[I continue my notes on Kinston & Algie’s decision systems.]
As we continue with our exploration of the seven approaches to decision making that were originally developed by Jimmy Algie, reformulated by he and Warren Kinston, then extended by Warren [refs follow below], keep in mind that they can also be seen in two other ways.
Languages of Achievement: The words and syntax you use to talk about getting something done, how even your group should achieve a goal. Even when talking about getting to the same goal, people using two different approaches will argue endlessly about the approach.
Action Path: The way or path that you take in order to achieve your goal. This is why the decision approach is so important: it’s not just how you think but how you take action to achieve or solve a problem.
The Imaginist / Initutionist Decision Making Approach
The Imaginist (sometimes “intuitionist”) decision-making approach is normally thought of as the Creative one. The reason is that it works by imagining new things. It’s focus is on internal experiences. This approach emphasizes vision and charismatic leadership. Imaginists succeed when the issue isn’t clear, when things are confused. These are people who lead you out of a fog of confusion by describing something that doesn’t exist.
Examples of Imaginist include Jim McCarthy’s Software for Your Head: Core Protocols for Creating and Maintaining Shared Vision
, Dan Pink’s “right-brain revolution”, most of Peter Block’s The Answer To How Is Yes, and most of the “find your inner compass” people. Many of these people come out of Empiricist-dominated fields. McCarthy ran the team at Microsoft that developed the software that developers use to create software. My old high-school lab partner became an electrical engineer and is now a “passion expert” with a thriving private practice. They see the degeneration of their Empiricist values and look for something that can be more.
That something is the Imaginist system.
Pragamtists don’t have much time for Imaginists, for obvious reasons. But as our society tries to solve the problems of the Empiricist dominated society, we are moving ever more and more towards one dominated by the Imaginist approach. These people are in tune with how the world is changing.
The Imaginist helps us create a new reality, something unheard of. Creativity exists in each decision-making system but the Creative Change comes from the Imaginist system. They don’t care about the present: they see the future, what can be, what we can be, what wonders may happen if we just follow them, realize our potential and become all that we can be.
In cultural terms, though, the Imaginist phase needs the ones that should come before it to create the stable environment. They should be solid and firm before moving into it. “For example,” Kinston writes, “concern for people requires responsible line-management; personal aspirations must be oriented by organizational values and objectives; and creativity only works properly if the
hard realities are appreciated.” It’s only in the other cultural phases, dominated by the other decision systems, that these come into their own.
Imaginist Work Role
Imaginists have two roles at work. The supportive catalyst works in areas where there isn’t a clear leader, at least for the moment. Not a leader himself, he creates the supportive environment where people can relate to each other in a deeper way. This requires attentive listening and protecting the environment so that people’s vulnerability won’t be exploited. You encourage others so that they can be all that they can be, fulfill their personal potential. The organization exists for that; people don’t exist for the organization. We hear a lot of talk about how managers should be like this but for the most part this is consultative, either internally as a staff position or externally as a consultant brought in for awhile.
The charismatic leader focuses on his own creativity rather than on building others’ creativity. He inspires the group to success by constantly articulating a clear vision. People get excited by him, and their response excites him in turn. Charismatic leaders demand that people accept his vision: nothing less than being fully on-board is acceptable.
You might think, as I do, that the charismatic leader is a bit creepy and it indeed has a shadow side. But so do all the approaches. The charismatic leader gets people moving out of where they are, where they cannot stay, to somewhere new, someplace never seen before. The archetype for this (for me at least) is Moses taking the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, where they couldn’t stay, to a Promised Land that they had never seen.
If you’ve worked for me, you’ll realize that I manage strongly from the Imaginist Charismatic Leader role. You can take Warren Kinston’s comments in Strengthening the Management Culture on the Imaginist phase and say it describes my methods without much amendment. I may deliver Systemicist results as a worker, but I manage from a mostly Imaginist approach.
It’s all about personal relationships, about being honest, about compassionately confronting lies and deceits, “Foster a non-threatening non-pressurized atmosphere in teams,” Warren writes. “Wrestle with counter-intuitive or unorthodox ideas.” There’s lots of things that pragmatists hate.
While I have had great success with software development teams when I use this approach in management, it has had inverse success with my bosses. The numbers were amazing but I was still called in on the carpet. I now wonder if playing the charismatic leader to my subordinates threatened people who wanted to think of themselves as True Leaders. The lesson is probably that trying to use the Imaginsit approach before the rest of the company has matured may prove counter-productive to you.
Problems in Bringing Imaginist Values to Managing
There’s also the threat that bringing Imaginist values will release people’s desires and dreams, speaking of the Cultural Phase as opposed to simply one’s decision making approach. They start to trust you and the environment. Which means that you as their leader will have to fight, hard, in order to protect them. Because you encourage exposing “the real person” you have an ethical responsibility, in my opinion, to protect these people. You can’t back down, you can’t leave. You have to rage against the machine of management, who are threatened by the self-actualization of those in their command lest they see that the Big Boss is incompetent.
You also should resist bringing this until the culture is mature enough. Hear the warnings that Kinston gives:
Imaginist Action Process
When to Use the Imaginist System
No system is useful all the time. Every system has its drawbacks and strengths. It’s therefore helpful to know what they are before you start applying them. Table 3 below describes the issues you should take into consideration.
For the most part, you will want to deploy the Imaginist approach when the group needs to see things in an entirely new way. And, yes, imaginists, not every issue must or should be approached in some brand new way. Most of our work gets long fine with ways that have already been developed.
You’ll also want issues where the person matters, where you really have to get behind it. It’s got to get into you, got to reach deep inside. The problem, again, is that Imaginist will often try to turn everything into a deeply felt issue. And most things just aren’t.
That doesn’t mean that Imaginist is useless, you Pragmatists and Empiricists! Imaginists shine where the nature of what’s going on is unknown, where you don’t know where you need to go but you know you just can’t stay here. The Imaginist system creates new reality, pulls on our deepest feelings, cares about us as people, not as resources.
If you want to start something new, go where no man has gone before, you’re going to need to use the Imaginist system. Nothing less will work.
Imaginist Decision-Making and Inquiry
Like the rest, the Imaginist decision-making system is linked to a system of inquiry, this time Contemplative. Just saying. More on that later.
Some of these referenced documents are available via email upon a request in the comments.
- Algie, Jimmy. 1976. Six Ways of Deciding. BASW.
- Kinston, Warren. 1985. “Measurement and the structure of scientific analysis”, Systems Research, 2:95-104.
- Kinston, Warren. 1986. “Purpose and the translation of values into action’, Systems Research, 3:147-160.
- Kinston, Warren. 1988. “A total framework for inquiry”. Systems Research, 5:9-25.
- Kinston, Warren. 1989. “Completing the hierarchy of purpose”, in: Ledington, P. W, J. (ed.), Proceedings of the 33rd Conference of the International Society/or the Systems Sciences, 3:245-264.
- Kinston, Warren. 1991. “Decision Systems, Inquiring Systems and a New Framework for Action“. (Submitted to Journal of Applied Systems Analysis but not published.) SIGMA Centre, London.
- Kinston, Warren. 1994. Strengthening the Management Culture: Phasing the Transformation of Organizations. SIGMA Centre, London.
- Kinston, Warren and Algie, Jimmy. 1989, “Seven Distinctive Paths of Decision and Action“, Systems Research, 6:117-132.