Among the possible ways of talking about frames are schemata or schema theory (Fiedler, 1982; Fiske and Dyer, 1985; Lord and Foti, 1986), representations (Frensch and Sternberg, 1991; Lesgold and Lajoie, 1991; Voss, Wolfe, Lawrence, and Engle, 1991), cognitive maps (Weick and Bougon, 1986), paradigms (Gregory, 1983; Kuhn, 1970), social categorizations (Cronshaw, 1987), implicit theories (Brief and Downey, 1983), mental models (Senge, 1990), de!nitions of the situation, and root metaphors.
4. Douglas W. Hubbard, How to Measure Anything: Finding the Value of Intangibles in Business (New York: Wiley, 2010), p. 35.
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5. Ken Blanchard and Colleen Barrett, Lead with LUV: A Different Way to Create Real Success (Upper Saddle River, NJ: FT Press, 2010), p. 7.
6. Jeffrey Pfeffer, Power: Why Some People Have It and Others Don’t (New York: Harper Business, 2010), p. 5.
7. Dave Logan, John King, and Halee Fischer-Wright, Tribal Leadership: Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organization (New York: Harper Business, 2011), p. 4.
8. A number of scholars (including Allison, 1971; Bergquist, 1992; Birnbaum, 1988; Elmore, 1978; Morgan, 1986; Perrow, 1986; Quinn, 1988; Quinn, Faerman, Thompson, andMcGrath, 1996; and Scott, 1981) have made similar arguments for multiframe approaches to groups and social collectives.
24 Reframing Organizations
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c h a p t e r 2
Simple Ideas, Complex Organizations
Precisely one of the most gratifying results of intellectual evolution is the continuous opening up of new and greater
September 11, 2001 brought a crisp and sunny late-summer morning to America’s east coast. Perfect weather offered prospects of on-time
departures and smooth !ights for airline passengers in the Boston-Washing- ton corridor. That promise was shattered for four !ights bound for California when terrorists commandeered the aircraft. Two of the hijacked aircraft attacked and destroyed the Twin Towers of New York’s World Trade Center. Another slammed into the Pentagon. The fourth was deterred from its mission by the heroic efforts of passengers. It crashed in a vacant “eld, killing all aboard. Like Pearl Harbor in December 1941, 9/11 was a day that will live in infamy, a tragedy that changed forever America’s sense of itself and the world.
Why did no one foresee such a catastrophe? In fact, some had. As far back as 1993, security experts had envisioned an attempt to destroy the World Trade Center using airplanes as weapons. Such fears were reinforced when a suicidal pilot crashed a small
Reframing Organizations: Artistry, Choice, and Leadership, Sixth Edition. Lee G. Bolman and Terrence E. Deal. ! 2017 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Published 2017 by Jossey-Bass.
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private plane onto the White House lawn in 1994. But the mind-set of principals in the national security network was riveted on prior hijackings, which had almost always ended in negotiations. The idea of a suicide mission, using commercial aircraft as missiles, was never incorporated into homeland defense procedures.
In the end, 19 highly motivated young men armed only with box cutters were able to outwit thousands of America’s best minds and dozens of organizations that make up the country’s homeland defense system. Part of their success came from fanatical determina- tion, meticulous planning, and painstaking preparation. We also “nd a dramatic version of an old story: human error leading to tragedy. But even the human-error explanation is too simple. In organizational life, there are almost always systemic causes upstream of human failures, and the events of 9/11 are no exception.
The United States had a web of procedures and agencies aimed at detecting and monitoring potential terrorists. Had those systems worked !awlessly, the terrorists would not have made it onto commercial !ights. But the procedures failed, as did those designed to respond to aviation crises. Similar failures have marked many other well-publicized disasters: nuclear accidents at Chernobyl and Three Mile Island, the botched response to Hurricane Katrina on the Gulf Coast in 2005, and the deliberate downing of a German jet in 2015 by a pilot who was known to suffer from severe depression. In business, the fall of giants like Enron and WorldCom, the collapse of the global “nancial system, the Great Recession of 2008–2009, and Volkswagen’s emissions cheating scandal of 2015 are among many examples of the same pattern. Each illustrates a chain of misjudgment, error, miscommunication, and misguided action that our best efforts fail to avert.
Events like 9/11 and Katrina make headlines, but similar errors and failures happen every day. They rarely make front-page news, but they are familiar to most people who work in organizations. In the remainder of this chapter, we discuss how organizational com- plexity intersects with fallacies of human thinking to obscure what’s really going on and lead us astray. We describe some of the peculiarities of organizations that make them so dif”cult to “gure out and manage. Finally, we explore how our deeply held and well-guarded mental models cause us to fail—and how to avoid that trap.
COMMON FALLACIES IN EXPLAINING ORGANIZATIONAL PROBLEMS Albert Einstein once said that a thing should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler. When we ask students and managers to analyze cases like 9/11, they often make things simpler than they really are. They do this by relying on one of three misleading and oversimpli”ed explanations.
26 Reframing Organizations
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The “rst and most common is blaming people. This approach casts every failure as a product of individual blunders. Problems result from egotism, bad attitudes, abrasive personalities, neurotic tendencies, stupidity, or incompetence. It’s an easy way to explain anything that goes wrong. After scandals like the ones that hit Volkswagen andWells Fargo Bank in 2016, the hunt is on for someone to blame, and top executives became the prime target of reporters, investigators, and talk-show comedians.
As children, we learned it was important to assign blame for every broken toy, stained carpet, or wounded sibling. Pinpointing the culprit is comforting. Assigning blame resolves ambiguity, explains mystery, and makes clear what to do next: punish the guilty. Corporate scandals often have their share of culpable individuals, who may lose their jobs or even go to jail. But there is usually a larger story about the organizational and social context that sets the stage for individual malfeasance. Targeting individuals while ignoring larger system failures oversimpli”es the problem and does little to prevent its recurrence.
Greatest Hits from Organization Studies Hit Number 8: James G. March and Herbert A. Simon, Organizations (New York: Wiley, 1958)
March and Simon’s pioneering 1958 book Organizations sought to de!ne an emerging !eld by offering a structure and language for studying organizations. It was part of the body of work that helped Simon earn the 1978 Nobel Prize for economics.
March and Simon offered a cognitive, social-psychological view of organizational behavior, with an emphasis on thinking, information processing, and decision making. The book begins with a model of behavior that presents humans as continually seeking to satisfy motives based on their aspirations. Aspirations at any given time are a function of both individuals’ history and their environment. When aspirations are unsatis!ed, people search until they !nd better, more satisfying options. Organizations in”uence individuals primarily by managing the information and options, or “decision premises,” that they consider.
March and Simon followed Simon’s earlier work (1947) in critiquing the economic view of “rational man,” who maximizes utility by considering all available options and choosing the best. Instead, they argue that both individuals and organizations have limited information and limited capacity to process what they have. They never know all the options. Instead, they gradually alter their aspirations as they search for alternatives. Home buyers often start with a dream house in mind, but gradually adapt to the realities of what’s available and what they can afford. Instead of looking for the best option—”maximizing”—individuals and organizations instead “satis!ce,” choosing the !rst option that seems good enough.
Organizational decision making is additionally complicated because the environment is complex. Resources (time, attention, money, and so on) are scarce, and con”ict among individuals and groups is constant. Organizational design happens through piecemeal bargaining
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