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A role for individuality and mystery in ``managing’’ change
Jitter Philosophical Services, Glen Iris, Victoria, Australia
Keywords Organizational change, Individual behaviour, Scientific management, Philosophy Received June 1998 Revised November 1998 Abstract This philosophical paper explores why people have so much trouble understanding, Accepted May 1999 coping with and managing change. It looks behind the problem to try to understand its origins. It provides an account of human nature that suggests people are ``naturally’’ capable of coping with change but that we have forgotten how to do so because of our intellectual history. It suggests the pervasive influence of scientific paradigms and rationalism has turned us into conformists who are afraid to trust our own individual experiences and who rely on others to validate them and tell us how to respond. Change makes it difficult to conform because we do not know on whom to rely for validation; we do not know which paradigm is ``right.’’ This paper suggests some current management remedies respond to this conformity problem but others may exacerbate it. It offers its philosophical analysis as a tool to interpret and evaluate such remedies from a fresh perspective.
Why is managing or even just coping with change such a complex problem for people and organisations? Management researchers across a wide range of disciplines are looking for answers: perhaps organisational learning (Marsick and Watkins, 1994; Nevis et al., 1995; Recardo et al., 1995/96; Senge, 1997), maybe empowerment (Ehin, 1995; Jaffe and Scott, 1997; Pascale et al., 1997a; Spencer, 1995; Story, 1995), possibly new technology (Jih and Owings, 1995; Levin, 1997; Makridakis, 1995; Onstad, 1995), perhaps leadership (Katzenbach, 1996; Kouzes and Posner, 1995; Spreitzer and Quinn, 1996). But what if those myriad solutions are just momentarily pragmatic, just the latest management fads? Even worse, what if those solutions are exacerbating the problem, creating more instability, more uncertainty, more mistrust of and anxiety about change? (Kleiner and George, 1997; Markus and Benjamin, 1997) The solutions might become part of the problem unless we understand the origins of the problem we are trying to solve (Foegen, 1998; Guha et al., 1997; Hardy and Leiba-O’Sullivan, 1998). For this reason, this paper sets out to look behind the problem to suggest how coping with change has become a problem. Going back to the roots of the problem may enable us to evaluate our solutions through a new lens. An overview This is a philosophical paper written by a Heideggerian phenomenologist. This means I have a lot in common with anti-rationalists in both philosophy and management. I am a humanist, but not in the conventional mould of social rights and responsibilities; I think of myself as a personalist rather than an individualist or communitarian. I am equally at odds with positivists and constructivists. I might be seen as a postmodern interpretist and a relativist,
Journal of Organizational Change Management, Vol. 14 No. 2, 2001, pp. 150-167. # MCB University Press, 0953-4814
but I diverge from those positions in my discomfort with anthropocentricism and its consequent disrespect for the ontological integrity of phenomena. I am a proponent of reflection and thought, but an opponent of rationalism, paradigm research and theory. My paper is about human nature and about what our intellectual history has done to that nature. From its existential perspective, this paper suggests that coping with change is a personal, not social or corporate, matter that calls for individuality of a special sort. But it suggests that such individuality is rare these days because scientific rationalism is the only sanctioned approach to thinking about and understanding the world, the only approach widely seen as producing credible and reliable results. This paper suggests scientific rationalism has made individuality undesirable and uncommon and so has left people unprepared for the current pace of change. It also suggests some scholars grappling with the problems of managing or coping with change might likewise be constrained by scientific rationalism’s limiting and dehumanising demands, so this paper also advocates a little individuality in exploring the problems of ``managing’’ change. This paper explores two unconventional notions of individuality: existential individuality and day-to-day individuality. These unconventional notions of individuality come from a modern German philosopher called Martin Heidegger who maintains that day-to-day conformity is a much more common state of being for us than day-to-day individuality. This day-to-day conformity also takes two forms: practical and theoretical mindlessness. Heidegger (1962) suggests old-fashioned practical mindlessness is our most common mode of being and relatively harmless to us as human beings. But a more recent form of conformity ± I call it theoretical mindlessness ± is not so benign. I suggest this later form of conformity makes us uncomfortable with change, but Heidegger (1977b) feels it poses a threat to our human nature itself, to our existential individuality. But before I explore how Heidegger’s philosophy may help us get to the root of our difficulties with change, I need to point out a nasty irony that some scholars feel fatally taints Heidegger’s thought. I will also try to place Heidegger’s unique views in a broader philosophical context. The irony relates to Heidegger’s view of conformity and his involvement with the Nazis. Despite Heidegger’s commitment to individuality and to the courage to resist social conformity, he failed to practice what he preached in the 1930s. While it might be argued that Heidegger was merely attracted to Nazism’s reverence for history and nationalism and its criticism of technology and exploitive capitalism ± themes that were apparent even in his earliest philosophy ± he is perhaps justifiably damned for failing to express regret for his overt and tacit accommodation of Nazism, even after its full horrors were revealed. His indefensible silence disappoints even his most loyal acolytes and enrages his opponents. But I do not think his uncritical acceptance of Nazi philosophy or even his bureaucratic involvement with the Nazi administration
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diminish the richness or rigour of his thought, even though such behaviour is inconsistent with his ideas of courage and non-conformity. My view is consistent with a central tenet of his later philosophy, which maintains that non-rationalist thought has a significance of its own, beyond the intention and behaviour of its thinker. This unique insight has influenced many thinkers, including some who have influenced management thought. These include Sartre, Foucault, Habermas, Bourdieu, Baudrillard, Lacan, Wittgenstein and Derrida. Yet, none of these thinkers seem to fully appreciate the implications of Heidegger’s insight. They have embraced the interpretive freedom his insight provides, but they have not relinquished anthropocentric power over thought. They still consider all thought to be the product of human minds. Heidegger sought to destroy the myth of this people power by giving mystery a role in thought. He hoped this would make people more modest in their claims for their thinking and in their actions based on that thinking, but this has not happened. Despite his significant influence, Heidegger remains a unique and often misunderstood voice in the postmodern philosophical wilderness. His unique voice, informed by his critical engagement with thinkers like Leibniz, Kant, Kierkegaard and Nietzsche and his admiration for pre-Socratic thinkers like Heraclitus, has much to contribute to understanding the problem of humans dealing with change. To begin exploring that contribution, I will deal with conformity first, because it is our most common way of being human. Day-to-day conformity To get an idea of what day-to-day conformity is like, consider the following generalised characterisations of employees and managers alike.
Employees and managers like to feel they are equal to their colleagues, that they have a great deal in common in terms of ability, approaches and values, that they all fit together in a nice, homogeneous team working cooperatively toward the same goals. (Identity.) But despite all that homogeneity, employees and managers are still conscious of status and power. They like to know where they stand in relation to their peers, their superiors, their subordinates in terms of pay, power, performance, promotion and perks. (Status.) Such employees and managers have a sense of how the organisation does business, of what is an acceptable approach and what is not. They understand how the organisation sees the world, how it does things, what counts as right for the organisation. (Shared understanding.) Because they understand these things, they also recognise that certain decisions will be acceptable and others will not, so they try to stick to the game plan, to keep everyone happy and not to rock the boat. (Predictability.)
Because everyone is pulling in the same direction, making the same decisions, upholding the operational norms of the organisation, employees and managers are reinforced in their conformity. (Certainty.) When employees and managers are team players like this, it is possible to share responsibility for decisions, to minimise the personal risk of poor decisions and to protect oneself from accountability. (No responsibility.) Employees and managers who are team players like this are secure in their jobs because they don’t make waves. They stick around for the long haul and get promotions for continuous service, for being an organisation person and for being popular within the organisation. (Security.)
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Employees and managers with these characteristics are individualitychallenged. They lack individuality. They are organisational conformists. They don’t do their own thing; they do the organisational thing. They do ``what one does’’ in their organisation. People can operate this way because organisations sanction, encourage, reward or mandate such behaviour. They do so because this behaviour is easy to manage. Conformists are compliant and cooperative, everyone pulls in the same direction, there is organisational peace. Of course, modern management is no longer so sure that organisational peace is desirable and that such conformist behaviour is worth cultivating (Galam and Moscovici, 1994; Jansen and Chandler, 1994; Leonard and Straus, 1997; Macfarlane and Lomas, 1994). Now we understand that conflict can be productive (Adizes, 1996; Klunk, 1997; Lindsay, 1994; Schwenk, 1997), that creativity breeds innovation (Gundry et al., 1994; Pascale et al., 1997b; Perry, 1995; Ramsey, 1997), and that bureaucratised, hierarchical organisations are less flexible, less amenable to change and less likely to empower staff (Jacob, 1995; Jeffane, 1995; Markovich, 1997; Milakovich, 1994/95). But still, we often also consider homogenising phenomena like teamwork, organisational culture and staff commitment important to managing change (Baba, 1995; Korsgaard et al., 1995; Mikalachki, 1994; Uhlfelder, 1994). Does that not reflect tension in the change management paradigm? (e.g. Fisher, 1997; Greg and Mitev, 1995; Malone, 1997; McConnell, 1998; Ramsey and Calvert, 1994) There is tension because we do not understand what we are dealing with when we explore managing or coping with change. We cannot be consistent in our thinking about change because we do not have a workable sense of how human beings operate. We do not have a consistent notion of what makes people tick. We also do not have a workable understanding of how the world is, apart from scientific accounts that are often found wanting when it comes to managing uncertainty. I attribute the tension in the change management paradigm to our difficulty in distinguishing between the benign conformity of practical mindlessness and the dangerous spread of conformity as theoretical mindlessness.
``Mindlessness’’ refers to a lack of conscious thinking, not to a lack of intelligence. Practical mindlessness refers to doing hands-on activities without thinking, like logging on to a computer, making a cup of coffee or driving along a familiar route. Practical mindlessness reflects personal knowing, personal familiarity with the world we operate in and with the tools we use. Sveiby (1997) and Nonaka and Takeuchi (1995) refer to this as ``knowhow’’ to distinguish it from knowledge. Theoretical mindlessness refers to unthinking appropriation of generalised rational products without evaluating them for appropriateness to the situation, like accepting assumptions, assertions and theories uncritically. Theoretical mindlessness reflects abstract knowing, impersonal adoption of ``objective’’ and generalised interpretations of the world. This is Kuhn’s (1970) ``paradigm knowledge’’ and Polanyi’s (1962) ``tacit knowledge.’’ I see practical mindlessness as benign because it poses no threat to our individual engagement with the world. It reflects either our original, personal interpretations of our familiar environment, or pragmatic replication of our own or others’ personal responses to similar circumstances. In contrast, theoretical mindlessness is more dangerous because it encourages detachment from the immediate, personal environment and substitution of ``objective,’’ institutionalised interpretations of abstract, idealised environments that no person has ever experienced immediately and personally. This poses a real danger to human nature because it prevents us from achieving our full potential as human beings. To understand how this assertion could be true, we need to understand human nature itself, which means we need to understand existential individuality, which I believe is the primary, fundamental manifestation of human nature. Existential individuality Although Heidegger believed that we live most of our day-to-day lives as conformists, he also believed that we all have the potential to be ourselves and to operate as individuals. Day-to-day individuality is desirable because when we operate individually in our day-to-day lives, we reach our full potential as unique human beings; we manifest our existential individuality. The fundamental, existential characteristic shared by all human beings is the capacity to reflect on how we can understand anything, how we can know anything. This is not reflection on what we understand, nor is it just criticising current ideas or formulating new ones. It is not even identifying the causes of our current ideas which scientific rationalism tells us are always other ideas. Heidegger (1977c) said most of us have lost our willingness to reflect on how we can understand things (how we can know) because we have become accustomed to focussing only on what we understand (know). We have totally surrendered to the dictates of scientific rationalism which says we can understand things because we have minds. Even anti-scientific post-moderns (Latour, 1993; Pickering, 1992) believe in social or cultural constructivism, which is still rationalism stripped of the veneer of scientific objectivity.
Scholars have gone into the research business, which involves systematically applying our minds to things to produce generalisable information about them. As a result, we suffer from infomania, which is our obsession with information which we often think of as knowledge (Heim, 1993). Because we have become so enamoured of our intellectual traditions and so comfortable with and cocky about the power of the mind to solve all problems, we have lost what makes us distinctively human. What makes us distinctively human is the capacity to deal with mystery. We have lost our human relationship with mystery. An example of our lost relationship with mystery can be found in Sartre (1957). In Being and Nothingness, which is based on Heidegger’s Being and Time, knowledge emerges not from mystery but from an inexplicably impersonal self-consciousness. This may be what Nancy (1991) means by an ``operative community,’’ a mythical entity that comprises the identities of conformists that they sacrifice to create a communal identity. Heidegger pointed to mystery, but Sartre could only see mind. Heidegger believed that without a relationship with mystery, we cannot reflect on how we can understand anything because it is mystery, not mind, that makes possible human understanding. Mystery is not the unknown and definitely not the not-yet-known-becausewe-haven’t-put-our-minds-to-it. Mystery is unknowable; mystery is beyond knowing. What we know comes to us out of mystery, not out of thinking. The unknown is not transformed into the known by the force of our intellect. The unknown emerges mysteriously out of mystery and so becomes known. Mystery, not mind, makes possible our understanding. Mystery is the source and limit of our knowledge and our knowing. Mystery is how we can understand things; we can understand things because understanding is granted or revealed to us individually and uniquely from mystery. That little paragraph about mystery is probably clear as mud. Unfortunately, that is how it has to stay because we cannot render the mysterious known by thinking or talking about it. Mystery is beyond the power of the mind and argument and it is beyond representation. If we are uncomfortable with that, it is only because we have grown uncomfortable with what we cannot understand. We have forgotten how to live with mystery. We have forgotten how to be human because we spend so little time personally engaged with the world that is granted from mystery. But all is not lost. Although we cannot define or describe mystery, we can consider its impact on us because, even though we cannot explain mystery, mystery affects us, especially when we cannot deal mindlessly with the world because we have no handy prescriptions to use. For example, where does change come from that makes us so uncomfortable with it? Change comes from mystery. If change was just evolutionary progress, we could cope. We could understand it. We could master it. But change surprises us. One moment things are calm and clear and manageable. The next moment things are strange, the game has new rules, little seems familiar or
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reliable, things seem out of control. Why? Because mystery has revealed something we have not had to deal with before, something we have not anticipated, something we have not imagined, something we have not created with our minds but something that has been foisted upon us. A person’s ability to deal with change is related to how comfortable they are with mystery, with the loss of control and the limits of rationality that any emergence from mystery reveals. Mystery makes detached, impersonal theoretical mindlessness difficult because any emergence from mystery challenges us to think about how the world has became the way it is. Such thinking can lead us to confront our own existential individuality, our human nature. A person’s ability to deal with change is related to their willingness to confront their existential individuality, to reflect on their relationship with the mysterious source of their experience. But existential individuality is supposed to be a common human characteristic. We all have it. So why are we not all good at dealing with change? We are not good at dealing with change because the intellectual history of human beings charts a gradual but unrelenting move away from mystery and to rationality as the source of what we know. We no longer experience change as coming from mystery. Foucault (1970, 1988) and Habermas (1996, 1992) have us thinking it is created by social, cultural or political forces. We think people have been engineering that change and we are just out of the loop. In the age of conformity, being out of the loop gives rise to anxiety and suspicion and blaming. Also, believing that change is the product of human rationality, or perhaps rationality gone awry, we imagine that we can manage change, we can control it, we can predict it and prepare for it. We have forgotten about mystery. How has this happened? Heidegger traced the origin of the move away from mystery and to rationalism to Plato’s redefinition of the word ``idea’’ (eidos in Greek). Heidegger claimed ``idea’’ used to mean ``the outward aspect that a visible thing offers to the physical eye.’’ (Heidegger, 1977a, p. 20). ``Idea’’ used to mean what we might now call the stimulus of an experience, or the phenomenon of an experience, that which was known because it was shown to us. But Heidegger said Plato started us on the track to rationalism by using ``idea’’ to mean the invisible form of something as opposed to its visible substance. ``Idea’’ came to mean the nonsensuous, non-experienced essence of something. Heidegger said this simple transformation of the meaning of ``idea’’ took away our sense of how mysteriously something comes to be what it is. Plato’s notion of the forms served to explain the unexplainable by denying the dynamic and mysterious emergence of what was known in favour of the persistence of forms. The next major step in the move away from mystery and to rationalism was taken by Descartes when ``I think therefore I am’’ became an anthem for rationalism. No longer was the world known by some mysterious revelation of reality. Now it was known because some knowing subject thought it. Not only did we now have access to self-confirming certainty; we also had a masterful
nexus of subject and object that distracted us from the mystery of how both subject and object came to be thought of at all. Our inheritance from Plato and Descartes, via a coterie of other rationalist thinkers, is a belief in ``scientific’’ thinking that deprecates ``unsupported’’ commonsense and individual experience, that denies the existence of phenomena that do not conform to the approved vision of the world, and that dismisses any thinking that departs from its methodological prescriptions. Kuhn (1970) provided a clear account of how this works in his concept of the paradigm or disciplinary matrix. Modern social constructivists of science have updated Kuhn’s account and made it more postmodern (e.g. Lynch, 1993; Pickering, 1992) and some might say anti-science (Cromer, 1997). But scientific rationalism has come to dominate our lives so completely that anyone with substantial education, particularly in old disciplines or professions, is likely to have abandoned practical mindlessness in favour of uncritical and unconscious surrender to one’s scientifically rational paradigm which is a theoretical construct. Kuhn (1970) discussed this unconscious takeover by paradigms 30 years ago. Polanyi (1962) explained how it worked in his classic text, Personal Knowledge. But Heidegger’s critique of scientific thinking was not a critique of science alone. It was a critique of our time, of our wholehearted embrace of scientific rationalism. He did not believe scientific rationalism was confined to traditional sciences. Heidegger believed that scientific rationalism had pervaded almost all of Western human existence and was endangering human nature itself by making us forget about mystery. Heidegger (1977b) called our wholesale adoption of scientific rationalism technicity. Technicity is an attitude toward the world and life that Heidegger believed characterises our historical epoch. The epoch of technicity is characterised by faith in the power of rational thought. Technicity manifests in what Heidegger (1977a) called ``binding adherence to the rule and law’’ of various disciplinary paradigms. A hallmark of technicity is the demise of personal knowing and the corresponding rise of research as the rigorous, institutionalised pursuit of certainty through rational, objective representation of experience. Heidegger saw technicity as a danger to human nature because it threatened to reduce even people to mere products of rational representation. He saw the proliferation of psychological, sociological and anthropological research as part of that reduction. But the more immediate danger of technicity is manifest in the growth of day-to-day conformity with scientific rationalism, with what I called theoretical mindlessness. Such day-to-day mindless conformity becomes the norm when people are made to distrust their own experiences and seek validation in the shared experiences of others, when their unconventional, personal experiences are dismissed as irrelevant, mystical or crackpot, and when they are forced to submit to the rigour of scientific method and rationalism to avoid ridicule. For example, intuitive judgements about people, gut reactions to ideas, and
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impulsive actions are usually considered unprofessional among managers (even more among academics!). But few people frown on managers uncritically adopting the latest management fad (Shapiro, 1995). Is it any wonder that people who have lost belief in the validity of their own experiences and judgements should fear change and doubt their capacity to cope with it? Is it surprising that people who have learned that only conformity validates and legitimates experience should feel all at sea when change occurs faster than prescriptions for coping can emerge? Heidegger said that all that could save us from technicity was the reassertion of mystery, but he was pretty pessimistic about the prospects of a return to mystery in our lives. He was pondering the dangers of technicity in the 1950s and 1960s when science and technology were approaching their zenith, producing startling discoveries and inventions that were changing our lives. It was a hard time to stand up to scientific rationalism. But in these postmodern times the situation is quite different. The image of science and technology has been tarnished by their errors, failures, inadequacies and conservatism. There are anti-science movements in academia. Government is reviled for its intrusions on our lives. The public is taking spiritualism and the occult more seriously. Religious fundamentalism is on the rise. This postmodern mistrust of orthodoxy and authority and the longing for alternative routes to the truth might be responses to the reassertion of mystery that is shaking our faith in rationalism. The reassertion of mystery might be causing us to question and doubt our ways of knowing and explaining what is going on around us. While we mostly still mindlessly cope using sanctioned rationalist tools, more and more often those tools are letting us down. The resultant uncertainty is creating anxiety which many blame on too much change coming too fast. This is the best of times for Heideggerians! Heidegger (1977b) called the reassertion of mystery the ``saving grace’’ because it is a gift that can save human nature from the danger of technicity. The uncertainty brought about by inexplicable and now too common change emerging from mystery confronts us with the possibility of choosing between conformity to the prevailing paradigm or trust in our own experience. When we see that we have a choice, we are ready for day-to-day individuality. Day-to-day individuality Day-to-day individuality involves choosing to be an individual rather than a conformist. Day-to-day individuality is not being an individual because we all are already individuals by virtue of our existential individuality, by virtue of our unique relationship with mystery which gives us unique experiences. Rather, day-to-day or operational individuality is choosing to be an individual, recognising that one might also be a conformist but choosing the uncommon road. Heidegger allowed that we go through much of our lives without ever having to make that choice. Most of the time we do not think about conforming
or asserting our individuality. We just go about our business mindlessly. But we can’t always just mindlessly cope. Whenever anything goes wrong, we are forced to think about what we are doing. At these moments, individuality becomes an issue for us and we have to choose how to be. One of the times when we need to choose is when we are confronted by something unexpected or new. We need to choose when we need to change. This is why individuality is an issue in managing or coping with change. How does day-to-day individuality manifest itself? There are three ``events’’ that characterise day-to-day individuality. First, day-to-day individuality involves our acknowledging the possibility of being an individual. This involves our understanding our capacity for individuality, that is, recognising our existential individuality, which renders us uniquely related to mystery as the source of our unique experience. This does not have to take the form of philosophical enlightenment about Heideggerian phenomenology. Rather, we only need to recognise the mineness of our individual experiences, that our experiences are uniquely our own and not some predictable, generalisable experiences that anyone else might have. This cannot be a simple intellectual concession to some abstract notion of the uniqueness of experiences. Rather, it must be a feeling of faith and confidence in the validity of one’s private, personal experiences. In a large group of engineers I studied, this mineness of experience emerged as a loss of uncritical confidence in paradigmatic prescriptions. These highly successful technical innovators working in private enterprise accepted the inexplicable nature of much of their success and opened themselves to what they called ``intuition,’’ by which I think they meant trusting their own personal understanding of their situation rather than accepting the paradigmatic, theoretical interpretations mandated by their scientific training. They considered their intuitions mysterious, magical or at least beyond rational explanation. These innovators, by virtue of acknowledging and accepting the mineness of experience that was granted by mystery experienced the second ``event’’ of dayto-day individuality. They became resolute. Mineness shows us the possibility and validity of unique, personal experiences; resoluteness is the courage to act on those experiences, to operate outside paradigm prescriptions. Resoluteness is what I call ``the courage to be incompetent,’’ the courage to do something other than what a ``good’’ engineer or manager or academic might do. I believe that resoluteness produces what we usually think of as creative or innovative work. What is creative or innovative is simply different than what conformity with a paradigm prescribes or produces. Of course, my engineering innovators did not totally abandon their paradigmatic principles or practices. In fact, their paradigms shaped all their routine, mindless work. But when they encountered a problem with which they could no longer mindlessly cope and when their familiar paradigm prescriptions came up wanting, they abandoned those prescriptions and gave
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themselves over to the inexplicable mystery of their individual, personal intuitions. When we are resolute, we have more possibilities for action because we are not constrained by the prescribed possibilities of our paradigms. Those new possibilities are unique to us because they come from our unique relationship with mystery. These new and unique possibilities create the third ``event’’ of day-to-day individuality. They constitute a new situation, one that is not open to paradigm conformists who only have the possibilities prescribed by their paradigm. Possibilities are important to individuality because, for Heidegger, we are our possibilities. We are defined fundamentally and primarily by our potential, not by our actions, which are only made possible by our potential. So the emergence of a new situation pregnant with myriad unique possibilities is the defining event of day-to-day individuality; what emerges defines the individual as an individual. It is through the events of mineness, resoluteness and the emergence of new situations that a person escapes their day-to-day conformity and manifests day-to-day individuality. Such individuality renews people’s confidence in the validity of their own experiences, gives them the courage to operate in accord with those experiences, and creates new possibilities for action. It is not difficult to see how such individuality can take the threat and sting out of change. People who trust themselves and their experiences and who can see lots of alternative possibilities for coping with change are less likely to be frightened or suspicious of change and are much better placed to deal with it. But what can managers do to encourage such individuality, to help themselves and others cope with change? Encouraging individuality Heidegger (1962) maintained that people could encourage others to choose individuality over conformity by helping them see that they have such a choice. He called this helping ``being a conscience’’ for others. Therefore, I suggest managers interested in ``managing’’ change must first learn how to encourage individuality. They must become consciences for their staff by putting in place now familiar structures and practices that encourage and reward staff individuality. But here is where academics and managers need to think long and hard, not about what they are doing but about how such structures and practices might work or not. For example, to encourage mineness, managers need to legitimate, respect and value diverse individual experiences (Baba, 1995; Lindsay, 1994; Mikalachki, 1994; Onstad, 1995). To encourage resoluteness, they need to protect and encourage staff who diverge from organisational norms (Adizes, 1996; Klunk, 1997; Malone, 1997; Schwenk, 1997). To encourage the emergence of new situations, they need to encourage operational creativity and to create structures that generate new possibilities for interaction (Ehin, 1995; Gundry et al., 1994; Korsgaard et al., 1995; Markovich, 1997).
But if one accepts that individuality can help people cope with organisational change, then some other academic prescriptions to facilitate managing change may need to be reevaluated. For example, are commitment, teamwork and homogeneous organisational cultures conducive to mineness or do they encourage identification with organisational or team paradigms instead? Such paradigms change much more quickly, more often and more capriciously than academic paradigms do, contributing to the distress of anyone who cannot keep up with the pace of change. What effect do quality management, benchmarking, risk management, performance reviews, and measurement and evaluation strategies have on resoluteness, on the courage to be incompetent, to take risks and to make errors? Will they not encourage resistance to change by encouraging people to use tried and proven practices that are safe, familiar and approved? And can new knowledge management technology that standardises the form and content of information that is available to people or that locks people into procedural routines encourage the emergence of new situations? Or might such technology encourage mindlessness and detachment from actual situations? From my Heideggerian perspective, it seems some organisational change management theories and practices have the potential to do more harm than good if they are promulgated or adopted without a clear understanding of human nature and without a clear appreciation of the uniqueness of the people they are meant to help. A very good example of the dangers of such theoretical mindlessness in regard to managing an organisation in continuous flux is provided by Kunda (1992). He produced a portrait of a big technology organisation that is doing all the supposedly right things to help its technical staff cope with their rapidly and continuously changing work environment. It offers its engineers jobs for life so they are not worried about taking risks and making errors. The organisation’s commitment to organisational learning and staff involvement has them running regular meetings and pep rallies to keep everyone in the picture. The walls are covered with posters to encourage esprit de corps. The organisation provides oodles of money to let people pursue their expensive pet projects. Yet the engineers who are being targeted for all this care and largesse jokingly refer to themselves as ``interchangeable work units.’’ People feel trapped by their jobs for life. They feel they cannot speak at their carefully orchestrated meetings. They feel brainwashed and manipulated by the pep rallies and posters that are reminiscent of Mao’s cultural revolution. Secretaries cry because they are not given Christmas turkeys like professional members of staff. Kunda’s ethnographic study shows how an organisation’s uncritical commitment to creating a strong culture and its mindless use of progressive management tools can undermine its own efforts to manage change. It failed to understand that it was dealing with individuals who resented but could not completely resist the strong organisational pressure to conform. This pressure created existential angst among the staff and worked against the aims of the organisation which wanted to set its people free to innovate.
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The engineers of culture see the ideal member as driven by strong beliefs and intense emotions, authentic experiences of loyalty, commitment and the pleasure of work. Yet they seem to produce members who have internalised ambiguity, who question the authenticity of all beliefs and emotions, and who find irony in its various forms the dominant mode of everyday existence (Kunda, 1992, p. 216).
Kunda says the engineers are victims of ``normative control’’ initiated by management but sustained by the engineered culture. This is not how an organisation acts as a conscience for its staff. It is not how to encourage individuality or manage change. Mineness For example, the managers of Kunda’s organisation actively seek to undermine mineness by manipulating the very reality that the staff experience. A senior manager refers to the organisation’s cultural reality as ``the religion.’’ He admits his management strategy is to ensure staff ``have the religion and (do) not know how they ever got it!’’ (Kunda, 1992, p. 5). Kunda says this management team ``maintains and enhances its power not by imposing ideological clarity but by creating and selectively applying and interpreting ambiguous definitions of reality.’’ (p. 222). To define reality for someone is to deny them their natural capacity for unique experience of reality, to deny them the mineness of their own experiences. Resoluteness Management of this organisation also makes resoluteness difficult; they make it hard to choose day-to-day individuality over conformity. The existential distress this causes to the staff is apparent in the compensatory responses they adopt to this loss of choice. They compensate for their loss by appearing to distance themselves cognitively and emotionally from the culture while succumbing to it. In effect, they try to assert their individuality while opting for conformity. Cognitive distancing takes three forms: (1) Cynicism about one’s own behaviour in the form of debunking some ideological belief; e.g. ``In this group, `do what’s right’ means `make your manager visible.’ [Laugh]. Aren’t all organisations like that?’’ (Kunda, p. 178). (2) Detached theoretical observation of organisation; e.g., ``Look at the `Engineering Guide.’ Look at the values in it. It is a uniquely American value system, grounded in, almost straight out of the Puritan tradition, out of Emerson, Thoreau. You know, the Protestant Ethic, Weber and all that.’’ (Kunda, p. 179). (3) Invocation of common sense or pragmatic knowledge as an excuse for one’s behaviour; e.g. ``I don’t buy all that theology. If it works, it’s good. If it makes money, it’s good. Everything else ± everything! ± is bullshit.’’ (Kunda, p. 181).
Cognitive distancing generally says, ``I know what’s really going on; I just play along.’’ Emotional distancing also takes three forms: (1) Denial of any emotional involvement with the organisation; e.g., ``Some people feel a sense of belonging, but in my case it’s not strong. It’s a nice company but it isn’t my mother.’’ (Kunda, p. 182). (2) Denial of any feelings about what happens to you as a victim of the culture (depersonalisation); e.g. ``I have to keep reminding myself it’s a game. I should watch it and enjoy it.’’ (Kunda, p. 184). (3) A self-serving ``strategic’’ show of (maybe false) feelings that some manager wants to see (dramatisation); e.g. ``Before I had the one-on-one with my boss, I read some advice in Things They Never Taught Me at the Harvard Business School. Good stuff. It says, `Never show them that you’re feeling anything: keep a straight face, confuse them.’ It’s exactly what I did. Worked too!’’ (Kunda, p. 186). All the existential energy of the staff goes into the charade of individuality instead of into the courage to be genuinely individual in the face of such a strong culture. This takes a serious toll on staff who regularly suffer burnout. But even in burnout, the organisation’s power to transform individuals into conformists is apparent in staff attitudes to burnout. Kunda observes:
One the one hand, burnout is considered both demeaning and difficult, evidence of a personal failure and dramatic proof that despite the promised benefits, the sirens’ call for identification with organisational demands may have dangerous, painful, and potentially disruptive consequences. On the other hand, many members feel some pride in surviving burnout or living with its threat. It is a battle scar, a purple heart, a call for respect, a sign of belonging and of willing self-sacrifice, an indication that one’s heart is in the right place (Kunda, p. 204).
Individuality and mystery
New Situations Management of Kunda’s organisation also wants to deny its staff individualised situations, unique arrays of possibilities for how to be. It does this by prescribing work behaviour and even thoughts and feelings.
At one level, the culture offers a description of the social characteristics of the company that also embodies a specification of required work behaviour: informality, initiative, lack of structure, inherent ambiguity, hard work, consensus seeking, bottom-up decision making, networking, pushing against the system, going off, taking risks, and making things happen. But as the frequently heard metaphors of ``family,’’ ``marriage’’ and ``religion’’ suggest, the rules run deeper. The culture also includes articulated rules for thoughts and feelings, mindsets, gut reactions: an obsession with technical accomplishment, a sense of ownership, a strong commitment to the company, identification with company goals, and, not least, fun. (Kunda, p. 7).
In the face of rules not only for how to behave or act but also how to think and feel, the organisation limits the possibilities of its staff. Even when confronted with mystery, employees of this organisation are programmed to respond in keeping with ``the religion’’, which means alternatives to ``the religion’’ do not
emerge as alternatives. Kunda’s book is filled with examples of staff who are prisoners of such normative control. The management of this organisation is itself conformist, doing ``what one does’’ when one is a modern, up-to-date manager. There is a bad kind of theoretical mindlessness in how this organisation’s managers operate. They have not tried to understand their people or their organisation as unique. They are not interested in diversity; they are interested in productive conformity that masquerades as a unified team, shared commitment, a common vision. These progressive, culturist managers are as interested in control as were oldfashioned scientific managers like Taylor. Concluding remarks A desire for ``control’’ may also be behind our scholarly approaches to organisational change ``management.’’ We may intend to help managers and their staff ``manage’’ change more productively and less painlessly through cultural control or normative control or ``hearts and minds’’ control. But very quickly any such control can degenerate into ontological control, control of the very being of people. Kunda writes:
More than ever, domains of the self once considered private come under corporate scrutiny and regulation. What one does, thinks or feels ± indeed, who one is ± is not just a matter of private concern but the legitimate domain of bureaucratic control structures armed with increasingly sophisticated techniques of influence (Kunda, 1992, pp. 13-14).
Any form of control that seeks to render people mindless through imposition of rational and generalised corporate values and cultures is ontological control. Such control seeks to undermine our human nature as creatures capable of being mindful rather than mindless, of reflecting on how we understand things and, ultimately, of reflecting on the mysterious origins of our unique understanding and experiences. Such control denies people their existential individuality. This constitutes an assault on the ontological integrity of individuals because it makes it even more difficult for people to overcome their alienation from mystery. And if I am right about individuality and mystery being important to coping with change, then management prescriptions that undermine individuality and engagement with mystery will not help organisations manage change. I think a more moral as well as pragmatic stance for us academics would be to promote ``sophisticated techniques of influence’’ that encourage accommodation of change, adapting and adjusting to the unexpected and inexplicable. We are on the right track toward accommodation with theories that promote appreciation of diversity, leadership, autonomy and even teams when teams are used to promote multiple perspectives rather than groupthink. Such theories gesture toward existential individuality by discouraging paradigmatic mindlessness or by making it operationally problematic. They make room for unique human experiences and so foster engagement with mystery. Encouraging accommodation rather than management of change may engender organisations that are more turbulent but also more dynamic. But
such organisations should also attract and hold people who can contribute to and thrive in turbulent, dynamic organisations. Such people are likely to be comfortable with change and capable of coping with it productively, so change will not be a problem that needs managing.
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Individuality and mystery
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