What is Stoos? New language for a new mind (TBD)

TBD is a commonly-seen English acronym, a place holder for what is to come: To Be Determined. I think it summarizes beautifully the emergent nature of the Stoos Network, a community of people committed to hastening the shift to more enjoyable and meaningful work.

“Reflecting on leadership in organizations today, we find ourselves in a bit of a mess. We see reliance on linear, mechanistic thinking, companies focusing more on stock price than delighting customers, and knowledge workers whose voices are ignored by the bosses who direct them. All these factors are reflected in the current economic crisis, increased inequity, bankruptcies and widespread disillusionment.
There has to be a better way
. …”
— from the Stoos communique

But what is it?

Today I discovered a straight-forward, terse description of the essential paradigm shift that I want to catalyse; my own Stoosian agenda: Esko Kilpi’s blog “A relational view to management,” which incorporates ideas from “Gregory Bateson, Doug Griffin, Ralph Stacey, Kenneth Gergen, David Weinberger and Katri Saarikivi”. (It is beautifully written, I encourage you to read it.).

I find helpful the simple contrast he setls up between what I’ll call the traditional mindset (Tayloristic, pseudo-scientific) and the relational stance, informed by complexity science. I sum it up for myself as follows:

Follow the Leader
image: pixabay.com
  • “I”/ with a mind / knowing / the leader (subject)
  • tell
  • “you” / with the “hands” / instrumental / the follower (object)
  • “what’s important”, and
  • you help me make it / “the plan” happen.

Or, as Kilpi puts it: “When a person is understood as a knowing individual she is being viewed as a subject, distinct from others, the objects. Relations are considered from the point of view of the subject and are instrumental in nature.” In Kilpi’s model, in a traditional organisation, meaning is constructed from the point of view of the manager, who becomes the subject.

this is contrasted with (my own summary):

network of individuals
image: pixabay.com
  • Whoever chooses to join in are “the right people” / a knowing community / a network
  • through whose ongoing interactions “meaning” / what’s important / a direction
  • emerges over time, and
  • together we do “whatever it takes” to move toward “it”.

Kilpi’s metaphor is linguistic: essentially I-you (subject-object) vs “we”. No wonder we find it challenging to explain the Stoosian agenda… it is a shift in how we formulate our thoughts… as is any paradigm shift. And, congruent with the complexity stance, I and others resist mandating new language, instead fostering (or stewarding) its emergence, which takes time. (This brings my interest in Powerful Questions into focus for me: it is a key tool for untying the knots of habitual thought patterns!)

I notice that to summarize the traditional model I easily find clear words like “manager” and “plan” whereas the uncertainties inherent in a complex human system lead me to be settle for fuzzier terms like “the right people” and “meaning” and “whatever it takes”.

The most striking example of this is, for me, is the “it” (TBD) – that toward which we work together. It cannot be “A Plan,” in the old sense (we recognise that our plan needs to emerge over time, as we accumulate experiences and so knowledge). It cannot be called “The Goal,” in the old sense of a fixed objective used to focus our energy (because meaning / what’s important is an emergent property of a Network, and we know from experience that it tends to shift).

For me, this is the moment in which Values make their appearance. It seems to me that these are the DNA, the “simple rules” that cause or allow meaning to emerge. And while values are likely also emergent (in fact, recursively so, in that the actions they inform may shift those very values) their shift seems slow compared to the speed at which we wish things to change in our workplaces.

Kilpi writes: “In a relational model identity is constructed from being in relationships, being connected, as contrasted with the mainstream view of identity through separation. Knowledge of self and the other thus becomes viewed as co-constructed.”

And I would maintain that, when humans work together, meaning (that which makes work, indeed all of life, valuable and enjoyable) emerges from group identity. So who are we? (A key question in the ongoing discussions of our small “Stoos Values” discussion group)


“… We believe that we uncovered some of the common characteristics of that better way. For example, that organizations can become learning networks of individuals creating value and that the role of leaders should include the stewardship of the living rather than the management of the machine.” — from the Stoos communique

PS: In an interesting side note: Kilpi writes, “The relational view sees networking… as conversational processes of meaning making. Here, people who network may be regarded as seeking to understand the meanings of the others’ conversational contributions. To do so, they would have to give up the assumption that they and others necessarily mean the same thing by the same terms or expressions.” For me, this seems a good description of the sentiments that led to Stoos being initiated, not as a Manifesto with Signatories, but as a Communiqué culminating in an invitation to help create a network.

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