Friday, 21 November 2014

Images of organisation

I'm writing something at the moment about seeing professional practice, and organisations differently. What I'm getting at is the use of visual approaches, metaphors and images to 'open up' new lines of enquiry and to provide an alternative to literal, linear and static 'images' of those things. Aesthetic approaches to practice, if you like. Of course, I'm saying that this sort of thing is needed - in our professional practice, and in organisational development, we face things that are complex and dynamic. If professional practice, or organisations we easy, we'd be a lot better at them, and find ways to improve and innovate much quicker. We get set in fixed ways of thinking, and habits of practice. The visual or aesthetic 'opens up' practice and organisations. We experience this in our everyday lives when we feel inspired by a film, or listen to music or stand before a painting. We may even stumble upon an idea whilst doodling.

One of the features of the aesthetic, the visual, or the text is it's ability to 'shift' our thinking into another place. A few thinkers have written about this, but one philosopher who helps us consider the refiguration of experience is Paul Ricoeur. Ricoeur (1913-2005) spent a lifetime thinking and writing about language, narrative and metaphor, relating these things to lived experience and the human project. Sounds grand, doesn't it? In particular, Ricoeur went as far back as that famous thinker Aristotle to develop his ideas about the relationship between life and art. Specifically, he adapted Aristotle's ideas about poetry as the human activity of making, and mimesis as a form of imitation of life, but not imitation as copy. His series on Time and Narrative (1984, 1985, 1988) and 1992 text Oneself as Another developed his thinking on narrative mimesis by arguing for a three phased structure to this activity. Put simply, he suggested the human experience prefigures a configured text (mimesis1), which is then configured through emplotment, achieving distance and an element of fiction (mimesis2); the text contains marks of action, so to speak. Once a text is configured, it's meaning is achieved in the reception of that text by the audience - it is refigured back into life (mimesis3). This way of seeing mimesis helps me think about the value of achieving distance, of adding a strange (different) perspective, of using metaphor to 'hold together' diverse things...the list goes on. Visual representations, like a text, are configured and also have the ability to relate in creative ways to life. I'll fast forward to saying that we can use this quality to examine practices, and organisations.

As I write about visual approaches to seeing practice and organisations, the image that is in my head is of a virtual narrative 'space' - the space of Ricoeur's configuration - where activity leaves marks, and marks are organised, adapted and transformed. It is not a space of literal reproduction of experience, but things can be 'seen as': it is a space that can be read in multiple ways, and demands re-application to the world. It's a rather abstract idea, but one that I want to make available for very practical applications.