Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Need Everyone Agree?: Changing Resisters to Supporters.

Be careful what you wish for, lest it come true. -- Familiar idiom.
You have probably heard someone say something like
Wouldn’t it be great if everyone nation could agree to live in peace? or, less hopefully,
Wouldn’t it be nice of we could all agree on the kind of country we would like to live in?; or, even,
Wouldn’t it be nice if the neighbors could agree not to play loud music after 10 PM?
Are such wishes at best vain hopes? Or are they something that with reasonable effort and careful planning can be achieved?

Here is a thought experiment to try with your friends, family or students:
a. Fill in the blank with a goal, a situation, condition or event, to complete the following sentence:
Wouldn’t it be a better world if everyone could agree on (Goal).

You could substitute other phrases for “a better world” such as “nice,” wonderful,” “a real moral improvement,” or “peachy keen” or “healthier.” Pick something you can get your group to agree on as a substitution.

b. Once you have your statement, e.g. Wouldn’t it be more environmentally sound for people to agree to ban all automobile traffic from inner city commercial areas?, ask your participants to speculate as to who would likely agree to the statement (and why) and who would likely oppose it (and why).

c. Using the chart available at Assessing the Likelihood of Implementing Change , (ALIC) locate your supporters and resisters and the proportions of each you estimate there are. Fill in Line A on the chart.

d. Continue using the above chart to speculate how much you would have to change the percentages of each subgroup to bring them to the likelihood of supporting the change (here, agree with the statement.) Fill in Line B on the ALIC.

e. Considering the Ways to Overcome Resistance suggested by Kotter and Schlesinger in the ALIC, fill in the grid block the likelihood, or your group’s likelihood, of finding the resources to implement these ways, e.g. education & communication, participation & involvement, … etc.

Now consider the following questions:
1. Is the goal well enough defined to be operationalized to avoid a slow shifting (creep) of the target? (See Operationalization.)

2. Consider some of the costs involved in implementing the changes needed; would they be worth the benefits hoped for? Consider who it is who would perceive the achieved goal as a benefit; and, who would think it to be a cost. (You might want to revisit step b. above at this point.)

3. Considering the costs involved in implementing the changes needed, would it be wiser to redefine the Goal so as to shrink the budget needed? (This is a very common practice in all institutions, public and private.)

4. Are the needed ratios of supporters and resisters (see Line B in the ALIC) likely to remain constant through the change process?

To examine these issues further, if you are involved with education, see POLITICS, CONSENSUS AND EDUCATIONAL REFORM

If you are involved with other kinds of organizations, or if you want a more general overview, see Employee Resistance to Organizational Change

--- EGR

Engaging Conflict: a Leadership Necessity?

War is Peace1984 -- George Orwell

I would rather have a general who was lucky than one who was good. – Napoleon Bonaparte.
Dilemmas. Leadership offers an incumbent realms of opportunity; and, also, realms of temptation. It is in the interests of the followership (and, also, of the disinterested) to hold leadership in rein. But it is natural, even necessary, for leadership to strain against it. The priorities of leadership and followership not infrequently butt heads. (See A Leader's Primary Pursuit: Incumbency)

Leadership as “Service.”
"The king is foremost the servant ... of the State.“ -- Frederic II, King of Prussia (1712 - 1786)
Incumbent candidates of all kinds support their proposal of incumbency with often not too subtle threats. A traditional approach is to claim a “servant’s” role to some widely “honored”, if fuzzy, goal or person, for example, Servant of God, Servant of The People, Servant of Justice, Servant of Peace.

As such, a Servant-Leader, the proposed incumbent promises to clarify, pursue and actualize the “Will” (or “True Meaning”} of God, People, Justice or Peace.
"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Matthew 7:21

Why “God” Needs a “Devil.” It is the real or imagined threat of conflict that disciplines a “distractable” followership into supporting incumbency. The normal inclinations of people to go about their own business, giving only lip-service to the proposals of authority, tend to undermine that authority or lower its esteem.

Leaders looking to use their organization as an agency of change have to carefully distinguish between members who are marginal, those who are interested and those who are zealots. It really makes a difference. (See Assessing the Likelihood of Implementing Change )

So it is that “natural” priorities, e.g. attention to personal physical needs, to personal gain, to individual interests, or to ties to family, friends, or neighbors have to be demonized, if only minimally lowered in esteem, as “distractions” from pursuit of “nobler” goals, i.e. those goals “clarified” by the would-be incumbent. People must be “educated” to resist the “temptations” of such “selfish distractions.”

So it is that all over the world, Societies send out Teachers to Educate the Intellectually and Morally Underdeveloped so as to reduce Discord, Crime and Corruption.
The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. Matthew 13:41

Conflict: A Balm for Incumbents? Louis Coser identifies several important functions of conflict.
a. Conflict makes connection. It is a basic form of exchange and interaction. It is a negotiation.

b. Conflict among groups sharpens their exterior boundaries.

c. Conflict among groups revitalizes traditions and norms.

d. Information gathering, reconnaissance, is a function of conflict.

e. Conflict among groups causes their replication of each other, a balance of structure and functions which may encourage formation of similar markets and power centers.

Generally often overlooked issues are several:
1. Who, specifically, benefits from these outcomes of conflict?

2. Who, specifically, pays the costs?

3. Does the leadership and followership share benefits in some fair proportion to the costs borne by them?

4. Why do incumbents tend to resist raising such issues?

The Moral Hazards of Leadership that strives to be heroic are unavoidable. But they can be dealt with. There are enough extant conflicts in the world to provide many an incumbent with opportunities for heroic leadership. (See LEADERSHIP vs. MORALITY: AN UNAVOIDABLE CONFLICT?)

The dangerous temptation is for the incumbent to create conflict merely to protect his or her own incumbency with little regard for those whom he or she leads. History has long shown this to be a not uncommon hazard. Leaders not infrequently tend to seek out, if not create, what they can present to their followers as an unavoidable conflict -- often prettified nowadays with the label, "challenge."

And inept, uninformed leaders generally end up being either just lucky, or, more frequently, losers. Much more so their followers. (See Buffering: Enhancing Moral Hazard in Decision-Making?)

For examples and to examine these issues further in a widely presumed less important, less turbulent context, see The Functions of Conflict in the Context of Schooling )

--- EGR

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Bullshit: Common Currency in Public Discussion?

One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit.
--Harry Frankfurt, On Bullshit (2005) Princeton University

The amount of energy needed to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude bigger than to produce it. -- Alberto Brandolini
Diverting Inquiry. When was the last time you asked a question and got a straight answer? If you can remember it, treasure it, because it doesn't happen all that much; particularly, among adults and those children trying to act like them.

When I was a kid I had an uncle who, when I asked him a question, would respond, "Whatsit teeya?" (What is it to you?) This was a very effective response for:
a. blocking a question he probably didn't know the answer to; or
b. extorting some favor in return for an answer he supposedly had; or
c. challenging my personal authority to even ask a question – "Children should be seen and not heard!"

Learning the Game. Kids have a hard time. They're fed the story that honesty and forthrightness always come first. But they soon learn the bitter lesson that it is adults who decide what is honesty and what is impertinence. There is also the painful "one-up(wo)man ship game" to be mastered. Those who are one-up can mistreat those who are not.

By the time we are "grown up," we expect bullshit in politics and commerce; it useful for getting around without having to tell a bald-face lie. Bullshit is not quite lying, but it confers many of the benefits of lying -- and is considered much more "tactful." But, many people still ask with bewonderment, "B. S.? Even in Education and Political Campaigning?!!!" (Drop your jaw at this point.)

Benefits of the Practice. We are quite accustomed to merchandisers "enhancing" the descriptions of their wares to attract us to them. Caveat Emptor, as they say. But why do educators, politicians and even (Horrors!?) religious leaders bullshit?

Because BS is tactful, therefore more likely forgivable than lying. Unlike a suspected lie, it doesn't burden the recipient with the compulsion to check it out and risk being perceived as challenging authority, i.e. "impertinent." Consequently, almost everything stated is cautiously taken with a "grain of salt," a taste that is all too easy to get used to. One can boast to oneself of having a critical mind without running any of the real risks of such a possession.

Most importantly, BS is functional; it works. On your first day, say, in class as a teacher, some wiseacre raises his (just a likely, "her") hand and asks you, smirking pointedly, if you had a "good" night last night. If you say, "My private life's none of your business," you can be reasonably sure that kid's parents are going to complain about your "unfriendliness." (Kid's complaint to helicopter parent: "Our new teacher won't even answer our questions!") Your principal will likely drag you in to remind you that the "acceptable professional conduct needed for renewal of one's contract" requires one to attempt to maintain "good public relations." Better smoke, mirrors and good, old B.S.

However, there is such public trust in educators that, up until quite recently, they could get away with massive bullshit for a longer period than could businessmen or politicians. School districts test their students and report their own results. They wouldn't possibly fake them, would they? (See Gaming the System: a Great Tradition!.)

The Risks. There is, at issue, status and money. Let's look again at my uncle's, "Whatsit teeya?" Certainly few degreed educators can own up to not knowing an answer. Especially when the question appears simple to the questioner or the public listening in. (If asked an uninformed or stupid question, for the sake of appearance one must, it appears, give either a stupid or uninformed answer. But one always has good old BS to the rescue!)

But ask a simple, honest question, and you get BS, too. Is there a kind of extortionary pressure given in an answer? Perhaps, if it takes place at an alumni banquet where a question of concern is brought up. For example a response to such a question might be, "We have several possibilities to address the issue you bring up, but little budget for it."

The challenge to the questioner works if he or she is seen as lower in rank then the person questioned: "I think the salary issue, which most of you will concede has been debated to exhaustion, will be handled at a faculty meeting that takes place after the trustees meet. Your committee chairs will be notified." (I have heard university officials, on many an occasion, say something similar despite having taken no polls to find out how many believe debate has ever reached the exhaustion stage.)

Spreading It. There used to be a farm implement called a manure-spreader. It did what you imagine. Those specimen-donors who believe themselves to benefit from spreading BS imagine that their donees, like growing crops, benefit also. Only the essential growth elements are missing.

For more on this, plus references see what follows. Some years back, before BS was referred to directly and euphemized for the sake of propriety, I asked a group of my university students who had school aged children to report on some of the "sloganeering" they encountered in the children's schools. You can find their essays and further references at
Disciplinary Slogans: A Critique of Three Slogans

Pseudo-Solutions: three disciplinary slogans.

--- EGR