Archive for Innovation

Creating healthy organizations

In re-reading your post, I continue to notice new levels of richness and meaning.

Freire describes some of the core insights of Partnership: “Any situation in which some individuals prevent others from engaging in the process of inquiry is one of violence” (Pedagogy of the Oppressed, p.66).

Yes, as Freire describes, domination is system of relations, including our relation to self. We are divided beings in as much as we internalize the voice(s) of dominant, controlling others. As young children, we tend to absorb parental and cultural moods, attitudes, and perspectives. It is, therefore, so often true that children of dominating parents (or of a hostile culture) struggle with self-criticism and self-doubt. In the Dominator paradigm, this is the position of feeling “less than” others. In this psychological literature, this is sometimes called “shame.”

Psychology also describes “projection” as a psychological defense mechanism. One way of copying with our “disowned […] feeling, wishes, needs and drives […] is to attribute them to others” (Bradsahw, 109). We may also gain some temporary relief from the pain of internalized oppression through identification with the oppressor (Bradshaw 106). When we identify with dominator (our externalized notions of power, prestige), we may experience ourselves as feeling “better than.” In this state, we may project undesireable characteristics onto others and “do unto others as has been done unto us.” It is, therefore, a truism that, in the absence of healing, people who have been abused, often become abusers themselves.

In a dominator system (such as is predominant in our culture), there is a tendency to either feel less than or greater than others, and whether one feels inferior or inferior can vary depending on time and circumstance.

Judgement appears to be the mechanism by which this occurs. Therefore, it is not surprising that it is common to fear the judgement of others — particularly those we perceive to have some level of power over our lives.

One dynamic for maintaining the “upper hand” in a dominator relationship is silencing, in which one does not permit others the privilege of speaking their truths. This dynamic may be internalized as self-silencing.

Codependency has been defined in a variety of ways. One pertinent definition is, “A pattern of coping which develops because of prolonged exposure to and practice of dysfunctional family rules that make difficult the open expression of thought” (

This same dynamic has been described in organizations. In the 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness, Stephen R. Covey describes the dynamics of codependency in organizations and how its negative effect on organizational effectiveness (17). For an excerpt, see:

Author John Gardner writes, “Most ailing organizations have developed a functional blindness to their own defects. They are not suffering because they cannot resolve their problems, but because they cannot see their problems.” The perspective of each individuals and organization (which is ultimately shaped by its members) seems natural and normal; therefore, real alternatives may not be readily seen, or when seen, may seem counter-intuitive. Seeing alternatives, including personal and organizational health, is an imaginative act.

If we can label a core problem of contemporary organizations to be co-dependence, then, what might the literature of psychology and recovery have to teach us with respect to creating healthier, more flexible, collaborative, and creative environments?

Also, what is the relationship between a Partnership relationship and perspective (based on mutual thriving), coaching and the psychological-social paradigm of recovery?

Leadership vs. Control by Guilt and Fear

In a recent post, Carman de Voer noted the distinction between leadership and management. These two different functions often converge within a particular role, but tend to draw upon different kinds of power. Management is associated with control, which is a highly reputable value and principle in most organizations. The process of management itself has been described as a feedback loop: managers “plan, organize and control” the work of the organization.

We have come to learn that the only relatively simple systems are subject to control in this sense; the interactions between the elements of more complex systems result in unpredictable outcomes. For this reason, particularly where the intelligence, creativity and committed contributions of organizational members are important to organizational outcomes, we have seen a shift from an emphasis on management to an emphasis on leadership.

Whereas management tends to rely on external rewards and punishments, leadership, particularly transformative leadership, seeks to align the self-actualization of organizational members with the self-actualization of the organization (the achievement of the organization’s mission and vision).

However, because leaders and managers, are still accountable for the contributions of their people, and their own jobs and careers are at stake, they usually feel some urgency around results.

The word “urgency” points to both importance and fear or anxiety. Another common term, which is used in conjunction with urgency is “edge.” (It might be useful to notice that intense focus and forward motion driven by vision and purpose, absent fear, has a very different tone).

Leaders then, very often experience some level of fear or anxiety — conscious or unacknowledged — and, the most common reaction to fear is to try to control others.

It’s useful to pause for a moment to consider: how do we, ourselves, attempt to exert control? What are the options? I once attended a workshop on power dynamics in which participants paired up on either side of a line. Each side was given the instruction that to win, they needed to get the other person to come over to their side of the line. Participants utilized a variety of strategies — including pleading, promising, guilting and dragging each other across.

In Spiritual Selling, sales and marketing expert, Joe Nunziata, describes the often unconscious strategies that people use to control others, and how these strategies are often employed in the workplace:

“Guilt [and shame] is the weapon of choice used by parents to control their children. […] In most cases, parents are not using guilt on a conscious level. They have absorbed guilt […] for generations and passed it on to their children. Innately parents know they can use this guilt to manipulate and control their children. Once the power of guilt is realized, it is then used in all areas of life. People begin to recognize the power of guilt in other situations. It can be applied to relationships, employees, coworkers, friends, and family. […]

“The desire to control and manipulate is driven by fear. The ego believes it will be safe if it can control people and the environment. This is why so-called control freaks are always micromanaging all aspects of work and the people involved with a project. There is an inherent fear that losing complete control of the situation will have disastrous results. […]”

“These same guilt and manipulation techniques are used in the business world. A sales manager may use the exact same process to motivate his or her people. Making salespeople feel they are not doing a good job can trigger similar feelings of guilt and shame. The intent is that they will start to feel bad and then have the desire to work harder. [Those who have read this blog for some time will recognize this dynamic as “The Wheel of Fear.”] The effectiveness of this approach depends on the makeup of the indiviudal. If similar techniques were used effectively by our parents they will transfer into the business world as well. You will be susceptible to the feelings of guilt you experienced as a child. […] Guilt and fear have long been viewed as the only way to motivate performance. Although the world has changed and some organizations are embracing more postiive techniques, a large majority are still trapped in this model. It is important to realize how powerful these unconscious traits are and how difficult they are to break…” (46-49).

Of course, external rewards, such as salary increases, bonuses, promotion, political capital, etc. are the “carrot” of this “carrot-and-stick” approach.

Hence, the organization tends to take on the characteristics of the family — too often, a dysfunctional one.

Transformational leadership, on the other hand, taps into a substantially different power dynamic in which the leader speaks to team members’ intrinsic motivations, to align the self-actualization of each team member with the self-actualization of the team or organization. In my opinion, coaching is a key component of transformational leadership. It cultivates the intelligent, creative energy of team members towards the achievement of overarching, meaningful goals. While recognizing distinctions in roles, it respects all organizational members, and builds the health and capability of the system…

What is the difference between healthy and unhealthy organizations?
How can we cultivate ever more healthy organizations?

Christie, L. “Getting Off Your Wheel of Fear”

Ibid. “Leaping Off the Hampster Wheel of Fear”

De Voer, C. “Promethius and Transformative Leadership.”

Nunziata, J. Spiritual Selling. Hoboken, N.J., Wiley, 2007.

Silence and speaking in organizations

Hi Carman,
I apologize that it has been taking me so long to respond to your thoughtful and insightful posts. I appreciate your ongoing contributions to this endeavor!

Thank you (first) for your discussion of cultures of silence. The quote you chose from Charles Davis was a very apt illustration of how we internalize the power structures in which we participate:

“Exterior un-freedom causes interior un-freedom. A child first learns to talk or think aloud, then afterwards to think without voicing its thought.”

Deconstructive postmodernists (with whom I share both agreement and disagreement) have observed that assertions of truth are acts of power. This is very evident in a court of law, where attorneys put forth a view of reality which serves them and their clients. This is also true in dominator organizations, where authority and power are often perceived to arise (in part) from being “right” and where, in a circular way, might makes right. Certain views and positions become “legitimate” and others, which question or challenge these perspectives may be viewed as heritical or a power play. (1)

In the same way that in a dominator family, a child is shusshed for “talking back” or challenging parental authority, in dominator organizations, members may be admonished for raising perspectives and positions that challenge organizational orthodoxy. (This seems to come back to your post on orgaizations as theocracies…). And what is true of families and organizations is also true with respect to our larger institutions and culture.

So, in dominator organizations, organizational members learn to silence themselves, effectively internalizing the outer controls, so as to avoid “punishment.” This self-silencing can become so automatic, that we are barely consciously aware of it.

Further, it is also taboo to discuss the silencing itself. Because it pulls back the covers on power relationships, challenges the legitimacy and absoluteness of existing truth claims, and because there is the sensibility that “that war” was already fought and won,” raising the existance of the taboo tends to both threaten and irritate people. A very successful control structure maintains both the silence and suppression of awareness or discussion of the silence itself.

Conversely, speaking in our own voice is a form of self-assertion, of “power-from-within.” And, when we share our truths an perspectives as part of a mutually-respectful dialogue or larger conversation, this sharing can become the co-creative “power-with” in which the flow of energy and ideas in the group gives rise to broader insights and more powerful ideas than would be the case of a person acting singly. Master coach Karen Capello calls this the power of authenticity:

It is the empowering, creative energy that organizations want and need. The challenge, as I see it, is that to be truly creative, many organizations need to rethink their assumptions about power and knowledge, and the role of leadership.

(1) This is not always true, of course. Alternative ideas may be considered within certain bounds, depending on both the idea and the speaker. (This speaks to the concept of rhetorical communities).

Vision and Limits: Creating a Space for Learning and Innovation

Carman writes: Hi Lisa,  I’ll try to paraphrase your questions:

1. Is emergent (bottom-up) organization compatible with goals and direction (top-down)?

2. When is the imposition of limits appropriate?

Morgan explains that “the intelligence of the human brain is not predetermined, predesigned, or  preplanned. Indeed, it is not centrally driven in any way. It is a decentralized emergent phenomenon. Intelligence evolves.” (p.94)

Morgan calls vision, norms, values or limits “cybernetic reference points.” Though they guide behavior and prevent complete randomness they also create a valuable space “in which learning and innovation can occur.”

To return to the example of the trainees:

Managers seem to have slain the goose to get the golden egg (forgive the worn-out analogy). Conversely, by referring to the philosophy (vision and values) of the organization they might have avoided short-term thinking (and the tyranny of targets!) and encouraged the emergence of new behaviours.

For example, might trainees eventually have fostered more effective ways of serving clients (and accomplishing goals)? Might such behaviour have enabled new insights and learning for managers? In short, could managers have learned from learners?

Tomorrow we can discuss single-loop versus double-loop learning if you like Lisa. Once we have beggared the brain metaphor perhaps you would like to select the Morgan metaphor that especially interests you.

Well, I’m off to the Stanley Park seawall, which I love to walk each weekend. Sometimes I see seals and sometimes they see me. Heavy fog in Vancouver today. Reminds me of a Conan Doyle novel. Sweet symphony from KUWY (on computer) without and Starbucks coffee within–the Lark is ascending!

Bye for now!

Carman,  It’s such a treat to read your posts!  Yes, I look forward to your thoughts on single-loop and double-loop learning.  Are you familiar with Robert Hargrove’s triple-loop learning model?  It heavily inspired my (current) transformative-holistic learning model:

Your day sounds very pleasant! We’ve had a taste of summer-like weather here the past few days in Southern California, and it makes me look forward to the long, warm days, again.

Talk soon, Lisa

Creativity, Dreaming, and Shaping the Future

“Nor do I hear in my imagination the parts successively. I hear them all at once. What a delight this is! All this inventing, this producing, takes place in a pleasing, lively, dream.” –Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Good morning, readers! It’s been a very intense time for me on the career coaching side of my practice, and I’ve been longing to spend more time with you here.  Mozart’s quote is a great reminder for us to recall the source and nature of our creativity. It’s not sequential analytical thought (though that has its own place in our lives and organizations); rather, our creativity seems to emerge from our wholistic right brains.

Is creativity important in your life and work?  Do you have problems to solve, or opportunities to meet? Would you like a better quality of experience?  If so, where and when do you take the time to nuture your playful, visionary, creative nature?

Working with interruptions? Not smart!

As a brief departure from our current discussion, I recently heard that when we are regularly interrupted by ringing telephones, email announcements, and visitors, that our IQ drops by about 10% – the same level of impairment found in people who are under the influence of marijuana. The colleague who shared this information with me joked, “All of the impairment, none of the benefits.”   

Most of us who have worked in an environment with frequent interruptions know that it materially affects our productivity, as well as our stress levels. It is the oppositive of the flow state, in which we tend to be extraordinarily effective. 

In our current age, which has been called the information or innovation age, the success of our organizations depends on the intelligence, creativity and effectiveness of people, who are many times also the biggest investment of the firm.  How can we make sure that our organizational members are as creative and effective as possible?

Some time and activity management experts recommend that we cultivate the habit of setting aside uninterrupted work time on a regular basis, to make progress on our most important projects — that we schedule appointments with ourselves in the same way that we schedule them with others.  The key is to let people know when you will be responding to email and phone calls.

Yet, some corporate cultures do not support this practice, prefering that its members always be available for questions at any time.  (It would be interesting to compare their results with organizations that manage this issue more strategically!) 

What is your experience?  What practices work well for you?

Want to be more creative? Reduce stress.

In our last post, we talked about working harder and longer as a mainstream cultural approach to dealing with a threat (or challenging environment). Those who have been reading this blog for a while may recognize this pattern as a common “wheel of fear.” This response is so common as to appear commonsensical. When the going gets tough, the tough don’t slough off, right?

This kind of response is very appropriate in certain kinds of situations. Our body-minds respond to perceived threats to life and limb by firing up adrenaline that can be used for “fight or flight” — a physical response. We draw upon our reserves to deal with the immediate threat. Organizations and nations do this as well. Of course, this is not sustainable, and if overused, can lead to personal and collective burnout. In burnout, our ability to respond becomes drastically reduced. Using the common analogy, a stress response can help a sprint and hurt a marathon.

A second distinction that becomes important is whether we are dealing with a simple task or with complex problems, which require a creative response. Our present age has been referred to as the “innovation age” in that innovation has become the engine of growth. Innovation — creative problem solving — is also crucial in an age of continous change. Under these conditions, the stress response can actual impair a creative and effective response to complex problems.

A study by David Beversdorf and Jessa Alexander in the department of neurology at Ohio State University demonstrated that people under stress perform slightly better on memory tests; however, they performed more poorly on complex problems requiring flexible thinking: “When individuals [under stress] are faced with a challenging task, they are less likely to perform well in complex situations.” (Graham qtd. in Brown, 2004)

If our “commonsensical” response to a stressor is to engage in behaviors that decrease our effectiveness, we are on our self-perpetuating “wheel of fear.” Clearly, the only way out is “counter-intuitive” behavior — our “wheel of creative freedom.” So, continuing to build our toolkit for our wheel of freedom, when under stress, we might consider and experiment with some of the following counter-intuitive suggestions:

* Make haste by not being in a hurry.
* The more we take it easy, the more we accomplish.
* The more overwhelmed we are, the more we need to take a break.

I’d love to hear your experiences …

Brown, Steve. “Stress Stifles Creativity, Study Shows.” The Latern (Online). 11/10/04. Retrieved from:

Why do people not create or innovate?

The key quesiton isn’t “what fosters creativity?”  But it is why in God’s name isn’t everyone creative? Where was the human potential lost? How was it crippled? I think therefore a good question might be not why do people create? but why do people not create or innovate? We have got to abandon that sense of amazement in the face of creativity, as if it were a miracle if anybody created anything. — Abraham Maslow

Maslow observes that creativity and innovation are natural endowments — we only need to watch young children and remember our own childhoods to know that this is so.  So, why do we, as adults, commonly think of creativity and innovation as qualities that primarily describe the relatively small group of professional creatives? And, why do organizations struggle with the question of how to become more innovative?

Almost 40 years ago, futurist Alvin Toffler observed that our education system was designed to develop citizens who could take up their positions in the industrializing world, as cogs in the great machine (Future Shock, 1970).  Beyond the content of the coursework itself,  schools teach children how to show up on time, follow directions, work within an incentive system that emphasizes external rewards and punishments and to conform to a social program.  Creativity and innovation are generally channeled into art (where classes in art are still offered).  “Play” is considered childish.  Speaking personally, it wasn’t until graduate school that I felt encouraged to think for myself and to create new ideas and knowledge …

Then, as Alfonoso Montuori describes, our organizations are still dominated by bureaucratic forms of leadership and organization designed for the industrial age, which values conformance, compliance, industry, and relies primarily on external reward systems.  Although, as leaders, we intellectually know that our organizations need to become substantially more innovative to survive and thrive, at an emotional level, most of us in this culture, have come to value control and compliance even more…

Maslow’s good news is to remind us that we are all naturally creative. Just as we learned how to suppress and narrowly channel our creativity, we can also begin to unlock our creative potential by removing  those learned barriers (both institutional and internal). 

In order to do this, we will need to circle around to a discussion of the concept of control or power-over, which seems to be creativity’s chief antagonist…

Experience of Right and Left Hemispheres of the Brain

Below is a link to an awesome video, in which neuroanatomist Jill Bolte describes alternating experiences of the left and right hemispheres of the brain. 

This is important because in the West, we have extensively developed the left brain, associated with rational sequential thought, and modern organizations and approaches to leadership reflect this orientation.  However, it is the right side of the brain which sees larger patterns and is the source of our creativity, including creative leaps.  Therefore, learning how to integrate these diverse facilities — to draw on our inner diversity — can help us to see new opportunities and solutions to old problems.  

Coaching does just this, and therefore it is increasingly being recognized as a core leadership competency in contemporary organizations. And, there are many more interesting and exciting implications of this insight that we will discuss in this blog…

Innovation & the Machine

 The juxtaposition of these two words sounds unlikely doesn’t it?  We really don’t think of machines as being innovative — they do pre-programmed things (one hopes well).  For certain, the operator of the machine can innovate, but not the machine itself.  Similarly, traditional bureaucratic organizations, specialization and organizational lines of communication and control usually substantially limit innovation from within.  

As we discussed earlier, the bureaucratic organization structure is based on the principle of rational control, which enables a small number of people to exercise control over a large number of people. Because security, privileges and economic rewards tend to be commensurate with the scope of authority and power, managers tend to guard and seek to enlarge their scope of conrol.  This and other factors tend to lead both to internal competition and a resistance to changes that may decrease a manager’s scope of control, or put him/her in a less advantageous position.  

Although this blog promotes a Partnership paradigm of leadership and organization, which is distinctly un-Machiavellian, there are few as insightful or eloquent with respect to the dynamics of authoritarian leadership than Machiavelli, who confirms one reason that innovation and change tends to be so difficult for modern organizations:  

“It should be borne in mind that there is nothing more difficult to handle, more doubtful of success and more dangerous to carry through than initiating changes. The innovator makes enemies of all those who prospered under the old order and receives only lukewarm support from those would prosper under the new.” (Niccolo Machiavelli 1512)

This tendency to pursue one’s own self interest can be counterbalanced by an inspiring vision — which is one of the key functions of good leadership. However, it is interesting and potentially instructive to observe that the burueaucratic organization form we take for granted today was not designed or intended to be innovative. This is not to say that such organizations cannot be innovative, but in order to do so, they have to overcome some problems of their own making.

In upcoming posts, we will continue to explore the dynamics of traditional organizations, and also begin to explore emerging paradigms of organization and leadership, and how coaching is both a means and an end to more empowered, collaborative and innovative organizations ….