Pablo Picasso is credited for saying “Bad Artists Copy, Great Artists Steal.” So I confess that I stole a great idea from Eric Weinstein for my Master thesis last year. Although my initial aspiration might have been to be a great artist, my actual theft of Weinstein’s clever idea came closer to a bad copy. It does, however, give me a good starting position for another piece on Open Participatory Organizations (“OPO”).
My thesis entitled Breaking Kayfabe was inspired by Weinstein’s answer to the 2011 Annual Question on Edge.org, which he entitled Kayfabe and wrote:
The sophisticated “scientific concept” with the greatest potential to enhance human understanding may be argued to come not from the halls of academe, but rather from the unlikely research environment of professional wrestling.
Weinstein describes the history of the multi-billion dollar business of Kayfabe, the insider code word for pro wrestling, and explains that “breaking Kayfabe” is the violation the sacred code of pro wrestling — saying or doing anything that would let on to outsiders that it is all pretend.
Weinstein writes that Kayfabe has been so successful because its “seems to have discovered the limits of how much disbelief the human mind is capable of successfully suspending before fantasy and reality become fully conflated.” Weinstein suggests that by understanding Kayfabe as a “sophisticated scientific concept,” human thinking might be “enhanced” to see through the pretending that goes on in such fields as economic theory, politics, and science and begin to see the “pure information” behind the fantasy.
OPO — A Realist Position
When I joke that our organizational life is like pro wrestling, people laugh uncomfortably the way a joke makes us laugh when it exposes what is actually happening, even though we all pretend otherwise. At a recent 3-day OPO workshop in Norway, Bonnitta Roy (See Our Future at Work) opened the first morning with the statement that the OPO is committed to a realist position versus an idealist position. This means in the OPO, we are interested in talking about what is actually happening in organizational life.
At the OPO workshop, Roy made it clear that her work on self-organization has been simply to track what is actually happening in organizational life. In a rigorous non-reductive way, Roy offers an approach, backed by extensive research, to make sense of the lived experience that many of us see as a new Zeitgeist — a more open and participatory world.
For people who want to approach their organization life with this new open and participatory spirit, the OPO is a way to break Kayfabe. The OPO is a “work-ing platform” that provide just enough scaffolding so we can perhaps move things along faster. The OPO provides a dynamic tool-kit to allow individuals and teams to cut through the complexity and focus their energy of their teams to reach new levels of performance excellence.
“The era of using people as production tools is coming to an end. Participation is infinitely more complex to practice than conventional corporate unilateralism, just as democracy is much more cumbersome than dictatorship. But there will be few companies that can afford to ignore either of them.” Ricardo Semler, Maverick (1993)
Backed By Theory, Proven in Practice
Like Weinstein, Roy’s OPO work is based on first principle thinking that is, to look through conventional, socially constructed ideas to the “pure information” available and then to give voice to something new. The OPO is not a model, but a minimal “model-like” template to give teams a way to get started. The OPO is Roy’s non-reductive approach to facilitating self-organization backed by over 30 years of research in self-determination theory, self-organization, complex adaptive and responsive systems, enactive theory as well as transpersonal psychology.
Facilitating a team through an introduction to the OPO I imagine is something like Copernicus walking his contemporaries through his discovery. First principles thinking is not simple if…then thinking — it has the power to reorient and release complexity. So although initially resistant to what seems impossible immersed in the complexity of social structures built upon the view of earth-centered universe, once you see that Copernicus’s heliocentric proposition is actually the case, the complexity releases and your life begins to reorient around a new view. As Roy notes in her Medium article “How Self Organization Happens…and Why You Can Trust It”:
Over time, people learn how to “endure” the complex and sometimes painful processes of transitioning from being a group of people with fixed roles to becoming a real team where roles and identities are in creative interplay and outcomes are novel and emergent. In the process, our organizations learn how to shift strategic questions from the notion of “what should be the future of our organization” to “who are we becoming as a people?” This is an inquiry that is significant not only for our organizations, but for our society and our times.