This week, I offered 10 types of people that challenge the status quo in organizations. I also mentioned that our mind tends to protect us against ‘difficulties’ by saying don’t, conform, it’s OK. And its cousins: what is the point? Don’t fight those battles.
Dissent and challenge is more difficult when the overall narrative is strong; when there is a presiding, overall logic of ideas and their implications, nicely linked. Some narratives (political, for sure, but also macro-social and ‘micro’, such as ‘the company’) become semi untouchable. After all, in the political arena, that is the point of ideology. A dominant ideology (idea-logic) is self-reinforcing. More and more people ‘within’ will write or say something that is consistent with ‘the package’.
Have you noticed that those narratives come in (political) bundles? They follow the same principle you see in the online shops: people who bought this also bought that. So if you like this, you also like that, because otherwise it is a pick and mix, not acceptable. Which is kind of another imperialistic narrative: with us in all or against us in all. So you may end up feeling guilty of agreeing with A but having reservations about B. It’s easier to agree with B as well.
Literally these narratives shut down the alternatives or the opposite. And often they blame each other for the same behaviour. A rather old, if still in place, Western, ex French Revolution ‘Left’ and ‘Right’, follows that rule: pick one, you get a bundle of idea-logic connections. People who like this, also like that.
Small state, don’t interfere with the market, the individual is the agent on the Right; the market needs to be domesticated, bigger role for government to the Left. But, you see, people who like this, also like that: so in the Left you also need to be pro-abortion rights, pro-redistribution of wealth and pro-suppression or reduction of social inequalities. Suddenly, you did not know, and have other things in the Left or Right package: gender issues, mums at home or not, believing in God and fox hunting. How did that happen? Well, it’s simple; people who like this also like that, so you are not going to be an exception are you? Etc. These are caricatures to make the point.
There are not a lot of differences in the organization even if we don’t talk about this in the same way. There is a narrative (whether you use the term or not) and it may be ‘all embracing’. And because of that you have halo effects that may even make you ‘the most admired corporation’, or not. Admired? On what? All 40 parameter? Wow! Can we unbundle please? No you can’t.
An artificial, if wonderfully pragmatic distinction between story and narrative looks as follows. Stories are self contained, beginning and end, that’s it. Narratives are open ended. They may contain stories but the narrative is constantly in creation. Narratives are journeys, stories are locations.
The Social Idea-Logic of the organization needs a narrative that allows for dissent, that is still open, that makes people feel they are crafting it, not imposed from the top.
Yes, people who like this also like that, but what if they didn’t? This is a leadership question.