Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Dionysian Process: Planning & Decisions

Part 40 of Prisoners of the Real

The promise of Dionysus lies in the recognition that the origins of mechanization are ultimately mystical. To understand this, we must return to humanity's desire to escape the limitations of matter, which has led to dependence on powerful equipment. For centuries matter has seemed a necessary tool for our escape from the constraints of the material world. But the movement is in two directions. As Henri Bergson once wrote, "Machinery will find its true vocation again, it will render services in proportion to its power, only if mankind, which it has bowed still lower to the earth, can succeed, through it, in standing erect and looking heavenward."

In truth, the tools that have extended our power far out of proportion with natural human size and strength have also accentuated the gap between humanity's distended body and its inner nature. But a return to intuitive process -- with technological assistance rather than dominance -- can reharmonize the relation between matter and spirit.

Planning: In Dionysian systems, planning is a process for the development of conceptual frameworks and group attitudes that increase commitments to a common value-image of the future. It facilitates synergistic, "ideal" choices by promoting both cohesion and spontaneity. Purpose-finding and system-building are essentially revitalized forms of goal and objective setting in an intentional rather than an operational mode.

A variety of technical devices can be used in such a process, among them forecasting and goal setting exercises, and cross-impact matrices. For example, the Delphi forecasting approach is based on the idea that end-states can be prioritized in a series of attempts that eventually produce a general consensus. One method begins with the generation of goal statements by each member of a group. Once all the alternatives have been listed, some goals are subsumed under others and tentative priorities are established.

First, each person ranks all the goals. Then the group's ranks are synthesized and adjusted to create a group rank-order. The process is repeated, and testimony is supplied for each top ranked choice. Use of Delphi has revealed that opinions tend to converge after several rounds. Goals are often reviewed on the basis of criteria such as importance, minimum magnitude for significance, inhibiting and enhancing factors, and projected times -- that is, earliest, optimal and latest -- for reaching the goal.

Although Delphi is a simple and direct way to generate and set goals, its linear method doesn't fully meet dionysian standards for synthesis. Very often goals that are ranked lower are considered expendable or beyond the group's boundaries. As a result, Delphi may sometimes lead to unnecessary limitation of group purpose at a point when boundaries ought to be expanding rather than contracting.

Through cross-impacting, which has greater potential for Dionysian planning, various purposes can be related to one another in order to assess the extent of positive and negative effects. A matrix is an associative tool, and can be used for both strategy development and exploration of philosophical questions. The former application matches the skills and competencies of participants with various purposes or short-term objectives to reveal appropriate sub-groups.

The planning process may begin with diffused activity -- association without much specialization -- but through the use of matrices, it will lead to a natural division of tasks. Within the sub-groups that are formed, people can then decide how tasks are to be allocated. When attention is paid early in the process to the development of collective consciousness, participants will be more willing to sacrifice self-interests as association leads to engagement with the subject of organization action.

The guide can also use elements of such techniques to create new tools for a specific situation. For example, a group meeting to plan for some new activity or to redefine purposes could be enhanced by gathering as many epigrammatic suggestions as possible. With these listed in an unnumbered order, the initial task for the group becomes the prioritizing or synthesizing of these items. Although the discussion may begin with a simple numbering of the statements, it will quickly lead to a focus on commonalities. The result will be a new agenda that provides a sequence of discussion natural to the full group.


Through these and other methods, the Dionysian leader aims to increase attentiveness to end-states that are consistent with individual perceptions and set permeable boundaries on the basis of common experience.

Decision-making: Making choices involves a clear recognition of assumptions and the altering of boundaries. Dionysian guides, as promoters of new ideas, often challenge organizational norms in order to free others to make the best choices. If the group is going to move from its initial image to an acceptance and understanding of its new reality, however, an explicit statement of purposes is also required.

Therefore, the rules of Dionysian choice are that leaders:

1. initiate new ideas and patterns through purpose-finding to smooth the change process, rather than allowing the demands of change to overtake the group, and

2. promote frequent procedural alterations to avoid the habituating effects of routine.


The assumption here is that organizational survival depends on the mutual adjustment of systems and the environment. As a result, some decisions may be attempts to intervene in the "outside world" rather than merely reacting to it. Above all, Dionysian leaders are intentional.

Next: Information & Communication

To read other chapters, go to
Prisoners of the Real: An Odyssey
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