I received a PDF today from Dr. John Scherer with an article by Minahan and Norlin called “Edging Toward the Center”. The article was published in the OD Practitioner: Vol 45: 4, 2013
The article is thoughtful, extremely well written and well worth reading. As a matter of fact, I would say it is a” must read”.
The article contains an excellent diagnosis of the issues facing OD in the context of the present economy, mapping out the challenges of working in the private sector as well as the public sector. Furthermore, the authors ask the most cogent and painful questions about the derivate issues between clients and OD practitioner in light of these the present challenges we face.
And best of all, the article point out how irrelevant some of OD’s behaviours appear when practiced in the extreme. Table 1 of the article should be on all of our desktops….. an absolutely brilliant description of just how absurd our values, beliefs and actions are when manifested in the extreme.
When the authors spell out “ What is to be done”, the article falls short of what I expected. For example, the authors suggest to cease “fixating on creating space for “onlys” and other small groups at the expense of the needs of the whole.” And they suggest that OD be more accepting of the legitimacy of power and the system. And the authors state that OD could stay focused on “strong humanistic and democratic values” , “stay out of content and focus on process ” and focus on “capacity building and development of the system”. Furthermore, OD should not loose its focus on the purpose of being a central building block in the creation on “effective and healthy human systems”.
When I read the initial part (diagnostic section) of the article, I tend to reach different conclusions.
1) In the organizational reality which has been created by the present economic conditions, OD as practiced has been “voted off the island” due to its irrelevance. The values we represent are seen as out dated, not just in extreme, but almost “ in toto”.
2) In the global configuration of organizations in today’s economy, the focus on democratic and humanistic values is far too parochial and thus, almost irrelevant to global organizing.
3) A focus on process renders OD irrelevant in places where process is not the way to get things done, like in about 80% of the countries in the world (where relationships or tradition or authoritarianism play a major enabling role).
4) As far as OD’s purpose as serving as a cornerstone for Impacting human systems, I see this proposed “purpose” as illusionary omnipotence as well misguided use of limited energy. This is far beyond the capabilities of OD in our age of economic determinism. I see this as almost a self evident truth.
The Israelis tell a story of someone who goes to a zoo and sees a giraffe with a very very very very very long neck. When s/he leaves the zoo, s/he says to himself, “that cannot be”.
It appears to me that the authors gave us an excellent mirror into which to look, but they themselves were reticent of using the very mirror they provide.
People may ask me what I recommend?
1) I would reply that only when OD internalizes the depth of the crisis that we are facing can we turn to solution engineering.
2) Being practical is fine, but let’s agree we need a new operating system, not a bug fix. Now this may sound impractical, but a sinking ship needs more than “some focus”. And unless we have that new OS in place, we will find ourselves working with the lessening circle of clients who share the somewhat archaic world view of traditional OD.
3) As far as purpose is concerned, I view the propose of a new OD operating system as the creation of a culture-agnostic platform which enable people of different values and communication styles to work effectively in a global organizational configuration, in a spirit of inclusion and cooperation.
This having been said, get your hands on the article and read it.