The Doubling of the Double Task

Question: Can you please tell me, in as simple terms as possible, the meaning that you have for “the doubling of the double task”. I think I understand you and have visited your blog, but I’m not totally clear.
Response: The concept of double task that I am working with is referenced in footnote #2 in the blog on socio-technical open systems:

Bridger’s double task described the tension between the sentient “social needs and pressures of a responsive adaptive organism” and “the rational instrument engineered to do a job’ with its formal system of rules and objectives(Bridger 1990: p224). At the level of the individual, this double task became a matter of holding a parallel tension between external tasks and personal concerns with the role and personal relationships generated by them, i.e., between the normative and the personal. Doubling the double task retains the distinction between these levels and the need to question their relation.

I gloss this double task as holding the tension between the personal (“social needs and pressures of a responsive adaptive organism”), which we can refer to as existential (Reed 1976), and the normative role (the rational instrument engineered to do a job).  Of course the normative definition of a role reflects the espoused theory of the enterprise, while the phenomenal definition (Reed 1976), in asking what is going on from the perspective of a fly on the wall, is opening up the question of the theory-in-use (Argyris and Schon 1978: p11).
The doubling of the double task comes from considering the way the larger context defined by the enterprise as a whole has its way of being in relation to the customers for whom it is creating value. The theory-in-use is a theory of action implicit in the way ‘things are done around here’ in an enterprise, something we refer to as the ‘culture’ of an enterprise to which those taking up roles within it are (expected to be) affiliated (i.e., the raison d’être of the enterprise).  With this distinction in mind, we can work back from the definition of an associative unconscious:

“The associative unconscious is understood as being part of a dynamic system of meaning-generating processes (semiosis), both conscious and unconscious, which, being evolutionary processes, extend back in time and project forward infinitely into the future.” (Long and Harney 2013: p20)

The scope of this associative unconscious is much wider than that engendered by the enterprise through both its theory-in-use and its espoused theory. For those individuals affiliated to the enterprise, the circular dynamics between these two form the way the enterprise relates to the associative unconscious.  Each individual may thus have his or her organization-in-the-mind, but there will also be the enterprise as a bounded entity with its raison d’être in the way it creates value for its customers:

The emotional experience of the organization as a whole is a function of the interrelations between task, structure, culture, and context (environment). Members contribute individually to this experience according to their personality structure. They also contribute anonymously in “basic-assumption” activity. At the same time, you could say that they are contributed to – that is, there is a resonance in them of the emotional experience of the organization as a bounded entity, both conscious and unconscious.” (Armstrong 2005: p6) Italics in the original.

In the doubling of the double task, therefore, the focus is not only on the double task facing the individual. There is also the double task facing the enterprise as a whole. On the one hand, the enterprise must conserve its identity, as articulated in “the interrelations between task, structure, culture, and context (environment)”, implicitly if not explicitly defining its hermeneutic primary task (Mathur 2006). On the other hand, the approach to capturing value articulated in this hermeneutic primary task has to remain sustainable in a changing environment through the way it creates value:

“The hermeneutic primary task in an organization may be formulated in different ways but in all cases, the purpose is to legitimize this task for ongoing reflective engagement by members of groups in organizations to understand how the process of engagement with the normative primary task (NPT), the existential primary task (EPT) and the phenomenal primary task (PPT) affects harmony of groups relating with other groups in inter-group relatedness contexts of the organization as a concert. In dual primary task frameworks of institutions within and around organizations, designed to explicitly promote understanding of group relations, i.e., Bridger’s double task, this hermeneutic primary task (HPT) related to process can be as open and explicit as a normative primary task (NPT) designed around collectively valued purposes even though it is the HPT that is the raison d’être of an organization.” (Mathur 2006: pp1-21) Italics added

The more turbulent the environment of an enterprise, the more the definition of its hermeneutic primary task has to be open and explicit. Another way of defining an edge role, therefore, is one in which there is this doubling of the double task on the basis of the necessarily circular dynamics between the double task at the level of the individual and at the level of the enterprise as a whole.


Argyris, Chris, and Donald A. Schon. 1978. Organizational Learning: A Theory of Action Perspective (Addison Wesley: Reading, MA).
Armstrong, D. 2005. Organization in the Mind: Psychoanalysis, Group Relations, and Organizational Consultancy (Karnac: London).
Bridger, H. 1990. ‘Courses and Working Conferences as Transitional Learning Institutions.’ in E. Trist and H. Murray (eds.), The Social Engagement of Social Science (Free Association Books).
Long, S., and M. Harney. 2013. ‘The associative unconscious.’ in S. Long (ed.), Socioanalytic Methods: Discovering the Hidden in Organisations and Social Systems (Karnac: London).
Mathur, A.N. 2006. ‘Dare to think the unthought known?’ in A.N. Mathur (ed.), Dare to think the unthought known? A Festschrift in Honour of Gouranga Chattopadhyay (Aivoairut Oy: Tampere, Finland).
Reed, B. 1976. ‘Organisational Role Analysis.’ in C.L. Cooper (ed.), Developing Social Skills in Managers: advances in group training (MacMillan: London).

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