[Video] How to bake a broccoli quiche? A view on Organizations

Video based on Rodolphe Durand’s book, La désorganisation du monde, éditions Le Bord de l’eau, 2013

The world is organized. Our world is organizational. We populate our world with our memberships and our attachments to organizations. The organizations to which we are connected are just as important as the features of our psyche or the elaboration of our social development through human interaction. Organizations are the creators, owners, holders, and suppliers of bricks of meaning with which we build our world, the objects and decorations with which we adorn our secluded garden, and the canals through which we communicate and exchange with other humans.

In its various forms, from the small business, the club, the association, to the multinational corporation or investment bank, the organization brings meaning and provides solutions. The disappearance of old organizations and the emergence of new ones put into motion a process of meaning in flux. Individuals are tossed about by these organizational waves, their membership and attachments sometimes submerged and other times breaching, at times connected to other lifeworlds and at times on isolated islands. Disorganization is due to the perpetual phenomena of the appearance and disappearance of organizations, of organizational belonging forged and broken, and attachment and detachment to organizational solutions.

Organizations offer solutions to problems that exist in reality or not. These solutions attract individuals as they are meaning reservoirs, where people can find some sense for their actions and materials to build their identity. Organizations produce solutions that are filled with temporary meanings, resources for individuals to live and organize their lifeworld.  Organizations group together members, internal, such as employees, but external as well, like clients, fans or followers. These individuals co-construct with others the meaning around the solutions offered by organizations, e.g., firms, associations or clubs. Sharing, socializing and reproduction all maintain the coherence of our lifeworld. Organizations, as ephemeral envelopes of local meaning, are the material with which we manufacture our world. « I » is the sum of multiple memberships and attachments, both enduring and temporary, to various organizations.

When organizations are dysfunctional, the solutions they produce become less attractive. The meaning reservoir empties out. Organizations need reasons to act and mobilize means to reach their ends.  However, when they dysfunction, they lead to destructuring of members’ worlds: a deficient meaning (what solution, what end, which means?), a deteriorated identity and a fractured inner world. Independently of how organizations dysfunction, they bear external pressures that induce loss of meaning. The first external source of a ‘writedown of meaning’ characterizes a fading acceptability of the ends pursued by an organization and a contestation of the means it employs. When groups of people (clients, fans, media…) cease to grant organizations their support, organizations lose legitimacy. And individuals belonging to or attached to these organizations in which legitimacy is in jeopardy face a blunt disorganization of their lifeworld. The second source of a ‘writedown’ of meaning is competition. Competition is the co-occurrence of organizations pursuing the same end and offering substitutable solutions. Competition results from the limitedness of resources and means accessible to organizations and from our bounded capacity to attend to multiple ends and signals. When organizations do not access superior resources, do not provide attractive solutions, they start losing ground and become fragile. Both forces, legitimacy and competition, explain why some organizations survive longer than others. When they lack legitimacy and lose competitive edge, organizations suffer and may disappear, resulting in major shakeouts for people members of these organizations or those attached to them. These individuals’ lifeworld all suffer from disorganization.

Among all these influences, from within the organization and from outside with the legitimacy and competition pressures, individuals are left in disarray.  Organizations dysfunction and disappear. Their ends and values become obsolete, their solutions are surpassed by others. Individuals must make sense of these organizational ebbs and flows, writedowns of meaning and emergence of new values. It is argued that the economic and sociological theorizations of individuals are inadequate for the task because they omit that without organizational memberships and attachments, individuals are harmless. However, as members or followers of organizations, they can change their lifeworld and the world.

Therefore, we can all redesign our memberships and attachments, reweave the threads in a more meaningful way. This process of alignment of ends and means, values and meanings characterize what I call a “world reprise” -reprise being a French term that includes the ideas of both mending (sewing) and revival (playing):  mending the organizational fabric and revival of the roles played in the many organizations that constitute my lifeworld. Each world reprise consists of at least three actions:  engagement, resistance, and reshuffling, which can make sense for others and therefore diffuse to broader spaces in society.

Understanding the sources of disorganization leads to better solutions at the collective level for the recovery of our world. As soon as we can identify the causes of our disorganized world, the seeds for its recovery emerge. Management, by shaping both ephemeral meaning and a set of concrete practices, directly contributes to the increased survival of organizations, and indirectly to the predominance of certain logics of action over others. Social, economic, and political change flows from individuals’ engagement, resistance, and reshuffling to the organized and collective world reprise. Understanding how certain organized entities outweigh others and why they have a competitive advantage is the key task of a new social science that I call “orgology” –or the reasoned study of organizations. Management is the concrete and locally-determined embodiment of practices that link goal-setting behavior and the means of control of organizations. Management plays a central role in explaining the success or failure of actions taken by organizations, whether these actions keep the world as it is today or whether those actions lead to the world’s ultimate reprise.

Organizations are the hinges of economic, social, and cultural change. Orgology as a discipline and management as a practice are the driving forces for all economic and social reformation.