What identifications are supported on dispersive ground?

by Philip Boxer

The conditions for triple-loop learning require that the enterprise becomes edge-driven. This places it on dispersive ground.  The identifications that need to be supported on dispersive ground are those involving triple-loop learning.  These identifications keep the organisation on the deliberative ground of politics on which differences can be worked through within East-West dominant forms of governance.[1] Failure to achieve this leads to three other kinds of competitive behavior (Tai Chi, Sumo and Samurai), the consequences of which become most apparent in warfare.

Consider the balance between the will of the people involved with a membership organisation (ranging from a majority to particular networks of members) and the means acceptable to the people of the organisation (ranging from by-any-means to means restricted by the extent of collateral damage).  This is based on military ways of thinking about the relation between different types of warfare and politics.  It provides an insight into what is at stake for the leadership of an organisation dealing with growing differentiation in the demands of its members. With alignment, there is a symmetry between the will of the members and the means adopted by the organisation.  Without alignment, there is an asymmetry.

Looked at it in this way,

  • Insurgent operations are the consequence of not responding to members’ demands for differentiation of behavior, combining the limited will of a network of members with no restraints by them on the damage they inflict on the ‘others’ who do not agree with them (i.e. being on difficult/bad, serious/deep or frontier ground).
  • Effects-based operations are the response by the majority of the people of the organisation to suppressing the will of those who do not agree with the majority, a highly targeted response that limits collateral damage beyond the networks in disagreement (i.e. being on focal/intersecting, encircled or communicating ground).

The danger of either asymmetric response arises from its enabling the organisation to postpone responding to and providing support for the growing heterogeneity in the way members meet demands. The challenge, of course, is for the organisation only to accept asymmetric responses as being on the way to operating on the dispersive ground of ‘politics’, ground on which growing difference may be lived with and supported – presenting leadership with the task of leading an organisation without boundaries.

These ‘nine-varieties of ground’ make it possible to distinguish three kinds of competitive behavior, depending on the nature of the ground.  The fourth ‘political’ kind involves developing leadership qualities that overcome the North-South bias:

  • Tai Chi – do not confront the other’s organisation on its terms – most appropriate on encircled ground (aka effects-based operations).
  • Samurai – challenge the other’s behaviour ruthlessly wherever you meet it – most appropriate on serious/deep ground (aka insurgency).
  • Sumo – dominate the chosen ground by weight of presence – most appropriate on death ground (aka the other’s attrition).

Death ground is ground defined by the organisation’s formation being defined wholly by its affiliation to a past intent and not by its relation to the current situation(s) on the ground – it is as if the organisation has no choice but to fight to the death, which in an environment demanding dynamic alignment is very likely to be its own death!

[1] Deliberative process is not to be confused with consultative process.

  • Deliberative democracy holds that, for a democratic decision to be legitimate, it must be preceded by authentic deliberation, not merely the aggregation of preferences that occurs in voting. Authentic deliberation is deliberation among decision-makers that is free from distortions of unequal political power, such as power a decision-maker obtained through economic wealth or the support of interest groups. If the decision-makers cannot reach consensus after authentically deliberating on a proposal, then they vote on the proposal using a form of majority rule.” This is taken up in Robert’s Rules of Order: “Out of early American legislative procedure and paralleling it in further development has come the general parliamentary law, or common parliamentary law, of today, which is adapted to the needs of organizations and assemblies of widely differing purposes and conditions. The kind of gathering in which parliamentary law is applicable is known as a deliberative assembly. This expression was used by Edmund Burke to describe the English Parliament, in a speech to the electorate at Bristol in 1774; and it became the basic term for a body of persons meeting (under conditions detailed on pp. 1-2) to discuss and determine upon common action.”  (11th edition) page xxix

This is in contrast to consultative process:

  • “A consultative approach is a means of achieving stakeholder involvement and commitment. Decision making remains the responsibility of top leaders, but only after key stakeholders have been consulted. The results and how they are obtained are both important.” (quoted from this glossary.) “With a consultative style of management, a more paternalistic form is also essentially dictatorial. However, decisions take into account the best interests of the employees as well as the business. Communication is again generally downward, but feedback to the management is encouraged to maintain morale. It shares disadvantages with an autocratic style, such as employees becoming dependent on the leader.”

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.