We owe much to Donald Schon (properly Schön) for his innovations in learning that have reframed much of the language of education, not the least of which are the learning society, double-loop learning and reflection-in-action has become part of the language of education. For our purposes, I will focus on Beyond the Stable State in which Schon stated that institutions are characterized by a "dynamic conservatism" defined as a "tendency to fight to remain the same," all of which rise from a strong and abiding belief in a stable state, "the unchangeability, the constancy of central aspects of our lives, or belief that we can attain such a constancy." While dynamic conservatism is a false "bulwark against uncertainty," it is a strong and unrelenting one that persists in the face of increasingly rapid technological change whose frequency was "uniquely threatening to the stable state":
The loss of the stable state means that our society and all of its institutions are in continuous processes of transformation. We cannot expect new stable states that will endure for our own lifetimes. We must learn to understand, guide, influence and manage these transformations. We must make the capacity for undertaking them integral to ourselves and to our institutions. We must, in other words, become adept at learning. We must become able not only to transform our institutions, in response to changing situations and requirements; we must invent and develop institutions which are ‘learning systems’, that is to say, systems capable of bringing about their own continuing transformation.
Written in the early 1970s, institutions and bureaucracies are still with us and are just about as stable and as resistant to change as when first Schon penned the idea. In fact, it is a common axiom in change management that quantum change often comes from the outside - from an outsider or maverick - who has nothing to lose by upsetting the status quo. (Witness Xerox's fatal clinging to consumables as a cash flow staple as it squandered the venture capital of its nascent PCs, desktop printing, user interfaces, and computer networks.)
If change comes from the outsider (who often departs or is driven out to form a new firm), where does that leave the rest of the organization? I am not alone in submitting that weblogs are one very good way despite their messiness and informality. I find it painful to reflect on the changes that better communications (in terms of accuracy, completeness, currency, consistency) would have made in my 19-part series that started with Operation IRAQI FREEDOM (OIF): analysis and prediction for a year-end After Action Report on 29 Dec, 2004 and ended with "Why are they doing this to us?" on 14 Jan, 2005. In commencing the series, I observed that:
The picture will not be an attractive one, the needed changes will be wrenching and likely rejected, the outcome - a loss already in progress - will be difficult to absorb, and an amelioration, if possible, will require some extraordinarily gifted diplomacy and geopolitical footwork to recover.
James Fallows now asks many of the same questions in Getting Out Right, citing Fourth Generation Warfare and OODA Loop Implications of The Iraqi Insurgency as an example of a means of asking the right questions, questions that were long overlooked and thus populated the pages of the After Action Report (AAR) Operation IRAQI FREEDOM (OIF) and related analyses.
I think that weblogs are a very effective means of getting answers back up, even reframing a partially or poorly phrased question and then getting its answer back up. With the right encouragement from the top, it just might overcome Frank Voehl's apt admonition:
All established social systems work very hard to survive. They often, at a great cost, maintain their boundaries, work methods, and patterns of interaction and involvement. The more they are pressed from the outside, the more they push back. This need for social equilibrium is very strong and is frequently self-reinforcing. For many of us, this parallels the common biological perspective on what keeps organizations cohesive: Namely, any tendency towards change is automatically met by the increased effectiveness of the factors that resist change.
Many organizational change agents make the mistake of writing off this phenomenon as simple resistance to change, which they feel can be overcome either by ignoring it and plowing straight ahead, by trying to pacify it with several well-crafted motivational speeches, or by a quick hitting series of team meetings.
Getting Out Rightby James Fallows
The Atlantic Monthly, April 2005
It’s Good to Know Leadership Gets It
Posted By: Timmer @ 0610 on 20050323
The Daily Brief
We Need Spy Blogs
By Kris Alexander
Wired, Issue 13.03, March 2005
Spies and Bloggers
By John P. Mello Jr.
Fourth Generation Warfare & OODA Loop Implications of The Iraqi Insurgency
G.I. Wilson, Greg Wilcox, Chet Richards
Defense and the National Interest
Beyond the Stable State
Donald A. Schon