Friday, October 19, 2012

Symmetry as a methodological move, part IV

Is there a difference between hitting a nail with and without a hammer?

This is one of the provocative questions that Latour asks in Reassembling the Social (p.71). The question, of course, is rhetorical: of course there's a difference. Using the hammer remakes—perhaps I should say makes—the activity in a very fundamental way. Perhaps holding a hammer makes every problem look like a nail, but similarly, a nail poses a very different problem when one doesn't have a hammer.

Yet, Latour charges, classical sociology has tended to ignore the hammer and other material objects when it examines human activities. These material objects are often seen as incidental, he says, to what classical sociologists see as their real focus: social constructs, social structures, social contracts, social forces, etc. As Latour argues in his book Aramis, classical sociology sees through actors to the social structure, scrutinized through fixed frames such as norms, reason, logic, and common sense (pp.199-200). It assumes "a stabilized state of affairs, a bundle of ties that, later, may be mobilized to account for some other phenomenon" (Reassembling the Social, p.1). It posits "the existence of a specific sort of phenomenon, variously called 'society,' 'social order,' 'social practice,' social dimension,' or 'social structure'" (p.3). This social "context" "can be used as a specific type of causality" (pp.3-4), i.e., it causes people to act in various ways. So, Latour claims, classical sociology begins with society or social aggregates; sociologists then study the effects of these causes (p.8).

Latour does not necessarily think this is a problem.

In fact, Latour says, classical sociology is like Newtonian physics. In most ordinary cases, when change happens slowly, it's fine to use a fixed frame of reference. When you're trying to determine with what force an object will hit the ground, knowing only the object's mass and rate of acceleration, it's fine to use Newtonian physics (f=ma). And if you're studying fixed social situations, such as traditional craftwork, a fixed-frame approach such as classical sociology is A-OK in Latour's book (literally his book: Reassembling the Social p.12).

But in other cases, we need a relativist frame. If you want to understand why atomic clocks run slower on commercial jetliners than they do at the US Naval Observatory, Newtonian physics will not get you very far; you need a relativist physics. And if you want to study situations in which "things accelerate, innovations proliferate, and entities are multiplied," Latour says, you need a relativist sociology (Reassembling the Social p.12)—one with no fixed frames or metalanguage (Aramis p.200).

In this alternate, relativist view, "'social' is not some glue that could fix everything including what the other glue cannot fix; it is what is glued together by many other types of connectors" (Reassembling the Social, p.5). It's not the cause but the consequence of the assemblage (Reassembling the Social, p.8); the social is what you get when you associate various things. Thus, in this relativist sociology, you can't understand the social until you trace the associations among things (p.5). The things themselves aren't social; what's social is how they are shuffled together (p.64).

Let's try this out with some examples.

Situation 1. Suppose you're visiting a carpenter and his apprentice in their workspace. They're familiar and comfortable with their tools (hammers, saws, miter boards, etc.) and with each other, and they're doing work with which they are very familiar. Their hands are sure and their movements are smooth,  as you might expect from experienced people performing familiar tasks. In activity theory's terms, they their work is largely operationalized, habituated to a degree that they hardly have to think about it, leaving them free to talk baseball and politics. In fact, the details and tools of their craftwork may not be nearly as interesting as other things you might be able to investigate in this fixed frame: how they bond through talk, how they represent themselves in topics, how the carpenter retains or fails to retain social dominance over the apprentice.

Situation 2. But now let's suppose we visit a middle-aged college professor. He's at home, working at his kitchen table, surrounded by books and papers. The window is open, letting in a breeze that repeatedly moves the papers. Suddenly he gets up, fetches a hammer from the kitchen counter, and puts it on top of a page.

Now, that's not a completely novel use for a hammer, but it is certainly not what the hammer was designed to do. And this use snaps our attention to what we might stuffily call "the materiality of writing"—a broad set of different things (materials, artifacts, practices, people) that become associated in order for the professor to do his work. Without some of these associations, the work doesn't turn out the same way, or perhaps at all. These different things all contribute somehow. Sometimes it's through direct problem-solving, as in the maps and hoeys that Hutchins describes. Sometimes it's through mediations that make the problem space more tractable, like using a hammer as a paperweight. Any thing might be an actor—"any thing that does modify a state of affairs by making a difference," Latour says (Reassembling the Social p.71). So the operative question is: "does it make a difference in the course of some other agent's action or not?" (p.71).

Or as I asked at the beginning: Is there a difference between hitting a nail with or without a hammer?

When Latour uses symmetry, it's as a methodological move: a move that focuses us on the associations among various humans and nonhumans. And since the associations themselves are the focus, the things they associate fade into the background. It's not that nonhumans become humans or vice versa, it's that these differences in qualities are no longer what we're investigating. Hipsters and horses are different, but those differences don't matter to an elevator or gravity. Professors and papers are different, but that difference isn't the focus of Latour's methodology.

Now let's connect this discussion to something closer to home. Earlier I mentioned the materiality of writing, something I've been studying for the last 15 years. One of my first moves—conducted after reading Hutchins, but before reading Latour—was to begin describing and examining genre ecologies, which are (loosely speaking) associations of text types used in people's work. This move was, like Latour's, a methodological move, meant to help me focus on a specific issue: How people were solving problems by using available texts in their environments. This issue became very important to me during my first set of observations, when I discovered something that (when you think about it) should be blindingly obvious: people don't just read one text at a time. In fact, they string together lots of texts, sometimes surprisingly large gobs of wildly heterogeneous texts, related in very different ways. Some of these are things that we would not normally consider texts at all.

My focus, that is, shifted toward the associations among the genres I saw being used in these observations, which I mapped using basic network diagrams, characterized based on qualitative data (observations, interviews, artifact collection), and compared between participants and observations. Rather than asking "How does this person read and write?" I began asking, "What combinations of texts do people need in order to get work done?" "When and why do people innovate new texts to include in these combinations?" "How do they associate these texts?" "When is one association substituted for another?" "Around which associations do people encounter the most disruptions?"

The construct of the genre ecology helped me get at questions such as these, methodologically, by helping me to focus away from individual expertise, interpretation, cognition, and social forces, and instead focusing on the associations that held these together. At the same time, this methodological move forced me to demand specific evidence for each association.

That's not to say that genre ecologies are symmetrical in the way that Latour's actor-networks are. Genre ecologies model associations among texts, not all kinds of entities, and those associated texts collectively mediate human activity rather than enfolding human beings into the collective activity of a system. That is, genre ecologies are still conceived within a WAGR framework. But methodologically, they constitute a similar move, one that has paid dividends for me (and, I hope, for others in my line of work).

And that's where I want to leave this series. When Latour proposes that we study humans and nonhumans symmetrically, when I propose that we study genres in ecologies, when Newton proposes that force can be considered mass times acceleration for any mass in a fixed frame, these are not all-encompassing propositions. They are deployed only when they make methodological sense. Physicists, I'm assured, don't look at their loved ones and see kilograms (unless, perhaps, when they're worried about the elevator breaking down). Similarly, Latour doesn't talk to doorknobs—unless he needs to apply that methodology to solve a particular kind of problem.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Reading :: The Structuring of Organizations

The Structuring of Organizations
By Henry Mintzberg

 I've been researching adhocracies lately, beginning with Toffler's book Future Shock, and one of the names that often comes up is Henry Mintzberg's. Mintzberg, a management professor at McGill University has published a remarkable number of books; in his 1979 synthesis The Structuring of Organizations, he synthesizes the research on how organizations are structured and why.

I'm no professor of management, and I doubt I'll be able to do justice to this book in a review. But the book itself is not intimidating or difficult. Mintzberg patiently and clearly synthesizes the extant management literature, pointing out its gaps and developing a systematic account of how organizations structure themselves under different circumstances. It's a fascinating read.

But it's also an introduction to an entire subfield, so Mintzberg cautions us in the preface to read it in order. The fundamental concepts laid down in earlier chapters are necessary for understanding the later chapters. Mintzberg courteously puts the most important information in bold type, a convention that I'll preserve in the quotes below.

Organized human activity, Mintzberg tells us in Chapter 1, requires two opposing things: "the division of labor into various tasks to be performed and the coordination of these tasks to accomplish the activity. The structure of an organization can be defined simply as the sum total of the ways in which it divides its labor into distinct tasks and then achieves coordination among them" (p.2). In fact, Mintzberg identifies five fundamental coordinating mechanisms: "mutual adjustment, direct supervision, standardization of work processes, standardization of work outputs, and standardization of worker skills. These should be considered the most basic elements of structure, the glue that holds organizations together" (p.3).

Those mechanisms are as follows:

  1. Mutual adjustment: "achieves the coordination of work by the simple process of informal communication" (p.3)
  2. Direct supervision: "achieves coordination by having one individual take responsibility for the work of others" (pp.3-4)
  3. Standardization of work processes: achieved "when the contents of the work are specified, or programmed" (p.5; cf. Castells on programmable labor)
  4. Standardization of outputs: achieved "when the results of the work, for example, the dimensions of the product or the performance, are specified" (p.6)
  5. Standardization of skills: achieved "when the kind of training required to perform the work is specified" (p.6)
Mintzberg furthermore claims that these "seem to fall in a rough order": "As organizational work becomes more complicated, the favored means of coordination seems to shift... from mutual adjustment to direct supervision to standardization, preferably of work processes, otherwise of outputs, or else of skills, finally reverting back to mutual adjustment" (p.7). In other words, work coordination becomes more standardized and controlled as the work becomes more complex—but at a certain point, work becomes too complex to be adequately coordinated via these controlled mechanisms; they become "impossible to standardize" (p.8). At that point, a highly complex organization reverts to informal communication, at least in some aspects of its work. This final development is not a shock if you've read Toffler, or field research into organizations for that matter (such as, ahem, my books). But Mintzberg gives us tools to systematically think through how organizations get there—as well as well-sourced research supporting each point. 

To better explore the five different organizational structures that spring from these types of coordination, Mintzberg introduces nine "design parameters, the basic elements used in designing organizational structures" (p.14). These include:

individual parameters such as
  • job specialization
  • behavior formalization
  • training and indoctrination
superstructure parameters such as
  • unit grouping
  • unit size
lateral linkage parameters such as 
  • planning and control systems
  • liaison devices
and decision-making parameters such as 
  • vertical decentralization
  • horizontal decentralization (p.14)
In Chapter 2, Mintzberg tours the five basic parts of the organization: 
  • The operating core, "wherein the operators carry out the basic work of the organization";
  • The strategic apex, including "those at the very top of the hierarchy, together with their own personal staff";
  • The middle line, which "joins the strategic apex to the operating core through the chain of command";
  • The technostructure, "wherein the analysts carry out their work of standardizing the work of others, in addition to applying their analytical techniques to help the organization adapt to its environment"; and
  • The support staff, which "supports the functioning of the operating core indirectly" (p.19)
In fact, Mintzberg writes that large organizations tend to take on a great number of support units outside their core work, providing services that the organizations could easily buy from outside suppliers. Why? Mintzberg speculates that the support staff "reflects the organization's attempt to encompass more and more boundary activities in order to reduce uncertainty, to control its own affairs" (p.32). (Note that this trend reversed late in the 20th century, and now the trend is to outsource noncore functions). 

In Chapter 3, Mintzberg describes the organization as a system of flows, including flows of authority, material, information, and decision processes. These flows include "rich networks of informal communication [that] supplement and sometimes circumvent the regulated channels" (p.46). And "the organization takes on the form of a set of work constellations, quasi-independent cliques of individuals who work on decisions appropriate to their own level in the hierarchy" (p.54). Such work constellations are sometimes functionally grouped, sometimes crosscut (p.56). 

With this background, Mintzberg is ready in Part II to discuss the design parameters. First up, in Chapter 4, is job specialization. Mintzberg differentiates between horizontal job specialization, which separates work by function (pp.69-70), from vertical job specialization, which "separates the performance of the work from the administration of it" (p.71). In fact, "jobs must often be specialized vertically because they are specialized horizontally" (p.72): because the task becomes narrow, the worker doesn't have the perspective to control it. Interestingly, Mintzberg argues that specialization in the 1950s had a lot to do with the scarcity of labor—since employers had to hire unskilled workers (p.74). (Today, labor is much less scarce and much more likely to be educated; does this mean that we can expect a swing away from generic labor and back to self-programmable labor, to use Castells' terms?)

Let's pause to briefly note that Mintzberg doesn't discuss extra-organizational workers at all (e.g., independent or dependent contractors). The discussion is entirely about what goes on inside a given organization. I'm not criticizing this decision—after all, the book is on organizations, not networks of organizations, and Mintzberg also makes it clear that in 1979 the trend was to do work in-house rather than via suppliers when possible. But the omission does suggest that we will need to look farther than this excellent book to understand the current dynamic in organizations.

Back to the book. In Ch. 5, Mintzberg discusses behavior formalization via the mechanisms of job, work flows, and rules. In all cases, "organizations formalize behavior to reduce its variability, ultimately to predict and control it" (p.83; cf. Zachry & Thralls). In fact, "organizations that rely primarily on the formalization of behavior to achieve coordination are generally referred to as bureaucracies" (p.84). Drawing on Weber and others, Mintzberg says that "we can define a structure as bureaucratic—centralized or not—to the extent that its behavior is predetermined or predictable, in effect, standardized" (p.86). Drawing on Burns and Stalker, Mintzberg argues that bureaucracies are good for addressing stable circumstances, but bad for innovation or adaptation to changing environments (p.86); for those requirements, one needs a more networked structure. Mintzberg summarizes: "In effect, whereas bureaucratic structure emphasizes standardization, organic structure as described by Burns and Stalker is built on mutual adjustment. However, we shall here define organic structure by the absence of standardization in the organization... we put bureaucratic and organic structure at two ends of the continuum of standardization" (p.87).

Mintzberg also notes that one can substitute training for formalization—that is, an organization can try to control behavior either directly (through procedures and rules) or indirectly (by hiring professionals that have been trained to do work in a standardized way) (p.101). But "the professional organization surrenders a good deal of control over its choice of workers as well as their methods of work to the outside institutions tht train and certify them and thereafter set standards that guide them in the conduct of their work" (p.102). (One side effect, noted by Toffler in 1970, is that professionals begin to hold allegiance to their professions rather than their organizations.)

On to Ch.7, on unit grouping. As Mintzberg argues, "grouping is a fundamental means to coordinate work in the organization" (p.106). It 
  1. "establishes a system of common supervision among positions and units"
  2. "typically requires positions and units to share common resources"
  3. "typically creates common measures of performance"
  4. "encouages mutual adjustment" (p.106)
Unit size (Ch.8) also has an impact on coordination. For instance, "a tall structure has a long chain of authority with relatively small groups at each hierarchical level, while a flat structure has few levels with relatively large work groups at each" (p.136). Consequently, the flat structure provides for faster information flow, but at the cost of more discussion and consultation, which exerts its own costs on the organization (p.137). Mintzberg argues that "unit size is driven up by (1) standardization of all three types, (2) similarity in the tasks performed in a given unit, (3) the employees' needs for autonomy and self-actualization, and (4) the need to reduce distortion in the flow of information up the hierarchy; and it is driven down by (1) the need for close direct supervision, (2) the need for mutual adjustment among complex interdependent tasks, (3) the extent to which the manager of a unit has nonsupervisory duties to perform, and (4) the need for members of the unit to have frequent access to the manager for consultation or advice" (p.143). 

Let's skip a bit. In Ch.10, Mintzberg discusses liaison devices. One particular structure he describes is the matrix structure, which groups on two bases simultaneously: functional and market-based (p.169). It sacrifices the unity of command (pp.169-170). The matrix structure turns out to be "a most effective device for developing new activities and for coordinating complex multiple interdependencies, but it is no place for those in need of security and stability" (p.173). Indeed, the shifting matrix structure (as opposed to the permanent matrix structure) is well suited for project work, which focuses on temporary tasks (p.172; again, cf. Toffler). 

In Ch.11, Mintzberg discusses vertical and horizontal decentralization, particularly in terms of power over decisions in organizations (p.181). Vertical decentralization is "the dispersal of formal power down the chain of line authority" (p.185), while horizontal decentralization is "the extent to which nonmanagers control decision processes" (p.186). Interestingly, "the more professional an organization, the more decentralized its structure in both dimensions" (p.201). In fact, Mintzberg summarizes one study: "the more decentralized networks tended to use more messages to accomplish their tasks and to make more errors," and "the decentralized, all-channel network eventually settled down to nearly the same operating efficiency as the centralized wheel [an alternate, centralized structure]" (p.206).

Let's skip to Chapter 13, where Mintzberg discusses age and size. He argues that organizations go through "distinct transitions between 'stages of development'" (p.227). These include:

1a. Craft structure, with one group, informally organized, coordinated via mutual adjustment and via standardization of skills (p.242).
1b. Entrepreneurial structure, involving a vertical division of labor, coordinated via direct supervision, but still characterized by an informal, organic structure (pp.242-243).

2. Bureaucratic structure, involving the specialization of jobs, a hierarchy of authority, and coordination via direct supervision and standardization (pp. 243-246).

3. Divisionalized structure, in which the functional bureaucracy splits into distinct Stage 2 bureaucracies with their own operating cores and markets (pp.246-247).

4. Matrix structure—and Mintzberg follows this heading with a question mark. "There are hints in some of the more recent literature that divisionalized structure may itself be an intermediate stage before a final transition, to matrix structure" (p.247). 

In Chapter 14, Mintzberg moves on to the technical system. Let me pick out just one interesting claim here: "Automation of routine tasks ... eliminates the source of many of the social conflicts, throughout the organization" (p.265). 

Chapter 15 is about the environment in which the organization operates. Mintzberg presents five hypotheses from the literature:
  • "The more dynamic the environment, the more organic the structure" (p.270)
  • "The more complex the environment, the more organic the structure" (p.273)
  • "The more diversified the organization's markets, the greater the propensity to split it into market-based units" (p.278)
  • "Extreme hostility in its environment drives any organization to centralize its structure temporarily" (p.281)
  • "Disparities in the environment encourage the organizaiton to decentralize selectively to differentiated work constellations" (p.282)
Based on these, Mintzberg provides a matrix for understanding how the environment affects the organizational structure. It's instructive (p.286):
(standardization of skills)
(mutual adjustment)
(standardization of work processes)
(direct supervision)

Notice that in complex, dynamic environments, organizations will tend to be decentralized and organic, coordinating via mutual adjustment. We'll return to a variation on this table in a little while.

Skipping a bit, we get to Part IV, Structural Configurations. Now that we have the necessary background, we can understand the five configurations (p.301):

Structural ConfigurationPrime Coordinating MechanismKey Part of OrganizationType of Decentralization
Simple StructureDirect supervisionStrategic apexVertical and horizontal centralization
Machine BureaucracyStandardization of work processesTechnostructureLimited horizontal decentralization
Professional BureaucracyStandardization of skillsOpeating coreVertical and horizontal decentralization
Divisionalized FormStandardization of outputsMiddle lineLimited vertical decentralization
AdhocracyMutual adjustmentSupport staffSelective decentralization

Mintzberg says that "the organization [is] being pulled in five different directions, one by each of its parts," and when one part is dominant, we get a specific structural configuration (p.301). I'm personally most interested in adhocracy: "the support staff gain the most influence in the organization not when they are autonomous but when their collaboration is called for in decision making, owing to their expertise. This happens when the organization is structured into work constellations to which power is decentralized selectively and which are free to coordinate within and between themselves by mutual adjustment. To the extent that conditions favor this pull to collaborate, the organization adopts the Adhocracy configuration" (pp.302-303).

So let's skip all the way to Ch.21, "The Adhocracy." Here, Mintzberg lists the structure's characteristics:

  • Prime coordinating mechanism: Mutual adjustment
  • Key part of the organization: Support staff (in the administrative adhocracy; together with the operating core in the operating adhocracy)
  • Main design parameters: Liaison devices, organic structure, selective decentralization, horizontal job specialization, training, functional and market grouping concurrently
  • Contingency factors: Complex, dynamic, (sometimes disparate) environment, young (especially Operating Adhocracy), sophisticated and often automated technical system (in the Administrative Adhocracy), fashionable (p.431)
Mintzberg explicitly credits the term to Toffler (p.432). "Sophisticated innovation requires a fifth and very different structural configuration, one that is able to fuse experts drawn from different disciplines into smoothly functioning ad hoc project teams" (p.432). Adhocracies involve a highly organic structure; high horizontal job specialization (i.e., formally trained specialists); small market-based teams; liaisons to encourage mutual adjustment; selective decentralization; and the avoidance of any standardization for coordination (pp.432-433). Indeed "The Adhocracy must hire and give power to experts—professionals whose knowledge and skills have been highly developed in training programs"—and "it must treat existing knowledge and skills merely as bases on which to build new ones" (p.434). "In Adhocracies the different specialists must join forces in multidisciplinary teams, each formed around a specific project of innovation" (p.435). Adhocracies tend to use the matrix structure (p.435). Adhocracies tend to be decentralized both horizontally and vertically (p.436).

As we saw earlier, "The Adhocracy is clearly positioned in an environment that is both dynamic and complex" (p.449). Such environments include the moon program, but also guerilla warfare (p.449). Furthermore, adhocracies tend to be young organizations, since "Adhocracy is the least stable form of structure" and "All kinds of forces drive the Adhocracy to bureaucratize itself as it ages" (p.455). For all that, adhocracy is tomorrow's structure: "This is the structure for a population growing ever better educated and more specialized, yet under constant exhortation to adopt the 'systems' approach—to view the world as an integrated whole instead of a collection of loosely coupled parts" (p.459). 

Of course, adhocracies face various challenges. Two are:
  • Constant ambiguity. It's true that "Adhocracy is the only structure for those who believe in more democracy with less bureaucracy," perhaps (p.460), but it requires workers to have a high tolerance for ambiguity.
  • Problems of efficiency. "No structure is better suited to solving complex, ill-structured problems than the Adhocracy. None can match it for sophisticated innovation. Or, unfortunately, for the costs of that innovation. ... Adhocracy is simply not an efficient structure.... Adhocracy is not competent at doing ordinary things" (p.463). Adhocracies thrive when solving unique problems, but get bogged down in heavy communication costs that are not tenable for dealing with routine problems.
And with that, we conclude the book. It's really an excellent, systematic, thorough, thought-provoking book, and if you're even marginally interested in how organization structures work, I highly recommend it. Doubtless parts have aged, been superseded, or not stood the test of time since it was published in 1979—but the basic structure works well, particularly if you're as interested in adhocracies as I've been lately. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Reading :: Diagnosing and Changing Organizational Culture

Diagnosing and Changing Organizational Culture: Based on the Competing Values Framework
By Kim S. Cameron and Robert E. Quinn

I found this book as I was reviewing the literature on adhocracies, and was intrigued by some similarities with the TIMN framework. The book is based on many years of research conducted by Quinn and his colleagues, research that characterizes organizational culture.

The book itself, however, is not a research text but more of a how-to: How do organizations characterize their own internal culture, and how do they use that characterization to better understand how to change it? As the authors state, "The current challenge ... is not to determine whether to change but how to change to increase organizational effectiveness."

To help these organizations characterize their org culture, the authors present a heuristic and various instruments for filling it out. This heuristic, the Competing Values Framework (CVF), is described as "now the most dominant framework in the world for assessing organizational culture." It's a grid with two axes. The horizontal axis "differentiates effectiveness criteria that emphasize flexibility, discretion, and dynamism from criteria that emphasize stability, order, control" (cf. my Genre 2012 presentation). The vertical axis "differentiates effectiveness criteria that emphasize an internal orientation, integration, and unity from criteria that emphasize an external organization, differentiation, and rivalry." So:

  • Horizontal: control v flexibility
  • Vertical: internal v external
Laying down those axes, you get four quadrants. Clockwise from the top, these are:
  • Clan (collaborate)
  • Adhocracy (create)
  • Market (compete)
  • Hierarchy (control)
If you've been following my discussions of Ronfeldt's TIMN framework, you may notice at least a superficial resemblance to his Tribes (Clan), Institutions (Hierarchy), Markets (Market), and Networks (Adhocracy). Ronfeldt has thoughts on the resemblance that are well worth reading.

The authors note that "different organizational values have become associated with different forms of organization." These organizational forms are described in the modern era, not across the sweep of history, and the discussion focuses on workings internal to the organization rather than crossing organizations.
  • Hierarchy. This discussion is based on Weber and describes the Hierarchy form as involving 
    • a formalized, structured place of work
    • stability, predictability, efficiency
    • formal rules and policies
  • Market. This discussion is based on Williamson and Ouchi and describes the Market form as involving
    • transaction costs
    • orientation toward the external environment
    • economic market mechanisms, competitive dynamics, monetary exchange
  • Clan. This discussion is based on Ouchi; the Clan form is specifically traced back to the success of Japanese firms. The Clan form involves
    • shared values and goals, cohesion, participativeness, individuality, and "we-ness"
    • the organization as an extended family
    • teamwork, employee involvement programs, corporate commitment
    • semiautonomous work teams; team accomplishment
  • Adhocracy. This discussion is not extensively sourced, but seems loosely based on Mintzberg. The Adhocracy form involves
    • responsiveness to the information age and its "hyperturbulent, ever-accelerating conditions"
    • innovativeness and pioneering initiatives
    • fostering of entrepreneurship, creativity, and activity on the cutting edge
    • temporary, specialized, dynamic work
    • fostering of adaptivity, creativity, and flexibility
    • the disintegration of the structure at the end of the project
These organizational forms have competing values and criteria of effectiveness. Yet organizations tend to be a hybrid of such organizational forms, sometimes a hybrid of all four. Furthermore, Cameron and Quinn argue, organizations tend to develop through forms in a particular order:
  1. Adhocracy
  2. Clan
  3. Hierarchy
  4. Market
(Note that this order not only contradicts Ronfeldt's TIMN framework (which postulates four basic organizational forms developing in the order Tribes, Institutions, Markets, and Networks over the span of human existence) but also Mintzberg's more complex order in The Structuring of Organizations, in which adhocracy emerges last but shares the principle of mutual adjustment with the earliest form. [Update: I withdraw this statement with regard to Mintzberg; I misread Mintzberg's order. CS 11/2/12] The CVF is simpler, with fewer factors, than Mintzberg's scheme.)

Furthermore, the authors argue, "mature ... organizations tend to develop subunits or segments that represent each of these four culture types." One example is Apple's "pirates" on the Macintosh development team during Steve Jobs' first term, which functioned as a clan.) And "the organization must develop the capability to shift emphases when the demands of the competitive environment require it." Indeed, the authors say, culture change is much less predictable in mature organizations.

The CVF is a powerful heuristic for assessing organizational culture. Yet it is powerful in part because it is reductive and that reductiveness poses limitations. For instance, the developmental account isn't strong, and since it focuses on developments in the modern era, it doesn't give us a good tool for analyzing organizations historically or for analyzing long change. CVF provides a way to see competing values, but not to analyze them in terms of their contradictions, again particularly in terms of how those contradictions lead to developments in the long term. The spatial metaphor leads us to think of increments or decrements in each dimension rather than examining how they overlap or interact and can become points of innovation. And the CVF focuses on culture within an organization, not on how cultural dimensions can stretch across organizations. I'm particularly interested in how the notion of adhocracy can be applied to federations of activities, for instance, but the CVF is not geared to that sort of analysis.

But it doesn't pretend to be. The CVF seems to be very helpful for getting one's arms around the competing values in an organization along these specific dimensions. If you're interested in that sort of analysis, either directly or in terms of how it can interact with other sorts of analyses, definitely check it out.

Reading :: The Craft of Research

The Craft of Research, Third Edition
By Wayne C. Booth, Gregory G. Colomb, and Joseph M. Williams

A quick review for a quick read. This book is not weighty, but it does a great job of describing how to think through research arguments as claims that must be supported by reasons and evidence—a formulation that I regularly use in my undergraduate classes. For that reason, this is a good resource for those who are new to research, particularly undergraduates.

Reading :: Mirror Worlds

Mirror Worlds: or the Day Software Puts the Universe in a Shoebox...How It Will Happen and What It Will Mean
By David Gelernter

I've discussed David Gelernter before on this blog, in the context of his work on lifestreaming. In this book, Gelernter touches on lifestreaming, but in the context of a larger discussion of where software development is going. Specifically, writing in 1993, Gelernter imagines a world in the not-too-distant future in which complex systems—such as cities, states, and nations—can be modeled in "mirror worlds," providing up-to-the-minute overviews of the changes in those complex systems, giving us the ability to understand those systems better, and thus positively impacting public discourse. Imagine playing SimCity with a real city.

The book is not large, but it does a lot of things. Let me see if I can disentangle these.

Gelernter argues that we often have trouble getting to the big picture, understanding the entire system. Instead, he says, we get mired in the details, something that he calls ant-vision. “Ant-vision is humanity’s usual fate; but seeing the whole is every thinking person’s aspiration. If you accomplish it, you have acquired something I call topsight.” Topsight—the overall understanding of the big picture—is something that we must "pursue avidly and continuously, and achieve gradually." It's a systemic understanding, a way of seeing the whole (see p.11; 30; 42; 51). Mirror worlds are a way to assist in achieving topsight by modeling the complex interactions in an entire system, interactions that are continuously updated via sensors. But topsight, like insight, comes gradually; don't confuse it with the model itself, understand it as something that the model make it possible to achieve.

Gelernter doesn't see mirror worlds as a way to control these complex systems so much as a way to understand them by achieving topsight. And he sees this achievement as not just technical but also public: a way to help people better understand the public information with which they are concerned, a way to "convert the theoretically public into the actually public," and in the process, a way to help the public become better consumers of information who can make better decisions.

As Gelernter describes mirror worlds, he delves into programming concepts: simple ones such as procedures, variables, and recursion, then more complex ones such as tuples. His casual, talky style makes these concepts seem completely commonsensical—in fact, I would have really enjoyed reading this book when I was pursuing my computer science degree.

Overall, the book is really intriguing. Although I think Gelernter ultimately misjudged how achievable mirror worlds would be, I was impressed by the book's scope and by how well Gelernter connected the public sphere, programming, and complexity in a popular book.