Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Process: Time, Participation, Enabling

Part 42 of Prisoners of the Real

Time: The Dionysian guide lives in the immediate, nonlinear and simultaneous present, where work is performed at the fitting or suitable time. In short, work is timely, and the clock is de-emphasized. Decisions about what is fitting, along with the duration of work, become matters of individual responsibility or collective dialogue.

You might say that time turns from a line into a point, manifested in the present-centeredness of experiences and the desire to remain receptive to patterns of activity. The Dionysian leader knows that any action, at any point, can bring another cluster of acts into existence. Conscious of this quantum probability, she sees individual events as integral parts of a patterned whole. At each moment all things are possible. As I type these words, it becomes a different computer screen. The relationship between the blank page and the page with words is not temporal. The two are separate entities within a patterned whole.

At every moment each of us can create a totally different world. Every action alters the pattern of the whole.

Participation: These comments stress the Dionysian leader's use of a wide variety of resources to reach collectively established goals. As a result, fluidity of personnel becomes crucial, both in terms of re-arranging relationships and allowing free movement into and out of the group.

We have reached a moment in world history in which the reality of impermanence often provokes a fanatic quest for things that don't change. Many institutions rigidify in the mistaken belief that internal stability can modulate fluctuations in the "outside world." Dionysians respond, on the other hand, by openly acknowledging the temporary nature of all structures and systems. In practice, this means matching knowledge and skills with specific purposes and objectives. Once these have been achieved or change radically, however, the system and its sub-groups also shift.

The matrix approach to organization is a way to enhance participation through frequent changes in personnel relations and the shared pool of information. In this approach participation depends on the congruence of individual and collective purposes, the specific knowledge and skills people bring to the group, each member's contact with outside groups and her or his integration into a sub-group. In short, people select one another as they find their purposes for coming together. They aren't asked to contribute specific amounts of time but rather to commit themselves to certain goals. Thus, one person may be part of more than one group.

Such a situation can be valuable to both groups, since interactions will tend to increase and relationships between purposes may be more fully understood. However, it must be said that this kind of "circuit-making" participation calls for small groups. In fact, most Dionysians believe that human beings function best in small societies where problems remain of a manageable size. That is not to say that these concepts are inapplicable to the enormous urban societies of our time. But the Dionysian thrust is clearly away from creation or maintenance of empires of any kind, based on the evidence of history that they inevitably promote violence and war.

Opposition to violence doesn't imply complete rejection of conflict. On the contrary, Dionysian guides may even lead their groups toward conflict, confident that group values can be clarified and realized through the dynamic tension of opposition. In the search for harmony, peace is not confused with liberation. Peace can be imposed through repression – in many organizations implemented through forms of "group-think" – rather than being promoted through expression. Liberation, on the other hand, is possible only when dissent and disagreement aren't just tolerated but also encouraged. Put another way, liberated participation calls for the unity of opposites.

Enabling: The Dionysian leader replaces control with guidance. She acts as an enabler who assists organizational peers to understand the whole, break free of boundaries, and create new realities for the group. The guide introduces variety and change, offering comfort and occasionally some needed direction to individual or group activity. Rather than reigning supreme as some post-industrial headman, the leader is the group's shaman and critic. Convinced that end-states are merely the product of images brought into the world of matter through group will the Dionysian leader concentrates more on the creation of conceptual frames of references and the designing of means than on refining images as actualities. She or he may participate in that work as a part of one or a number of sub-groups. Yet it is the image and not the leader that directs the group.

The nature of Dionysian collectives supports changes of role, and the managerial role is not exempt. At one point or another almost every group member serves as a manager. This change, like most others, will depend on history, current perceptions, and the nature of the specific tasks that lay ahead. The shifting of managerial roles will decrease the destructive conflicts that result from one person's constant assertion of authority and dominance. When a Dionysian leader has the opportunity to observe someone else in that role, she or he is able to compare the new manager's actions with her/his self-image. That experience will promote further growth and change.

The term "guide" is often used to describe spiritual leaders. "Guiding is an ancient and honorable role," Robert Masters and Jean Houston once noted in a study of consciousness-raising process, "and the guide re-emerges now, at a critical point in human history, to perform services never more urgently or more profoundly needed." The research of Masters and Houston outlined a variety of guidance methods, many of which can be applied by Dionysian leaders. As guides, for example, Dionysians ought to observe others closely and clearly communicate what they intend to say. They should remain alert to non-verbal communication, be able to receive and utilize gestures, facial expressions, and other non-verbal cues. The researchers have also warned, however, that guides can easily turn from enabling to "ego-tripping," and therefore suggest that other members of a group not repress their perceptions if or when this occurs. The changing of guides from time to time will also reduce this danger.
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The Dionysian leader is an idealist system-changer who uses an ability to move inside of what she sees in order to inspire others and herself. Posing challenges for choice, she widens the boundaries of experience, accepts the timeliness of activities, harmonizes the system with the environment by changing both, observes perceptions of others and promotes satisfaction toward the end of invention.

As an organizational guide, she is an antithesis to the dominance of routine-operational modes of management. The potential to move from rational to Dionysian management exists within all of us. As structural decay in rational collectives, from the nuclear family to the nation-state, leads to annihilation and regeneration, the Dionysian spirit is revived.

"When rationality is not possible," wrote William Thompson, "because the institution of reason...overloads the mind with data without meaning, the institution perishes in its own excremental productivity. Once the individual is without an institution, he (sic) can ascend to suprarational levels of imagination, intuition and creativity or descend to the levels of subrational panic." The promise of Dionysus is our freedom to choose the hopeful option.

Next: The Game of Becoming

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