Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Where's the noise?

Broad generalisation: organisations which are contentedly discontent don't make much noise. It isn't in their interests to make noise for fear of some sacred sleeping hound being aroused.

(Undercurrents of noise may be found among genuinely discontented people within such organisations, whose discontent may be the fruit of caring and longing for things to be different.)

With the exception of people who seek out our business because of a result they want to achieve, it is not unusual for us to deal with client organisations that are contentedly discontent. We have pursued them with a view to generating potential business (among other things), and they have fallen squarely within our aim.

Just the other day I started to 'map out' a bit of how such an engagement might look. I learned a couple of things doing this exercise, and offer you one such partial window of the map below.

Firstly, using Microsoft Paint as a mapping tool is a poor decision. (Recommendations for a PC-based program, anyone?)

Secondly, when you actually start to map out conversations which centre around what people value and what it would look like for an organisation to move to 'a better place', you realise these conversational processes are not linear (you're not dealing with a software development-type 'waterfall model').

Even when the complexity and reality of the to-and-fro, cut-and-thrust, hypothesis-and-testing of a conversation is realised, the dimension is never simply '2D' -- it is 'history' / 'story' and organisational tiering that calls for something more 'topographic' in nature in our mapping. Perhaps the creation of multiple intersecting maps would assist? ( David -- looking forward to what you have to offer in this space.)

Thirdly, trying to trace the lines of such an engagement made me realise how little I understand of the client's world, and how dialogue, discontent-and-content, agitate in their own space. Their own conversation is largely invisible to us. However ...

Fourthly, our engagement throughout the course of attempting to build business with them tells me that the urgency which we bring to the situation is not theirs -- and we are talking about contentedly discontent organisations here. While the first dialogue with a client will likely provoke a conversation in our own business, followed by the creation of a fresh hypothesis, and the applying of that hypothesis in the next conversation, there is often the perception that the same process of analysing and creating has not taken place within the client's world.

While we may be 'sounding for life, and pushing for movement', the [potential] client organisation may just as open to inaction as to action (though talking about action may be perceived as having almost as much value as action, or may itself be judged to be 'action').

The realisation came to me as I looked at my poxy, 2-dimensional map. One thing it tells me is that the dialogue between an agitator, and a contentedly discontent organisation is heavily weighted to one side (unless the 'passive' organisation perceives a real threat to its passivity from the agitator organisation, and animates its own dialogue to shut the conversation down -- self-preservation can be a powerful motivator).

I'm still not quite sure what can be entirely deduced from this heavily top-weighted map. Is this the nature of agitator organisations engaging with contentedly discontent organisations? There is no question that locating a caring, genuinely discontented person in the organisation could make the process look quite different (as least as I perceive it, rightly or wrongly).

An agitator organisation persists with a pointless exercise if the contentedly discontent organisation perceives it to be nothing more than a noise-making irritation, and a disruption to the status quo.

This may, in the end, be as much an indictment on the foolishness of insensitive agitators as it is on the laziness and care-less-ness of passive organisations.

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