Individuals are having to adapt to taking up roles within Networked Collaborations

by Philip Boxer

The presentation describing this pathway within the 3rd epoch domain explores how are individuals to adapting to taking up roles within networked collaborations?

To be edge-driven, individuals must be driven more by the outcomes they can secure for their clients than by any existing role definitions.  Doing as much as possible for the client without jeopardising the sustainability of the organisation means engaging critically with existing understandings, developing a ‘nose’ for the dilemmas faced in creating value for clients, and learning that links the challenges their clients face to the challenges they themselves are prepared to face.

Social networks are known to disrupt existing institutional affiliations.  The kinds of identification that they support are not based on shared ideals but on making common cause, in which there is a shared relationship to a situation marked by some particular challenge – a ‘something missing’. The challenge for the individual is how to place these affective networks within the context of the other forms of identification through which they take up their being, including such things as living in a loving relationship and holding down a job.

Historically, any anxiety that an individual might feel was something for them to manage personally, so that they were better able to engage with the challenges of their role(s).  When individual’s roles bring them into relation with clients at the edges of an organisation, however, the affective networks that emerge around there being ‘something missing’ may contain the seeds of important learning for the organisation as well.  The more dynamic and multi-sided are the demands in relation to which the organisation is seeking to create value, the more important this learning can become for the organisation. The challenge for the individual, therefore, is not to go off and ‘sort themselves out’ so that they can do their job better, but rather to use their valency for there being ‘something missing’ to investigate of what it might be a symptom.

Approached in this way, a ‘something missing’ becomes a value deficit; and in order to investigate of what it might be a symptom, it becomes necessary to distinguish the way in which what is going on (wigo) is being contained from whatever remains ‘beyond’ or ‘missing’, which we can refer to as what is Really going on (wiRgo). Not that it is ever possible to know what is Really going on, but wiRgo becomes a way of pointing towards a deficit that lies outside or beyond the existing ways of containing wigo, i.e. giving meaning to wigo, and thus beyond the container’s organising assumptions. It will be these organisation assumptions that will be determining norms of behavior within an organisation, so if these are to be challenged successfully, then investigation will involve looking more closely at how the container contains wigo.

When an individual speaks of a situation that they are experiencing, there will be the firstness of how s/he in particular feels about it, its secondness that will be what can be apparent to any observer, and the thirdness through which its meaning is contained.  This thirdness frames the way meaning is made through the way it applies its organising assumptions.  There are then different kinds of thirdness which form a cycle from which innovations may emerge: a frame may be accepted as right because it feels right (1st kind), because of who says it is right (2nd kind) or even because everyone agrees that it is right and ‘how could it not be right’ (3rd kind). Finally, there is the possibility of doubting the rightness of any of these first three kinds of thirdness (4th kind), this preparedness to include doubt being the necessary condition for pursuing any investigation. It is the roots of this doubt in the individual’s personal valency for feeling that there is a ‘something missing’ that enables that individual to take an investigation forward.

Thus are the conditions set for adapting to and taking up roles in networked collaborations: no-one can be assumed to know best, it cannot be assumed that there is one right way to frame the situation, and any investigative process must be open to including firstnesses and secondnesses that were previously considered not to be relevant. This gives rise to the need for a plus-one process in which any given situation is approached as presenting at least one dilemma, with the value deficit being what continues to fall between the horns of the dilemma.  The work of approaching this dilemma (or these dilemmas) has to get past two crises, the first being to take the existing framing to the limits of its ability to provide effective answers to what’s ‘missing’, the second being to accept that the existing framing must ultimately be set aside if something new is to emerge.  The second of these crises is the most difficult to overcome because it demands that the individual take personal responsibility for tackling what’s missing, not to leave it to others and not to expect this to cost them personally in some way.

These are very great challenges for an individual to face. Even though the penalty of not facing them will ultimately be toxic for the wider system in which the ‘something missing’ is arising, this is small comfort in the short term.  The temptations of defenses against anxiety thus offer much greater immediate benefits than the challenges of overcoming the wider system’s defenses against innovation. Meeting these challenges means exercising leadership in a way that is tripartite, giving weight to the importance of addressing value deficits while not abandoning the vertical constraints to which any new kind of response must be subject if it is to be sustainable.  It remains therefore for the individual to understand how the wider system will resist change while accepting that the arguments for change must be won both with respect to existing ways of framing and with respect to overcoming the personal costs of so doing.

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