I received a question yesterday, enquiring into my view on how organisations think about their issues, and whether they seek to address their issues directly, or “frame them in ways that others must bear responsibility”.
Firstly, some notes how I interpret the question (which may differ from the question the enquirer had in mind):
I don’t believe organisations “think”. Yes, they hold collective assumptions and beliefs, and come to decisions (or fail to). But think? Not really. It’s the individuals in an organisation that do the “thinking” albeit mostly System 1 thinking (cf Kahneman) and rarely System 2 thinking.
On second thought though, maybe organisations do, in a way, “think”. At least if we define thinking as “inner speech” then certainly organisations continually have and ongoing inner dialogue (folks within the organisation interacting verbally with each other). See: the Psychology Today (2010) article cited in Further Reading.
Framing Issues in Ways That Others Must Bear Responsibility
I take this phrase to mean “slopey shoulders”.
To the Question
Overall, I take the enquirer’s question to mean “do organisations, generally, tackle the issues facing them, or try to avoid facing them?”.
In my experience, most organisations approach issues (a.k.a. problems) in one of four ways (props to Russell L. Ackoff):
- Absolution: Do nothing and hope the issue goes away or resolves itself.
- Resolution: Tackle the issue in the same way as we have tackled similar issues in the past, or seek to apportion blame and excise the blamed, to find a “good enough” outcome.
- Solution: Tackle the issue using scientific methods, techniques, and tools to find the optimal outcome, or the closest one can come to it.
- Dissolution: Redesign the system or its environment so the the issue cannot arise. A.k.a. “Design the issue out”.
And by far the most common approach I have seen has been absolution, and occasionally, resolution.
The Organisation as a Whole
Each organisation, taken as a whole, seems to coalesce around one or two of these four approaches. That’s to say, the problem-solving meme in the organisation’s operant memeplex steers issue resolution into a preferred or habitual organisation-wide approach.
It’s difficult for a subset of an organisation to buck the trend and adopt an approach to tackling issues different from its containing organisation’s norm. This can promote organisational cognitive dissonance, with inevitable deleterious consequences. Skunkworks are one way to cocoon the subset, limiting the impact of said organisational cognitive dissonance.
Psychology Today. (2010). What Do We Mean by “Thinking”? [online] Available at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-voices-within/201008/what-do-we-mean-thinking. [Accessed 13 Oct. 2021]
Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, Fast and Slow. Farrar, Straus And Giroux.
Pendaran, Inc. (2019). What Do We Mean by “Solve the Problem”? [online] Available at: https://www.pendaran.blog/blog/2019/2/22/what-do-we-mean-by-solve-the-problem [Accessed 13 Oct. 2021].