Using Theory as Inspiration

Theory can serve as inspiration in the work we do as organizational development and design scholar-practitioners. When we’re anxious to jump out of the problem space, I’m reminded of John Dewey’s quote, “To maintain the state of doubt and to carry on systematic and protracted inquiry – these are the essentials of thinking.”

I pause on the word “protracted,” because that can mean different things in different situations. Just how long do we stay in the space of doubt? How many solutions should we entertain? When is enough enough?

This is a critical juncture where theory meets practice through design thinking. Scholars like Dewey help us understand the double movement of reflection and Argryis reminds us that double loop learning helps us travel back and forth from induction (theory of the whole) to deduction (where we test specifics). Said differently, as we test our ideas through proto-typing, we learn. That learning informs iterations of our solutions.

I’m reminded of the dance floor and balcony metaphor in terms of adjusting our ways of thinking as we look at organizational problems.

Imagine you’re in a ballroom for a special celebration. You spend much of your time on the dance floor, dancing with your date, having a great time. When someone asks you about the experience, you may say, “it was wonderful, the band was superb and then dance floor was swirling with people.” However, if you had gone up to the balcony, you may have experienced a different scene unfolding in front of you. Perhaps the dance floor was not really full, people were congregating in specific area or hovering over the food. Re-framing the way we are looking at this can give us different insights into how we perceive a situation.

This double movement of reflection can be a key to helping us give structure to the ill-defined problems we often encounter in organizations.


Photo by Alasdair Elmes on Unsplash


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