The Inquiring Organization (BW)

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Exzerpte aus: Catherine Kano Kikoski und John F. Kikoski: The Inquiring Organization. Tacit Knowledge, Conversation, and Knowledge Creation: Skills for 21st-Century Oragnizations. London 2004. S.28f, 54f, 136f,


What happens to a manager's "book of standardized practices" in the disruptive, nonlinear Information Era of "batch production," "multiple-option," "niche" markets? Would it be advisable to rely on "pre-existing routines" and "standardized" practices in this new era, or innovation? Writing in a confidential report to senior executives in 1972, Toffler forecast that, in the future, more decisions would be individually made by employees at every level of AT&T:

A higher percentage of the decisions made by its managers, as well as its operators, lineman, installers, business representative and others, now require "non-programmed" thinking, evaluation and learning. More information about both the internal and external environment must be scooped up, assembled, analyzed and weighed before decisions can be made. More and more, the individual is faced with situations in which the implementation of an existing policy or procedure could lead to disaster. The individual is faced, in short, by situations in which he must invent a response. . . . The positive side of novelty is that it can elicit from employees and managers alike an enhanced level of creativity or imagination in their work—provided the structure encourages, rather than suppresses, this quality. Rising novelty ratios therefore demand both a new kind of management and a new kind of structure.

What Toffler presciently foresaw in the 1970s is self-evident today. Managers need to reconceptualize many of their management practices. The objective is to seek a new approach to management that encourages a heightened level of imagination and creativity from every individual at every level in an organization. Moreover, it may be that managers should not even attempt to draw up comprehensive, thorough, and detailed "rational" plans for their organizations. As Jack Welch learned from 19th-century Prussian military strategist Johannes von Moltke, in battle, "circumstances inevitably change." Perhaps endeavors like business that seek to understand, plan for, and deal with discontinuous events in very changeful circumstances are better explored via a back-and-forth fluid process in the between of individuals that surfaces unique inferences. Such an open approach lends itself to surfacing ideas that fit unique circumstances rather than a lock-step process whose aim is comprehensive generalization.

In today's current environment, it would be advantageous for managers to understand how each unique situation evolves. The 20th-century German philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer suggests that situations evolve not according to the universality of the scientific method, but rather according to their own uniqueness, and should be understood as such. He writes: "However much general experience is involved, the aim is not to confirm and expand these general experiences in order to attain knowledge of a law, eg [sic] how men, peoples and states evolve, but to understand how this man, this people or this state is what it has become — more generally, how has it happened that it is so"

How might a philosopher's insight apply to the challenges that today's managers confront? Consider the words of Clayton M. Christenson: "If history is any guide, the practices and business models that constitute advantages for today's most successful companies confer those advantages only because of particular factors at work under particular conditions at this particular time." Perhaps managers too could better understand the situations they face in today's fragmented environment by simply asking: "How has it happened that this is so?"

Gadamer further asks whether humans can be "objective," as the scientific method demands, in their pursuit of understanding. Can we separate who we are from what we know? Gadamer's response was that it is not possible. He feels that the "personal knowledge" that each human possesses is a richer and more freely flowing wellspring of information than is "objective" knowledge, which is more impersonal and restrictive. Gadamer submits that each one of us, through our individual human experience, builds up personal "pre-understandings" or "fore-knowledge" of persons, problems, and situations; and that such "pre-understandings" are unconsciously triggered by every situation that humans encounter. For example, should an individual be told that the president of a major construction company was outside the room, waiting to come in, most might have a certain "pre-understanding" of whom to expect. Imagine the surprise when a 30-year-old young woman steps through the door!

The "Not-Knower"

The postmodern tradition in management encourages the not-knowing stance while in communication with others. This stance involves taking the nonexpert position of not-knowing. In so doing, one creates a non-hierarchical context that makes it possible for others to express themselves more freely. Socrates is acknowledged as the originator of the "not-knowing" stance. He took that stance in an effort to encourage unimpeded dialogue with his students. As one of the great Greek classicists describes it: "To be a Socratic is not to follow any system of philosophic doctrine. It implies first and foremost an attitude of mind, an intellectual humility easily mistaken for arrogance, since the true Socratic is convinced of the ignorance not only of himself but of all mankind." What was a deliberate stance by Socrates may be a requirement for executives today.

The University of Michigan's Karl Weick echoes Socrates when he describes leadership today as the "Legitimation of Doubt." Weick suggests that, in this era of unpredictability and unknowability, it may be wise to acknowledge that the group possesses greater capabilities for sensing the environment than does any individual, because by admitting that one does not know, one invites others to participate: "People who act this way help others make sense of what they are facing. Sensemaking is not about rules and options and decisions. Sensemaking does not presume that there are generic right answers about things like taking risks or following rules. Instead, sensemaking is about how to stay in touch with context."

Other management theorists suggest that today's organizations are in danger of being overrun by complexity. In the slower-paced Modern Era, management was seen as "80 percent action and 20 percent thought." However, today it may be advisable to place "emphasis on getting 80 percent of the idea right first" via proactive communication, new forms of questioning, and reflection by managers"

British management scholar John Sparrow makes an incisive point in suggesting that it is more important than ever for managers in contemporary organizations to secure insight into one another's thinking and perceptions. One wonders if the process of communication in the open and nonhierarchical context created by a not-knowing stance would be conducive to the new and proactive forms of communication that the Postmodern Era requires. To this end, Sparrow suggests a new model of management that he terms "Management by Perception." As he describes it:

Management by perception involves management in building models of situations as they are perceived by different stakeholders. The process of making these different perspectives explicit within organizations leads to an increase in shared understanding. Organizations then have more powerful predictive models of people (including employees, customers and competitors) and situations. They can also develop greater mutual insight among participants, and create greater flexibility in workgroups and the organization as a whole. The result of this is genuine continuous improvement in organizational systems. Managers can have effective models of situations as they are experienced by others

Perhaps Sparrow foreshadows the need to shift from a modern and hierarchical tradition in management to a postmodern, egalitarian, and collaborative tradition. Such thinking taps the resources of every participant of the work group, and brings forth a variety of perspectives that are likely to culminate in a potpourri of new ideas and approaches. The above passage precisely describes an applied group communication innovation, the reflecting team process, which will be developed in chapter 9.

Postmodern managers recognize that knowledge and meanings about situations that are co-created are more likely to be richer and thicker. The not-knowing stance draws forth new thoughts and possibilities that otherwise would not be expressed. It is also more likely to create a shared understanding that is the basis for effective joint action for implementation.

Circular Questions

In the following scenario, Jack, the manager of a large division, has come to consult with his vice president, Carol. Jack has a team member, Tom, who is dissatisfied with Jack's strategy in handling the merger of the group care and health insurance divisions. Tom is obstructing the implementation of the strategy.

Carol: What can I do for you today?

Jack: I have a problem communicating with a member of my team.

Carol: With whom?

Jack: With Tom and myself mainly.

Carol: How is your communication with the rest of the team members?

Jack: O.K. most of the time.

Carol: Can you tell me more about it?

Jack: I think that I communicate better with the team when Tom is not around.

Carol: How do Tom and the team communicate?

Jack: I am not sure.

Carol: Can you tell me who Tom communicates better with on the team?

Jack: My impression is that he gets along pretty well with Jill, my assistant.

Carol: If Jill was a part of this conversation, would she agree with you?

Jack: I do not know.

Carol: How do you think the team responds to Jill and Tom's relationship?

Jack: My guess would be that it confuses them.

Carol: How do you explain this situation?

Jack: Now that you are asking, when I think about it, there might have been a split on the team that I was not aware of.

Carol: Can you describe what happens when you are in a meeting with the team?

Jack: Somehow, the team and I seem to come to a consensus on a matter, but when I try to move forward on it, there is resistance.

Carol: I wonder, who do you think is responsible for causing the resistance?

Jack: Well, it looks like . . . I never stopped to think about the situation from this angle . . . it seems to me, in retrospect, that Jill and Tom create a ripple that blocks any movement forward.

Carol: Can you explain this "ripple?"

Jack: Well, I have to think about it, but there is more to this situation than I realized when I started talking with you about it.

Carol: It seems to me that now you have a different view of the problem, on the relationships among your team members. I wonder what your sense of it is now?

Jack: I think I have a clearer understanding of on the problem now than when I first came in. I am realizing that the problem is not just Tom but the team as a whole. I need to work on the existing dynamics between the team and myself so that we can move forward.

In this scenario, Jack initially saw Tom as the problem. However, Carol's use of circular questioning enabled Jack to take a different perspective from which to view the problem with Tom. It thus shifted his perception of the problem from Tom to the relationships with other components of the system, and, in so doing, widened the context of the problem. Furthermore, through her questions, Carol elicited feedback about the existing relationships among team members. By broadening Jack's view of his problem, Carol triggered in Jack a new awareness of his situation.

Jack came to realize that, in fact, he and Tom are operating in a system wherein sets of elements — such as Jill and the rest of the team — are acting and reacting with one another in ways of which he had been unaware. In this context, each interaction and reaction dynamically altered the nature of the relationships among team members. Jack also came to realize the nature of the relationships among the team members that may have blocked him and the team from moving forward with their strategy.

In this particular example, the use of circular questioning generated feedback in the conversation that enabled Jack to alter his perspective on the problem. Thus, Carol's use of this particular format of questioning opened up alternative views to perceive the situation. Jack was then able to consider new ways to interact with his team and transcend the problem.

Questions for Knowledge Creation

Questions are the first channel for the retrieval of information. "As inquirers and researchers, we create worlds through the questions that we ask coupled with what we and others regard as reasonable responses to our questions. The microskills of communication provide us with a set of tools to elicit information. Closed or open questions evoke different types of information. Closed questions elicit minimal information because they tend to trigger yes or no responses. Although they are of value in some circumstances—such as in establishing a specific fact—closed questions generally tend to narrow the dimensions of inquiry.

Open questions cast a wider net for the retrieval of information. Open questions provide necessary and useful information. Although these linear questions are limited in the information they elicit, they tend to orient us to situations and provide us with investigative impetus—who did what to whom and why? Generally, the conceptual posture of linear questions tends to assign problems to others, and thus limit information. Consequently, such questions do not tend to open space or foster possibilities, but rather limit information because their focus is on the linear causality that explains the cause of specific situations.

Systemic questions, in contrast, are steeped in GST. The focus of systemic questions is on the ways in which parts relate to one another within a system. The three major types of systemic questions—circular questions, future oriented questions, and reflexive questions—all aim to generate information about the interactional dynamics within a system. These questions seek to bring forth the differences around a described problem that enable one to perceive a problem or one's world differently. Typically, an individual who is made to believe that he is accountable for a problem, when asked questions from a systemic perspective, gradually begins to develop an awareness of the different variables operating within that system that could account for the emergence or existence of that problem. Thus, asking systemic questions allows individuals to develop an awareness of differences in information about the relationships of the variables within that system. When systemic questions are asked, the individual's perspectives on a situation gradually begin to change, because the responses elicited by this mode of inquiry provide information about differences. In this process, an individual begins to make distinctions and differentiations via his responses to these questions. The information that surfaces is the "difference which makes a difference,"" and hence is likely to trigger changes in perspectives. It is such information that opens unew possibilities and solutions, not only for problems or situations, but within oneself.

It is the questions that search for these differences that are likely to bring forth change. As discussed earlier, there are two meanings of the concept of difference. First, there are differences in the ways in which we sense and see a situation. Second, there are differences that trigger change over time. Difference as change may occur spontaneously, but it is also likely to take place at a later time. It is only when relevant information (that makes a difference about the new territory) is placed on the map, that the map acquires its usefulness; and it is only when individuals become aware of and, more importantly, accept the differences of which they have been unaware, that they open themselves up to new ideas. These new ideas, in turn, stimulate differences in evolving new and different images. Questions can widen the scope and deepen the understanding of a situation or a problem by adding new information.

Vergleiche dazu aus dem Entwicklungsplan der Universität Wien:

Die Frage nach Struktur, Bewertung und Vermittlung von ErkenntnisInhalt in der Wissensgesellschaft steht im Zentrum: Sie wird in Hinblick auf die beschleunigten Transformationsprozesse von Forschung, Technik und Gesellschaft in immer wieder neuen thematischen Zusammenhängen und mit innovativen methodischen Konzepten gestellt; und sie muss zugleich in allgemeinste ethische, bildungswissenschaftliche und epistemologische Reflexionen eingebunden werden, will die Universität nicht ihre Verpflichtung auf rational verantwortetes und begründetes Wissen preisgeben. Philosophische Forschung ­ sowohl in historischer, wie auch in systematisch-theoriebildender Gestalt ­ gilt der Vermittlung universal und ganzheitlich ausgerichteter Reflexion in aktuelle gesellschaftliche und wissenschaftliche Kontexte. Sie reagiert auf einen zunehmenden Bedarf an Orientierungswissen und Fähigkeiten des kritischen Denkens nicht nur in der modernen Lebenswelt, sondern vor allem im Wissenschaftsbetrieb selbst und in den Übergangszonen von Wissenschaft, Technik und Wirtschaft.

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Besser Wissen (Vorlesung Hrachovec, 2006/07)</root>

Elenktik (PJS)