Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Choosing Marginality

After posting the blog entry pointing to Paul Graham's essay about good ideas coming from the margins, I shared the link with my Organization Development colleagues at ODNet. This produced an interesting exchange of ideas, on-going.

I think I first encountered the concept of marginality in OD a long time ago (early 70's) in discussions about collusion.

In 1988, in a strong critique of the state of OD, Margulies and Raia commented that OD consultants are "in bed with" their clients. They wrote:

"It is our belief that OD practitioners have become an integral part of this collusion. The field has been and continues to be technology-driven. Many practitioners have become routine in their applications; they have succumbed to management pressure for the quick fix, the emphasis on the bottom line, and the cure-all mentality; they have failed to maintain "marginality" in their roles as consultants and helpers to management- they are for all intents and purposes "in bed" with their client-systems; and more important perhaps, they seem to have lost sight of the core values of the field and the need to engage in the difficult and challenging process of integrating them into the organization’s value systems as ends in and of themselves."

More recently, while team-writing the chapter on internal OD for the second edition of Practicing Organization Development, we had some spirited debates about whether "maintaining marginality" was as relevant for the internal OD consultant as for the external. And if it was, what did it "look like?"

From what I have learned, marginality is a choice that we make. A relational stance toward our clients. A way to provide clients with outsider perspective, professional distance, neutrality, and honesty.

The marginality of a change agent gives the best vantage point for assessing the system and determining the changes that will bring about the needed improvement. Such marginality is an intentional space that the consultant chooses to operate from. He or she can be deep inside of the organization yet maintain marginality.

Marginality in OD helps to keep the relationship professional.

And, if Paul Graham's ideas, about the powers in the marginal, have any application to OD...

~ for example, Graham points out that new ideas often come from the margins and that outsider status brings different opportunities than those available to insiders

...there could be a whole new vista on marginality for OD practitioners.

Is it time for OD to reclaim the powers of marginality?

Posted by Terrence Seamon, 07/26/06

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Simple Gifts

On our walk this morning, my wife Joan and I were deconstructing the Shaker dance tune "Simple Gifts:"

'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free,
'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gain'd,
To bow and to bend we shan't be asham'd,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come round right.


What does it mean "to come down where we ought to be?" And why is that a gift?

I looked up the word "simple" and found that it comes from the Latin simplex meaning single, the opposite of complex. A simple gift, therefore, is just one thing: basic, essential, and indivisible.

With that in mind, I think the Shakers were trying to achieve a simple way of life. That's where they felt they "ought to be." In that place, free of the complications and complexities of the Outside World, they could bring their lives into right relationship with God. Such a place would indeed be a gift.

Posted by Terrence Seamon, 07/25/06

Monday, July 24, 2006

A 14 Year Old Girl And Her Cat?

Is that who is blogging? Well, according to a new study, yes.

But blogger Kai (the Wordpress Wonderwoman) is incensed!

As for me, I am the oddball as usual, falling into a completely different demographic: over 50, male, and allergic to (most) cats.

Posted by Terrence Seamon, 07/24/06

Friday, July 21, 2006

Blogging Your Brand...On Purpose

What separates an effective blog from all the rest? This blogger says: a clear purpose.

Execunet, an organization devoted to assisting executive level job hunters, says that today's savvy candidate will have a blog that helps create and market her unique brand to potential employers.

Sounds good to me.

But be sure it is built on a foundation of purpose.

Posted by Terrence Seamon, 07/21/06

Monday, July 17, 2006

Losing Deeply Embedded Employees

Here is a news item with some food for thought around the connection between turnover and productivity.

It addresses an issue --the effect of losing employees who are deeply embedded and well-connected (employees that bridge structural gaps inside organizations)-- that organizations endure all the time, but is usually not managed and not measured. I wonder if leaders in organizations actually care?

The last time I experienced it (during the takeover of my last employer, and subsequent downsizings), one of my colleagues colorfully described the daily loss of these key players as "burning down libraries." Later, when that very person left the company, there was disruption in operations for weeks.

The bottom line: Losses in social capital can impact performance and profit.

The question for business leaders, HR, and OD: Should we care? If you answer Yes, what can we do about it?

Posted by Terrence Seamon, 07/17/06

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Home Free

Just a week ago, my church, St. Matthias Roman Catholic in Somerset NJ, finished participating in our first foray into the Interfaith Hospitality Network. In a nutshell, we played host to several homeless families for two weeks. Before us, these guests stayed with another church elsewhere in the area. After us, they were off to another church...or maybe to their own apartment or home.

Sheltering the homeless is the right thing to do.

Via a posting about One Laptop Per Child by Greg Deatz, I picked up a link to Astha's blog , about providing laptops to people in India, where she provides a link to a Wired article about how the internet is empowering the homeless, which led to this blogger who is homeless.

Another example of "following the bread crumbs" in the blogosphere!

Posted by Terrence Seamon, 07/16/06

Friday, July 14, 2006

Is MySpace Subversive?

Friend, IT Guy, and blogger Greg Deatz is wondering if new technology can be a subversive and disruptive force in society. He asks, Is the path to enlightenment through disruption and subversion?

Interesting questions. The answer is probably "Yes" and depends on how you view words like "subversive" and "disruptive."

Words like subversion and disruption are loaded with connotations sometimes. Subversion, for example, sounds vaguely unpatriotic, like somebody plotting the overthrow of the government. And disruption sounds vaguely anarchic, like somebody plotting to blow up the telephone switching building.

To Greg's question, Is the path to enlightenment through subversion and disruption? In the West our paradigm, I believe, has always been that the path to enlightenment is through education that forms and shapes a person.

Maybe "subversion and disruption" are simply methods of education?

Posted by Terrence Seamon, 07/14/06

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Socio-Technical Zen

KM guru and blogger Dinesh Tantri at Organic KM has a cool entry on the new socio-technical wave in organizational learning.

I like his 4 steps =

1. Find/Filter - This is the step where people in an organization use "machine intelligence + community filtering (to locate and sort through) relevant content and conversations"

2. Sensemaking

3. Act

4. Reflect

...though I wonder if it is really three steps, where step one is woven into the dynamic of sensemaking? Anyhow, great thoughts.

Posted by Terrence Seamon, 07/13/06

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Good Ideas Come From the Margins

So says Paul Graham in this interesting essay.


Posted by Terrence Seamon, 07/12/06

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The OD Truck

While running some errands this morning, a truck passed me. It was one of those big overnight delivery trucks. On the side in huge letters it said OD. Next to that was a promise of OD service and OD technology.

As an OD (Organization Development) Guy, this OD (Overnight Delivery) truck resonated with me. As far as I know, there are no organization development consultants who operate out of trucks. (Although, as part of a technology roll-out, I once rode in the trucks of service technicians to coach them in the use of their new on-board computers.)

But it got me thinking about what we, in organization development, do from a service delivery standpoint.

~ What do we promise?

~ What service do we provide?

~ What technology supports what we do?

~ What can our customers depend on?


Posted by Terrence Seamon, 07/11/06

Monday, July 10, 2006

Gotta Big Question? Ask the Internet.

Stephen Hawking and Bono have some big questions and they want lots of input from a global sample. How are they getting it? Go to the internet.

Hawking wants to know: How can the human race survive the next hundred years?

Bono wants to know: What can we do to make poverty history?

I've responded to both, along with tens of thousands of other people. I wonder how Hawking and Bono will weed through all the answers to find the gems?

Posted by Terrence Seamon, 07/10/06
The Most Valuable 10%

Here is a great idea.

Posted by Terrence Seamon, 07/10/06

Sunday, July 09, 2006

If You Want Innovation, Empower the People

Here is a management consultant and blogger who straddles the fields of innovation and Web 2.0. His motto: Turning knowledge workers into innovation creators using Web Office Technology. His blog has a most interesting manifesto for the folks in Knowledge Mgmt.

I made the same point about blogs and wikis here back in January.

Plus: Here's a blog entry that provides an overview of blogs and wikis in the business world.

Posted by Terrence Seamon, 07/09/06

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Are You "T" Shaped?

Blogger Dorai, at Dorai's Learn Log, has a cool entry about some of the characteristics of good bloggers.

I hope I measure up well. The one about being "T" shaped is intriguing: the T-shaped blogger has a deep interest in some subject(s), with a broad cross-disciplinary interest in many diverse areas.

Posted by Terrence Seamon, 07/06/06

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Post-Independence Day

Last night, as we attended a dazzling fireworks display, my wife commented, "I wonder if the American Indians are celebrating this day?"

In that spirit, this speech given in 1987 by Thurgood Marshall is worth reading.

The work of building a just and free society --based on such principles as life, liberty, equality, and happiness expressed in the Declaration of Independence-- is far from over.

The vision, articulated so long ago, is still out there, beckoning,
yet to be attained.

Here is one poet's version of what America desires to be:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"


~ The New Colossus" by Emma Lazarus, 1883

We aren't there yet. Not by a long shot.

There are barriers to be tackled and overcome, some external, but some deeply rooted in our hearts.

Do we have the will to change?

Now that the 4th of July parades and fireworks are done, let's get back to work.

Posted by Terrence Seamon, 07/05/06

Monday, July 03, 2006

Near Miss

In the world of industrial safety there is an important concept called "near miss" (which should really be "near hit," but . . . oh well) that refers to an incident that might have been an accident, but wasn't.

Like someone opening an office door into a hallway and almost hitting someone who was walking in that hallway. Or someone operating a forklift truck who almost runs into a worker.

You may ask, "Hey, If an accident did not occur, why should I care?" You care because one of the best ways to improve safety is to heighten everyone's awareness of it. Tracking and discussing near misses is one way to do just that. Learning from near misses and making proactive improvements in the safety of the work environment is a great way to prevent serious safety incidents from ever happening in the first place.

The planet Earth just had a near miss. Several hours ago, in the early morning hours of July 3, an asteroid whizzed by, just beyond the orbit of our Moon. It wasn't just a pebble or a rock. It was a big one, half a mile in size, big enough to have had a major impact on us had it struck the planet. Science has discovered that big asteroid hits can have serious effects; ask the dinosaurs.

Applying the science of safety to a planetary near miss, what can we learn from this? What improvements can we make in view of this near miss? I'm sure there are small armies of researchers out there figuring out ways to prevent such an incident in the future.

But let's take this beyond the realm of safety.

Whatever religious, political or social squabbles the dinosaurs might have had with one another were ended in one fell swoop when that asteroid hit the Earth. All of their hopes, fears, and dreams were blown away.

This could be our fate as well.

Years ago, I read a series of books by the late anthropologist Carlos Castaneda where he documented his interviews and experiences with a brujo named Don Juan in the Mexican outback. One of the lessons he learned was how to regard Death:

"Death is our eternal companion," don Juan said with a most serious air. "It is always to our left, at an arm's length. It was watching you when you were watching the white falcon; it whispered in your ear and you felt its chill, as you felt it today. It has always been watching you. It always will until the day it taps you."

"The thing to do when you're impatient," he proceeded, "is to turn to your left and ask advice from your death. An immense amount of pettiness is dropped if your death makes a gesture to you, or if you catch a glimpse of it, or if you just have the feeling that your companion is there watching you."

"You're full of crap!" he exclaimed. "Death is the only wise adviser that we have. Whenever you feel, as you always do, that everything is going wrong and you're about to be annihilated, turn to your death and ask if that is so. Your death will tell you that you're wrong; that nothing really matters outside its touch. Your death will tell you, 'I haven't touched you yet.' "


A near miss, like our companion Death, has not touched us . . . yet. Are we awake to its message?

Are we listening? Learning? Changing?

Posted by Terrence Seamon, 07/03/06

Sunday, July 02, 2006

What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?

Blogger and consultant Dick Richards is seeking powerful questions to guide us in our search for purpose and fulfillment.

One question that is so common, so ordinary, that it has probably achieved cliche status, is What do I want to be when I grow up?

This annoying question has popped up continually through my 51 years and I have a feeling it will be with me like a bad penny for the next 51 (if I live that long).

But as annoying as it can be, it’s also like an old friend that comes and goes, in and out, of your life, popping back up when you least expect it, and despite the passage of time, you can pick up right where you left off.

Just the other day, I was sitting in my back-yard with a nearly-50 friend who is losing her job. Sharing a bottle of Italian red wine, we found ourselves laughing, envisioning the future, and asking each other, So, What do YOU want to be when you grow up?

Why does this question seem to have such staying power? I wonder if it’s because we never stop growing? We never finish. We are always evolving. We are like perennials in a garden, always re-blooming, coming back for a new season.

Posted by Terrence Seamon, 07/02/06

Saturday, July 01, 2006

And with your spirit

As a practicing Catholic, I am an observer of the Church and its positions on various matters. Sometimes I scratch my head in wonder, like the latest item I saw today where the Church is considering immediate excommunication for any stem cell researcher. Huh? Wasn't Jesus'message about healing the sick and affirming life?

Or this item from a few weeks ago where the Vatican is appealing to the Anglicans not to ordain women. What the heck? Didn't Jesus call women to his way as well as men?

The Church is its own worst enemy sometimes.

Recently however the American Catholic bishops issued a press release regarding some further changes to the Mass, including one that I like a lot. It would be a distinct improvement, in my humble opinion.

Currently, the following exchange occurs several times in the Mass:

Priest: The Lord be with you.
Congregation: And also with you.

When the change goes into effect, we will say:

Priest: The Lord be with you.
Congregation: And with your spirit.

Where did that come from, you ask? In the Latin Mass (which went by-the-way a few decades ago), the exchange went like this:

Priest: Dominus vobiscum. (The Lord be with you)
Response: Et cum spiritu tuo. (And with your spirit)

This feels quite similar to the expression "namaste" which some have translated as "I bow to/honor the divine spirit within you and within me."

I don't know why the Church is making this change, but I support it. Imagine the spiritual reverberations that could ripple out from so simple an acknowledgement?

Posted by Terrence Seamon, 07/01/06