The Minding Organization: Chapter 1

9780471347811_jacket_14.inddTitle: The Minding Organization: Bring the Future to the Present and Turn Creative Ideas into Business Solutions

Authors: Moshe F. Rubinstein and Iris R. Firstenberg







Organization comes from the word organism, which means a vital, alive being. An organization alive with the ideas and commitment of its people is an organism.


In a minding organization, not only does the right hand know what the left hand is doing; it knows without constantly having to supervise the left hand’s action. Just as your body is an organism, and you can reach behind your head with your left hand and catch it with your right, so can a minding organization coordinate its effort as a single organism.

Staying with the analogy of hands, if you burn one hand on a stove, the mind registers that hot stove must be avoided, and perpetuates the knowledge by passing it through the organism. The other hand does not hit the burned hand and tell it what an idiot it is for getting burned; rather, it soothes the burned hand and learns from the documented knowledge so that i does not need to also get burned.  When people in an organization makes mistake, it is the equivalent of getting burned.


We just do not see the connection between conversations and productivity. The truth of the matter is that conversation propels creativity and innovation, and in mindful organizations exchanges among workers is invited, encouraged, and rewarded.


The Minding Process

A wonderful anecdote that illustrates this facet of frames of mind and thinking involves an encounter that Moshe had in Jerusalem with an educated, well-to-do Arab named Ahmed.  Ahmed put forth the following question to test the wisdom of those gathered at his dinner table: “Imagine that you, your mother, your wife, and your child are in a boat, and it capsizes. You can save yourself and only one of the remaining three. Whom will you save?”  The response most common along Western line of thoughts is to save the child. The rationale people give is that the child has an entire life ahead and thus has the most to lose. Ahmed, however, considered this to be the wrong answer.  As he saw it, there was only one correct answer, with a corresponding rational argument to support it. “you see,” he said, ” you can have more than one wife in a lifetime, you can have more than one child, but you only have one mother. You must save your mother.”


Understanding that other people have valid interpretations and point of view that are different from your own is important for a number of reasons. It removes the necessity of trying to convert everyone to the same point of view. Instead, every member of the group accepts the possibility of the various perspectives and remain open to new information, which may lend more credibility to one or another of the views. When a single-minded perspective is adopted, new information tends to be discounted, or ignored altogether, when it does not fit this frame of mind.  Even as evidence mounts, if it does not fit the cognitive model that a person holds, the information will dissipate into mindlessness.  When we are open to multiple points of view, information is evaluated in a more minding frame, to see where it might fit in. As change occurs, it is brought in incrementally and we are not shocked into uttering, “How could I have been so blind!” having looked without seeing.


When we do not question the process, minding has stopped. Ellen J. Langer, in her insightful book Mindfulness, relays the anecdote of three generations of women who have been making pot roast with the same recipe. The youngest woman has always cut a piece off the roast before putting it into the pot. When asked by a friend why she does this, she realizes that she has no idea why it is necessary to cut off a slice, and calls her mother to inquire.  Her mother is also puzzled by the question, and she tells her daughter that she cuts off a slice because that’s the way her mother has always done it. They decide to question the grandmother on this ritual.  The grandmother answers that the reason she slices the roast is, “that’s the only way it will fit into my pot.”  This anecdote illustrates the absurdity of certain actions, which may have a reason for their origin, but are then propagated mindlessly. Many organizations will frequently turn down a new process because “we’ve never done that before,” and will continue with a line of action ” because that’s the way we’ve always done it.”  It may very well be that the organization developed a behavior of “a pot that was too small,” but the original reason for the action has become obsolete or irrelevant. “Because we’ve  always done it that way” is synonymous with not minding the content in which you do business. Always ask, “Why?”


Minding does not mean that we never accept a decision and move on. It means, instead, that we are conscious that we have done so and that the decision was, in this sense, arbitrary; that is, we choose a cutoff point where we stop asking questions and seeking additional information.  This mind frame will allow change to more readily be admitted; it does not mean that we will constantly be changing. By minding, we continue to be aware of choices, aware that other alternatives are available, even if at the moment we are not availing ourselves of them.  Minding is then a liberating activity, not an incapacitating activity. When changes do become necessary, they are not viewed as departures from the norm, but a part of the greater norm.


The emphasis on process rather than exclusively on results is not easy for a society that values achievements. Promotions and raises are based on the bottom line, not a lines of thought. A story to illustrate this point: A farmer who is the father of two sons finds himself too ill to till his fields. He calls the first son to his beside and asks him to work the fields. The son caresses his father and assures him that he will tend to the work.  However, as soon as he leaves his father he takes the family car and spends the day in town, thinking his father will never know the difference.  The father calls the second son and asks him to also tend the fields.  The second son irately responds that he is tired of farm work and refuses to take on the burden.  When he leaves his father’s bedside, he reflects for a while and is ashamed of himself.  Without saying a word to his father, he goes out to the field and does the entire job.  At the end of the day, the father discovers the first son spent the day carousing in town while the second son tilled the field. Which son incurs more of the father’s anger on this day? It is, of course, a matter of perspective.  In Western society most people would answer that the first son, who promised to work but failed to do so, would get the bulk of the father’s anger.  The second son, while speaking disrespectfully to his father, nevertheless got the job done. The emphasis is on the outcome.  In another culture, in which process takes precedence over results, the emphasis is on how the sons spoke to the father. People from a process-oriented culture will be more angry with the son who spoke spitefully, with the ensuing fieldwork of secondary importance.  Once again, there is always more than one way to look at situation.

 Errors as Part of the Minding Process

Processes are subject to continuous revisions; outcomes are rigid. This is the most significant difference in the two approaches. Error as part of an ongoing process implies that we learn, adapt, and move on; error as an outcome freezes us in place.


The world is full of good design, but we are unaware of most of it. Poor design catches our attention because a product is awkward to use or a service frustrating to implement.  Details that make a product work are added by people carefully thinking of how others use objects, the kind of errors that can ensue, and carefully observing the interaction between people and products.  When someone makes an error, there is usually a good reason for it.  Perhaps the information available is incomplete or misleading. Perhaps the context leads to a misinterpretation of available information. Most decisions seem sensible at the time they are made. Errors are understandable once their cause is determined. Systems must be designed to learn from error, not just eliminate it.


Human cognition is limited, and ability to interact with objects is subject to constraints. A designer who depends on an instruction manual to mediate between a product and a user has not been creative enough to consider alternatives.


Context is a powerful controlling mechanism, and minding requires an awareness of its effects. What role do our perceptions play in creating context? Context, like any other aspect of reality, is also a function of our interpretations. Are the economics of today a good context for starting a business? This depends on what factors you are considering and what type of business you are evaluating.


When we perceive that someone has taken our words “out of context,” we are really saying that they have imposed a context on our words that is different from the context we framed for our words.

The ability to change contexts and use multiple contexts is also known as re-framing.


As we increase our repertoire of mental frames, we increase our agility to interpret information and innovate. Railroads declined because they saw themselves in the limit context of “moving on rails,” and not in the broader frame  of “transportation.” Typewriters companies became obsolete because they restricted themselves to “typing” instead of the broader frame of “word processing.” In contrast, Xerox re-framed itself to become “The Document Company” by broadening the context from the limits of being “The Photocopy Company”


Interpreting a business through new frames opens up possible ventures that the mind otherwise never considers. Narrow frame give way to wider frames; vertical frames give way to frames of two and three dimensions. The possibilities are endless for increasing minding.


A New Metaphor

The new metaphor requires the organization to embrace uncertainty and chaos, and to learn to thrive on it.  The organization must find ways to bring the future closer to the present by employing concurrent perceptions, those of the past, present, and future, and learn the powerful skills of thinking backwards. Decisions making must become more distributed across the organization, all the way to the “vehicle driver.” learning will be central if the organization continues to adapt and becomes capable of dealing with the unplanned and unanticipated, which will be more prevalent in the future.The Power of Human PerceptionArtificial intelligence has made a profound contribution to enhance our understanding of the power and complexity of the human brain.  It has also identified the limits of the computer as the model of the brain. Once we move out from the expert domain to the domain of common sense, it is virtually impossible to mimic human behavior. Unpredictable events that require improvisation are still a domain in which the human reigns supreme, and the computer can hardly begin to emulate successfully.


Expert systems, which are computer programs that attempt to mimic expert behavior, are based on the assumption that the expert has a complete theory that he or she can articulate. However, evidence is mounting that experts operate with incomplete theories, and they must balance constancy of behavior with flexibility to adapt to new situations by improvising. Also, the expert is not able to articulate fully the process that he or she employs.

Minding and Creativity

Creative thinking requires a process that is quite different from that of rational thinking.  Whereas rational thinking depends on categories and labels that have been set up in advance, creative thinking demands that we form new categories and labels.  Rational thought leads us to find the similarities between a new experience and previous experiences so that we can treat them the same way.  Creative thought looks for the difference among experiences, seeking unique ways of both interpreting situations and acting upon them.  Rational thinking seeks to confirm; creative thinking seeks to invent. Both rational thought and creative thought are necessary for minding.


Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner has developed a theory of multiple intelligences that people have within themselves. They include the following abilities

  • Logical mathematical
  • Verbal
  • Spatial
  • Musical
  • Bodily -kinesthetic
  • Interpersonal -with others
  • Intrapersonal- with oneself

These many forms of intelligence translate to the following possible forms of creativity and excellence in various domains; teaching, research, poetry, mathematics, music, technical, verbal expression, acting, body movement, social behavior, psychology, as well as others.


Attributes of Creative People

The following attributes summarize many studies over the years characterizing people who display creative behavior. Creative people:

  • Have a strong capacity for abstract thinking
  • Can assimilate opposites
  • Have high tolerance for complexity
  • Respect fact and attempt to give them interpretation and meaning in a larger context
  • Tolerate uncertainty, ambiguity, and conflict
  • Like adventure
  • Enjoy the surprise of the unplanned
  • Are confident in themselves and in what they are doing, whatever the outcome
  • Like to see the results of their efforts

Finally, for creative people, optimism and errors are actual strategies.These attributes are central to the creative process that involves homo-spatial thinking, which calls for holding opposites in the same space or frame long enough to permit the possible emergence of new frames, new ideas, or new creative sparks.  This juxtaposition of opposites, such as negative and positive, right and wrong, good and bad, rest and motion, wave and particle, and soon, is part of the creative process that includes the following oscillation between extremes of spectrum: the state of chaos and the state of order, diffused broad panoramas and sharply focused fields, the whole and its constituent elements, the abstract and the concrete, to see the familiar as strange and the strange as familiar.

Book to Read:
The Design of Everyday Things, Donald Norman
Mindfulness, Ellen J. Langer









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