The snake that swallowed the elephant: The change/innovation adoption curve

June 27, 2014

Do you remember reading Saint Exupéry’s The Little Prince? Who thought he’d ever be relevant for business? Yet if you can remember the story and the image of the snake that swallowed the elephant, it’ll help you remember for ever the shape of Roger’s change/innovation adoption curve. If you are yet more informed, you may remember it from Geoffrey Moore’s much-quoted 1991 business bestseller ’Crossing the Chasm.

Screen shot 2014-06-27 at 11.10.38

The change/innovation curve first sees the innovators (risk takers who desire to try new things, even if they fail) and moves to early adopters, early majority, late majority, and laggards. You will notice there is a vast chasm between the early adopters and the early majority. While early adopters are attracted to change and want the advantage of being first, the early majority waits until they know that the change/innovation actually offers improvements worth their while. The challenge for innovators, change agents and communicators/marketers is to narrow this chasm and ultimately accelerate adoption.

Rogers explained already in 1962 that there are four main elements that influence the spread of a new idea:

the innovation – communication channels – time – and … a social system.

Achieving acceptance and adoption tends to be much harder with the late majority: They will usually only adopt in reaction to peer pressure or economic necessity. Most of the uncertainty around an idea must have been resolved for them to adopt. All the while, the laggards simply prefer to rely on past experience.

Think of different scenarios for this concept – I, for example, am an early adopter where it comes to social change; however, with certain new technologies, count me amongst the laggards … For those of us working in Corporate Responsibility, we certainly experienced the companies that only came around to it through stakeholder pressure, or being left behind in the market.
What is it like for you? In what areas of professional or personal life do you count yourself among the early adopters or early majority – and where do you tend to be a laggard?

A note on not wasting your time: For effective change, invest your energy into the early half of this model, up to including the early majority. They will be your multipliers to eventually convince the other half – while you and your energy are already on to the next change/innovation project. Convincing the late majority and the laggards would simply take too much of your creative, innovative energy and time and would be too much hard Sisyphus work.


Do you give feedback constructively? Here’s how …

June 18, 2014

Giving feedback is not always easy – or welcome. It can look like a tricky endeavor that involves many potential traps and could trigger defense, denial, rage or even tears. Yet, as learned from my mentor, the wise consultant and coach Jane Linklater, already years ago, there is a safe technique for both sides – a tried and tested seven-step formula you can follow for success.

First of all, always start with something positive. No, I mean it: Always start with something positive about the person’s actions or behavior – no matter how impatient or worked up you might be in the moment! E.g., say “I really enjoy working with you”, or “Such and such piece of work was really great”.

Second, please don’t follow with a ’but’. The moment you start with ’but’, the other person is on their inner guard – and that’s not what you want, right? You want to keep the feedback doors open, don’t you? So use the trick: Say ’and’. That way, there are no defenses going up. Instead, the doors remain wide open.

Thirdly, use constructive wording, e.g. ’This has been great – and if you could still optimize that other thing …’ Or: ’This has been great – and at the same time, there is one other aspect that I personally find difficult … could we talk about that one?’

Now the most important part starts:
Rather than saying something like: ’Everybody thinks you always are …’, stay away from the three traps that are right in those 5 little words: stay away from
4) characterizing the person (“you are“)
5) generalizing (“you always …”)
6) from giving them the impression that people are talking about them behind their back (“everybody thinks …”, “everybody else says that, too …”)

Instead, please

4) focus on their behavior only
5) quote specific situations
6) that you observed, with the effect that had on you

E.g. ’When you do such and such, like in yesterday’s meeting, I find that difficult, because this is the effect it has on me …’

7) Then, please do not end this before having given the person a clear recommendation of what behavior you would rather see, e.g.: ’I personally would much prefer if you could …’, or ‘I would find it more helpful if you did …’

These seven steps should get you through safely, and hopefully make your feedback ‘land’ more constructively with the recipient.

Now, in case you need to give extended feedback or clarify a whole working relationship, there is also a tool that provides a ‘holding structure’ that can make both attending parties feel safe during a difficult conversation.

Ideally, for that purpose, you don’t have your conversation in the office, but the two of you go somewhere offsite, e.g. to a quiet café. (And put your laptops and mobile phones away and on silent, for full attention to each other. Plan between one and two hours for your session.)

Please note: If one of you has a preference for introversion, it can be advisable to actually book a small meeting room e.g. at a hotel, as they may feel exposed if they have to assume that other people could listen in on your conversation, even if you talk quietly.

The important thing now is to have a mutual feedback conversation.

For that, you can use the four quadrants below:

Screen shot 2014-06-17 at 10.35.44

Once again, please note: If one of you has a preference for introversion, it can be helpful to share the four quadrants sheet prior to meeting up, so each of you can prepare your answers to the four questions. People with a preference for introversion don’t like having to ‘shoot from the hip’ – they prefer to think and reflect for a while before they actually speak out.

Now take turns answering each quadrant – so both of you answer quadrant 1 first, and then move on to quadrant 2. And please stick to the order and stay with it. Don’t jump into quadrant 4 when you’re supposed to talk about quadrant 2 only (please point it out to each other in case one of you does). And please don’t interrupt each other – hear each other out. Then, if you are on the receiving end, maybe ask a couple of questions to clarify, like ’You mean if I do such and such, this is how it lands with you?’ or ’So you mean if I do such and such instead, that would help?’

Sticking to that discipline, you can have really constructive and safe conversations also about difficult topics that may previously have seemed off limits. Many of my clients have made that experience, and they worked more effectively together after their feedback session.

However, if you still find it challenging to have such a conversation, you can ask a qualified facilitator to come in, sit with you two and help you through the conversation. Your HR department should be able to help you with recommending such a person.

In summary, a constructive feedback process can help the two of you towards new soft contracting between you, as a solid foundation for how you want to go on together in your work relationship.

Do you still talk CSR, or ESG impact?

June 11, 2014

ESG are ‘Environmental, Social And Governance Criteria‘ – a set of standards for a company’s operations that socially conscious investors use to screen investments. We have heard of the Triple Bottom Line before, and of the 3Ps – people, planet, and profit. Here’s ESG: Environmental criteria determine how a company performs as a steward of the natural environment. Social criteria examine how a company manages relationships with its stakeholders: e.g. its employees, suppliers, customers, local governments, NGOs, unions, and the communities where the company operates and where its employees work and live. Governance criteria deal with, for example, a company’s leadership, executive pay, audits and internal controls, and shareholder rights.

Goldman Sachs writes: ‘In our Environmental, Social and Governance Impact Report we illustrate how our work with clients helps to drive broader economic and social value. We also highlight our active engagement in the communities where we live and work and our support of an array of initiatives to promote environmental sustainability and community development.’

E.ON writes: ‘Standardized indicators from the areas of Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) are gaining in importance in the capital market for evaluating companies, which is why we structure the reporting of our sustainability performance along material ESG criteria over the past several years.’

So, from the first Environmental Reports in the late 1980s, to then CSR Reports around the year 2000, soon to be followed by CR Reports, to Sustainability Reports as of around 2005, to now ESG Reports for the past couple of years – the field keeps evolving, and as practitioners, we need to evolve with it … The important thing to remember: it remains all about impact.

How do you deal with conflict?

May 30, 2014

Are you mainly assertive, competing to win, or cooperative, accommodating other people’s needs? How does that vary situationally? Where and when do you compromise?

There are different models on how people tend to deal with conflict, be it in the workplace or privately. One that is easy to understand is the Thomas Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI):


We often hear about win-win. If you only pursue assertiveness (left axis), you win and the other person loses. If you only accommodate (right axis), the other one wins and you lose. If you avoid conflict altogether, the issue remains essentially unresolved

A helpful question to ask is: ’How important is this particular issue of conflict to you?’ If it is of very high importance, you may choose to really push it through assertively. If, however, it is of less importance to you than to the other party, you might as well decide to accommodate them instead …

The Thomas Kilmann model suggests that the most effective way to deal with conflict is a combination of assertiveness and accommodation (situated in the top right corner of the graph), collaborating well for a win-win in which both a solid degree of assertiveness and a good degree of simultaneously paying attention to the quality of the relationship and accommodating the other person’s needs come to fruition to work out a mutually satisfying solution.

It gets tricky when only one mode of conflict gets consistently overused – i.e. when someone always has to win, or someone else always avoids conflict, or yet another one always accommodates the other party, thus sacrificing own needs. (Ask yourself: In which of your work relationships might you be currently experiencing that?)

You may be strong on either the assertiveness or the accommodation side (or an avoider?) – it is worth it in the long run to practice the over-used mode less and instead practice the side that is less familiar to you more. It’s like learning to write with your other hand – the more you practice, the better you get at it eventually … and that makes you a more well-rounded individual also in conflict situations.

If you’d like to find out for yourself which conflict style you currently favor most, you can take the TKI online and receive your detailed personalized report via pdf immediately. You can also order this for your team. (It will cost you US$40 on your credit card – add to your cart at the very BOTTOM of the page). 

What makes you a mature leader?

May 21, 2014

A mature leader invites constructive feedback, also from own employees, to self-reflect on it, adapt and evolve. Only an immature, self-absorbed manager will reject such feedback.

Look at the ’30/40/50 Rule’: the same behaviors that made you successful in your thirties can make you stagnate, ’derail’, even lose your career in your fourties and fifties. In your thirties, you experienced success through yourself and got ahead through qualities like:

– ambition
– strength through specialization
– pushing own points of view through
– direct control of your own objectives

In your fourties and fifties, as a Director, Vice President or higher, your success is realized through others, i.e. the people who report to you – so now you get ahead through:

– appreciating, motivating and developing others
– creating a sense of collaboration and unity
– being secure and well-grounded enough in yourself to both give and receive feedback from anybody around you constructively
– being a role model for your team, modeling the behavior you want to see from them

That is quite a commitment – are you up to it? Are you willing to engage in and take time for the self-development that it takes? For that self-development, it all starts with feedback. Not just from your superior and perhaps a coach, but from the very people who observe you most astutely: your employees. And not just through an anonymous 360-degree feedback tool, but face to face, in real conversation.

Take this team leader who blurted out: “Anyone who criticizes me will be fired!“ – Do you think that is the solution? He may have to fire one team after another … Or take this newly promoted Director with international responsibility who, in a leadership training, came to me after a session and asked, all concerned: “You seriously mean I need to become more relational and invest in my soft skills?“ When I confirmed, he looked rather concerned …

You know, I used to not be that good at taking feedback myself, still in my late thirties; I had my sensitivities … and I’ll be eternally grateful to my U.S. colleague Vannessa, who made me notice. When she offered me a comment on my team behavior, and I went straight into a defensive answer, she said: „“Hellooooo – I just kindly offered you constructive feedback, which means I just made you a gift. Shut up with your defense and reflect on what I said.“ I never forgot that – she was so right: Feedback is a gift, generously offered to us so we can notice our own ’blind spots’ and get a chance at evolving towards being a more ’adequate other’.

Later on in my training as a consultant and coach, learning how to receive feedback, reflect on it and evolve from that was a crucial part of my education, and I cannot recommend it enough.

One first thing to consider is whether you respect your own employees enough to give them their annual or bi-annual development session, and whether you prepare for that well. It is not just for their objectives and for determining whether they get their bonus – it is also about how they want to develop, both in terms of hard and soft skills, and where they want to be in three to five years. And it is about the often uncomfortable question: ’What do you, employee, want me, team leader, to improve on in my own management or leadership behavior?’

If you dare ask that question, and if you have made your employees comfortable enough around you for them to trust you and dare answer you honestly, then the feedback you receive will be a gift indeed. If you can receive it without anger and defensiveness. If you can reflect on it, see your possible blind spot, and practice a different approach in the future. That is (amongst others) what is required of a mature leader.

In case you are interested in taking a leadership development course or getting some personal coaching, feel free to get in touch – I’ll be happy to recommend both courses and/or coaches to you.

The attributes of an amazing person

May 15, 2014

Usually I post my own texts, but I found this one nice and inspiring, so for once let me just post this text photo that made it’s way to me via Dina Sherif in Cairo, Egypt – because we can all need a little reflective thought break every once in a while. Perhaps you want to pick just one of these for today:


Mindfulness in the workplace, for greater wellbeing and productivity

May 9, 2014

Companies like Intel, Google, Nike and General Mills want their employees to be less stressed and more focused. For this purpose, Intel for example introduces a nine-week mindfulness training to more than 100,000 employees in 63 countries – participation is voluntary and is supposed to increase both wellbeing and productivity.

What is mindfulness? It is generally described as attentive awareness of self and/or others in the present moment. Of body, feelings, and mind. A focusing and centering – active, open attention to the present. Also mindful of how we treat ourselves and each other. Are we hard on ourselves? Or do we take good enough care of ourselves?

At Intel, during weekly 90-minute sessions, employees learn to quiet their minds, listen mindfully, meditate, act choicefully rather than compulsively, relate authentically to each other beyond professional roles.

Desired outcomes are that people have increased individual wellbeing, are more highly engaged in meetings, and are better at team collaboration and more creative and generative together.

Such a program can clearly be part of HR’s Employee Value Proposition, improving work-life balance and employee health. The corporate programs will also attempt to prove not just qualitatively, but also quantitatively that mindfulness training at work leads to higher productivity, thus positively impacting the bottom line.

A new trend to sweep the international business world? Watch this space …

“Every injustice committed is a chip in the facade of what holds us together”

February 17, 2014

The quote is by Stephen Hawking. I just have to share here his opinion piece in the Washington Post of February 14, 2014, because it is so well and importantly worded. A MUST-read for all! He urges the international community, all of us, to end the war in Syria, and lobbies for a sense of collective justice – and against ever more setbacks for human civilization. Please read!


“I’m not crazy – I’m just not YOU!”* 4 areas of easy misunderstanding between people at work, and how to get around them

August 19, 2013

Time and again in my work as a consultant and coach, I am approached regarding people at work having difficulty with each other: with behavior, with attitudes, with work style.

And ever so often, I find that conflict can be easily resolved – through mutual understanding of different personality types, and adjusted behavior towards being an ‘adequate other’ to colleagues, people reporting to you, and your superiors.

Here are a few aspects:

On a need to talk – or not talk …

You extroverts who are talkative and love bursting into somebody else’s office to quickly discuss an idea – do you realize that if that colleague is an introvert, your sudden ‘intervention’ is not welcome? That your colleague would much prefer you sleep over your idea, then send an email about it, and in the email ask to agree a date and time when to sit down and talk about this? The reason: Your introverted colleague processes information differently, and while for you as an extrovert, there is a direct connection from your brain to your tongue, for your introvert colleague, the information goes from the brain through the whole body – and only then to the tongue. But you can be sure that once you get an answer, it will be thoroughly thought through.

In turn, dear introverts, your extrovert colleagues cannot read your mind – they cannot actually hear what’s going on inside you. What is going on in there tends to be very rich – so it would be so generous of you if every once in a while you could actually speak some of it to share with the world around you! You might be too quiet in a meeting, just thinking a lot but not saying a word – and what a loss for the world not to know your thoughts … I mean it!

On detail vs. big picture …

Then, dear intuitive people, for you it’s enough that somebody gives you an idea, a rough vision – you can run and fly with it, you can say “I can see it all now!” Disappointed that you don’t get total enthusiasm from some other colleagues or your boss when you pass that idea or vision on? Well, that might be because they are not that intuitively inclined and literally can’t ‘see it all now’. What do they need? A fact sheet, dear friends! A one-pager with all the possible data you can generate. You need a budget for that ‘great idea’ from that less intuitively inclined person? Well, the one-pager fact sheet can help them greatly to also ‘see it all’ – and actually approve the money!

In turn, dear ‘facts and data’ people, you might have worked out a detailed concept with excel sheets, etc. – and you might send it to your colleague or boss with a detailed email explaining it all. Now, if your recipient has a clear intuitive preference, you can be sure of one thing: They won’t read it. No, they won’t. They might catch a few headlines and briefly skim over all your stuff – and will feel thoroughly stressed. It’s too much information for them!

So if you want to be sure they actually read you, keep the information as short as possible. Put the key thing already into the headline. Break information up in paragraphs, and bold all relevant text bits (like I’m doing here) – so that when your recipients skim through, their eyes catch at least the bold parts!

On criticism and feedback …

Thirdly, there is this thing about criticism – well, hopefully it would be constructive feedback. When you are in a meeting, pay attention to who tends to speak first, dissecting a concept or an idea and immediately pointing out the flaws. That person has a rational, logical preference. Keeping harmony is less important to them. They tend to be more focused on outcomes and results than on keeping happy relationships. Well, tough on those people to who harmony and relationships are very important. If their work or their ideas are criticized, they might take it personally, thinking that they are not liked … That logical, rational person can receive feedback more easily – they will take it as about their work, not about themselves. That other person, needing harmony and good relationships – will, if you need to give feedback, please assure them first that they are great people and you really enjoy working with them. Only after that, offer “and then there is this one thing that could still be optimized …”

On timely, structured process vs. last-minute, leave-everything-open approach …

Finally, there is this tricky thing about structure, process and order. Biiiiiiiiig issue amongst co-workers, and employees and their bosses. Just huge! Your colleague, the person reporting to you or your boss is always last minute with everything? Well, to tell you the truth: They love it! They thrive on that, they need it to feel good, to feel energized. You ask them to deliver something three days before a deadline? That paralyzes them completely, drains all energy from their bodies right there. They can’t function.

Of course, their last-minute style is totally stressful to you!! You are now in the pressure cooker, needing to work like a maniac to finalize your part of the deal that was dependent on receiving theirs.

The other way round, your own preference might be an orderly, structured one – you want to get started on an assignment on time, work your way through it step by step, not get interrupted, and be done well ahead of the deadline. Was it you who was done with her/his Master’s thesis one month before the deadline? Unimaginable for those last-minute people who only printed their thesis half an hour before having to ultimately hand it in!

So: working last minute is highly stressful for some, while highly energizing for others. Working according to a plan and being done well in advance is the preferred mode for some, but paralyzing for others.

How do you get around that? A boss I know sets his last-minute employee fictitious deadlines – 10 days before the real deadline. It works out great for both of them! The employee gets the pressure she needs to make her thrive – and the boss still has sufficient time to review and add own work on to what was delivered. Nobody has to work through the last night if they don’t want to.

A final part of this last-minute preference is: changing decisions and parameters. Not even remembering that certain things had been said and agreed before. ‘Normal’ for those last-minute people. Hugely stressful for those orderly, structured people with a plan. They will say “You can’t do that! You can’t change things now!” To which the last-minute person will say “Why not? Of course I can! I’m doing it now!” Those people who prefer the structured process will be stressed by sudden changes of parameters – whereas those people who prefer leaving things open to the last minute and being flexible to any possible change find it stressful to be ‘squeezed into a shape’ without being able to get out of that …

Of course, there are also still variations within a preference! You might be happy with a last-minute work style, but not quite as much as your colleague! E.g., you might like to have a concept ready two days before meeting a client, so other people can still review – whereas your colleague might be happy with writing up the concept half an hour before meeting the client … (Sounds familiar, too?) And that colleague cannot even understand what you are fussing about?

How do you deal with all these possible areas of conflict and disagreement?

Well, how about meeting in the middle? Developing some mutual understanding and each doing one’s part to move closer towards compromise?

Try this:

  • Introverts who reveal a bit more and extroverts who talk a bit less.
  • Facts-and-data people who sacrifice a little detail and intuitive people who read their mails a bit more attentively.
  • Logical, rational people who slow down a moment before firing off their criticism, thinking a bit about who might be hurt by what they say. Harmony seekers who try to separate feedback about their work from the sense of whether they’re being liked.
  • Process-focused people who try to work on their flexibility towards changing parameters. And last-minute, leave-everything-open people who try to stick a bit more to a pre-agreed plan, and who take into consideration who in the ‘producing value’ chain comes behind them, and who of those might have to work through the night, the weekend, or past a deadline due to being on the receiving end of that ever-so-energizing last-minute work style …

Good luck with observing and understanding each other better, and with talking it through and getting to mutual agreement about workable compromise!

And if you would like help and support with that, feel free to get in touch – I am an accredited Myers Briggs Personality Types practitioner.


*’I’m not crazy, I’m just not you’ is the title of a book on the topic:

Inquiry into concepts of ‘self’ and of ‘relational being’

January 10, 2013

Excerpt from my Master’s thesis, October 2007

Relevance: Change and innovation in organisations, political systems, society

Both from an individual and from an organisational perspective, I have considered it useful and relevant to explore different concepts of ‘self’ and of ‘relational being’, and I noticed throughout the process how much intense curiosity and desire to understand I brought to this inquiry!

I assume that there are different theories, of constructing self as ‘separate’ or as ‘in relation’. Mead (1934) states:

“It has been the tendency of psychology to deal with the self as a more or less isolated and independent element, a sort of entity that could conceivably exist by itself.” (p. 164)

I noticed how, potentially based on my own early conditioning in my experience of family, I seemed to act from a deep underlying “theory-in-use” of ‘self’ as ‘separate’ rather than ‘in connection’.

“… the assumptions are looking.” (Bohm 1996, p. 80)

I found myself deeply curious to understand concepts of self-in-connection and to explore a new “theory of action” based on a relational understanding of being.

Concepts of self in connection

Ricard (2003) presents the concept of ‘self’ as constituted of four elements: consciousness, interpretive memory of consciousness, attachment to body and placement in a certain environment.

Bentz & Shapiro offer understandings of the conditions of self drawn from two German philosophers: Heidegger’s “Being-in-the-world” describing

“… the actual nature of human existence as bounded by the physical environment at a particular time and place with a physical body that has a biography and history and a being who exists in a linguistically infused world.” (p. 169)

And Husserl’s “lifeworld” referring to

“… the cultural assumptions built into people’s underlying ways of experiencing reality (Husserl, 1970).” (p. 97)

Dowrick (2001) points out how both body and gender play a role in perception of self:

“Your body continues to matter. You touch, speak, stare, pause, lean forward, lean back, look ahead, look away, all with your gendered body.” (p. 190)

I then found references to the relational aspect of constructing self in Bateson’s (1972), Mead’s (1934), Gergen’s (1999), and Griffin & Stacey’s (2005) writing:

Particularly from Gergen’s writing on Bakhtin (pp. 130/131) I drew an understanding that is essential to me: To be is to be relational. We are born into, formed by, and participate in a collective meaning-making process through dialogue, communication and relationship.

According to Mead,

“It is the social process itself that is responsible for the appearance of the self …”
(p. 142)

Building on that, Griffin & Stacey state that

“… each self is socially formed while at the same time interacting selves are forming the social.” (p. 5)

Bateson claims that

“… adjectives … which purport to describe individual character are really not strictly applicable to the individual but rather describe transactions between the individual and his material and human environment. No man is “resourceful” or “dependent” or “fatalistic” in a vacuum.” (p. 298)

He explains how characteristics of self are “… learned … in sequences of relationship” and are “… terms for “roles” in relationships …” (p. 304).

I found this confirmed in Critchley/King/Higgins (2007)

“… there is no such thing as an autonomous individual because individual characters and identities can only exist in relationship with each other.” (p. 55)

Is there a ‘self’? Or what is it?

Leading me further in my exploration was Hugh Pidgeon’s feedback to my Assignment 5: He pointed to how both the theories of Dialogue and of Complex Responsive Processes “put in question the whole notion of what is individual about the individual”.

Bentz and Shapiro (1998) explain that radical postmodernists deny the existence of ‘self’ as subject:

“Rather we are modules in information flows.”

Bateson seems to think similarly:

“I once heard a Zen master state categorically: “To become accustomed to anything is a terrible thing.” But any freedom from the bondage of habit must also denote a profound redefinition of the self. If I stop at the level of Learning II, “I” am the aggregate of those characteristics which I call my “character”. “I” am my habits of acting in context and shaping and perceiving the contexts in which I act. Selfhood is a product or aggregate of Learning II. To the degree that a man achieves Learning III, … his “self” will take on a sort of irrelevance. The concept of “self” will no longer function as a nodal argument in the punctuation of experience.” (p. 304)

From reading Ricard, I would assume that the self taking on a sort of irrelevance would be the Buddhist perspective as well.

From a theoretical perspective, I felt I could relate to and agree with the postmodernist view of people being ‘modules in information flow’ and a notion of self taking on a sort of irrelevance. I even found the perspective exciting. Nevertheless, I struggled with the concept. I noticed that ‘for practical purposes’, probably to give some structure to experience, most of us seem to “work with” that level of Learning II Bateson refers to. Most of us apparently choose to act ‘as if’ there was some kind of bounded self that makes quasi-autonomous choices?

Bohm (1996) argues

“… that boundaries are not really separations, but that they are there for descriptive purposes.” (p. 99)

The image of a ‘volume control’ came to my mind: Between a thoroughly closed understanding of bounded self and a thoroughly open understanding of being modules in information flows:

Volume control

Volume control

My assumption would be that each of us could find her-/himself somewhere along the line of this image in her/his (less or more conscious) personal construct of self?

A thoroughly closed perception might be, to me, a consciousness-cum-interpretive memory entirely not self-aware. Such a person might entertain an underlying, potentially subconscious belief in the existence of a “fixed” self (“a body of habitual assumptions”, Bateson, p. 314). She/he might possibly even go to the extreme of denying other views, holding on to one way of seeing in ‘uncritical subjectivity’ (Heron & Reason, in: Reason & Bradbury). That might represent an attitude of: “I am right, and you are all wrong!”

A thoroughly open perception could be, to me, a co-constructing understanding of self, in ‘critical subjectivity’ (Reason & Bradbury). Such a person would understand ‘self’ as a transitory space for an evolving process of ever-emergent, ever-modifying – and highly diverse – information flow and interpretive meaning-making. I assume there would be potential for such a process to keep expanding according to the range of environments experienced, and accelerating according to frequency of change experienced.

Bentz & Shapiro (p. 36) point out:

“… some theorists have warned of the demise of the identity, or self, as a hallmark of entering the postmodern age. Persons’ selves will split into multiple identities or exist merely as ever-changing nodes or agents in information networks (Weinstein, 1995).”

In comparison and contrast, Mead states:

“A multiple personality is in a certain sense normal … (…) … it is dependent upon the set of social reactions that is involved as to which self we are going to be.” (pp. 142/143)

Countering this, I take from Bentz and Shapiro:

“Contrary to some radical postmodernists … who advocate dissolution of personal identity …, most persons do not wish to be so deconstructed.” (p. 37)


I inquired with people around me about their concepts of self. I learned that some of them would indeed feel very uncomfortable with “being so deconstructed”! They expressed that it is important to them, even if they venture out into the world – experiencing other people, other cultures, other countries –, to create some bounded stability for themselves and adhere to a more stable notion of self (“Yes, I will be changed, but I will also remain the same!”). It is important to them to also have a sense of geographic and cultural roots and origin to which they want to be attached. I fully respect that attitude … and at the same time, I speculate whether there might be a correlation between the degree of a person’s openness to changing her/his concept of ‘self’ – and the degree of that person’s openness to change in general?

And while feeling intrigued by postmodernist thought, I still wonder that there must be ‘something’ in a person that makes choices? E.g. I might be surrounded by right-wing fundamentalists who try to influence me – but still choose a firmly democratic view for myself, and attach importance to that?

“It is because human agents are conscious and self-conscious that they are able to cooperate and reach consensus, while at the same time conflicting and competing with each other in the highly sophisticated ways in which they do.” (Griffin/Stacey, p. 5)

Conscious and self-conscious … Is there a ‘self’ making choices? In contrast, Bohm (1996) says:

“… thought has come to attribute itself to an image of an observer, a thinker. This gives it much greater authority, because it has then apparently come from a being who should know what to think. (…) I am suggesting, however, that thought is a system belonging to the whole culture and society, evolving over history, and it creates the image of an individual who is supposed to be the source of thought. (…) … thought tells you the way things are, and then “you” choose how to act from that information.” (pp. 81/82)

So is the ‘something’ that chooses nothing other than a current, potentially accidental, kaleidoscopic patterning of cultural and social influences? Taking that view, I could on the one hand see how a concept of ‘self’ would indeed take on a sort of irrelevance – until I experienced, on the other hand, how upset my ‘self’ got and how strongly ‘it’ acted up when I felt my needs were ignored by some colleagues.

With an apparently strong sense of self combined with apparently little regard for other views, they had assumed they could make some important decisions about my professional future for me. Was that just my patterns rebelling against their patterns?

I shared all those aspects and my confusion about them with Kevin Power, who is now studying for his Ashridge doctorate in organisation consulting (ADOC). While he agreed that mind constructs a concept of self, he said something like:

“It’s okay for you to perceive some kind of bounded self – don’t go yet towards trying to fully understand a concept of complete deconstruction and dissolution, otherwise you’ll go mad! Stay where you are right now – for the moment, it’s fine to construct ‘self’ as a kind of ‘punctuation’.”

I must admit that I found his words comforting and calming, and later on, I found something similar with Bohm (1996, p. 103):

“… that the body is a sort of “focus” of life at a certain place. (…)

In addition, he (the individual) has a self-image, by which he tries to identify himself.”

Mead’s “me” and “I”

In grappling with understanding concepts of self, I finally found it highly helpful to consult Mead, who I had strangely avoided reading up until then. What felt helpful? His distinction of “me” and “I”: To him, the self, the personality, is an ongoing social process (or “conversation of gestures”, p. 179) composed of “me” and “I”.

The “me” arises out of society, community – as societal gesture received from “the generalized other, which represents the organized responses of all the members of the group” (p. 162). I would understand that as the social conditioning of the person.

“The “I” is in a certain sense that with which we do identify ourselves. (…) The “I” is the response of the organism to the attitudes of the others …” (pp. 174/175)

In my understanding then, consciousness is (socially conditioned) awareness of self and other, and “I” is choice, as individual expression arising out of the social “me”. This individual expression would be a complex responsive process, a complex interpretation (or kaleidoscopic reorganisation) of and reaction to “me”: as creatively choiceful ego – and as such an emergent construct. This choiceful “I” then contributes to the social process of the group/community by influencing back.

Personally, I find it exciting to evolve towards a rather open understanding of self:

expanding the “me” through experiencing every kind of diversity there is in the world, different constructs, various ‘generalized others’; willing to be influenced and changed by that, and considering multiple points of view simultaneously in the choiceful construction of “I”. Especially for my practice as a consultant, taking that attitude feels important to me. I guess what matters is both awareness of and non-attachment to that current “I” construct – open to reviewing and modifying choices!

I assume Kevin’s “going mad” reference might be about fear or discomfort arising from assuming self-lessness – and I assume the concept in question might be less about self-less being than about non-attachment to self as current patterning? While my inquiry continues, for now I assume that such an attitude of non-attachment can be helpful in just staying present and noticing:

“Open presence is a clear, open, vast, and alert state of mind, free from mental constructs. It is not actively focused on anything, yet it is not distracted.” (Ricard, p. 190)



Bateson, Gregory (1972)

Steps to an Ecology of Mind

The University of Chicago Press

ISBN 0 2260 3905 6

Bentz, Valerie Malhotra &  Shapiro, Jeremy J. (1998)

Mindful Inquiry in Social Research

Sage Publications, ISBN 0 7619 0409 3

Bohm, David (1996)

On Dialogue

Routledge Classics, ISBN 0 4153 3641 4

Critchley, Bill,  King, Kathleen & Higgins, John (2007)

Organisational Consulting – A Relational Perspective

Middlesex University Press

ISBN 1 9047 5014 7

Dowrick, Stephanie (2001)

Intimacy & Solitude

W.W. Norton & Company, ISBN 0 3930 3627 8

Gergen, Kenneth J. (1999)

An Invitation to Social Construction

Sage Publications, ISBN 0 8039 8377 8

Griffin, Douglas & Stacey, Ralph (2005)

Complexity and the Experience of Leading Organizations

Routledge, ISBN 0 4153 6693 3

Mead, George H. (1934)

Mind, Self and Society

University of Chicago Press, ISBN 0 2265 1668 7

Reason, Peter & Bradbury, Hillary (2001)

Handbook of Action Research

Sage Publications, ISBN 0 7619 6645

Ricard, Matthieu (2003)


Atlantic Books, ISBN 1 8435 4558 3