The levels of work from Requisite Organization / the Glacier Management Method / Stratified Systems Theory are routinely dismissed out of hand, almost without review. It’s an instinctive rejection rather than rational at any level. What drives this?
While doing some research, I came upon Steven Pinker’s The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature. In it, Pinker describes the modern taboo against the belief (even thinking the thought!) that people may have some innate differences based on genetics. His descriptions of the problems that came upon academics who discussed the genetic basis for various things outside of humans got me thinking about why Elliott Jaques’s work is rejected, and even why it is doomed to not be accepted by the Human Resources and Organizational Design folks.
I’m not the only one who has observed this odd phenomena: Jerry Harvey covers it fairly well in his essay “Musing About the Elephant in the Parlor or ‘Who the Hell Is Elliot Jaques?'” (reprinted in the GO Society’s book). People who know that work levels will solve their current problems will not implement them. While I believe that Harvey has made some excellent points, I think that Pinker adds something important.
“Anyone can become anything.”
It’s the philosophy of the Blank Slate, the tabla rosa, that humans are born totally malleable, that the brain is a blank piece of paper on which anything can be written. Given the right inputs, you can make anyone become anything, if you start early enough. Nicely democratic in some ways, of course.
It’s an axiomatic statement, one that is built into so many beliefs. To challenge it in the United States is to side with the Nazi philosophers and other racists who believed that whole people groups were less worthy of life than others. The problem for RO advocates is that they are challenging this core belief, the idea of the blank slate.
Which is why you get called fascists.
It’s not just the progression charts, which one can argue are inherently problematical if you take them too seriously. The entire idea that some people are even currently more fit to be someone else’s boss is an attack on this idea. And the idea is taboo. Merely thinking something differently is anathema.
It’s interesting that the angle that Michael Raynor took on RO in The Strategy Paradox: Why committing to success leads to failure (and what to do about it) was that it was about the size of work. I don’t recall him mentioning that you needed people who could actually do that level of work, just that work needed to be done at the right level, and that it had to do with the level of strategic uncertainty.
Jaques’s statements that the curves actually would free minorities from oppression (by demonstrating individuals’ fitness for particular roles, or capacity if developed) are beside the point. The fact that he had to say that isn’t.
Image credit: caderno em branco. Public domain.