For the last 10 years I have been teaching a mechanistic conflict model that tends to work well in software development environments. It was developed by Kenneth W. Thomas and Ralph H. Kilmann and has become known as the Thomas Kilmann model. It’s extremely useful, fairly easy to learn for those who care to make the effort, and effective when applied properly. However, it is, as I mentioned, fairly mechanistic. Some would argue that it doesn’t take advantage of what is being learned about human systems, particularly field theory, which realizations are currently harder for many folks to grasp because of their lesser penetration in the dominant cultural paradigm. On the really big things, we learn together, construct our social reality together, and agree to accept certain perceptions into common use. (Whether we perceive a thing doesn’t always have to do with whether it is there.) Field theory is one of those emergent theories that may be tremendously helpful to us if we only “knew” it was there, because in applying field theory you listen differently—also less mechanistically. You come to, as C. Otto Scharmer says in Theory U, “play the macro violin.” A grasp of field theory applied to human systems is more powerful than a mechanistic model: It’s generative.
I was asked recently by a peer reviewer who was commenting on a paper I was writing for a conference of knowledge workers this last autumn whether “generativity” is really a word. Yes, it is really a word; even the Oxford English Dictionary agrees with me on that. But, what the reviewer’s comment really did for me, after I recovered from my startle at the question and then validated my usage at the OED site I use through our local public library, was to highlight how the dominant culture excludes certain notions from common parlance by clogging the communication channel with things such as reality TV, political pundits performing gladiatorially, and highly formulaic forms of popular entertainment. With such static coming in to the average human perceptual field, it’s difficult to sort the muck from the gems. (Generativity, by the way, means “the fact or quality of contributing positively to society through activities such as nurturing, teaching, and creating.”)
Knowledge workers are part of the powerful meritocracy that Richard Florida christened “the creative class” most memorably in his best selling study of that population The Rise of the Creative Class published in 2003 and later followed by The Flight of the Creative Class published in 2005. Florida characterizes this sub-group of, in the first book, the US population, and in the second book, the world population, well. These folks have a tremendous influence on our collective experience of the world—and increasingly, our ability to live in it. However, just like much of the rest of the work-weary or underemployment-distracted population, there’s only so much space in a knowledge worker’s perceptual field for input and there’s something about knowing what’s going on in the dominant culture that just makes it easier to connect socially with others if you’re not going to choose to either cocoon or connect only with intellectuals.
At the same time, it’s also important to rise above the standard being set by so much of the input in the current broad communication channel. There’s some pretty exciting stuff happening in the sciences—especially among physicists and biologists—and it will leak (is leaking) into the dominant paradigm sooner or later. It’s nice to get the good stuff that’s out there as soon as possible, but the unavoidable bad stuff will be claiming it’s space in our lives, will we nil we. There’s a kind of hygiene that’s called for here—a learning and connectedness hygiene. When you think about it, would you rather have 1,000,000 Twitter followers and 1,000,000 “Friends” on Facebook, or would you rather have a firm grasp of morphic resonance and the current research and controversy in that field and authentic dialogue with smart people trying to solve big society problems? Would you rather be statistically connected or authentically connected? Which will boost your generativity the most?