Every Leader Needs a Challenger in Chief

Publicerat: september 14, 2013 | Sparat under: Aktuella frågor,Ledarskap

To develop an innovative and creative culture we need resistance and be challenged. Read an interesting article by Noreena Hertz in Harvard Business Review, 9 Sept, 2013.


Can people really be managed?

Publicerat: september 4, 2013 | Sparat under: Aktuella frågor,Ledarskap

International Journal for Commerce and Management Vol. 23 (3), 2013

Charles (Kalev) Ehin, Ph.D.

Westminster College, Salt Lake City, Utah, USA


Purpose – To present a general framework for the comprehension and advancement of sociocultural homeostasis (not to be confused with a steady state but a dynamic constantly evolving process) in order to increase worker engagement, productivity and innovation within our enterprises.

Design/methodology/approach – The latest research findings in neuroscience, social neuroscience, and social network analyses are used to determine what types of organizational dynamics best support voluntary worker engagement.

Findings – Offers convincing evidence why certain organizations prosper while others falter depending on their knowledge and advancement of sociocultural homeostasis principles.

Practical implications – Provides practical suggestions in how to move an organization from an environment of structure and compliance to one reliant on emergence and individual commitment.

Social implications The general framework/models presented in the paper can be applied to any social institution (for profit or non-profit) interested in boosting member voluntary engagement.

Originality/value – It is a unique work suggesting how to apply the latest research findings in the rapidly advancing fields of neuroscience and social neuroscience to business management in order to increase productivity and innovation. It also shows how to identify and expand the organizational sweet spots (emergent innovative/productive organizational domains defined by the author) and their vital importance to the success of every venture.

Keywords – Complex adaptive systems, emergence, organizational sweet spot, self-organization, social neuroscience, sociocultural homeostasis.

Category – Conceptual paper.

Emergent Mutually Supportive Relationships

Increasing rates of technological advancements have made societies progressively more dependent on artificially created entities, both visible and virtual. In the process we tend to ignore the biological basis of our existence and how we innately relate to one another. Therefore, it is to our advantage that we grasp the fact that the physiological process of homeostasis extends far beyond our bodies. That is, we also constantly seek to maintain dynamic equilibrium within our immediate social environments.

Think for a moment about your most memorable work and life experiences. What aspects of those events ultimately surface as most meaningful? My guess is that the episodes are closely linked to mutually rewarding relationships. “Things” seldom enter the picture.

However, nearly all business schools, at least at the introductory levels, are still focused on the four functions of management—planning, organizing, leading and controlling. These functions were originally introduced by the two most prominent management gurus at the beginning of the 20th Century—Frederick Taylor and Henri Fayol. The functions of management are artificial constructs providing little help with the underlying invisible social dynamics of management and its emergent systems.

We are now firmly anchored in the Knowledge Age (Ehin, 2000). So, why is there seldom mention in the classroom and boardroom of the importance of mutually supportive relationships based on the latest findings in social neuroscience and evolutionary psychology? After all, relationships are such an important part of human nature and one of the most critical components of increased productivity and innovation (Cacioppo and Patrick, 2008).

Why? Maybe because it is hard to stop a charging rhino. That is, old habits and beliefs are hard to break. It may also be that relationships are intangible and, therefore, are seldom, if ever, included in financial statements and other business reports.

More specifically, Michael Shermer (2011) in his latest work, The Believing Brain, concludes that, “On one edge, our brains are the most complex and sophisticated information processing machines in the universe, capable of understanding not only the universe itself but also the process of understanding. On the other edge, by the very same process of forming beliefs about the universe and ourselves, we are also more capable than any other species of self-deception and illusion, of fooling ourselves even while we are trying to avoid being fooled by nature.”

Also, in Everything Is Obvious, Duncan Watts (2011) illustrates how common sense reasoning and history often mislead us to believe that we understand more about human behavior than we actually do. This, of course, is why efforts to predict, manage, or manipulate social systems so often fail.

Consequently, it is extremely important to keep in mind that organizations are composed of emergent social networks, rather than artificial structures as visualized and arranged by management.  These networks are organic self-organizing entities, not machines. They can be influenced but not controlled.

Thus, human nature should receive the utmost attention instead of machine metaphors like the Industrial Age functions of management. What is most disturbing about the lack of focus on our evolved predispositions is the fact that most work in any enterprise is accomplished within informal networks with scant management oversight.

People are constantly looking for places where the focus of each individual’s frame of mind shifts from avoiding the ”dreaded power of the boss” to ”engaging and enjoying the power of the surrounding, and continually evolving, mutually supportive relationships.” Therefore, what is essential is the development of organizational context that facilitates the emergent use of unique individual skills and talents in concert with other individuals. It is a case of compliance versus commitment.

The major factors in this churning process are the sharing of tacit knowledge (un-codified knowledge grounded in personal experiences), the expansion of social capital (goodwill provided to informal network members through valuable information, influence, and cohesion) and human nature (fundamental evolved predispositions constantly differentiating between hostile and hospitable stimuli). These factors will be explained in more detail later in the paper.

Further, we seem to consciously and unconsciously reflect on the here and now and the future almost simultaneously. In effect, we try to constantly balance the current with what lies ahead on the horizon. At the same time, as Timothy D. Wilson (2002) points out in Strangers to Ourselves, at any given point in time our minds can take in about 11 million bits of information. What’s most significant about this statistic is that we are only consciously aware of not more than forty of these pieces of information. What this means is that each person must first interpret a given situation (process, problem, opportunity or work environment) in their own particular way before they can or will take some meaningful action. So, how can all this be managed?

We can safely conclude that traditional management concepts seldom work any longer, especially when it comes to knowledge workers. That is mainly due to the continued use of cause-and-affect theoretical paradigms. People are not machines. Rather, we are all self-organizing entities from our DNA molecules to our interactions with the external world.

More specifically, studies of breakthroughs in neuroscience by Rock and Schwartz (2006) lead them to the following conclusion related to organizational transformations:

  • Change is pain. Organizational change is unexpectedly difficult because it provokes sensations of physiological discomfort.
  • Behaviorism doesn’t work. Change efforts based on incentive and threat (the carrot and the stick) rarely succeed in the long run.
  • Humanism is overrated. In practice, the conventional empathic approach of connection and persuasion doesn’t sufficiently engage people.
  • Focus is power. The act of paying attention creates chemical and physical changes in the brain.
  • Expectation shapes reality. People’s preconceptions have a significant impact on what they perceive.
  • Attention density shapes identity. Repeated, purposeful, and focused attention can lead to long-lasting personal evolution.

Additionally, evolutionary psychology and social neuroscience are converging (Cacioppo and Patrick, 2008). Thus, if we want to expand the innovative capacities of our organizations we need to pay much closer attention to our biological foundations. Reinventing traditional methodologies will not help us advance any further, even if they may have given us some success in the past. New research of the brain and DNA is helping to rewrite not only the origins, but also the innate behavior of our kind. That is where our attention should also be from a business perspective.

So, can people really be managed since every individual and group sees the world a little differently? I’ll attempt to answer that question by the end of this paper. In the final analysis, what I suggest is that we start paying much closer attention to Mother Nature and leave the functions of management where they belong, on the pages of history books. Accordingly, the intent of this paper is to help advance a comprehensive framework for the understanding and advancement of “sociocultural homeostasis” (a term coined by Antonio Damasio, 2010) within our enterprises and extended business networks.

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