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Interesting but nothing new
on 7 August 2014
Ed Schein is as close to a hero as I have - I have always found his insights into organisational change to be very telling. What a shame that I found myself slightly disappointed by his latest offering, which is to do with interpersonal relationships at work and a 'new' (that's what he thinks anyway!) approach to the topic.
His basic premise seems to be that our existing preconceptions/biases/prejudices (choose your word) about how verbal interactions happen between people are almost fatally flawed by existing cultural norms. Norms that operate within cultures and, to add a further level of complexity, differ between cultures. So, the subordinate black African neither disagrees with his superior nor looks her in the eye when talking - the former a widespread norm, the latter a clach between White Western and Black African norms.
The essence of 'Humble' Enquiry is offered as being to do with attitude rather than process - an attitude of genuine interest rather than one of 'going through the motions' or asking questions to which one already thinks one knows the answer, or not really being interested in the answer anyway.
He illustrates the problems caused by our default approach with examples such as the problems caused by power distinctions between airline flight crew causing crashes (because the subordinate co-pilot would not even speak up to his superior about problems that she could see coming but maybe the pilot had missed) or operating theatre staff who can also get into problems through power differences inhibiting essential communication - and others. None of the examples are new, and I have to say that I don't see the basic concept of asking a question with a genuine desire to know the answer new either.
The book has a feel to me of "What can I write this year's book about" rather than some of the groundbreaking stuff from earlier in his career. I might just about be able to suggest it to an up and coming leader, and it would come with a warning about repetitiveness and sometimes artificial categorisations.