So, What’s A Practitioner To Do?

So, I’ve got this nifty new Master’s degree, all about OD or OB or change management.  We read all the latest books and articles, and nowhere did I hear about morphogenesis or plurivocality; in our class, “container” is what held the cream cheese for our bagels.  What’s the big deal? Or, I’ve been at this field for 30 years now, doing pretty well, not great, but pretty well.  I’ve got a couple of long-term clients and do a few spot gigs to pay the rent.  My clients seem happy enough with what I do, I take an NTL lab and I go to the OD Network conference every few years to stay fresh.  I’ve read the Watkin and Mohr book on Appreciative Inquiry (2001).  What’s the big deal? That’s exactly the question, what’s the big deal?  Especially for practitioners, or is this just another cat fight among the academics? We’ll know the real answer in about 10 years, I suspect; but for now, this does look like a big enough deal to get our attention, because the ideas represented in the articles here in Practising Social Change, and the conversations at NTL’s The New OD Conference in March, 2010 contain both good news and bad news for the recent OD graduate as well as for the experienced practitioner. The field of OD, academe, and the world at large seem to be pretty far into a shift from a positivist philosophy in which the world is real, concrete, with absolute truth which can be objectively knowable via a succession of increasingly narrow hypotheses and research questions . . .  to a socially-constructed view in which the world is abstract and conceptual, where there are multiple truths which are not absolute and can only be discovered by understanding the subjective way in which people experience them.  In other words, we create our social world subjectively, by virtue of the way we experience it. So, in a socially-constructed world, the “truth” about organizations cannot be discovered via tests or surveys or increasingly narrow hypotheses.  For instance, in physics the sequential testing and re-testing of narrower and narrower hypotheses is how scientists discovered that molecules begat atoms, which begat neutrons and protons, which begat neutrinos, which begat . . . .all assuming that the world is objectively knowable, if only we could do enough tests with fine enough instruments.

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