficiency with as-of-yet unimagined technology? And what do we imagine that technology to be? Something featuring software, no doubt. Something that comfortably integrates within the existing network. Platform independent. Licensed or open source. Upgradeable. A good, solid, tangible cause capable of making our aspirations real.

Notice one other word imbedded within this posting. Notice the 'should' innocuously standing there, just as if it weren't controlling the traffic flow for the whole danged inquiry. Also notice the tenaciously passive voice, which never specifies any who except for the author's innocent 'I'. He will be reinventing 'our' company's operational practices. 'I'm' looking for a good forum. I find no evidence of either 'us' or 'we' in the entire posting. Where did we go? Why no us?

Am I being too harsh? Reading too much into this posting? Perhaps, but then again, perhaps not. We construct our world with language, and the world this language creates doesn't seem to include space for the object of the whole inquiry, speaking in what Bateson called 'the dormative,' language that induces sleep rather than action. It focuses upon derivatives rather than the underlying source. What IS that source?

In his remarkable book How Doctor's Think, Jerome Groopman, MD recounts how injecting technology into the practice of medicine brings unintended social consequences, typically because some manager somewhere focused upon derivatives rather than the actual practice. Easing the effort to invoice insurance carriers inhibits the doctor's ability to reliably diagnose. Simplifying diagnosis by documenting decisions using pre-formatted decision trees disables diagnosing. The cognitive confusion inherent in any social interaction becomes more complicated by streamlining apparently trivial tasks.

I could be arguing in favor of more whole system thinking, except what passes for the whole system in the management-ist's language excludes most of the system's holistic nature. Certainly, we can create notional models of any system, but can include in those models only those elements we characterize as causative; germane. The result is a curiously satisfying reduction, wholly comprised of derivatives sensitive to underlying, unseen, unaccounted for, uncountable components. Groopman labels the most commonly overlooked element 'context,' and claims that little any doctor actually does holds meaning out of context. Like the old thought experiment that proposed dissecting a cat to find the purr, decomposition discards the context, typically the social context.

Before the author of this post will be able to really reinvent 'our company's operational practices,' he will need to reinvent his way of describing reinvention. Were he to actually reinvent, his initiating notions of what characterizes reinvention must certainly crumble. Otherwise, he will merely reinvent more (perhaps even more) of the same.

That was a characteristically long-winded preface to what I intended to address in this posting: enablers. The manager is commonly represented as enabler, the cause of performance and efficiency, the 'driver' of results, the 're-inventor of operational practices'. In a social context, enablers are those individuals who assume the burden of someone else's addiction-induced dysfunction. In an organizational context, managers are expected to both make and take this heat, sometimes innocently (and sometimes not so innocently) encouraging the very dysfunction they intend to eradicate. Most commonly, this dysfunction centers around individual agency or the lack of it. We want to hold people accountable for their performance, but insist upon them agreeing to be irresponsible to achieve that.

Imagine a manager commanding a subordinate to do something that the subordinate knows he cannot do. Will he say yes? He knows his no will encourage a raft of 'get with the program' innuendo, insistences that he explain exactly why he can't, and 'help' getting over his cluelessness. Very probably all of these will occur if he says 'No!" while being managed by a management-ist, because his personal perspective is gumming up the system, and the organization is all about the system. Isn't it?

The under-apprecated technology we seek might well be what the eggheads at MIT are calling Social Technology. Social Technology is not before-the-fact causative, it involves no software, except the software imbedded in every individual at birth, though our sensitivity to it can be disabled by some of the socialization received thereafter. It includes two of Aristotle's Causations explicitly omitted from reductionist science and its progeny, scientific management; management-ism. Omitted as metaphysical: not countable, not reducible, not manageable. Omitting these two causations leaves only the most primitive two, those commonly labeled Material causation and Efficient causation.

Material Causation ascribes cause to the nature of material. The fireplace is rigid because it is constructed of brick. Efficient causation ascribes cause to some previous act. We're late because the last meeting ran long. Science, scientific management, even management-ism limit their domain of inquiry to these two dimensions, when their domain of existence includes and is subtly influenced by Aristotle's un-reducible and uncountable metaphysical causations: Formal Causation and Final Causation.

Formal Causation ascribes cause to form. An example of formal causation are the differences we experience when communicating face-to-face and via email. The form of communication subtly influences, affects, 'causes' difference. Asking exactly how or why these changes occur assumes a material or efficient causation at work, and while these questions might well elicit any number of interesting responses, none will be satisfying in the way that a material or efficient causation might provide.

Final Causation ascribes cause to some imagined future state, as if our aspiration caused the result. A common example of final causation at work is found in scheduling assumptions: the flight departs at four because we want to arrive at five. What caused the flight to depart at four? Our aspiration to arrive at five. Certainly a raft of material, efficient, and formal causations were also involved in arriving at five, but without the aspiration, none of them would mean anything. The root cause is our anticipation of future events.

When a management-ist searches for the root cause, he limits his search to material and efficient effects, though these will inevitably provide only the most primitive parts of the explanation. This is fine if identifying the material or efficient causes provides some leverage for useful action. Omitting formal and final causations limits possibility for change, and holds the source of what are commonly referred to as unintended consequences. These might be better described as unimagined consequences resulting from unseen and unconsidered contexts. Because science education focuses upon understanding the material world and cataloguing efficient causations (aka Best Practices and Procedures), it focuses the practitioner's attention away from powerful, causative points of leverage. Without acknowledging the influence of the metaphysical, any practitioner can degrade into focusing upon the purely physical, firmly believing that an efficient cause must be provided to enable performance. Hence, the enabling management-ist.

Who gets disabled in this context? Those who become addicted to the material and efficient world-view. The management-ist, all-powerful though he might seem, is just as addicted as those who firmly believe that he causes their performance. This aspiration might well be the final cause of this disabling enabling. Mention the metaphysical to a dedicated management-ist and watch his eyes roll.

Who manages the management-ist? Next time.

blog comments powered by Disqus