Tag Archives: different ways of thinking

Contradiction, Paradox, Absurdity in Managing Organizations: Different Ways of Thinking…

Organizations are complex and paradoxical, and leaders must truly understand its contradictions and absurdities, and that may require thinking upside-down… but don’t confuse absurdity with stupidity… A healthy organization requires clarity and transparency to manage absurdities, which means knowing an organization’s predicaments…

An organization’s ‘predicaments’ means knowing its sacred cows… These are the thing, such as; idea, custom, process, product… that are held to be above criticism. There are herds of sacred cows that roam corridors of most organizations… According to Abraham Kaplan; problems can be solved, but predicaments (sacred cows) can only be coped with… Predicaments must be interpreted, not solved… and they must be seen in larger context for actions to be successful… For example, according to Richard Farson:

  • Communication has its limits; many communication problems are actually balance-of-power issues. Hence, it’s probably unwise to introduce completely open communication into a situation in which there is large discrepancy of power. It’s only when balance of power is relatively equal that truly candid communication can and should take place…
  • Praising people does not always motivate them; praise, for some people, may be perceived as threatening. After all praise is an evaluation, and to be evaluated makes people uncomfortable–even if the evaluation is positive… Instead of reassuring people about their worth, some may perceive praise as a way of gaining status over them. Praise establishes a position in judgment…
  • Every management act is a political act; actions that management take reinforces its power. The inability of management to think in political terms tends to make them look at people as if they have personal issues, when many times the issues are result of their place in the organization’s power structure… Most management resist having to think in political terms, but the alternatives are problematic…
  • Planning is an ineffective way to bring about change; organizations change more often as result of invasion from outside or rebellion from inside. Organizations tend to be blind to the internal cries for change… And planning is great– sort of– but the first time you encounter something you didn’t expect… the plan goes out the window. Once you are underway, things never go exactly the way you anticipate… But, planning does force management to think about consequences, and it does provide an ‘anticipatory alert’ to be prepared for the unexpected– Process is important, not the product…
  • Fix situations, not people; situations that occur in an organization, more than people, are what produce difficulties, even though it may look as if people are the issue… Circumstances/situations are the powerful determinant of human behavior…
  • Lost causes are the only ones worth fighting for; the challenge in many organizations is to engage the ‘lost cases’, but this requires management to be ‘best that they can be’… Usually, lost causes cannot be won but many are so crucial for sustainability of an organization that management nevertheless must try… Lesson is to recognize a ‘lost cause’, and work on it anyway…

In the article Management of the Absurd: Paradoxes in Leadership by Richard Farson writes: The ‘Theatre of the Absurd’ is a post–World War II designation for series of plays of absurdist fiction focused largely on the idea of existentialism and expresses what happens when human existence has no meaning or purpose, and all society breaks down… The message is that only by recognizing the mystery and absurdity of life is the dignity of people served…

Enter an organization’s equivalent; ‘Management of the Absurd’, which is a contrarian’s view of organizations, and it asks management to be more comfortable with using paradoxical logic to better understand the organization and its people… Here are a few exercises for the mind:

  • Opposite of a Profound Truth Is Also True: Great achievements are dependent on rational, logical thinking… But just linear thinking is limiting, e.g.; things are only– good or bad, true or false, but not both… Yet when confronting a conflict we often say; ‘well, yes or no’, or ‘it’s a little bit of both’… An organization to be truly healthy, needs some degree of communication distortion and deception (or if you prefer; diplomacy and tact)… Leadership is the management of dilemmas, tolerance for ambiguity, coping with contradictions, understanding value, accepting coexistence of opposites…
  • Nothing Is as Invisible as the Obvious: Many important discoveries, artistic creations, and best management decisions come from taking a fresh look at what people take for granted or cannot see precisely, because they are too obvious and become invisible, e.g.; a spy’s advice; hide in plain sight… The obvious is invisible (forest for the trees) is major factor in why prediction of future trends is particularly challenging– predictions rely on knowledge of current conditions… However current conditions can be largely invisible even to those who spend their lives looking at them…
  • Most Problems That People Have Are Not Problems: A problem is created by a mistake, i.e.; something going wrong and when the cause is found, it’s corrected… Whereas a ‘predicament’ (sacred cow) paradoxically, is more likely to be created by conditions that are highly value… Most ‘important’ issues in an organizations are complicated and inescapable dilemmas/predicaments where there are no good choices… Great leaders understand the difference between predicaments and problems…

In the article Absurd! Exploring Management of the Absurd by Ron Potter writes: Great leaders realize they often choose between– ‘right vs. right’, or ‘right vs. wrong’… But ‘right or wrong’ is not the issue. According to Dan Rockwell; great leaders make decisions not based on what is right or wrong but what is relevant in the context… Most leadership decisions are about– good, better, best; not right or wrong… According to Chris McGoff; often when management cannot seem to reach a decision it’s because they are assuming that there is a ‘right vs. wrong’ or ‘right vs. right’ argument, when in fact it’s neither…

According to  Farson; management is taught that something cannot be — what it is and also its opposite… This suggests that if one perspective is true than the other must be wrong, which may or may not be correct. Management must engage critical issues of contradictions, paradoxes, absurdities, but they also must be sensitive that these matters evoke feelings of fear, uncertainty, doubt… Yet in many organizations these issues persist, and that suggests they are a consequence of more serious matters… hence they cannot just be ‘managed away’…