To reinvent management we have to do just that - reinvent management from its deepest foundations. Practical Trust means abandoning abstractions and theories in favour of down-to-earth, everyday human connection. To work together productively we have to learn to be together first - to have the sense and the humility to recognise our deepest aspirations and purposes in others and vice-versa.
See attached videos: Hello Gary Hamel and Thinking about John Seddon.
The problem is not simply that we are doing the wrong things in our organisations, or that there are other, better things that we could be doing. It is that our organisational conduct depends on an elaborate set of beliefs that are so deeply buried that we do not recognise them as contestable assumptions, but simply take them for granted. They include for example the idea of the person as an independent, self-determining entity; the organisation as something that can be separated from the people who constitute it; the worth of human activity as largely measurable by disembodied, 'fact-based' analysis; and organisations as susceptible to mastery by heroic, visionary leaders. In other words, we subscribe to a fantasy of hubris and control, and this pervades every aspect of organisational life.
But it is not enough to counter these beliefs with rational argument. To replace existing organisational and behavioural models with new ones is merely to perpetuate the empty intellectualism of present management discourse. Even if people are persuaded by the merits of a new idea (and we are easily excited by new ideas) they will move on to the next new idea in due course, and nothing will really change. It's not a new idea (a 'solution') that we need: it's a new understanding, a new experience, of the practical possibilities of purposeful collaborative action in the workplace.
Conventional management thinking nearly always follows a pathway from 'problems' to 'solutions' that begins with analysis and is supposed to conclude with decisive action. What is hidden in this approach are its fatal assumptions: that the agency or actor in this process is outside or above the 'problem' and, once the 'facts' are available, will be able to acquire and direct the resources to implement the 'solution'. And the means for doing so are held to be the elusive and mystical powers of 'leadership'.
The pathway to Practical Trust avoids this kind of abstract idealisation. Instead of being concerned with 'problems' and 'solutions', practical trust is about the here and now: what is real and is right in front of us at present. The conversation that takes place is about the details of people's actual experiences, not about opinions or theories. The conversation is recorded, and its 'moments of truth' are extracted and made retrievable for reconsideration using purpose-designed software. As people talk, listen and reflect, they begin to acquire a discipline of presence and paying attention. They recognise themselves in the midst of the concerns and experiences of others; discover details of daIly practices that they had not formerly seen as important; and glimpse new possibilities for fruitful collaboration. Through a process of sustained immersion, people develop 'practical trust' in their colleagues and associates: an unconfused sense of their own and others' capabilities that can be combined in new and original ways.
At the same time, a body of recorded experience is built: a collection of fragments of individual insight that recombine to form a larger picture, offering clarity, coherence and a shared understanding of an entire professional arena. In effect, this is social media with a deeper purpose. Applying technology in this way helps to give Practical Trust reach and scale.
The practical impact of Practical Trust is felt in the nature and quality of the working relationships that grow and develop among the participants in the initiative. And these relationships need not be confined within a single organisation, but can include others in the wider professional arena whose work is linked with the purposes and outcomes that are sought.
What arises is a kind of relational confidence: an "Aha! So that's what you're about! If you're doing that, and I'm doing this, then together we can do this (new thing)!." Many such eruptions of recognition, occurring spontaneously across a community of practitioners, create entirely new levels of responsiveness and trust in the workplace. Moreover, this is not an intellectual form of trust: a 'willing suspension of disbelief'. Nor is it the kind of trust that entails emotional surrender: a 'letting go' of doubts and uncertainties. Instead, as the description 'practical trust' tries to convey, it is something very down-to-earth, practical, and everyday, that comes out of shared experience and observation. Having recognised an aspect of myself in another person - and vice-versa - I 'know' something about that person that enables me to anticipate their likely responses in a particular situation. And that gives me the confidence to embark on joint action.
The simplest and best way for an organisation to test this proposition is to join an existing syndicated research initiative (or to instigate a new one). Conducting an experiment in parallel with other others provides a double benefit. The development of a high-touch practitioner community can be explored within the organisation, and at the same time the organisation's experience with the approach can be compared with and shared with that of other organisations.
The organisational commitment required for the experiment - apart from a genuine spirit of determined enquiry - is half a day on three occasions from a core group of between 15 and 30 practitioners. This proposal is set out in more detail in the attached document, Invitation to Reinvent Management.
Credits are due to many people for the development and elaboration of Practical Trust and its progenitors. They include my earliest collaborators, Dr Margi Martin, Charles Hett and my wife Jo; my unfaltering supporter David Guillebaud; my inspirational mentor, Patricia Benner; my technology guru Nick Taptiklis; teachers and guides, Professors David Boje, Ralph Stacey, and Hubert Dreyfus; and my distinguished colleagues and collaborators, Professors John Shotter, Patricia Shaw and Jo Tyler. The infelicities and errors are all mine.