Destroying Descartes

April 17, 2006

Today's organizations are held back because they try to manage knowledge work with a factory manager's mindset. In the industrial age, the organization and its workers were seen as machines. Things were visible, measureable, unchanging, routine, replicable, logical, and top-down; efficiency and productivity were the objectives. Knowledge work takes place in ever-changing networks; relationships are all. Knowledge work is qualitative, invisible, difficult to measure, dynamic, one-off, qualitative, and bottom-up.

In the seventeenth century, French philosopher Rene Descartes proposed "dualism," which holds that mind and body are two different things.

  • Body was subjective, the place of feelings, beliefs, ideologies, intuition, heart, spirituality, relationships and the "soft stuff." Subjective means "taking place within the mind and modified by individual bias."
  • Mind was objective, as evidenced by data, statistics, logic, observations, and scientific. Objectives means "undistorted by emotion or personal bias; based on observable phenomena."

Management, scientific and otherwise, is biased in favor of the objective, yet knowledge work calls for sharing with others and that's quite subjective. People organize around relationships that are subjective and therefore invisible to the objective manager's eye.

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