Friday, June 13, 2008

The Truth As We Know It

Noted author and expert on organizational culture, Edgar Schein, points out that there are many ways to establish what is “true” for an organization, groups, or individuals within a group. These definitions range from the moralistic to the pragmatic (neither of which is meant to be a prejudicial term), from the more faith or belief based to the scientifically tested theories of truth. Schein lays out six types of truth that may be found within organizations or groups:

  • Pure dogma, based on tradition and/or religion: It has always been done this way; it is God’s will; it is written in the Scriptures. 
  • Revealed dogma, that is, wisdom based on trust in the authority of wise men, formal leaders, prophets, or kings; our president wants to do it this way; our consultants have recommended that we do it this way; she had the most experience, so we should do what she says. 
  • Truth derived by a “rational-legal” process, as when we establish the guilt or innocence of an individual by means of a legal process that acknowledges from the outset that there is no absolute truth, only socially determined truth; this includes majority rule where things are decided by a vote 
  • Truth as that which survives conflict and debate: We thrashed it out in three different committees, tested it on the sales force, and the idea is still sound, so we will do it 
  • Truth as that which works, the purely pragmatic criterion: Let’s try it out this way and evaluate how we are doing. 
  • Truth as established by the scientific method, which becomes, once again, a kind of dogma: Our research shows that this is the right way to do it; we’ve done three surveys and they all show the same thing, so let’s act on them.

(From page 102 – Organizational Culture and Leadership, Second Edition, copyright 1992)

So what is true? We all take it for granted that we know what is true. We express our opinions about truth every day in our behaviors, conversations, assumptions, dress, habits, in short every part of our daily life. We express what we believe to be true about ourselves, our employer, our families, our friends, our city, and our country through the acts of daily life.

We seem to know what is true.

But, if the truth is so easy to see and know, why are there so many arguments over what is true, or how people should live, or which culture should survive and which should cease to exist?

Gaining an understanding of how the organizations you work with, and the people you interact with, define their truth will help you understand where the root of many misunderstandings may lie.

In a recent address to the Alliance for Innovation (June 6, 2008 – Greenville, SC), highly regarded teacher, author and lecturer, Rafe Esquith, said that to be a successful teacher you must be able to approach issues from the perspective of the children you are trying to reach. You must first understand the truths of the world from the child’s perspective.

The same advice would be helpful to anyone trying to affect an organization, group or individual – To be a successful leader, first understand the truths of the world as seen from within your organization, group, or from the individual perspective.