You are on page 1of 4

155Academy of Management EXECUTIVE!

technique and examples of its application

the various beliefs of organization

are described clearly in

members. Porras suggests that

this book. If the method works as

change agents must also facilitate

Diagnose and

effectively as Professor Porras

a process by which people articulate

Manage

claims (and I tend to believe

their assumptions about how

him), it is likely because he has

various problems or issues are related

paid careful attention to the problem

to each other. This is because

Change.

of how to identify and visually

concerted, focused action

By Jerry L Porras.

represent assumptions about

depends on some underlying

cause and effect made by groups

agreement about the nature of

Cambridge, MA:

participating in diagnosis and

problems and their causes.

Addison-Wesley, 1987.

change efforts.

Stream Analysis: A
Powerful Way to

Organizational

163 pages. $12.95.

In most respects, Stream

Facilitating the process of


making organization members'

Analysis advocates typical action

implicit causal hypotheses salient

Reviewed by William M.

research ideas, e.g., soliciting information

involves two steps. First, people

Bernstein, Ph.D., Burke

from organization

must be given some flexible, general

members affected by problems or

heuristic for classifying beliefs

change, and forming a team of influential

(i.e., beliefs about structure,

managers to analyze the

social relations, technological

information and suggest remedial

etc.). Porras offers four categories

action. But it is not enough

(he calls them "streams") that are

merely to categorize and count

similar to those suggested by

Associates, Inc.
_______________________
Stream Analysis is a method
for helping organization members
diagnose and solve problems. The

155Academy of Management EXECUTIVE!

Weisbord, Nadler and other OD

change efforts will benefit from

writers.

reading this book. The success of


Once beliefs about problems

intellectually barren?
I think it is because the

change interventions often depends

"theoretical" sections of OD

and issues are categorized by the

on people's ability to reach

books are usually devoted to justifying

change management group, the

some concensus about complex

OD methods with explanations

assumptions about how they are

problems. I can't think of a better

that sound scientific and sophisticated.

related need to be clarified. Porras

practical manual on the technology

Instead of being

suggests a way to graphically

of assisting groups in problem

experiments in thinking that raise

depict both the beliefs and the

solving and consensus building

questions and consider various alternative

presumed causal connections between

than Stream Analysis.

solutions, OD theory

them. He also gives tips

My greatest disappointment

chapters "tell what is true" as if

about how to find the central

with OD writing in general and

readers were students in an introductory

themes or "stories" that may be

this book in particular is that the

psychology class.

embedded in larger, complex

connections made between methods

graphs. As a result of this process,

and underlying theoretical

learning theory as a rationale for

organization members are likely

concepts tend to be vague or

his method to be anachronistic. In

to develop a shared view of

uninteresting, or both. Maybe it is

part, the social learning reference

problems and their causes and a

unfair to expect a "how to" book

seemed geared toward legitimizing

shared commitment to plans for

to be intellectually stimulating,

various concepts that a behaviorist

problem correction.

but the issues raised by OD work

would consider "mentalistic":

are so important and vital to us

people think about choices;

today. Why are most OD books so

thoughts affect behavior; an individual's

Serious OD practitioners
and managers contemplating

I found Porras' use of social

155Academy of Management EXECUTIVE!

thinking is affected by others in the

most concerned with the

and refined, and the relationships

environment; and so on. But who today

processes by which people make

between "systems" ideas and

doubts these things? The consumers of OD

causal inferences, is not mentioned

learning clarified so that these

interventions? I doubt it.

once in the book.

types of questions can be addressed

Porras also follows the standard

sensibly.

Raising the issues is like pushing


against a door that has been opened since

OD practice of telling readers

Maybe the basic problem

the decline of strict behaviorist

that organizations are complex,

with OD "theorizing" is that it assumes

thinking. These issues have more

"open systems" similar to

that the system OD operates

to do with the history of psychology,

biological organisms. The relationships

on is the organizational system

OD, and OD writers than the

between the "systems"

itself. But OD affects the

questions of OD clients or the real

and the social learning ideas are

organization only indirectly. OD

problems encountered in the

never satisfactorily drawn out.

interventions such as Stream

practice of OD itself.

What is the centrally important

Analysis affect people's perceptions

Social learning ide~as are not

idea? What if organizations were

of the organizational system.

irrelevant here, but by themselves

actually "closed systems"? Would

They are efforts to influence the

they neither stimulate thought

social learning processes be different?

"system of beliefs" (comprised, in

nor add insight. The use of

What if they are "open systems"

part, of the set of assumptions

Stream Analysis certainly raises

but people believed they

about what causes what) existing

as many questions about perceiving

were ''closed systems"? Would

in the heads of organization members.

causality as about social learning.

Stream Analysis still work? The

Yet, attribution theory and

verbiage about organizational

research, the area of social psychology

"systems" needs to be reduced

Belief systems are heuristics


used more or less explicitly by
organization

155Academy of Management EXECUTIVE!

members to make

peoples' beliefs about the

sense of organizational events.

organization. That is, one part of

The assumption behind OD work,

an organization is technological,

of course, is that changing the belief

one is social, and so on. Hence,

system of most organization

the category scheme (the four

members (e.g., making it more explicit,

"streams) maps onto something

more normative, more connected

real-the organizational system.

to reality, etc.) may cause

This is neither irrelevant nor

changes in individuals' behavior

wrong. Beliefs do tend to track

and, in turn, changes in the organizational

some underlying condition in the

system itself (e.g., its

external world and building a category

structure, technology, social

scheme that has some face

relations).

validity makes sense. But again, a

The distinction between the

concept is used here primarily to

organizational system and the

tell us something about a method.

organizational belief system seems

Theory is used only as a rationale.

absolutely basic. And, it is of central

OD writing should get us to ask

importance for understanding a method

new questions about basic, enduring

such as Stream Analysis. But is never


spelled out explicitly by Porras. Instead he
used the "system" idea to support the use
of different categories for classifying

problems, not merely tell us


the answers to questions raised by
methods.