Understanding metaphors of organisations through the two modes of consciousness

Business Frameworks

Business Frameworks

The image above shows a collection of business frameworks gleaned at random from Google images. If you do the search yourself you will find hundreds more diagrams like this, and they are of course more than familiar to everyone. What I would like to draw your attention to is that in all of these frameworks, the analyst has broken their model down into parts, and drawn connections between these parts. Analysis, where we break a system down into parts is the default mode of consciousness of our scientific-industrial culture. It is a mode of consciousness which favours distinction and separation, and the conception of discrete objects.

Gareth Morgan in Images of Organisation (1986) identifies eight metaphors we use to describe organisations:

Efficiency, waste, maintenance, order, clockwork, cogs in a wheel, programmes, inputs and outputs, standardisation, production, measurement and control, design

Living systems, environmental conditions, adaptation, life cycles, recycling, needs, homeostasis, evolution, survival of the fittest, health, illness

Learning, parallel information processing, distributed control, mindsets, intelligence, feedback, requisite variety, knowledge, networks

Society, values, beliefs, laws, ideology, rituals, diversity, traditions, history, service, shared vision and mission, understanding, qualities, families

Political Systems
Interests and rights, power, hidden agendas and back room deals, authority, alliances, party-line, censorship, gatekeepers, leaders, conflict management

Psychic Prisons
Conscious & unconscious processes, repression & regression, ego, denial, projection, coping & defence mechanisms, pain & pleasure principle, dysfunction, workaholis

Flux and Transformation
Constant change, dynamic equilibrium, flow, self-organisation, systemic wisdom, attractors, chaos, complexity, butterfly effect, emergent properties, dialectics, paradox

Instruments of Domination
Alienation, repression, imposing values, compliance, charisma, maintenance of power, force, exploitation, divide and rule, discrimination, corporate interest

Two of these metaphors are clearly organic; Organisms and Flux and Transformation, and the Brains metaphor to me seems highly computational, with no reference to conciousness.

Photo: Simon Robinson

Photo: Simon Robinson

The analytic, verbal and logical mode of consciousness favours a conception of reality based on solid objects, but what of the other mode of consciousness, a holistic mode of consciousness , one that is concerned more with relationships than discrete entities? This mode of consciousness is complementary, but it has to be entered into in its own terms, and not understood from the perspective of the analytic mode of consciousness. In this mode of consciousness, relationships which exist within systems are experienced in the intuition, allowing us to experience the whole system. To reach this experience we therefore have to undergo a transformation in our consciousness.

Ronald Brady describes organic systems in the following manner:

The forms of life are not ‘finished work’ but always forms becoming, and their ‘potency’ to be otherwise’ is an immediate aspect of their internal constitution – i.e. of their representative function – and not something to be added to them. Their ‘potency’ is ‘self-derived,’ in that it is inherent in their identity with the whole. The becoming that belongs to this constitution is not a process that finishes when it reaches a certain goal but a condition of existence – a necessity to change in order to remain the same.”

Ronald Brady (1987) in Goethe and the Sciences, A Reappraisal, p287

Notice how Brady is shifting us away from understanding organic living systems as objects (‘finished works’) to a more verb-based dynamic process-based comprehension, which understands organisms as ‘wholes’ ever changing to remain the same.

We are always hearing the call to shift our paradigms, and move away from outmoded mechanistic ways of thinking, but this is no easy task, for what it entails no less is the transition of consciousness.


Metaphors of Organisation

One response to “Understanding metaphors of organisations through the two modes of consciousness

  1. Hi – I thought you were going to get into deeper waters here, too bad! I’d say about 1/5 of my thesis is on metaphor as a way of knowing – including one of the most significant statements in the whole document. Would you mind if I sent it to you? Gosh, it may seem like I’m trying to bug you. No, just looking around your site and I thought “oh, this looks interesting, we have this in common.”


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