Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Taking a Critical Turn...

This is the answer to an assignment at the Lugano Summer School, set by Werner Ulrich, based on his first day of teaching. I am putting it here before I get feedback from Werner on how shallow my thinking is! Once I do, I'll tell you...

What does the “critical turn” mean for my personal understanding of systems thinking?
And consequently, how does it change my notion of good research or professional practice?

When I consider my understanding of taking a “critical turn”, there were two ideas in the material from session one, which stood out as significant. The first was the difference in meaning of critical in everyday language, compared to the meaning in philosophical terms. The second was thinking about how claims are validate-able, particularly in light of Habermas's four types of claim.
I will consider these in the context of my professional practice.

My behaviour in isolation

If I consider my behaviour in isolation, I think I have considered criticism up until now in everyday language. In this sense, my interpretation of criticism is as finding fault.
I believe that the impact of this way of using criticism is restrictive, and implies that the criticiser has permission to dismiss efforts, and claim a higher knowledge.
Because I have seen criticism of this nature do damage to the person who receives the criticism (both personally and in terms of their career), I had decided some time ago that I would try to banish the word right from my vocabulary, as I recognised that as soon as I claim that something or someone is right, automatically something or someone else becomes wrong.
In my desire to avoid the dualism of right / wrong, I have come to avoid being critical in any way.
One of the consequences of this,I think, is that people around me (particularly people who look to me for guidance) have started to become lazy in their thinking. My lack of critical input is leading to a drop in performance in my team.
"Sweeping in” the environment
Of course, my behaviour is not just happening in isolation, it is happening within many contexts. Here I have chosen to “sweep-in” the environment of Johnson & Johnson.
In this environment, my understanding of criticism as finding fault matches that of the leadership within the company.
We have a phrase which is used regularly throughout the company, particularly by senior leaders; “this is not a blame culture”, which sounds admirable as a claim. However, if this was not a “blame culture”, it would be necessary to state it. This means, not being a blame culture is an aspiration. Rewording this, perhaps this phrase should become “this ought not to be a blame culture”.
Each time this phrase is uttered, the validity of the claim is in question in terms of both the truthfulness of the speaker's intention and in the truth of the content of the phrase itself (from Habermas).
It is my belief that the concern about the impact of blame stems from the general use of criticism to find fault.

How would I like to translate the “critical turn” into my future professional practice?

During session 1, I made two notes to myself that I want to take back into my professional practice.
Firstly, I would like to embed professional criticism into the way we work at Johnson & Johnson. I want to find ways to improve the understanding of how criticism should function, and why it is important, starting with myself.
Secondly, I want to understand Habermas's four types of validity claim better, and find a way to raise the awareness in senior leadership of how their claims are being assessed by their audience, particularly in terms of truthfulness.

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