An Organisation’s Leadership must sustain a Circulation of Discourses

by Philip Boxer

The presentation describing this pathway within the 3rd epoch domain explores what is demanded of an organisation to sustain being edge-driven?

The way individuals take up their identifications within the context of an organisation is subject to a three-way stretch between their investment in their own histories, the way their colleagues define what is in their interests, and the interests the organisation’s clients have in the way value is created. The cultural inertia of an organisation is determined by the way these different valencies interact with each other.  Changing their systemic balance is necessary to enabling sustained change.

An organisation is like a coral reef providing a habitat that supports different kinds of niche, each one defining roles that get occupied by individuals, the roles in each niche interacting with the roles in other niches to form a coral-reef ecosystem.  A coral reef is alive too, however, itself occupying a niche within a larger ecosystem with which it too is interacting.  If the coral reef dies, so too does the ecosystem it supports. An organisation thus faces a double challenge in the same sense as does a coral reef.  It needs to sustain itself as an ecosystem at the same time as sustaining its relationships with the larger ecosystem of which it is a part.

While a role may define the identity of a niche, an identification defines the way the niche supports an individual’s way of being. Thus while the leadership of an organisation might want individuals’ ways of being to be defined by the way its roles are defined, so too might individuals want the roles of an organisation to be defined by the ways-of-being that they bring to the organisation. In practice both processes are going on, so that in order to understand how niches relate to each other as an ecosystem, it becomes important to understand the different ways in which individuals take up their identifications per se

As economies become increasingly knowledge-based, our interest in sustaining being edge-driven arises because it means that an organisation must become effects-driven in the way it relates to its larger ecosystem.  In order to take up this form of the double challenge effectively, the organisation must be able to sustain the dynamic alignment of its behaviors to the demands of its clients one-by-one.  This means overcoming the cultural inertia of its existing social systems and counter-resistance to changing away from a previously one-sided relation to demand. Two things become important as a consequence.  The first of these is the way individuals’ identifications are supported by the organisation’s structures.  This is not just about the way the organisation defines roles but about the way individuals invest their personal valencies in those roles, roles and personal valencies in relation to each other being the way individuals take up their double subjection.  There are a limited number of ways in which this relation can be put together, each one defining a different kind of discourse.

The second thing that becomes important arises from the relationships between discourses. These relationships lock in relationships with others’ ways of being doubly subjected.  The result is a systemic effect in which any attempt to change the way an individual takes up their double subjection jeopardises the way an individual’s discourse has been supporting others’ ways of taking up their double subjection. Put the other way around, inertia and counter-resistance emerge when individuals seek to suppress changes in the way others take up their double subjection in order not to have their own discourse called into question.

The different kinds of relationship possible between the different discourses, giving rise to this systemic effect, constitute a libidinal economy of discourses (LeoD).  It is libidinal because of the way individuals are investing their personal valencies in roles; and it is an economy because the relationships between the discourses affect the forms of adaptation and learning available to the organisation. The LEoD thus provides a means of diagnosing the ways in which inertia and counter-resistance are mobilised in conserving existing identifications and thus provides a way of considering what forms of systemic intervention might be possible.

For an organisation to be able to sustain being edge-driven, there has to be a circulation of discourses in which learning and adaptation arises not from any one place in the LEoD, but through the way changes in any one discourse are able to trigger learning and adaptation elsewhere. This changes the work of leadership away from an approach based on holding individuals vertically accountable to its existing models.  In its place comes an approach to sustainability based on holding individuals horizontally accountable for responding to what remains missing in the way they are creating value for their clients.

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