…thoughts on and about my PhD journey and beyond…

Troubling invisible barriers to better futures:  surfacing the “five languages of war” in the workplace (a paper for the 14th International Conference on Thinking, Malaysia, June 2009)

I have just finished writing a paper for the ICOT-09, based on Prof David Perkins “Five Languages of War”, a presentation he gave at the 13th International Conference on Thinking in Sweden in 2007.  My paper uses the languages of war metaphor to trouble the hegemony of industrial era thinking and economic rationalism in play in the workplace today.

However, it is actually Perkin’s “five languages of peace” framework that is more appropriate for the contemporary times we are witnessing. Perkins (2007) too prefers his five languages of peace framework which is based on an inclusive meaning system:
1. The language of mutual benefits and respect
(rather than the language of gain and God)
2. The language of checks and balances
(rather than the language of dominance and resistance)
3. The language of equitable justice
(rather than the language of good and evil)
4. The language of human rights
(rather than the language of regrettable necessity)
5. The language of multiple identities
(rather than the language of zealous allegiance)

Perkins (2003) describes the benefits of a more inclusive and leaderful space befitting a knowledge-intensive era:

How smart an organization or community is reflects the kinds of conversations that people have with one another, taking conversations in a broad sense to include all sorts of interactions. Without these conversations, you just have a bunch of people doing things in parallel (Perkins, 2003 p. 14).

The five languages of peace framework fits very well within a knowledge era worldview because a dominant metaphor used to describe the knowledge-era is an ecological one which closely aligns with this peace metaphor (see for example Jaworski, 1998; Senge & Carstedt, 2001; Snowden, 2002; Staron, et al., 2006; Hames, 2007; Turnbull, 2009).  The ecology metaphor has deep resonance with the complexities, ambiguities and speed of change today and encapsulates both the familiar and the complex. It evokes both the familiar, i.e. organic, sustainable, holistic, interconnected, diverse, adaptive and living, and the complex, i.e. self-organising, emergent, variant, chaotic, unpredictable, interrelated and resilient.

Hames (2007) asserts that the knowledge era calls for a different worldview than the ones that served us in the past. In a knowledge-intensive economy leaders have a different set of literacies to absorb and develop which are very different to the command and control doctrine of the machine-age industrial era:

Cartesian approaches to organisational development and the leadership of change were predicated on the assumption that it was possible to predict, design and control reality. Network science unlocks us from such deceits, letting us see the world as a living system of dynamic flows and interconnections rather than a banal clockwork mechanism…The incessant, chaotic, essentially unknowable, interaction of all individual components ensures that living systems are in a constant process of renewal—and emergence (Hames, 2007 p. 55).

The languages of peace and ecological metaphors are devices that can trouble hegemonic practice because they encourage conversations that are not narrowly defined by the worldview of economic rationalism. These metaphors accept that concerns for the world run deeper than economic ones, that we in fact “live in a society not an economy*” and that oppositional language will not solve the problems of an uncertain world already dealing with flux and complexity.

Perhaps it is the growing interest in the intersections between sustainability and the economy that will prove to be THE indicator that a shift to a post-capitalist paradigm has occurred? These topics in combination are emerging in the literature (Senge & Carstedt, 2001; Bragdon, 2006; Davis, 2008; Mirchandani & Ikerd, 2008; Senge, 2008).

Oppositional language and pitting one deeply held worldview against another will not solve the underlying problems of the world or the workplace. Space for conversations between factions to find ways of integrating our economic and social systems in every layer of society, including the workplace, is urgently required. The issues of accountability, for example, can no longer be conscripted to be read within the narrow bounds of performativity because “generally accepted accounting principles that favour nonliving assets over living assets are blind to the bottlenecks forming within the global economy and mislead corporations into self destructive behaviour” (Bragdon, 2006 p. 149). Rather, good governance relates to financial, social and environmental concerns as Edwards makes stridently clear (2002):

There can be conflict between our national culture and our economic system. We can be confronted with two conflicting ideas of how the world is, how we should relate to people and what we should be trying to achieve. In fact, we should see the economic and social as two intertwined parts of a single cultural system. If the two are in conflict, the system is not coherent and the community is thrown into a state of distress…Governments, employers and family don’t make the choices we think they should. It breeds distrust, disillusionment, insecurity and fear…
It is a manifestation of this much larger task of reuniting our economic and social systems…The reasons for arguing with economic rationalists goes well beyond taking them down a peg. The first step in reintegrating our economic and social systems is to have a way of talking about them. We have to have a single framework that encompasses both sets of issues (Edwards, 2002 pp 152-53).

It is clear that the discourse of economic rationalism is still the dominant discourse in the workplace and that leaders and workers have been conscripted to perform within the tight bounds of this hegemony. This is despite the paradigmatic shifts occurring in society framed by the interrelationships between knowledge production as the main driver of growth and wealth creation, globalisation and deepening concerns about our world’s environmental sustainability.

I argue that oppositional language and the pitting of one deeply held worldview against another will not lead to resolving the underlying problems of the world or the workplace.  Rather, space for conversations to surface underlying assumptions is required in order to find ways of integrating our economic and social systems in every layer of society, including the workplace.  Perkins’s language of peace metaphor confirms that that there are always other lenses to view the world through, not just the one that hegemony prefers and privileges.  It also provides the framework to begin this important work.

*Eva Cox

Bragdon, J. H. (2006). Profit for life, how capitalism excels: case studies in Living Asset Management. Cambridge, MA: Society for Organization Learning Inc.
Davis, H. (2008). Golden capital, Living Asset Stewardship and kindred intangible assets: Can we measure up? International Journal of Knowledge, Culture and Change Management, 8(1), pp. 137 – 146.
Edwards, L. (2002). How to argue with an economist: reopening political debate in Australia. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Hames, R. D. (2007). The five literacies of global leadership: what authentic leaders know and you need to find out. Chichester, England: Jossey-Bass.
Jaworski, J. (1998). Synchronicity: the inner path of leadership. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.
Mirchandani, D., & Ikerd, J. (2008). Building and maintaining sustainable organizations. Organization Management Journal, 5(1), pp. 40 – 51.
Perkins, D. N. (2003). King Arthur’s round table: how collaborative conversations create smart organizations. Hoboken, N.J.: John Wiley.
Perkins, D. (2007). The five languages of war. Paper presented at the 13th International Conference on Thinking.
Senge, P. M. (2008). The necessary revolution : how individuals and organizations are working together to create a sustainable world. London: Nicholas Brealey.
Senge, P. M., & Carstedt, G. (2001). Innovating Our Way to the Next Industrial Revolution. MIT Sloan Management Review, 42(2), pp. 24 – 38.
Snowden, D. J. (2002). Complex acts of knowing: paradox and descriptive self-awareness. Journal of Knowledge Management, 6(2), pp. 1 – 13.
Staron, M., Jasinksi, M., & Weatherley, R. (2006). Life based learning: a strength based approach for capability development in vocational and technical education: a report on the research project “Designing professional development for the knowledge era”. Sydney: TAFE NSW ICVET.
Turnbull, S. (2009). “Worldly” leadership for a global world Global leadership: portraits of the past, visions for the future (pp. pp. 82 – 94). Maryland: International Leadership Association / University of Maryland.


Comments on: "“Five languages of peace” in the workplace" (1)

  1. I’ve also talked more about this particular paper for the Thinking Conference on this recent post. […]


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