Beyond emotion
  • On Organization Unbound, we’ve written a lot about inscaping – the idea that if we want to live out our deepest purposes in our day-to-day work, we need to regularly surface and share our inner experiences of that work. Those experiences offer us an ongoing reality check, revealing the organization as it really is, not merely as we draw it up on paper. They also open up powerful doorways for innovation and growth.

    For a variety of reasons, many people react hesitantly at first to the idea of inscaping and experiential structuring. One of the things they worry about is that inscaping will turn into emotional indulgence. In the organizations I’ve worked with that have been particularly gifted at inscaping, that kind of indulgence has not proved to be a problem.

    One of the reasons, I think, is that our inner landscapes are composed of many things besides emotions.  Emotions color our inner worlds in powerful ways, and they provide important signals. Unattended they can turn into stubborn blocks. (In fact, without inscaping our organizations are even more apt to be warped and constrained by hidden emotions.) But to confound our inner lives with our emotional lives is an impoverished understanding of what goes on inside of us.

    When people share their experiences with each other, they are not just sharing transient emotional states. They are also sharing ideas, beliefs, meanings, intuitions, curiosities, confusions, dreams, memories, talents, etc. It is these things that make up our inner lives. It is these things that are the raw material we can use to shape our organizations into the engaging, wise, creative places we want them to be. We need to draw on all dimensions of our experiences if we hope to organize ourselves around our deepest values.

    Take a value like ‘compassion.’ Compassion has an emotional dimension, but it is not simply an emotion. It involves insight, imagination, and action. And what compassion will look like in form is always changing. It requires full engagement of mind, heart, and spirit to even begin to know how to live in a compassionate way. A helping hand might be compassionate. A stern refusal might be compassionate. A nod and an ear might be compassionate. A challenge might be compassionate. It all depends on the peculiar alchemy of people and place.

    With such a confusion of possible forms, how can we ever hope for our organizations to become consistently compassionate (or brave, or creative, or loving, or intelligent)? Our experiences offer us our best clues. When we attend to those clues, and share them with each other, we are making use of a much richer and subtler source of information than is typical in organizational life. A remarkable spring of collaborative insight exists just below the surface of the typical roles and routines and languages we use to maintain our organizations. Exploring that spring is the farthest thing from indulgent.


    May 4th, 2011 | Warren Nilsson | 5 Comments

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