When we remove artificial boundaries

“The central change with Enterprise 2.0 and ideas of managing knowledge [is] not managing knowledge anymore — get out of the way, let people do what they want to do, and harvest the stuff that emerges from it because good stuff will emerge. So, it’s been a fairly deep shift in thinking about how to capture and organize and manage knowledge in an organization.”Andy McAfee

7 thoughts on “When we remove artificial boundaries”

  1. Great picture, example, metaphor. When the wall came down I was working as a screen printer and the company owner was from Germany. He was.. it’s hard to describe the impact of that, on him. He was glowing.

    When I was in residency at Royal Roads (Leadership program) we were treated to an Oshry Power Lab activity/game/play. It’s like live theatre only the audience is the actor and our instructors watched . After a short presentation on Power Lab basics we (there were 40 of us) were instructed to reach under our chairs and look inside an envelope that had been taped there.

    Mine said “Top” and inside were the rules of the game. We were given five days (each day only lasts five minutes) to get a product to market. In addition to us four Tops there were a bunch of Middles who were herded into a section of the room that had tape on the floor. They could only come out of their space with the permission of a Top. There were also Bottoms, who had to relinquish their shoes, two sets of Customers. Some of the Bottoms were Designers and were given a bunch of art supplies to create with.

    On day one the other Tops decided we should meet as a group, alone, to plan our strategy. I resisted and conveniently found a Customer group that needed help. On day two I again avoided the other Tops who still wanted to meet privately and instead I reconnected with the Customers I had met on day one and introduced them to a Bottom that was incredibly stressed out by the multiple needs and inconsistent instructions of the Middles. I suggested that they work together, without the Middles to get the project ready.

    Between days we were to reflect and write down our thoughts/feelings. I spent some of that time convincing a very distressed Bottom that the fellow guarding her shoes had no power and that if she was uncomfortable in bare feet she could just take her shoes back. Her reluctance to break the rules kind of surprised me.

    On day three I did meet with the Tops and like me they had been pulled around by their own set of reflexive behaviours. One of the other Tops suggested that part of the problem was that the Middles were stuck in one place and always asking for permission to go talk to a customer or a Bottom. I agreed and suggested we just pull the tape up off the floor. We did, and there ended the game.

    Our instructors said that in all the years they had been doing this activity we were the first group to remove the tape in just three days.

    We debrief the activity for a long time. I learned a lot about myself, about others and about artificial boundaries…

  2. It’s quite a shift to clearly tell information from knowledge either … permanently confused. I agree that you cannot manage knowledge but only enable the culture which helps that good stuff can emerge … this is not about command and control !
    (new world – new rules , eg. Cluetrain, groundswell etc.)
    only managing the people who carry the knowledge, then it comes down to HR.
    „You cannot manage knowledge. But you can manage the environment which enables the creation and exploitation of knowledge.“ (Prusak much earlier)

  3. Love your work Harold, and this elegant post really struck a chord with me too. Like Jamie I had a similar experience in an experiential learning activity a few years ago. Here is an excerpt from my post Boundedness and Creative Will(ingness)…

    …The focus for this blog comes from a conversation and subsequent reflection about one of the experiential learning activities from the Equine Assisted Learning session on day two. As you can imagine we were all very much out of our comfort zones when confronted with how to persuade four horses–rather than people–to cooperate with our teams in completing the activities we were set.

    There were 3 activities: the first an observation activity which was not too taxing; next ‘the mane event’ where we had to peg bits of cardboard with words about values and resources on to the mane of the horses, with a set of ‘policies’ to guide the group; and the final activity was called ‘horse billiards’ where we had to persuade the horses to move into one of the four spaces designated ‘pockets’–again with all sorts of policies and rules. The participants had been divided up into two teams and a lot of the learning came about by watching how the first team did the activity and how that could be improved.

    What really struck me was how, for a person who rated 0% on compliance in the Windows on Work Values questionnaire, I could be so concerned with doing right by the set rules and policies–pushing them as far as I could, sure, but nevertheless keeping within them–because of my concerns of being ‘disqualified’. I was equally taken aback when the other team seemingly disregarded some of the ‘rules’ when it was their turn. This struck me as a major disjunct at the time and in subsequent conversations with participants afterwards and one of the explanations that was mooted was perhaps it was because of my overarching role as masterclass convenor as well as participant in the exercise?

    Talking through the experience with Gill a few days later (Gill was one of the EAL instructors) it was clear that there was more to it than that. Both of the instructors saw that both teams kept very much to the rules, even the team that I perceived had ‘broken’ some of them. Gill went on to explain that this is very common in EAL activities and they put this down to the fact that people who are in new situations, feeling discomfort, or say, unable to use their usual rationale for doing things tend to find comfort in rules to guide them–as a way to frame or bound their situation. Gill then asked me, “so what were the consequences of breaking the rules/policies?” They had not provided any (but we hadn’t noticed at the time) so it was clear to me then that we had created our own internal consequences… Now this was an ‘aha’ moment indeed!

    Self Censure

    This ‘aha’ moment was partly due to the earlier reading on ‘the identity work of leaders’ (Sinclair, 2007) and in particular her explanation of Foucault’s ideas about discipline and surveillance symbolised by the ‘panopticon’–a surveillance tower in prisons, located so that all prisoners may be watched without knowing when or how, and ultimately compelling prisoners to take on the burden of disciplining themselves.

    Further, there is extensive evidence that individuals in work organisations not only become intensely self-regulatory, but also police their peers more punitively than any watchtower guard. Working conditions, systems of remuneration, career paths–in short, how we are at work seems increasingly to be under someone else’s, or worse our own, punitive control (Sinclair, 2007 p. 133).

    Creative Will(ingness)

    This whole experience and reflection led to further thinking about creativity and how it can be dampened. It is very difficult to be creative in situations that give rise to fear or discomfort–until one can find one’s comfort boundaries and then push beyond them. What is interesting here is how people react to situations, depending on their appetite for new things and past experiences to draw from. Given more time in the EAL activities I’m sure many of the 13 participants would have identified the boundaries and pushed past them to find creative solutions outside the ‘box’ we’d put ourselves into. The constraints on the day, however, led to the most enlightening learning experiences for me displaying as the gap between my rhetorical self and myself-in-action on the day.

    These reflections about creativity and boundedness have now helped me to explain to myself why I am so seemingly creative/brave/foolhardy in my approach to representing myself in the PhD journey when what I propose is clearly not the norm in the discipline of management. I realise now that I have two distinct experiences to draw from that are not common to people undertaking i) PhD study or ii) PhD study in the discipline of management, in that:
    i) Most people don’t think about ‘doing’ a PhD until they sign up to ‘do’ a PhD. Gill’s argument about rules and policies providing comfort in new and/or uncomfortable situations makes sense then that most PhD students accept the set procedures as they stand.
    ii) Most PhD students studying in the discipline of management don’t have the same perspective on qualitative inquiry as I do.

    In my case, my work between 1998-2007 was in the management and support a PhD program in a Faculty of Education that was renowned for qualitative inquiry excellence and doctoral education (see references below for books by Terry Evans and Barbara Kamler). I worked with qualitative inquiry scholars and PhD students pushing the boundaries of what constitutes scientific practice. These people saw qualitative inquiry as a ‘way of being’ not just a research instrument so the thought of the ‘researcher as research instrument’ is the norm for me . When I came to my own PhD study (albeit in a different university and a different discipline), I found myself in the unique position of feeling less bounded by convention because I had seen the PhD process and journey unfold many dozens of times–some successfully and some not so–and have this knowledge to draw from.

    This doesn’t mean that the PhD journey will be any ‘easier’ for me, but at least I have these experiences to draw upon to help me through the difficult times. This sharing of insight highlights that my PhD study flows through me and is not necessarily about me, and that every PhD candidate comes to their study with a unique set of skills and experiences. These inner resources should always be encouraged to be used as a resource within the PhD experience.

    (Source: http://leadershipliteracies.wordpress.com/2009/02/21/boundedness/)

  4. The boundaries that intrigue me are the internal ones – particularly the work/personal one. It seems that many traditionalists can’t live without it. Another could be called the market segmentation barrier – for example, as used by people with different Twitter accounts for different audiences. Should we completely remove all of these barriers? Or do we just need to be aware that they are there and remember that we *can* remove them? I’ve been working progressively to just remove them whenever I am aware of them.

    “All in all it’s just another brick in the wall…”

  5. @Jamie .. Barry Oshry’s work on Power in Organizational Systems is the real deal.

    Glad to see more OD-based deep work surfacing in response to today’s (and tomorrow’s) conditions/environment.

  6. Keith, I have one blog and one Twitter account. I have tried to have more than one of each, but it does not work for me. My work and learning are inseparable. I do keep much of my family life offline though. I think this is something for all of us to come to terms with in the network era. My post though, was focused more on our professional and work lives.


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