Organizational Poetics

Thoughts that occurred to me on the bus, on the way to meeting with Ross Hostetter to discuss legal structure:

Rather than see organizational development as “development” primarily—although there is certainly a developmental component—why not see it as poetry?

Creating an organization is kind of like a writing a poem. But it’s a poem made up of people, structures, processes, communication, understandings, visions, etc.

It’s important, though, to understand that poetry is not just random “poetic expression” or disconnected fragments of undigested experience that don’t mean anything taken as a whole.

A poem has to work.

A poem that works, means. And a poem that means, works.

Further: while a poem may draw on a shared language, or may incorporate or reflect philosophical (or strategic) ideas, the poem is not universal or merely an expression of ideas.

A poem is very particular. It’s always about a particular thing (or experience), and structured in a particular way. Each word is there for a reason, and a different word would change the meaning of the poem, or destroy its meaning altogether.

As we work on developing an organization, I think we need to think of ourselves not so much as implementing certain pre-defined strategies, ideas, mechanisms, or processes—though we will certainly want to draw on all rich tools and maps out there, especially from researchers who’ve done a lot work in this area, particularly in the integral space—but rather I think we should enter into it as a creative act in multiple dimensions, where we’re paying attention not only to effects or impact, but to the quality of our expression itself.

Only, unlike words on a page, the dimensions we’re working with are not fixed but always moving, always open to change.

Our work together IS the poem, is the meaning—and, if we do it well, the meaning of our work will never be exhausted or fully defined.

Just like a good poem.