7 May 2023

“A Dialogical Approach to the Creation of New Knowledge in Organizations” by Haridimos Tsoukas [Recommended Innovation Articles (and Commentary) #24]

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Original post can be found here:

Today’s offering is an interesting article by one of my favorite complexity theorists and systems thinkers Haridimos Tsoukas on discourse and how people can change minds and perspectives through the exchange of ideas. There are perhaps 10x theorists out there that I recommend “read everything you can ever find by them”, and Tsoukas is one. His work is fantastic, relatively easy to read, and prolific on topics and depth. While I try to make as many article recommendations in this ongoing series easily accessible or free (no paywall) to readers, this is one of them that is behind an academic paywall. Readers in the military should contact their base or post librarian to get a quick and free way to get a PDF copy, while those readers associated with a university or academia should do the same at their library. You can go to this link here or the JSTOR one and see downloading and access options:

Now, about this article: For those that facilitate or are leaders attempting to cause cultural shifts, this is a great source to use. I particularly like how Tsoukas defines judgement (citing Dewey, Bell) with:

“Judgement arises from the self-conscious use of the prefix “re”- the desire to re-order, to re-arrange, to re-design what one knows and thus create new angles of vision or new knowledge for scientific or aesthetic purposes.” (p. 942).

On p. 944, there is a useful Figure that maps out how discourse might occur and introduces the concept of “recursiveness” in iterations of meaningful dialogue and the exchange of ideas. This becomes “communication about communication”, or metacommunication. Those interested in a longer explanation of recursiveness should check out my Medium blog on that concept where I weave in an episode from the TV show ‘Friends’ and the classic ‘Whitesnake’ song “Here I go again on my own”:

Many are familiar with deductive thinking, and inductive as well. Sherlock Holmes is a great example of deductive logic, while the scientific method of inquiry represents inductive thinking. Abductive reasoning is less familiar and a core part of design and innovation, and also how to engage in complex, dynamic systems. Tsoukas addresses this on p. 946. On p. 950, there is a nice flow chart Tsoukas uses to map out social interaction and a dialogical model for new distinctions and new knowledge:

Image from article; see header info above in graphic

Readers might consider the following- how might Commanders (or corporate leaders, political leaders, policy makers, strategists) ideate with their staffs or key stakeholders in matters where there is no clear path, where the system is not going to accept our linear, JPP/MDMP (military decision-making managerial methodologies found in doctrine) style mode of engineered decision-making. Particularly, when the future ends are unclear and we cannot realistically associate “ways” or “means”, we are unable to conceptualize useful measures of performance or effectiveness, might such a discourse model be a useful alternative? For more on breaking out of this linear, mechanistic mode of planning, see my five-part series where I introduce alternative (nonlinear) concepts to plan around such as a Möbius Strip and a Klein bottle metaphor:

Tsoukas’ article here is superb, and I strongly recommend it to those readers seeking a deeper appreciation of complexity science, the social construction of reality by humans that makes things far more complex than can ever be explained by Newtonian standards, and those pursuing a finer understanding of design thinking and innovation. There is a wonderful quote on p. 952 to close on with this commentary:

“Novelty creates unsettledness, which may be removed through the creation of new knowledge.”

It is in our unsettledness in war and conflict that we tend to cling to our existing doctrinal processes and procedures, despite this clear requirement for us to create new thinking (and thus, new theories, models, methods, terminology, and metaphors). Thanks for reading this commentary and I hope you enjoy this recommendation. Tsoukas’ books are also fantastic and you might consider grabbing as many as you might find on Amazon under the used book option. Some are out of print, but can be tracked down for a steal (for now).

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