Communication > Get Oriented > Background to Inquiry

Background to this Inquiry

Early Reading

I must admit to having avoided a close inquiry and understanding of communication for many years. I'm not sure why. I was certainly interested in language and I had read (or tried to read) the writings of Chomsky, Searle, Saussure, Pinker and others. Some ideas were fascinating. But a lot of it seemed rather obscure and not particularly relevant to my interests which were about how it is possible that anyone can manage a life, given its complexities and uncertainties.

When I arrived at the Brunel Institute of Organization and Social Studies (BIOSS) and discovered levels of work, I immediately noted Elliott Jaques' observations that those working at L1-L4 used non-conceptual language and dealt with information. While those working at L5 and higher were using conceptual language. That had implications for management e.g. you can tell someone what to do (L1-L4), but you cannot tell someone what to think or value (L5-L7).

I recall being extremely puzzled by the many academic writers who referred to communication as the key to understanding organizational structure, culture and much else. It was right but, as a consultant, it was not possible to make the observation practical and take honest money for it.

My Jaques-influenced view then was that responsibilities organized via levels of work said virtually all there was to say about structure. I rejected notions of «informal structures». Looking back a decade or so later, I realized that the «informal structures», which so often blocked receptivity to, and therefore implementation of, Jaquesian requisite organization, were about «psychosocial reality». And nothing could be of greater importance than that.

Psychosocial reality is essentially constructed out of meanings and sustained via communication. Obvious to you, I know, but it took me a long time to articulate this for myself. The present inquiry therefore seems fated to help us understand some aspects of the «informal structures» that govern social life.

Crucial Observation

I had colleagues, friends from my University days, who were academic leaders and ran large departments. I could not help noticing that organizing within their departments was required, but that the output of their work differed greatly from the usual organizations where I was consulting.

Ralph Rowbottom and I had always focused on work-output as the tangible evidence of work capability. My observations of scientists gave rise to the notion that I was dealing with fundamentally different types of work-output and ways of thinking and talking than I had noticed in typical tangible product/service organizations.

Scientific technicians in labs definitely worked with concepts—not a shadow of doubt about that. The reflective use of concepts was essential to doing their work properly. So how could that be L1 work? In standard Jaquesian Levels of Work Theory, only CEOs and others at L5 and above used concepts. 

I learned from Jaques that levels of work discriminated ways of seeing and describing the world. Slowly, and I cannot remember the details, I determined there were different types (systems) of language related to different domains of work in society.  There were many misunderstandings and stupid mistakes: I initially thought there were 5 domains, then for a long time fixed on 6, and finally concluded that there were 7 domains. Drawing on my reading and general knowledge I vaguely identified them, provided names, and put them in an order.

That was where matters stood at the end of the 1980's.

I am unsure if I worked out a valid reason for the ordering of the types of communication, but I now understand that the order was indeed correct. It’s mysterious how I managed that. From a few scrappy notes made at the time, it is evident that I did not know much at all about the elements of communication

I began reflecting on the discovery of THEE in the mid-1990’s, and this brought to the fore the importance of «naming».  I found myself becoming rather confused when speaking about naming, language, communication, and meaning. Reading didn't help clarify anything. So I tried to avoid the topic of communication and hoped no-one would notice.

Present Opportunity

My habit has always been to reflect on my current activities where possible. This helps me know what I am doing. At the same time, the urge to get benefit for myself provides the perfect motivating conditions. I find that I become gripped by a determination to identify fundamentals that will affect my success in a rather dedicated, determined and rigorous way.

The TOP website is self-evidently an attempt to communicate THEE to all, including scholars and practitioner-inquirers. There had always been communication issues around my work—sometimes it was easy, sometimes impossible. Misunderstandings had been common.

Now I feel an urgent need to understand communication properly. To find answers for, or at least shed light on, many of the puzzles.

Some years ago, I eventually wrote up the management of work and organization within «intellectual product businesses» and «academic departments». Suddenly, an email exchange in May-09 brought the issue of «social product enterprises» to the fore. Rather than turning my attention there, I determined that I would formulate the fundaments of communication starting from the Root.

This Satellite in the TOP-Web Cluster is the result.

Give feedback. Post your views. Ask questions. Make suggestions. 

Follow this inquiry and it should soon be possible to create useful tools and powerful intellectual technologies.

Originally posted: Oct-2010; Last updated 30-Jul-2011

All posted material is part of a scientific project and should be regarded as provisional. Visitors are encouraged to think through the topics and propositions for themselves. Copyright © Warren Kinston 2009-2016.
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