Working forensically with toxic thinking: what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger

Title: Working forensically with toxic thinking: what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger
Author: Philip Boxer
Category: Presented at ISPSO Annual Meeting Rome 2015

In an increasingly networked world, enterprises are being expected to organise around the individual needs of the customer. This is easy to say but difficult to do. Take, for example, the challenges facing the car industry. To quote a recent McKinsey interview with Bill Ford:

“It used to be that the auto industry, and the car itself, were part of a self-contained ecosystem. If there were breakthroughs, they were developed within the industry … that’s all been turned on its head; we now have disruption coming from every angle, from the potential ways we fuel our vehicles to the ownership mode. We have a whole generation that just wants access to vehicles as opposed to ownership … the reality is that we will not own, or develop, most of the connectivity technologies involved. So we have to be a thoughtful integrator of other people’s technologies and understand where we add value.” (Kaas and Fleming 2014)

In such highly networked worlds, collaboration is the new normal. The dilemma faced by Ford is between ‘developing our own technologies’ (i.e. going it alone) and ‘integrating other people’s technologies’ (i.e. collaborating), except that Bill Ford is arguing that the former approach will no longer work. A version of this dilemma experienced by a manager would be between ‘if I develop our own technology I know I’ll have a job, but it won’t be so good for the enterprise’ and ‘if I use that technology I’ll be working myself out of a job’. For the manager, other people’s technologies will be toxic to the organisation as the manager knows it, but the point made in the interview is that such thinking by the manager will be toxic to the survival of Ford. The manager’s response to what is perceived as a toxic environment is in defence of the organisation he knows, which supports his identity as a manager. Even though the ‘bad’ choice of using other people’s technology may not be dismissed directly as being toxic, it may still be excluded because it ‘feels wrong’ despite there being arguments in its favour. Choices that are felt in this way to be toxic to the organisation are killed off not by a single act of dismissal but rather by the cumulative effects of many small exclusions, micro-aggressions against forms of thinking and behaviour that are felt to be alien. The manager, in holding on to particular ways of judging what is appropriate for the enterprise, is reflecting the affect he attaches to its way of giving meaning to his work. The construction of this containing will use concepts supported by the manager’s particular ‘feel’ for what is right, the roots of which will be in his particular unconscious relation to it aka libidinal investment in that construction. Such thinking, however, can paradoxically be toxic both to his own future and to the future of the enterprise. The libidinal economy of an enterprise may thus unconsciously kill off good ideas that are essential to the survival of the enterprise. Working psychoanalytically in an enterprise to prevent such ‘murders’ therefore demands a ‘forensic’ way of working, in which careful attention must be paid to the way such dilemmas are contained, or not. This involves questioning the affects unconsciously attached to existing constructions that link them to their consequences for the enterprise – ‘forensic’ because the motives of such ‘murders’ are never obvious! The paper explores the difficulties encountered in challenging existing libidinal investment in particular ways of organising – the libidinal economy of an enterprise. To do this, it examines an example of an enterprise that stood accused of toxic thinking, in this case of institutional racism.

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The Governance of Specialist Care: a question of ethics?

Title: The Governance of Specialist Care: a question of ethics?
Author: Philip Boxer
Category: Presented at OPUS Conference 2014

This paper describes a two-year intervention within an organization providing residential care for men and women with mental health disabilities. This intervention, in support of the CEO and senior management team, took place during the mid-90’s when the UK Government was engaged in de-institutionalisation, making the transition to Community Care and instituting internal market reforms. The intervention itself was concerned with supporting innovations in the way the work of the organization supported the lives of its residents. These innovations were necessary to the continuing viability of the organisation as a specialist care organisation. The paper is written from the perspective of 20 years later, making it possible to contrast the hopes and aspirations of both the consultants and the client at the time of the intervention with what actually happened to the organisation subsequently. The paper describes the way the authorisation of the consultants was drawn from the consulting approach. It describes the orthogonality that this demanded of the consultants, through which underlying dilemmas could be surfaced about the nature of the client system’s work. Three issues emerged from the intervention that are addressed by the paper: firstly, the nature and complexity of the client system in its networked environment and the extent of the innovation that this demanded (Trist 1977); secondly, the nature of the consulting approach involved in responding to this demand; and thirdly, the implications this approach had for the governance of the client system (Hoggett 2006). From the perspective of 20 years later, it is not a surprise that the social defences against anxiety won out over the desire for innovation(Long 2006). This gives rise to a fourth issue however: what change in the relationship to the unconscious was being expected of the governance of the client system, what kind of courage did this demand, and what were the unconscious dynamics underlying the Trustees’ refusal to innovate(Boxer 2013c)? The paper concludes by considering the nature of orthogonality and the change in the relationship to the unconscious that this demanded of the governance of the client system, a change that involved an ethics that could move from ‘defending against anxiety’ to ‘being true to desire’ (Lacan 1992 [1959-1960]; Lacan 2014[2004]). The paper concludes by considering the implications these ethics have for a different kind of group relations experience that can explore the existential impact of such changes, so necessary in networked environments.

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The Governance of Specialist Care: a question of ethics?

by Philip Boxer BSc MBA PhD

This paper, presented at the OPUS 2014 Conference, describes a two-year intervention within an organization providing residential care for men and women with mental health disabilities. This intervention, in support of the CEO and senior management team, took place during the mid-90’s when the UK Government was engaged in de-institutionalisation, making the transition to Community Care and instituting internal market reforms. The intervention itself was concerned with supporting innovations in the way the work of the organization supported the lives of its residents. These innovations were necessary to the continuing viability of the organisation as a specialist care organisation.

The paper is written from the perspective of 20 years later, making it possible to contrast the hopes and aspirations of both the consultants and the client at the time of the intervention with what actually happened to the organisation subsequently. The paper describes the way the authorisation of the consultants was drawn from the consulting approach. It describes the orthogonality that this demanded of the consultants, through which underlying dilemmas could be surfaced about the nature of the client system’s work. Three issues emerged from the intervention that are addressed by the paper: firstly, the nature and complexity of the client system in its networked environment and the extent of the innovation that this demanded; secondly, the nature of the consulting approach involved in responding to this demand; and thirdly, the implications this approach had for the governance of the client system.

From the perspective of 20 years later, it is not a surprise that the social defences against anxiety won out over the desire for innovation. This gives rise to a fourth issue however: what change in the relationship to the unconscious was being expected of the governance of the client system, what kind of courage did this demand, and what were the unconscious dynamics underlying the Trustees’ refusal to innovate? The paper concludes by considering the nature of orthogonality and the change in the relationship to the unconscious that this demanded of the governance of the client system, a change that involved an ethics that could move from ‘defending against anxiety’ to ‘being true to desire’. The paper concludes by considering the implications these ethics have for a different kind of group relations experience that can explore the existential impact of such changes, so necessary in networked environments.

On stratification

by Philip Boxer PhD

Why the interest in stratification?
A colleague, Simon Western, referred me recently to Actor-Network Theory and the work of Bruno Latour in the context of a conversation about the behaviour of health care networks.

  • His point was that the value of this approach was in the way it focused on ‘following the interactions’, including in a network anything that “modifies a state of affairs by making a difference”.[1] Physical objects that constrain or enable interactions are thus just as important in defining a network as are human actors.  His observation was that standardisation, while restrictive if it became overly prescriptive and bureaucratic, could be liberating, “underpinning all successful business networks”.  Just enough standardisation was the key, for without minimal standardised interfaces, nothing happened.  His examples were:
    • Ryan air- the biggest airline in Europe, grown from nothing on the basis of standardisation creating behaviour change from all stakeholders, to grow a huge network of passengers and air travel;
    • McDonalds- standardised processes, fueled by entrepreneur franchise ownership + fantastic supply chain networks
    • Facebook and Twitter – phenomenal growth through simple standardised frames for individuals to fill with their own personalised content
  • I commented that I thought standardisation per se was insufficient in understanding what made networks effective, the issue being to understand their stratification.  Thus standardisation operated within some of the strata of a stratification and then in different ways depending on the nature of the relationship to demand that the network as a whole was mobilising.[2]
  • His response was that my use of strata and layers spoke more of an engineering project, geology or construction site rather than the fluid complexity of networks. Following Latour’s understanding of networks, his point was that “standardisation and structure are actants within networks, but not the architecture of them.”

So here we were with what looked like a disagreement – follow the networks of interactions and the worlds they construct versus how are the worlds of networks built? In what follows, I explore the ways in which there is no disagreement between these positions.

Follow the networks of interactions and the worlds they construct
In relation to what does a network form?  A useful place to start here is the social object.  An example of a social object would be the condition of a patient[3], but the condition encountered as an event – some singular moment in which there is something about the condition that disrupts existing understandings and/or irrupts in a way that insistes on being attended to [4].  A social object represents a particular affective relation to a situation in which some aspect of the situation itself is experienced as complex, question-generating, endlessly unfolding and incomplete.  The social object is to be distinguished from a ‘real’ object, being like a flag around which people may gather allied in relation to the situation that the flag signifies.[5]  Its efficacy in serving as a social object depended on there being a fit between the nature of its incompleteness and the individuals’ own experience of lack – an identification between some aspect of an individuals’ unconscious lack and the imaginary form given to it by the social object.[6] This ‘gathering around’ takes the form of a network of interactions that includes not only people as actants, but tools, technologies, ways-of-thinking and anything else that enables a current state of affairs to be modified by the differences it makes in the interactions. In the case of our patient, it is hopefully a gathering around the cause of addressing his or her condition.

Latour introduced the notion of punctualisation as a way of thinking about how actants are related to as ‘black boxes’[7]:

the way scientific and technical work is made invisible by its own success. When a machine runs efficiently, when a matter of fact is settled, one need focus only on its inputs and outputs and not on its internal complexity. Thus, paradoxically, the more science and technology succeed, the more opaque and obscure they become.

The definition of these black boxes ‘punctualise’ the actants between which interactions are taking place, and when there is some breakdown in the interactions, such black boxes are ‘depunctualised’ in the sense of being opened up themselves as a network. It is this relationship of embeddedness of networks as elements of networks that is described as a ‘stratification’.

Latour further distinguished a ‘real’ object “not by virtue of being tiny and fundamental, but by virtue of having an intrinsic reality that is not reducible to its sub-components or exhausted by its functional effects on other things.”[8] This is consistent with a view of all objects and systems as forms of novel emergence, even though it is convenient for many of such objects to be considered ‘objective’ in the sense of their existence being inter-subjectively agreed as independent of the observer .[9]

So now we have networks, each one formed by interacting actants allied by a relation to a social object the relation to which operates as the (final) cause of the network.  Such networks are stratified by the ways in which they are constituted in relation to embedded networks that are ignored so long as the network as a whole performs as expected in relation to its cause.

How are the worlds of networks built?
The ambiguity in this heading is intended.  We are interested both in finding ways of describing the way networks are punctualised into strata, and also interested in how new forms of punctualisation become possible in pursuit of new kinds of effect.  Latour identified a second type of  ‘intentional’ object that “has no interior of its own, but exists purely on the interior of some other object”.[8] The descriptions of interacting actants from which stratified networks are constructed have this intentional nature.[10] Looked at like this, it is possible to see why Simon was concerned.  In terms of the following diagram, by seeking to identify the ways in which structures might shape the ways in which actants interacted with each other, we would also be creating new understanding of the actants within the network itself. [11] How so?

actantsSuch structure structures an actant’s way of understanding his or her interactions with the network. The actant is subject to this structuring, over-determining the way that they attribute ontic status to their constructions.[12] Using this approach, three kinds of depunctualisation can be articulated in the ways in which these structuring structures structure the way actants’ constructions are made. These depunctualisations are particular to the actant’s subjection to the structuring structure that they embody.

These depunctualisations are referred to as asymmetries, producing a stratification of six types of embeddedness.  When this stratification is projected into the actant’s constructions, they articulate the embeddedness of underlying technologies in relation to the social objects of actants embodying demands within their contexts-of-use[13]:

  • The first asymmetry, separating a product/service from the technology embedded in it.
  • The second asymmetry, separating a solution delivered to a customer from the business organisation embedded in its processes of delivery.
  • The third asymmetry, separating the customer’s experience of the solution within their context-of-use from the customer’s demand.

When the delivery of a product/service, solution or experience is by a network that can be identified with a single organisation, its embedded behaviors describe a theory-in-use that may or may not correspond to what members of the organisation say they are doing.[14] When the relationships between these embedded behaviors become fixed by supply-side interests, they are fixed by an accountability hierarchy. [15]  The delivery of a particular customer’s experience is more likely, however, to be identified with a number of organisations operating as a network, describable also as a ‘system of systems’. [16] For such networks to function effectively, there has to be sufficient agility in the relationships between its embedded systems for them to be capable of being aligned dynamically in response to accelerating tempos in the emergence of new forms of demand. [17]

No disagreement?
Why should we not want to think about the ways in which networking is made impossible by the ways in which it is not possible to punctualise? The engineer in me wants to find ways of overcoming such impossibilities. But my colleague is right in pointing out that what always comes first must be the desire motivating the formation of the network.

Notes
[1] Bruno Latour (2005) Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory, Oxford University Press. p71
[2] Standardisation can be applied both to the way supply is coordinated and also to the way demand is defined in relation to the client/customer’s context-of-use. These two forms of standardisation have to be managed over a governance cycle. The examples of Ryan Air, McDonalds, Twitter and Facebook belong to particualr parts of that cycle in which there is competition on ‘customisation’ and/or ‘cost’.
[3] Accountable know-how in relation to the patient’s particular pathway is about much more than cost. The process of healthcare must be (and must be expected to be) a collaboration around a social object (the patient’s experience) in the full sense of the word. See Learning about Clinical Commissioning from the USA
[4] ‘Event’ is being used here “the problem of irregularity and indetermination, of the unforeseen and the unforseeable, of the eventually subversive and the disruptive.” See Parker, I. and D. Pavon-Cuellar (2014). Lacan, Discourse, Event: New Psychoanalytic Approaches to Textual Indeterminacy. New York, Routledge.
[5] This understanding of a social object is written about more fully in The social object – distinguishing Kleinian, ‘real’ and Lacanian objects. In explaining the basis of these social objects, Karin argued that the ‘real’ object came to serve as a social object to the extent that it supported a being-in-relation, mutuality or reciprocity between individuals on the basis of enabling temporal synchronisation or on the basis of establishing a shared temporal immediacy – individuals able to collaborate around a shared task, or individuals able to be present to each other in some situation (in contrast to the more familiar spatial synchronisation and immediacy of a face-to-face meeting). Furthermore, to the extent that this mutuality was experienced, it was experienced as a ‘We’-ness embedding the individual in a larger context, but derived from the nature of the shared situation rather than from an institutional affiliation.
[6] This understanding of the relation to ‘lack’ is developed further in a conversation on the refusal of (symbolic) castration. It is to be understood not in the sense of something unconsciously known but not yet brought to consciousness (an interpretive unconscious), but as something radically unknowable in relation to the unconscious per se – a real unconscious (in the sense of the Lacanian Real, not in the sense of ‘real’ reality). See Soler, C. (2014[2009]). Lacan – The Unconscious Reinvented. London, Karnac.
[7] Taken from Bruno Latour (1999) Pandora’s hope: essays on the reality of science studies. Cambridge, MA. Harvard University Press.
[8] Quoted from Harman, G. (2009). Prince of Networks: Bruno Latour and Metaphysics (Anamnesis). Melbourne, re.press. This is teh definition of novel emergence.  See later posting distinguishing novel emergence from hierarchy.
[9] This leads to an understanding of embedded strata of novel emergence as an effect of the interest and capabilities of the observer rather than an inherent property of that-which-is-observed. See Ryan, A. (September 2006). “Emergence is coupled to scope, not level.” Complexity – Complex Systems Engineering 13(2): 67-77. See the following series of postings.
[10] The ‘intentional’ nature of these objects may be understood as themselves networks that, in addition to their synchronic characteristics as a network, also have diachronic characteristics to do with the tempo at which they exhibit their behaviours, corresponding to a timespan of discretion. See Timespan of discretion and the double alignment of ‘know-how’.  For more on the significance of tempo, see [17] below.
[11] Category theory is one medium in which the relationships between these actants may be thought about. See A Categorial expression of Demand Asymmetry.
[12] The nature of such ontic assumptions are described in Describing what is going on (wigo)
The Oxford English Dictonary defined ‘ontic’ as follows: “Of or pertaining to knowledge of the existence or structure of being in a given entity.” Thus any ‘realist’ assertion of ontology is mediated by the ontic assumptions being made by the observer-entity making the assertion i.e. an ontology is built by an entity making ontic assumptions. The 4-quadrant model gives us a way of thinking about what kind of ontic assumptions the entity is making. The concept of the strategy ceiling further elaborates on the way these ontic assumptions are held by an entity in the form of stratified relations between the enterprise and demand.
[13] For more on these layers see 3 Asymmetries.
[14] These behaviors relate to each other in the form of a stratification of nested contexts which places the supply-side behaviors of the enterprise in relation to the demand-side contexts with which it interacts. Where such a relationship does not exist, we may say that the strategy ceiling of the enterprise prevents it. See The strategy ceiling.
[15] East-West dominance means having a business agile enough to support the particular relationships of embeddedness needed to sustain a relationship to the distinct forms of demand arising at its edges. Under these conditions, the 6-layer stratification is no longer usefully thought of as a hierarchy, but rather as a particular structuring of the alignment between supply and demand. Note that it is only by including the third asymmetry that the stratification can no longer be thought of as hierarchy. See When is a stratification not a universal hierarchy?
[16] Such networks involve distributed collaboration in a complex system-of-system multi-enterprise context over which there is no single source of control. See Enterprise Architecture for Complex System-of-Systems Contexts.
[17] The tempo at which an enterprise creates new uses for its systems is different from that of its acquisition or systems development processes. For example, the military continues to confront the issue of how fielded systems can support the agility needed by its deployed forces. This problem of diverging tempos applies to a variety of large-scale, software-reliant enterprises-such as those found in healthcare and digital communications. See Building Organizational Agility into Large-Scale Software-Reliant Environments.

Defences against innovation: the conservation of vagueness

Title: Defences against innovation: the conservation of vagueness
Author: Philip Boxer
Category: Submitted for Publication – not to be quoted

An individual newly joining an enterprise may experience it as a social defence system to which he or she must react and adapt. For the nurses in Isabel Menzies-Lyth’s study, “in the process of matching between psychic and social defence systems, the emphasis was heavily on the modification of the individual’s psychic defences”. A social defence system is, however, also “a historical development through collusive interaction between individuals to project and reify relevant elements of their psychic defence systems”. Menzies-Lyth underlines that the use of the organisation of an enterprise as a defence against anxiety is operated only by individuals. This approach has brought its clinical concepts, practices and focus on what enables interventions to be effective, approaching organisational entities through addressing the individual’s experience within a single enterprise, or, through the metaphoric use of psychoanalytic concepts to the enterprise itself as if it were an individual. Either way, the enterprise has been presumed to exist as a sovereign entity, paralleling the presumptions of a sovereign ego. How, then, are we to think psychoanalytically about the way in which the development of an enterprise interacts with an individual? The organisation of an enterprise used by its employees in support of their psychic defence systems is like the reef habitat used by its colonial organisms in support of their individual niches. The dynamic relationship of the coral reef with adjacent environments affects what forms of colonial organism it can support, but so too do the forms of colonial organism affect the topography of the coral reef. How does this translate into the individual-enterprise-environment dynamic? This paper considers the psychoanalytic implications of considering how cross-boundary conditions come to dominate intra-enterprise dynamics.

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Leading organisations without boundaries: ‘quantum’ organisation and the work of making meaning

Title: Leading organisations without boundaries: ‘quantum’ organisation and the work of making meaning
Author: Philip Boxer
Category: Published
Organisational & Social Dynamics 14(1) 130-153 (2014)

Digitalisation and the internet lead every client to expect more dynamic interaction with their situation, context and timing. Familiar examples from the perspective of the client are healthcare, financial services, air travel, mobile apps and the home delivery of food. An organisation that is interacting dynamically in different ways with each of its clients is best understood as being without boundaries. This paper uses a ‘quantum’ metaphor to think about this, considering each client interaction as a ‘quantum’. This leads to an understanding of the role of governance that can be ‘horizontal’ in its effects. Emery and Trist argued that while open-systems models enabled material exchange processes to be dealt with between the organisation and elements in its environment, “they did not deal with those processes in the environment itself which were the determining conditions of the exchanges… which were themselves often incommensurate with the organisation’s internal and exchange processes”. This led Emery and Trist to restrict the term “socio-technical” to ‘operative’ organisations, distinguishing them from ‘regulative’ or ‘referent’ organisations, which were instead focussed on inter-organisational behaviours within an ecosystem of organisations with differing interests. Accepting this difference means losing a direct identification between a physical system and the system of meaning that it reifies, forcing us to abandon the direct identification of boundary with container. In its place, the paper argues that the regulative or referent work of ‘quantum’ organisation has to be understood as one of making meaning within a larger ecosystem. The paper uses examples from healthcare to elaborate on this use of the ‘quantum’ metaphor, and draws conclusions about the leadership needed by these organisations without boundaries.

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Betraying the citizen: social defences against innovation

Title: Betraying the citizen: social defences against innovation
Author: Philip Boxer
Category: Conference Paper
ISPSO Annual Meeting, Santiago, Chile 2014

“Affordable healthcare is a right of each citizen, not a privilege for those who can afford it.” The quote refers to the intent behind President Obama’s 2010 signature legislation, the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The struggle by the US Congress in 2013, which included the temporary shutting down of Federal Government, was part of an attempt by some Republicans to de-fund the ACA. It came as a surprise, therefore, to see the Government’s launch of the ACA website fail spectacularly, for with such a failure to innovate by Government, the citizen still pays as a taxpayer for the failure, making such failures a betrayal of the citizen’s trust in Government. Government departments, like competing enterprises, work in silos, each one trying to defend itself against competing silos in order to secure the best possible future for itself. The market assumption is that if one such silo goes bankrupt because of a failure to innovate, the impact on the wider environment may be ignored. This is not the case where there are systemic interdependencies between the silos, however, as with healthcare. How, then, can the government be expected not to betray the citizen’s trust when faced with such a complex innovation? The paper uses the case to consider the difference between social defences against anxiety and social defences against innovation, proposing that it was the latter that led to the spectacular failure. The paper’s conclusions are on the implications of this difference for working with organisations needing to innovate to survive.

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Minding the gap – three moments of time

by Philip Boxer

How do we engage, describe and work without boundaries? How do we move beyond the familiar BART (boundary, authority, role, task) view of systems? And what does it mean to take up a network approach to leadership? A recent Regional Meeting of ISPSO in London took up these questions in terms of the ‘network-coach’ discourse, based on Simon Western’s work on Coaching and Mentoring[1]. This work very usefully distinguishes four kinds of discourse about the nature of coaching and mentoring, based on his research. This led Simon to ask me to clarify three ‘moments’ of time[2] that, while potentially facing a person in any one of these discourses, become particularly critical in the network-coach discourse.

Three moments of time
I described my work with a CEO who started our work together by describing a particular challenge he faced: he could not fit what his not-for-profit did into the normal kinds of business planning framework – service products, markets, competitive strengths and weaknesses, 5-year cashflow prediction etc. The not-for-profit was providing intensive social care, operating in the gap between the social services provided by the UK Government and individuals’ and families’ needs.

  1. The challenge he faced was a crisis for him that had arisen because of the planning framework his Board had asked him to use, which had defined a first moment for him[3] but which had brought about this first crisis – what the not-for-profit was actually doing did not fit the normal kind of business planning framework.
  2. The second moment[4] involved us working together to understand what was different about the economics of his not-for-profit, about how it needed to be organised differently, and about the different kinds of relationship this demanded between its employees and those to whom it provided care.  The result was a business plan that was accepted by the Board to form the basis of the next 5 years’ work by the not-for-profit, but also a second crisis – something else was needed if the not-for-profit was to develop different ways of actually behaving, a something else that was beyond any business plan. This second crisis was one in which the existing approach faces an impossibility.[5]
  3. So with this second crisis came a crunch time.  Something new was needed in the way the CEO engaged with the employees of the not-for-profit.  As it turned out, this inaugurated a third moment[6] in which a whole new challenge emerged initiating a new cycle of work aimed at addressing this challenge, but it took courage for him to accept this new challenge and ‘own’ the need to take it up.

These three moments of time and the two crises that separate them can be summarised as follows:

  • 1st moment: Accepting the stated problem/challenge and hoping that the existing approach will work.
  • 1st Crisis: Realising that the existing approach will not work on its own.
  • 2nd moment: Getting to grips with the details of the particular situation and adapting the approach to try to make it work.
  • 2nd Crisis: Realising that there is a fundamental limitation to the way the approach can be made to work.
  • 3rd moment: The persons involved put themselves ‘on the line’ in some way in order to act from something new that has the possibility of addressing the gap that has emerged.

These moments of time form a cycle of learning that is only bearable if the gap can be acknowledged – not hidden behind ‘solutions’. So in this case, the CEO works with the knowledge that the gap will always be there however good the ‘solution’ appears to be, and that by remaining aware of this gap, he can work with it while looking for the next gap to appear, which in turn will need to be acknowledged and worked through.

Minding the gap
This relation to the gap is what underlies Simon’s network-coaching discourse – realising that we don’t have neat boundaries, authority, role and task, that there is always a gap, and that the network society we live and work in presents us with increasing connectivity that pushes not towards identifying authority vertically in roles, but towards addressing horizontal rhizome-like power, power that is everywhere and yet cannot be pinned down. Simon’s conclusion was that, at best, we can find quilting points[7] that can anchor our relation to these networks for long enough to enable us to make good-enough sense and to act – until the next gap appears.

More on the second crisis
Further insight into what is involved in ‘minding the gap’ may be gained by looking more closely at the second crisis. This second crisis, corresponding to the ‘nightmare’ stage in a narrative structure [8], is frequently where people stop. In effect, what has happened is that a person has come to the end of conscious reasoning and may even be perfectly aware that what they are continuing to do makes no sense. But something stops them from going further.

This the second crisis can itself be divided into three moments:

  1. It is as if a higher authority has said: “Stop. Go no further. Not another word. It’s just not possible to go any further, and you are going to have to make do with what you have.” This is like a first moment within this second crisis.
  2. If the person continues, by saying “yes, but look what is going on. Surely things can’t be left like this. There must be something more that can be done.” This time, the stunned response from the higher authority is: “What do you want? What do you expect of me? Who are you to expect more to be done. Don’t you see how much is being done already? Stop making problems.” This is the second moment in this second crisis.
  3. Now comes the crunch. If the person still continues to insist that it must be possible to do something, then the question asked of the person moves to being their own question: “what do I want? What am I prepared to do about this situation that feels so wrong. I am going to have to go beyond what I know here if I am to do something more.”[9] This is the third moment in this second crisis that leads directly into the third moment.

What does this say about the nature of the challenge faced in minding the gap? It is that this gap is experienced as a [small-d] desire to do more, to go beyond what is known in the service of doing something more. In lacanese, to ‘mind the gap’ in this sense is to take up the ethical imperative to be true to [big-D] Desire – an ethic that demands that the subject ‘pays with their being’ in the sense of putting themselves on the line in some way.[10]

Notes
[1] Coaching and Mentoring: A Critical Text (2012) Sage.
[2] These three moments of time are based on the three moments in Lacan, J. (2006 [1966]). Logical Time and the Assertion of Anticipated Certainty: A New Sophism. Écrits: The First Complete Edition in English. New York, W.W. Norton & Co.
[3] The instant of the glance, ibid. This is the idea that you should be able to understand just by looking.
[4] The time for understanding, ibid. This involves having to work things out by thinking things through. The reasoning depends on the framework within which it is done.
[5] For more on the challenges of surfacing the nature of this impossibility, see working on the edges.
[6] The moment to conclude, ibid. The third moment is the moment in which the ‘challenge of the case’ is taken up, a new challenge that demands that the person puts themselves ‘on-the-line’ by going beyond what they know in choosing to take up the new challenge in their behaviour.
[7] These points of anchorage are ‘points de capitons‘ in Lacanese.
[8] For more on this, see “Betraying the citizen: social defences against innovation.” (2015) Organisational & Social Dynamics 15(1): 1-19.
[9] See Meeting the Challenge of the Case (in Casemore et al (eds) 1994 “What Makes consultancy work – understanding the dynamics” South Bank University Press pp358-371), in which Barry Palmer and I explore the nature of this challenge through a series of workshops. The nature of this challenge is taken from D.W. Winnicott (1965) Training for Child Psychiatry in “The Maturational Processes and the Facilitating Environment”. Hogarth Press., in which Winnicott argues that, if the child is to be helped, someone must be prepared to go beyond what they know…
[10] The reasoning behind these three moments within the second crisis comes from a session given during the course of Lacan’s XXVI 1978-79 seminar series on 8th May by Alain Didier-Weil in “A new theory of the Superego”. Didier-Weil, A. (1979). Nouvelle théorie du Surmoi. Book XXVI – Topology and Time. J. Lacan. unpublished.

The Governance of Quality

by Philip Boxer BSc MBA PhD
Over a period of three years, 1994 to 1997, I consulted to an organisation providing residential care for men and women with mental health disabilities.  This was in the middle of the changes taking place in the UK to introduce ‘internal markets’ and the de-institutionalisation deemed necessary to providing ‘Care in the Community’.

The work was undertaken together with Barry Palmer[1], and presented at the 1997 ISPSO Annual Meeting in Philadelphia under the title The Architecture of Quality. The work established a way of enabling the organisation to adapt its work to this newly emerging environment in which the proactive pursuit of individuals’ care in the community could be put first.  It did this by tackling the north-south bias in the architecture of the organisation and establishing the need for asymmetric forms of leadership capable of realising east-west dominant forms of governance.[2]

By 2001, the CEO and senior management team of the organisation had left, and the organisation had begun reverting to its previous role as a provider of sheltered accommodation.  A more recent paper describes the subsequent events that led to this eventual outcome – The Governance of Quality. One response to this more recent paper would be to characterise the Trustees of the organisation as lacking courage.  But why should a Board of Trustees choose

  • innovating to deliver new levels of service to residents at lower cost while having to learn a whole lot of new ways of doing things, and
  • dealing with a whole lot of compliance issues for which historically they knew accountability could be reliably ‘delegated’, but would no longer be able to be ‘delegated’ so easily?

The Trustees chose the entirely reasonable alternative of running the traditional model of providing accommodation plus basic services under the auspices of housing provision.  The Trustees passed the test of whether the alternative they chose was “reasonable”: a reasonable person could not have been expected to choose otherwise.  But was this work we were engaged in together about what was reasonable? To quote the CEO:

I would not want to just look at the Trustees’ behaviour and motivation. I also resisted stepping beyond my know-how. I carried resistance while simultaneously espousing doing different. This is why I think the link to extreme sports is a useful one and perhaps to courage in general[3]. What is it to do the right thing? And how does one ‘know’? I think that ideas have been under-emphasised in any leadership framework. Instead, the emphasis has been on emotional intelligence which, while being important, is just not enough – being ‘good’ does not guarantee that things will work better!

Two kinds of learning emerged about the intervention from looking back at the process overall:

  1. There was a parallel process going on from the beginning, in which the CEO was receiving personal support in coping with how he took up this new role, support that had preceded his new role.  Having taken up the role as CEO, I was consulting to him concurrently with this other support, my task being to help him develop ways of tackling the leadership challenge he faced.  The splitting of these two aspects of support to the CEO – containing anxiety and innovating – paralleled the way support to the organisation was split between the governance task facing the Trustees and the leadership task facing the CEO. The full implications of this split did not become apparent until 2001.  Barry and I were not able to work the parallel process effectively.
  2. The envisioning of internal markets and de-institutionalisation was accompanied neither by any understanding of how the transition should be managed, nor by any support for the transition itself.  The rhetoric was that all this should be ‘left to the market’.  Even had we addressed the split in our consultation to the organisation, Trustees and Management together would have had to act very strategically to survive the disruptions to funding that would have arisen during the transition – a transition that is still ongoing!  This was because the economics of an east-west dominant organisation are both different to and more complex than those of the north-south dominant form.

But there was something more that we learnt, in that what we thought was the challenge of the case turned out to be much more of a challenge than we realised at the time…

  • Yes, the way the intervention unfolded was hugely particular to the situated nature of both us and the organisation;
  • Yes, both Trustees and Management needed courage, although possibly not as much courage as that of residents resisting being ‘parked’ in their lives by the (counter-resistance of the) existing organisation; and
  • Yes, we consultants needed to grasp the fundamentally different kind of economics that were being engendered by operating explicitly in a turbulent environment in which residents had to be responded to one-by-one.

But beyond all of that,

  • We consultants needed to recognise that what was being demanded of us in our way of working was a relationship to anxiety that involved our being prepared to ‘pay with our being’ – to go beyond what we knew and to put ourselves ‘on the line’.[4] That had to include our relationships with each other, through which the parallel process would have needed to be worked much further [5]

Which brings us back to the place of anxiety, our courage in all this and the different nature of the relationship to anxiety involved in innovation.[6]  Again to quote the CEO:

What I also know now is the investment I had in ego psychology, which Barry perhaps shared. Nailing the attitude to anxiety was one of the most important things noted in both versions of the paper. Any work had to be anchored to making it better for patients, a ‘work’ that we all had to have an investment in.

Notes
[1] Alongside the paper on The Architecture of Quality, other relevant papers by or with Barry are Meeting the Challenge of the Case (except that in retrospect, the challenge of this case was more than we thought at the time!), In which the Tavistock paradigm is considered as a discursive practice (thinking about how to situate the approaches associated with Barry’s role with the CEO as manifesting a particular form of discursive practice), and The Tavistock Paradigm: Inside, outside and beyond (laying the foundations for a new set of questions to which we are still trying to find adequate responses).
[2] Simon Western addresses these forms of leadership in his writing on eco-leadership.
[3] This is a reference to current thinking going on about the role of courage in overcoming defences against innovation – see the conclusion to Counter-resistance is always on the side of the supplier-provider.
[4] Which we had nevertheless formulated in 1994 in Meeting the Challenge of the Case, even if we hadn’t realised the extent of it.
[5] This comes up as a central issue in facing the future of the psychoanalytic study of organisations.
[6] This is to be the focus of a forthcoming paper to be presented at the 2014 Annual Meeting of ISPSO in Santiago – ‘Betraying the citizen: social defences against innovation’.

The Governance of Quality: The case of the Specialist Care

Title: The Governance of Quality: The case of the Specialist Care Organization
Author: Philip Boxer
Category: Conference Paper
Publication Year: 2014
Where published: EURAM conference proceedings, if accepted

This paper describes a two-year intervention within an organization providing residential care for men and women with mental health disabilities. This intervention took place during the time when the UK Government was engaged in de-institutionalisation, making the transition to Community Care and instituting internal market reforms. The paper draws conclusions for consulting practice in the light of events during the course of the following five years. The intervention itself was concerned with supporting changes in the way the work of the organization supported the lives of its residents. Three issues emerged from this intervention: firstly, the nature and complexity of the client system in its context and the challenge this presented; secondly, the consulting approach involved in responding to this challenge, and thirdly, the implications the approach had for the governance of the client system. The paper’s conclusion considers the implications of the change in the relationship to anxiety that was being expected, and the kind of courage that this demanded.

Download the full paper

GETTING BEYOND THE DEFENCES AGAINST INNOVATION