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Home Education Career Why is soft so hard? (Part 1)

Why is soft so hard? (Part 1)

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Complex challenges such as developing adequate energy supplies, improving safer motherhood, quality education or urban development are fraught with dilemmas, conflicting values, and invisible socio-cultural traditions and beliefs.  The predominant approach, to-date, has been to apply technical solutions, money, new policies to address these issues  What very often happens is that  the subjective or intangible world of meaning, values, myths, emotions undermines these logically designed efforts.


As an organizational consultant, I have asked technical experts to identify and reflect on their best successes of positive changes. The real critical factors of success, they say, included such “soft” stuff, such as the right attitudes, motivation, commitment, interpersonal relationship, team work and collaboration, trust, appreciation of each other, appropriate culture and work environment, creativity and innovative spirit, quality of leadership, level of participation in decision making, giving and willingness to admit mistakes and learn from them, and so on. However, most of them admitted that with regard to this soft or subjective world, they do not feel as competent and confident as compared to dealing with the hard stuff.  “We have not been taught how to manage the subjective world – neither in college nor in our jobs” is what they acknowledge.

 In my work with organizations, we have used a framework from Ken Wilber to make a collective diagnosis on which to design a strategy for change. He has proposed a framework of four worlds made up by subjectivity and objectivity at the individual and collective level.  (See diagram 1)


                    SUBJECTIVE/INTERIOR                                     OBJECTIVE/EXTERIOR


  INTENTIONS/ATTITUDES

  • Ways of thinking
  • Commitment, motivation
  • Enthusiasm, inspiration
  • Feelings, emotions
  • Self-expression (arts, etc)

 

BEHAVIOR/SKILLS

  • Behavior, actions
  • Goals and results
  •  Work plans
  •  Movements 


CULTURE/VALUES  (intersubjectivity) 

  • Shared values/principles
  •  Shared assumptions
  • Morals, ethics · Covenants · Language, conversations
  • Religion, spirituality 

 

SYSTEMS/STRUCTURE  (interobjectivity)

  • Structures 
  • Process, procedures 
  • Policies, laws
  • Coordinated actions
  • Resources, money
  • Technology
  •  Logical frameworks

 Diagram 1

Each quadrant is interrelated with the others and all four quadrants constitute the whole.  You cannot have an inside without an outside, nor singular without plural, nor subjectivity without objectivity. If we eliminate any quadrant the other three disappear. In other words, it is not a matter of putting together four separate, disparate worlds. Rather it is seeing that wholeness is the primary mode of existence.

MANAGEMENT AND ORGANIZATIONS

Until recently, in the West, the most widely held metaphor for an organization was a machine.  A machine is the epitome of objectivity - no life, emotions, feelings nor consciousness.    Consequently, the rules of machine efficiency and its management suppressed the subjective realms of human experiences. People were seen as parts - to be controlled, changed and manipulated. 

There is a very exciting and fundamental shift occurring in the theory of organizations. An organization is now seen as a living social system - with life and consciousness. Human beings constitute the heart and minds of an organization.  Their dreams, aspirations, emotions, language, commitment, trust have a very important role. In a living system, relationships and hence participation are not a matter of choice but the very essence of an organization. Learning and knowledge creation is at the heart of a living system.

What Wilber’s model offers is a way to integrate the different ways of knowing that are relevant to management, organizations, social change and development.  However, managers and development professionals tend to fall into the trap of reducing the complexities of the world into their preferred single perspective, and to manage from within this single “theory” or quadrant.  The subjective world offers a way to explore what is essential for success in the objective world of results, performance, systems, processes, etc. They are all interrelated and interdependent. 

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Ravi Pradhan is the founder of Karuna Management and has over two decades of experience as an international consultant and trainer in management and organizational effectiveness. His current focus is on change management and leadership as well as on introducing mindfulness based emotional intelligence. He lives in Nepal and  Vietnam where he is working on a similar mission.




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Other articles by same author:

Why is soft so hard? (Part 2)

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