by: Sigurd Rinde

Context: "The circumstances that form the setting for any event, statement or idea, and in terms of which it can be fully understood and assessed."

Dogma: "An authoritative principle, belief or statement of opinion, especially one considered to be absolutely true regardless of evidence, or without evidence to support it."

In other words "fully understand why something happens versus an unchallenged belief in what causes an event", two counterpoints in how we handle reality. One or the other is behind every method and principle that runs our daily life.

There are four issues regarding context versus dogma that should interest us:

  1. Organisational events are difficult to understand and model, thus business and government operations (management) got fraught with dogma. 
  2. Dogmas are the simplest and most obvious barriers to further development and when accepted will continue to limit wealth creation in business, governments and society as a whole.
  3. Replacing dogmas with context is potentially the most powerful and efficient form of innovation - large and instant gains from very little resource and time spend.
  4. An important aspect of a dogma is it's inherent absolutism, infallibility, irrefutability, unquestioned acceptance (among adherents) and anti-scepticism. In other words it has self-defence built in.
Interestingly enough, the latter phenomena yields the best indication that an idea or principle in fact is a dogma: Challenge the current ways, and the more vicious the defence is, the higher the probability that you are facing a dogma. On the surface some of the defence might sound plausible, but often the defence is in the form of "that's how we always did it", "it works as it is" and "don't rock the boat".   

Hence the most efficient path towards enhanced wealth creation for business and government is to find and challenge the dogmas and create alternative operational ways based on context. Let context win over dogma.

On the surface it does not look easy - first to find real dogmas, then to device a context so you can introduce alternative ways.

But nothing is easy if you do not recognise the barriers (dogmas). Passing a wall is not possible unless you recognise it as a wall. But when you recognise it, it may not be that difficult after all. The scaling or circumventing process would certainly be more enjoyable in daylight than repeatedly bumping into it in the dark!

climbing_SR.jpg

Here's my usual list of organisational dogmas, or rather the practical implementation of such. Enough to keep anybody busy for awhile and certainly enough to create a huge leap in wealth creation if replaced with context based methods:

  1. The Organisational Hierarchy. It's old, it's been developed during times of no technology to speak of. It's clearly fraught with problems and it is always strongly defended.
  2. Organising by tree-structures. Sadly, but expected, Carl von Linnae did beat Comte de Buffon as the two-dimensional organising methods beat out the three-dimensional and relations based method. But that was about 300 years ago when handling three dimensions using paper was a bit too much to ask.
  3. That managing is a requirement. Managing as in controlling and as a theory of organisational functions, the practical and theoretical umbrella for most of the dogmas on this list.
  4. That double-entry book keeping is the only way to gather economic information. With only paper-based ledgers it was certainly a stroke of genius 515 years ago. But we do have developed technology-wise since the bound wad of paper.
  5. That budgets are a must. At least a dogma under siege; many large multinationals have abandoned this already and are doing better for it.
  6. That meetings are unavoidable. Meetings as in exchange of ideas still make a lot of sense, but as a forum for dissection and dissemination of tasks I would question it as there are other widely used and efficient communication methods available.
  7. That documents and forms are the best information format. Simple, easy to understand, easy to handle - but they are also a source of data complexity, reconciliation issues and errors. There should be no need today to keep all of layout, object data, transactions and time context in one and same format. Yet another methodology sourced from the paper-only days.
If you disagree and believe the above list is the best methods life can offer organisations, please give this (my usual) argument a chance: The Roman army and their finely tuned organisational hierarchy found that ten subordinates per supervisor was perfect. Thus their system of decurions and centurions. Now, two thousand years later, hundred years of Harvard Business School, 40,000 management books in print at any given time, we have found that the number most probably should be eight. With that kind of development progress using that kind of resources and time, there surely must be something wrong with the base (organisational hierarchy and management theory) or what? 

By the way, as a last parting thought: The vigourous defence against changes that is to be expected, and indeed is an intrinsic part of dogmas, will keep most from doing anything. Hence the first movers will be doubly rewarded with competitiveness and profits.

Go challenge dogmas and create wealth now.

Original Post: http://thingamy.typepad.com/sigs_blog/2009/04/context-over-dogma.html

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