Optionality – The Double-Edged Sword
Having asked some difficult questions in my previous post, and not found many clear answers, I’d also like to bring up the question of optionality.
I’m pretty sure that many people, particularly those of an implicitly violent predisposition, might rail against the idea of folks being free to choose whether to participate in change, and what changes to embrace or decline. Is this not a recipe for anarchy and the undermining of all discipline and authority?
Well, as I see it, folks choose whether to participate in change, and what changes they will each embrace or decline, in any case—whether they are nominally “free” to choose, or not. It’s just that in many situations, they keep their choices secret, and when their opting-out of certain changes IS somehow noticed, other folks remark on their apparent “disengagement”.
We can of course choose to treat people like children, coercing or otherwise motivating them to (pretend) to accept the changes.
But in organisations more Theory-Y in outlook, where the idea of treating people like consenting adults has more traction, is it not more congruent to make the optionality of involvement in change something clear and unambiguous? Might this not reap benefits in term of the health of the social fabric of the organisation? And might it not allow us all to see more clearly which changes have wide support, and which are seen as unhelpful or irrelevant?
“If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading”
― Gautama Buddha
I titled this post “…the Double-Edged Sword” because optionality cuts both ways. If folks are free to opt in or out of something, both options will likely have consequences.
I have found that folks often think deeply about the consequences of change (the opting-in to change choice) but little or not at all about the consequences of no-change (the opting-out of change choice). Ackoff refers to this phenomenon as “errors of commission vs errors of omission” and observes that people rarely get criticised for errors of omission (e.g. not taking a decision).
Whatever the reason, sticking with the status quo generally has at least as many consequences as opting for change.
Disclaimer: It would make my life a bit easier if folks could wake up to this.