Big interventions:small understanding?

I realise I keep quoting Dave Snowden in this blog but dammit he keeps writing stuff that engages me. I think it’s partly that he can argue positions in logical terms that I tend to feel more in my gut. There’s a certain tension in that difference but that may be a post for another day.

Anyway today he writes about the pitfalls of “best practice” and the downside of case studies. I especially agree with him about this:

Following industrial best practice, a variation on the above which manifests itself in Government. This is one of the great consultancy con tricks; after something no long sells into industry (mainly because it has failed or its limitations have been realised) go and sell it to Government.

He goes on to make this point:

What I am finding is that the more accurately you can describe the situation, the less you need formal intervention methods…. The corollary of this is that the more structured your intervention approach the more likely it is that your diagnosis methods are weak.

This idea resonates incredibly strongly: I find most conversations about designing events boring or painful as they seem to focus on crafting effective interventions in the absence of the the most important factor: the human beings who actually care about this stuff and the stories they have to share about it.

So many management processes and training courses reduce the wonderful complexity and uncertainty of human experience and reduce it circles, triangles and arrows. In doing so, I think they often set artificial notions of perfection that make us feel worse about ourselves in all our untidiness. (See anything I’ve written about Richard Farson for more of my schtick on that.)

Caveats: As ever, language creates a few bear traps. I might use a different word for diagnosis if I could think of one. Perhaps that’s because of the adage from psychotherapy about the “presenting problem”. Often the presenting problem isn’t really the problem so rather than diagnosing it, one might frame it as exploring more of what’s going on, getting a fuller picture.

Also, I tend to associate diagnosis with doctors in white coats and expert intervention; I’m more interested in groups of people sharing multiple perspectives about what’s happening – which is -what Dave’s practice sounds like.

I suppose “accurately” may also tip us into attempting precision rather than ambiguity too. But I’m nitpicking.

1 thought on “Big interventions:small understanding?

  1. Andrew

    Yes language creates some very big bear traps, or as the saying goes, ‘words create worlds’. If we go looking for ‘problems’ to ‘diagnose’, we’re likely to find some… Just as if we go looking for, say, ‘dreams’ to ‘create’ we’re likely to find some of those too. Many kinds of inquiry have their place – and it’s perhaps useful to have some flexibility about which kind to go hunting with.

    Reply

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