Category Archives: Working Papers

Working forensically with toxic thinking: what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger

Title: Working forensically with toxic thinking: what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger
Author: Philip Boxer
Category: Presented at ISPSO Annual Meeting Rome 2015

In an increasingly networked world, enterprises are being expected to organise around the individual needs of the customer. This is easy to say but difficult to do. Take, for example, the challenges facing the car industry. To quote a recent McKinsey interview with Bill Ford:

“It used to be that the auto industry, and the car itself, were part of a self-contained ecosystem. If there were breakthroughs, they were developed within the industry … that’s all been turned on its head; we now have disruption coming from every angle, from the potential ways we fuel our vehicles to the ownership mode. We have a whole generation that just wants access to vehicles as opposed to ownership … the reality is that we will not own, or develop, most of the connectivity technologies involved. So we have to be a thoughtful integrator of other people’s technologies and understand where we add value.” (Kaas and Fleming 2014)

In such highly networked worlds, collaboration is the new normal. The dilemma faced by Ford is between ‘developing our own technologies’ (i.e. going it alone) and ‘integrating other people’s technologies’ (i.e. collaborating), except that Bill Ford is arguing that the former approach will no longer work. A version of this dilemma experienced by a manager would be between ‘if I develop our own technology I know I’ll have a job, but it won’t be so good for the enterprise’ and ‘if I use that technology I’ll be working myself out of a job’. For the manager, other people’s technologies will be toxic to the organisation as the manager knows it, but the point made in the interview is that such thinking by the manager will be toxic to the survival of Ford. The manager’s response to what is perceived as a toxic environment is in defence of the organisation he knows, which supports his identity as a manager. Even though the ‘bad’ choice of using other people’s technology may not be dismissed directly as being toxic, it may still be excluded because it ‘feels wrong’ despite there being arguments in its favour. Choices that are felt in this way to be toxic to the organisation are killed off not by a single act of dismissal but rather by the cumulative effects of many small exclusions, micro-aggressions against forms of thinking and behaviour that are felt to be alien. The manager, in holding on to particular ways of judging what is appropriate for the enterprise, is reflecting the affect he attaches to its way of giving meaning to his work. The construction of this containing will use concepts supported by the manager’s particular ‘feel’ for what is right, the roots of which will be in his particular unconscious relation to it aka libidinal investment in that construction. Such thinking, however, can paradoxically be toxic both to his own future and to the future of the enterprise. The libidinal economy of an enterprise may thus unconsciously kill off good ideas that are essential to the survival of the enterprise. Working psychoanalytically in an enterprise to prevent such ‘murders’ therefore demands a ‘forensic’ way of working, in which careful attention must be paid to the way such dilemmas are contained, or not. This involves questioning the affects unconsciously attached to existing constructions that link them to their consequences for the enterprise – ‘forensic’ because the motives of such ‘murders’ are never obvious! The paper explores the difficulties encountered in challenging existing libidinal investment in particular ways of organising – the libidinal economy of an enterprise. To do this, it examines an example of an enterprise that stood accused of toxic thinking, in this case of institutional racism.

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The Governance of Specialist Care: a question of ethics?

Title: The Governance of Specialist Care: a question of ethics?
Author: Philip Boxer
Category: Presented at OPUS Conference 2014

This paper describes a two-year intervention within an organization providing residential care for men and women with mental health disabilities. This intervention, in support of the CEO and senior management team, took place during the mid-90’s when the UK Government was engaged in de-institutionalisation, making the transition to Community Care and instituting internal market reforms. The intervention itself was concerned with supporting innovations in the way the work of the organization supported the lives of its residents. These innovations were necessary to the continuing viability of the organisation as a specialist care organisation. The paper is written from the perspective of 20 years later, making it possible to contrast the hopes and aspirations of both the consultants and the client at the time of the intervention with what actually happened to the organisation subsequently. The paper describes the way the authorisation of the consultants was drawn from the consulting approach. It describes the orthogonality that this demanded of the consultants, through which underlying dilemmas could be surfaced about the nature of the client system’s work. Three issues emerged from the intervention that are addressed by the paper: firstly, the nature and complexity of the client system in its networked environment and the extent of the innovation that this demanded (Trist 1977); secondly, the nature of the consulting approach involved in responding to this demand; and thirdly, the implications this approach had for the governance of the client system (Hoggett 2006). From the perspective of 20 years later, it is not a surprise that the social defences against anxiety won out over the desire for innovation(Long 2006). This gives rise to a fourth issue however: what change in the relationship to the unconscious was being expected of the governance of the client system, what kind of courage did this demand, and what were the unconscious dynamics underlying the Trustees’ refusal to innovate(Boxer 2013c)? The paper concludes by considering the nature of orthogonality and the change in the relationship to the unconscious that this demanded of the governance of the client system, a change that involved an ethics that could move from ‘defending against anxiety’ to ‘being true to desire’ (Lacan 1992 [1959-1960]; Lacan 2014[2004]). The paper concludes by considering the implications these ethics have for a different kind of group relations experience that can explore the existential impact of such changes, so necessary in networked environments.

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Defences against innovation: the conservation of vagueness

Title: Defences against innovation: the conservation of vagueness
Author: Philip Boxer
Category: Submitted for Publication – not to be quoted

An individual newly joining an enterprise may experience it as a social defence system to which he or she must react and adapt. For the nurses in Isabel Menzies-Lyth’s study, “in the process of matching between psychic and social defence systems, the emphasis was heavily on the modification of the individual’s psychic defences”. A social defence system is, however, also “a historical development through collusive interaction between individuals to project and reify relevant elements of their psychic defence systems”. Menzies-Lyth underlines that the use of the organisation of an enterprise as a defence against anxiety is operated only by individuals. This approach has brought its clinical concepts, practices and focus on what enables interventions to be effective, approaching organisational entities through addressing the individual’s experience within a single enterprise, or, through the metaphoric use of psychoanalytic concepts to the enterprise itself as if it were an individual. Either way, the enterprise has been presumed to exist as a sovereign entity, paralleling the presumptions of a sovereign ego. How, then, are we to think psychoanalytically about the way in which the development of an enterprise interacts with an individual? The organisation of an enterprise used by its employees in support of their psychic defence systems is like the reef habitat used by its colonial organisms in support of their individual niches. The dynamic relationship of the coral reef with adjacent environments affects what forms of colonial organism it can support, but so too do the forms of colonial organism affect the topography of the coral reef. How does this translate into the individual-enterprise-environment dynamic? This paper considers the psychoanalytic implications of considering how cross-boundary conditions come to dominate intra-enterprise dynamics.

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Betraying the citizen: social defences against innovation

Title: Betraying the citizen: social defences against innovation
Author: Philip Boxer
Category: Conference Paper
ISPSO Annual Meeting, Santiago, Chile 2014

“Affordable healthcare is a right of each citizen, not a privilege for those who can afford it.” The quote refers to the intent behind President Obama’s 2010 signature legislation, the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The struggle by the US Congress in 2013, which included the temporary shutting down of Federal Government, was part of an attempt by some Republicans to de-fund the ACA. It came as a surprise, therefore, to see the Government’s launch of the ACA website fail spectacularly, for with such a failure to innovate by Government, the citizen still pays as a taxpayer for the failure, making such failures a betrayal of the citizen’s trust in Government. Government departments, like competing enterprises, work in silos, each one trying to defend itself against competing silos in order to secure the best possible future for itself. The market assumption is that if one such silo goes bankrupt because of a failure to innovate, the impact on the wider environment may be ignored. This is not the case where there are systemic interdependencies between the silos, however, as with healthcare. How, then, can the government be expected not to betray the citizen’s trust when faced with such a complex innovation? The paper uses the case to consider the difference between social defences against anxiety and social defences against innovation, proposing that it was the latter that led to the spectacular failure. The paper’s conclusions are on the implications of this difference for working with organisations needing to innovate to survive.

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The Governance of Quality: The case of the Specialist Care

Title: The Governance of Quality: The case of the Specialist Care Organization
Author: Philip Boxer
Category: Conference Paper
Publication Year: 2014
Where published: EURAM conference proceedings, if accepted

This paper describes a two-year intervention within an organization providing residential care for men and women with mental health disabilities. This intervention took place during the time when the UK Government was engaged in de-institutionalisation, making the transition to Community Care and instituting internal market reforms. The paper draws conclusions for consulting practice in the light of events during the course of the following five years. The intervention itself was concerned with supporting changes in the way the work of the organization supported the lives of its residents. Three issues emerged from this intervention: firstly, the nature and complexity of the client system in its context and the challenge this presented; secondly, the consulting approach involved in responding to this challenge, and thirdly, the implications the approach had for the governance of the client system. The paper’s conclusion considers the implications of the change in the relationship to anxiety that was being expected, and the kind of courage that this demanded.

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Anxiety and innovation: working with the beyond of our double subjection

Title: Anxiety and innovation: working with the beyond of our double subjection
Author: Philip Boxer
Category: Submitted for Publication – not to be quoted

The internet, like the printing press, railways and the telephone, has changed the way economies work. We are in the middle of an unfolding story that is not only changing what we understand an ‘organisation’ to be, but also changing the ways in which we experience ourselves as subjects. One theme that runs through these changes is that of the loss of sovereignty, whether at the level of the person, organisation or state. We are even less able to act as if we are ‘islands unto ourselves’ than ever before, as we encounter complex adaptive behaviours, emergence and quantum effects that challenge common sense itself. Within these turbulent environments, the ability to sustain a primary task definition of the organisation with its boundaries breaks down along with the organisation’s sovereignty. Under these circumstances, the object of psychoanalytic study ceases to remain focused on the structures of affiliation to the founding acts on which the identity of the organisation rest, extending to include the acts of innovation by which its clients are responded to one-by-one. ‘Boundary’ becomes the particular relation to the other client-patient-citizen and an object of psychoanalytic study itself. The paper proposes a return to Freud’s first model – his Project for a Scientific Psychology – as a way of considering how we are subjected to both the structure of our unconscious and to what-can-be-said that can make sense to the other. It further proposes that this double subjection has its parallel in the double subjection that follows from an affiliation to an organisation, through the valencies by which it lends support to our self-identification. This enables us to understand an organisation to be the social formation that rests ultimately on the structures with which it is identified and through which it interacts with the ‘others’ in its environment. To those identified with such an organisation, anxiety comes not only to warn them of possible failures to perform, but also of the possible failure of the structures of affiliation themselves, giving rise to the potential annihilation of support to their self-identification. Freud’s first model provides us with a way of approaching these two dimensions of anxiety, the potential for annihilation presenting a gap, in relation to which come opportunities for innovation. The paper draws conclusions about the forms of governance that can balance the defences against anxiety with the opportunities for innovation, and about the demands this places on leadership.

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The Environment does not ex-sist: engendering ‘boundary’ as the object of psychoanalytic study

Title: The Environment does not ex-sist: engendering ‘boundary’ as the object of psychoanalytic study
Author: Philip Boxer
Category: Submitted for Publication – not to be quoted

Digitalisation is changing the landscape in which organisations pursue their survival. There was a time when it was enough to provide a service efficiently and effectively. Now this is a necessary but no longer sufficient condition. There is an additional demand that services be provided in such a way that they are dynamically aligned to the individual customer’s situation. This pull towards dynamic responsiveness to customers one-by-one means that an organisation can no longer use markets to replace the environments beyond its boundaries in which its customers are to be found. What does this mean for an individual working for such an organisation? In this new landscape, the environment in general, i.e. THE environment, is replaced by many environments, each one being a customer situation demanding its own particular form of responsiveness. Under these conditions, the object of psychoanalytic study can no longer be the organisation per se, but rather must become the relationship of the organisation with each environment. So where does this leave an individual in the employ of an organisation? The paper describes what is different about the object of psychoanalytic study under these conditions and how this difference is reflected in the way an individual is able to understand what an organisation ‘is’. It does this by equating the exceptional role of Freud’s primal father with the founding act of an organisation, expressed in terms of the establishment of its primary task. In these terms, the object of psychoanalytic study is the law established in the name of the Father, defining the organisation’s boundaries and its structures of affiliation. Implicit in this founding act, however, is the relation of the organisation to that which remains radically Other to the founding relation. The paper argues that, in having to be responsive to its customers one-by-one, an individual working for an organisation has to take up a relation to this radical Otherness, a relation articulated by Lacan in terms of the sexual non-relation. This creates existential anxiety for the individual and new kinds of challenge to the governance of the organisation. The paper concludes by considering the consequences of this for our understanding of boundary, governance and the object of psychoanalytic study.

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Analyzing the Architectures of Software-Intensive Ecosystems

Title: Analyzing the Architectures of Software-Intensive Ecosystems
Authors: Philip Boxer & Rick Kazman
Category: Submitted for Publication – not to be quoted

Software-intensive ecosystems include large numbers of independent software-intensive and human agents interacting with and responding to each other’s demands in ways that are not amenable to traditional ‘closed-world’ assumptions. The paper describes the core-periphery structures of the systems participating in ecosystems, and approaches the analysis of their ‘wicked’ behavior from the perspective of the market behaviors that they are expected to support. It proposes that a key driver of the ‘wickedness’ is the accelerating tempo at which an ecosystem is expected to respond to new kinds of demand, making it necessary to extend the concept of ‘architecture’ to include the resultant processes of dynamic alignment. As a result, it becomes necessary to analyze architecture in a way that includes the operational contexts-of-use within which systems are being used. The paper proposes the use of a multi-sided matrix to represent the variety of forms of dynamic alignment demanded, and describes an extension to the Architecture Tradeoff Analysis Method as a means of discovering the risks inherent in architectural decisions made to support a software-intensive ecosystem.

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Creating value in ecosystems: establishing a 3-level approach to strategy

Title: Creating value in ecosystems: establishing a 3-level approach to strategy
Author: Philip Boxer
Category: Working Paper

A socio-technical ecosystem is a community of managerially and operationally independent organizations interacting with each other and with their environment. For example, an orthotics clinic operates independently within the context of a healthcare ecosystem composed of primary and secondary care organizations supported by a whole menagerie of suppliers. The complex network of relationships within these ecosystems differ from the traditional “closed-world” relationships between a single enterprise and its markets, in which the markets have attributed to them an existence independent of the contexts giving rise to them. This “closed-world” view based on the single enterprise is characteristic of the early work on socio-technical systems, in which the sustainability of the enterprise’s identity is dependent on its engaging in its primary task, defined in terms of its relationship to this market environment.
But defining this relationship becomes increasingly difficult as the turbulence of its environment increases. Thus from a distance, it looks as if the orthotics clinic is delivering orthoses into a market for orthotic treatments. And for the routine supply of the plasters demanded by orthopedic practice this may be an adequate simplifying assumption. But many of the patients of the clinic will need treatments that are unique to their condition as it unfolds within the context of their lives. The turbulence that this variation in demands creates for the clinic is characteristic of ecosystems, in which the variety of demands arise from the large numbers of managerially and operationally independent entities within them that are constantly evolving, have no centralized control, themselves have many heterogeneous elements, and which give rise to demands that are inherently conflicting and unknowable.
This paper will argue that in order for an enterprise to sustain its identity within the dynamic environments created by such socio-technical ecosystems, it needs to change the way it understands how it creates value, in order to include its role within the larger ecosystem. In the case of our clinic, becoming more efficient and cost effective in the delivery of treatments is a necessary but not sufficient condition. The clinic also has to be able to delivery over time exactly those changes in treatment that a patient’s condition warrants. This involves going beyond the direct value created in engaging in its primary task of delivering treatments, and giving consideration to the indirect value its behaviors support within the larger ecosystem, in this case through its impact on the quality of the patient’s life.

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