2001 Conference (May 27-29)

Vancouver, B.C. Canada

Alan Stewart

Creating a Culture of Conversing:
Applying Cybernetic Notions in Business Praxis




This paper is about the organizing idea that conversing is the lifeblood of an organization. By conversing I mean all members talk with other staff in a non confronting, non status, friendly and open way. When the need arises to sit down and have a chat. In such a culture people feel confident and secure in expressing their ideas on matters of significance, imaginatively.

Pie in the sky? I suggest that there are key cybernetic principles which can be brought forth to help create and sustain this kind of culture. My fundamental premises are that 'Intelligence is a property of conversation' (Gordon Pask). I claim that when conditions are right for conversing, including it being explicit that 'We will treat each other well' and that 'We're in this together', intelligence automatically emerges. This intelligence can be observed as people being continuously questioning, creative, curious, committed and playful. When this is in place, new knowledge is created from questions that arise in conversation. And that this is precisely the knowledge which companies need to sustain their business, keep flexible in the competitive world and be enjoyable organizations to 'work' for.

I will outline the epistemological and ontological foundations of such a culture, drawing heavily on insights derived from the new cognitive sciences (the science of wholeness) as articulated by Humberto Maturana and as practised by Meg Wheatley and others. Features include notions of autonomy, closure, the observer, love, surrender, truth and unity (Lloyd Fell). And I will introduce stories from the rich heritage of systemic thinking (Robert Flood) and of organizations based on principles and practice of Open Space Technology (Harrison Owen and Birgitt Williams). I will also explore implications for leadership in promoting recognition that conversing is working and that time and space be allocated accordingly. Creating the architecture and other infrastructure for this process to happen and be maintained is challenging yet vital work.


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