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Paula Thornton

In the vein of embracing other themes, I found it odd that in doing a search on your site no results were returned for "Cluetrain". The primary message of that late '90s piece was of the significance of conversations (I highly recommend the audio over the book itself -- the audio nuances are critical).

As the founders of "complexity" illustrated, the truth is in the convergence of the thought from different perspectives. While the less astute might get hung up on the thoughts being embodied in the phrase "Markets are Conversations", organizations are inherently markets -- a place of economic exchange. The problem is that it is measured by 'financial' exchange not 'economic' exchange -- which embodies ALL resources (time, effort, peferences, etc.).

Indeed you speak of 'value' above. Value is assigned through the principles of economics.

It is also economics that helps explain why it is a republic is a more effective mechanism than a democracy -- the behaviors of how conversations draw energy, and how they illustrate that a democracy is simply an ideal that doesn't happen in practice -- there are too many costs involved in everyone participating in every decision. Not costs of supportin the conversation, costs that prevent people from participating -- they simply make other choices (going to work, caring for family, eating, sleeping). Conversations are one explicit element of evolving choice in action.

The first paid project for The Sante Fe Institute was about economics (albeit a financially focused application of economics).

I've just ordered your book so I'm not speaking fully informed, but in reviewing the TOC, the significance of economics in all of this seems to be lacking in your messages. A conversation is an exchange -- it reflects and gives voice to issues of exchange. It's like the elephant in the living room that everyone is ignoring.

Chris Rodgers

Hi Paula,

Thanks for drawing my attention to the audio version of Cluetrain; I shall get hold of a copy. You are right that I haven’t looked at organisational dynamics from the perspective of economic exchange. I’m glad, though, that your reading of the issue from that standpoint echoes many of the same themes. My focus in writing Informal Coalitions was to provide an accessible book for practising managers, which challenged conventional thinking on organizational change and provided insights into how they might get to grips with the hidden, messy and informal dynamics of their organizations.

I agree completely that a conversation is an exchange. But I’ve majored on the political aspects of organizational dynamics that this reflects, rather than its economic dimensions. My aim was to rehabilitate power and politics as critical components of organizational leadership, as well as getting managers to recognize that ‘talk’ (in the fullest sense of the word) is their primary action tool. Informal Coalitions then couples these challenges to management orthodoxy with other equally ‘heretical’ suggestions for leadership practice. These include the contention that organizational culture is not a ‘thing’ that can be designed and built by managers; that the dynamics of coalitions means that “shared values” and one-for-all team working are not essential for effective organizational performance; that paradox needs to be actively embraced; and that providing vision through everyday interactions is a more important (and more impactful) leadership task than providing a Vision (with a capital ‘V’). I guess that there are only so many “impossible things that you can ask managers to believe before breakfast”!

On the particular point that you make about democracy being “simply an ideal that doesn't happen in practice”, the view that organizations (or societies) are dynamic networks of conversations explains why this is necessarily the case. The notion of democracy in a society (as well as, for example, the stated Vision and Values of an organization) is an idealized state that only exists in practice to the extent that it is functionalized through people’s everyday sense-making and use-making conversations and interactions. During these local exchanges, if the idea of “democracy” is perceived at all, it is interpreted and evaluated according to the particular circumstances that prevail in that situation, at that time and in that relationship. The same applies to an organization’s formal plans, policies, strategies, visions, values and so on. As you say, in many cases people choose a different course to that envisaged by those who ‘preach’ democracy or define an organization’s formal policies, plans and programmes.

In the context of organizations, this is why the change-leadership agenda in Informal Coalitions calls on leaders to actively engage with the everyday conversational networks through which their staff make sense of emerging events and decide how they are going to act.

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