Attribution Errors in Viewing Organizational Complexity

If concepts such as The Corporate Lattice, Management Innovation, Positive Deviance, Collective Leadership, and Hyperspecialization teach us anything, it is the organization of today will soon no longer exist.  Yet sea change as a concept to envelope what’s happening is quickly becoming a tired excuse.  Rather than committing the fundamental attribution error of assigning all blame to one construct, can we instead begin to chip away at the solution by beginning to dissect the myriad contributions to its existence?

As remarked by Mintzberg, Ahlstrand, and Lampel (1998), “Cognition aside, in reviewing a large body of literature, ten distinct points of view did emerge, most of which are reflected in management practice… each has a unique perspective that focuses [on] one major aspect of the strategy-formation process” (p. 4).  These ten points of view include the Design, Planning, Positioning, Entrepreneurial, Cognitive, Learning, Power, Cultural, Environmental, and Configuration Schools.  Each school looks at the strategy process differently, and includes many sentiments regarding which is the key actor, and what drives strategy.  Of particular note in this research is the Environmental School.  The Environmental School depicts the strategy process as being outside of the organization, and the organization instead more of a ‘mirror’ to what surrounds it.  The consequences of such a premise include both the organization’s requirement to respond to environmental factors or be selected out, and include the clustering together in distinct ecological-type niches, or positions where they remain until resources become scarce or conditions too hostile (Mintzberg et. al, 1998).

In a recently published article entitled A Corporate Climate of Mutual Help, Edgar Schein, known as MIT’s ‘sage of organizational culture’ spoke of the need for interdependence to be at the heart accountability in organizations.  Schein (2011) remarked, “Better teamwork requires perpetual mutual helping, [across] boundaries…  I don’t see how we’re going to get there unless we create cultural ‘islands’ – situations in which people can go outside the organization’s norms and practices and explicitly create [this relationship]” (p. 3).  This recalibrating of organizations speaks to pointed efforts to reduce or eliminate the boundaries seen in organizations whereby functions are departmentalized, and senior leadership does not exercise opportunities to make others ‘feel psychologically safe’ as Schein describes.  Based on this evaluation, there exists a need to reorganize the organization to be one exhibiting more matrix characteristics, where specialized teams can be created across cultural boundaries to solve the problem at-hand.  Creating a culture of true collaboration, and one where the skills of one department, function, or team are not isolated from another based on organization, and one where the organization itself is not a precursor for how work is done.

Howard Gardner, in his text entitled Five Minds for the Future (2006), chronicles the aptitudes which will be in high demand in the coming future, and describes these abilities in greater detail.  These minds include the disciplinary mind, the synthesizing mind, the creating mind, the respectful mind, and the ethical mind.  In order to assess value, one must consider the world of the future – with its ubiquitous search engines, robots, and other computational devices – will demand capacities that until now have been mere options (Gardner, 2006).  These five minds become important, as understanding persons unlike us can be a tumultuous endeavor.  An effort wrought with misunderstanding, with confusion, with undetected bias.  Yet, in considering these five minds, we are bestowed a template with which to evaluate a person’s ability to contribute to organizational success, and a means for evaluating best fit once self-regard is known.

Design, culture, and aptitude do not encompass all which attribute to the change both here and on the horizon.  Certainly no one discipline can answer this question for us either.  Yet these three lenses are indeed a beginning to the learning which is and will continue to be required of us, if we are to aggregate human effort for the purpose of elevating the societies which our organizations intrinsically serve.

– Justin

Gardner, H. (2006) Five minds for the future.  Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press

Mintzberg, H., Ahlstrand, B., & Lampel, J. (1998). Strategy safari: A guided tour through the wilds of strategic management. New York, NY.: The Free Press

Schein, E. (2011). A corporate climate of mutual help. New York, NY: Booz & Company, Inc.


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