Organisational epistemology

4th March 2019

Dear Sandu,

I had the greater joy, being able to be there for you and help you find the best role to open the possibility to do much more. As the artists understood long before engineers, once created, the artworks come to their own life, independent of the artist’s one. I came to understand recently that in fact we have been working together forever, as we were both working to create the same workmanship, that is above us. The fact that we are seeing each other and speaking with each other on a more frequent or infrequent base helps us to learn more, but also working alone or with others have benefits. But I am glad to see you more often, because as human beings we found a great joy on finding the opportunity to reward each other, including with good food and drinks.

I believe as well that imposture plays a major role at organisational level. Even more than you, I do not see it limited at the managerial level, but I see the same at technical level or in the way in which employees are embracing the values and mission of the organization.  I will differentiate the various types and named them accordingly – managerial imposture, technical imposture, cultural imposture. I totally agree with you that managerial imposture has the potential to dramatically affect the entire organisation and for me it seems to be more important than the technical one.  Meanwhile in the field of software development is quite easy for me to come with the example or architecture mistakes and to convince you that, at least in this field, the technical imposture is as well critically important. About the cultural imposture, I have a hunch that you agree with me in considering it more comparable in terms of impact to the managerial one.

Speaking about somethinh that I saw many times in many organisations that, I wonder if it is not somehow a natural phenomenon. Is the imposture a problem that could be solved by identifying its cause or is it inevitable?

In your hypothetic examples, but based on realities seen by both of us, you described successions of events that lead to imposture. I think that I could remind you of some other examples in which the transfer direction was not from technical competencies towards managerial competencies but from managerial towards cultural. Even with the events that you described, they are in a logical sequence, but I have doubts that are representing necessarily a causal chain as well. The key, you mentioned it yourself is: “you do not have very much time”. I know from my own experience that life runs in real time with no successive movements as in a chess game. Trust, as you described it, seems to be a binary value. I imagine trust as being more of a vague, continuous variable, with a certain distribution between 0 and 1. If you must decide in a limited time frame, you choose from the options you have even if none of them are completely 1. And if I know that I made choices with the value of trust different from 1, then I have doubts that trust is the cause of the problem.

In order to be able to completely understand the process, I asked myself: what is imposture? It means for me to be in a position incompatible with yourself. And that raises the question: how can you know that someone is an impostor? And this question does even have an answer? Maybe the scepticism has a sense not only at philosophical level, but at the organisational level too. The questions are difficult, so I will try to describe my logic argument to be able to learn something from it.

It seems to me that people could not realise by themselves that they are impostors, as Socrates also told us about the people in his cave allegory. People can realise the place where they are only after they kow a reference to report to it. But as well as in the Socrates story, the one who got out of the cave begun to understand, but those that decided to remain inside started to fear the one that got out.

From here the next step, as I learned from Socrates, is dialectics. Maybe imposture is not something constant, but appears in time due to organisational development? And maybe the contradiction between the man and the position is in fact the mechanism that ignites the cycle of development from one organization level to another. This is also a little bit ironic: you are trying to convince me that we must get rid of impostors and I am answering that we must produce more of them and more often. In my opinion both arguments can be true. It is a paradox that could be solved by adding the time dimension, because we can understand that we could not possible have the same person in both situations at the same time.

Inspired by BCG drawing used in marketing, I made a cycle of people’s life in organisations:
2019.03.04_About Change_graph EN
A new employee doesn’t know much but he or she is a hope, with a significant growth rate. The growth rate is not yet a result of their activity as it is a result of the one that picked them for the job. Once the knowledge accumulates, the results start to appear, and he or she becomes a star.  Their maximum capacity may be higher or lower the accumulation rate also differs from an individual to another. If those values are too small for the organisations, both hopes and stars will be replaced and forgotten. Based on Peter’s principle, after some time any star moves to the third quadrant and become an expert. This is a person that knows a lot of things but have no idea where to go to from here. The world will not stop for anyone, so knowledge has an inflation patern and gets old. When all the world is learning fast, the process is similar with monetary market. The expert will become a dinosaur that even if doesn’t forget what he or she knew, has not the same value.

Choosing the names for the four quadrants, I realised that even if I was using the word trust in relation with the people that I chose or kept over the years, this word doesn’t quite describe the reality, but I used it mainly for my inner peace. When one finds a promising new employee, we use the word trust – I’ll put my trust in you – but in fact you are just having hopes regarding him or her because deep within you have doubts and you hope that they will confirm your expectation. If the person that you choose has enough capacity, he or she will become a star and get to the position in which the organisation will invest in order to help him or her reach the maximum potential. You still use the word trust, but in this case is like you said: I have confidence that 1 plus 1 equals 2. When the innovation rate decreases you said that you need to trust because is convenient. You know that is not the same, but it is comfortable to hope that the situation will last for an indefinite period and you will have nothing to do. When it becomes a dinosaur, he or she will become a humanitarian problem. And you said is a trustworthy person as a recognition of previous results and as a form of compassion, even if you will not invest anymore in that person.

I believe that the manager decides based on how he or she estimates the actual knowledge and the evolution for each person. The problem of trust is not in this context an organisational problem but a managerial problem. The manager must have trust in his or her own decisions and his or her ego will help to feel better about those decisions. But the value of the organisation depends on the people knowledge, and this depends on the decisions to assign people to roles. In order to help the organisation, we must help the decision makers to make better decisions. This process includes both a strategy to assess the knowledge capacity and the innovative potential as well as a model for decision making, like a methodology that will control the process using a systemic approach.

How about the impostor? Who is the impostor in the above model? I say that the expert is the impostor. He or she is the one that doesn’t know what to do next. Their situation is comfortable, but inflation is inevitable. Without recognising it, the organisations and decision makers are fighting this phenomenon by hiring new people or by buying companies, with the hope that these strategies will help the organisation to produce new stars. Those actions do not change the problem with the expert, they are only making the things more complicated. There is a positive part to this solution: the offer chances to discover new stars that could develop new domains even wider and interesting than those coverd by the experts. At the same time those actions assure a certain comfortability for the decision makers.

Can we find a better solution? If we want an organisation with an indefinite life span, longer than the lifespan of the people within it, maybe the appearance of new people is the key. Apparently, these methods are relaying on luck thus are not sustainable.  But luck can not be excluded, as a landslide over the headquarte can prove, so what is the role of sustainability in this case? Our mission is not to exlude luck, but to help the organisation to recognise it and use it. So, I think we must invest some time to think of better solutions and to apply them consciously and systematically. I have all the trust that more can be done, and here I am using the word trust with its right meaning, because I have yet no proof.

 

With hope,

Christian

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