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The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021


Parallel Papers Session 5
Saturday 6 July 3.30pm-4.45 pm, EEST
Paper Code: PP12

CE Credits Available

Civilizational discontents and maladaptations in socio-technical systems: Are uncommon futures inevitable at the cusp of the Anthropocene?

Presenter: Ajeet N. Mathur
Moderator: Nicola Wreford-Howard

The future of organisations and institutions is of perennial concern to stakeholders and policymakers. Change in socio-technical systems occurs more by revolutionary disruptions than through evolutionary trajectories orchestrating shared intents and perspectives. Purposes, motives and powerbases become fraught with mind-boggling complexities. Organizations get exposed to pressures from ‘digital transformation’, ‘platform architectures’, ‘horizontal transparency’, ‘boundary-crossing collaborations’ and ‘multi-sided’ markets. These invert the organization, requiring shifts in focus from value creation to external relationships and turn organizations inside-out. Emerging systems, structures and processes challenge ways of leading, governing, organizing and managing. Paradigms around sustainability assumed commitments for our common future to prevail as a centripetal force. Diverse set of actors, with respective ‘pictures of relatedness’ are instead traversing paths for uncommon futures. Humanity has sleepwalked from the Holocene to the Anthropocene epoch with hubris, unmindful of species inter-dependence and habitat fragility. AI-based socio-technical systems are arriving faster than society institutes regulatory safeguards. Are uncommon futures inevitable? Can anything be done in organizational architecture and processes to mitigate systemic maladaptations? Are civilizational discontents so endemic that wicked problems unavoidably proliferate?

This paper draws on action research studies and data analysis from inter-disciplinary studies in economics, law, and system psycho-dynamics to discuss five questions:

  • How do motives and powerbases affect value creation and distribution?
  • What organizational processes enable (constrain) (mal) adaptations in socio-technical systems?
  • How do managers navigate tensions between stakeholder well-being for sustainability and shareholder value maximization ?
  • Why does international regulatory heterogeneity increase systemic maladaptations?
  • Can organizations leverage stakeholder interactions to rethink value creation and distribution processes?

Cross-currents lurking beneath the surface are explored in four ways: (1) considering residues and flashpoints as enactments of unconscious group processes; (2) diving beneath the rhetoric over ‘discontents’ for listening to real conversations about maladaptations, unmourned grief, unresolved envy, and splitting around Bionian and post-Bionian basic assumptions; (3) identifying paradoxes in choices between unifying and pluralistic harmony; and, (4) analysing how unconsciously held ‘pictures-in-the-mind’ about politics of relatedness projected by followers into their leadership fuel psychopathic behavior with gaps between what is wished and what is espoused, and also between what is espoused and what is enacted.

The paper concludes that mentality incohesion involves oscillations between crustacean and amoeboid behavior in large groups coping with helplessness, shame, and fear of annihilation where envy can become a defensive response towards other groups perceived as potentially helpful but actually unwilling to help behind masks and facades. The grief and dislocation experienced is the pain of solastalgia around phenomena of victimism/supremacism. There is much that organisations can do, and plenty that involves the role of State and community initiatives around responsible citizenship make a difference. The paper ends with sharing the hope that uncommon futures are not inevitable. The capabilities for adaptation in communities of habitat and communities of practice are inter-related and deserve to be explored for understanding and working through the maladaptive responses of organizations to turbulent ecosystems.

Biographical Summary

Ajeet Mathur has been Professor of IIMs Ahmedabad and Calcutta, and the EU-Tempus Professor of European Integration and Internationalisation. He received his Ph.D. Degree from Indian Institute of Science Bangalore and held visiting academic appointments at K.U. Leuven, University of California at Berkeley, Aalto University and Tampere University, among others. His publications include more than 30 books and over 160 papers in scientific journals and anthologies. He directs Group Relations Conferences in Europe and India. He was Director and CEO of the Institute of Applied Manpower Research. He has served on the Board of Directors with Corporates in India and Europe and with the School of Inter-disciplinary Studies, IGNOU. He is an Affiliate Life Member of the Indian Psycho-analytic Society and Yoga Shikshak and Karma Sannyasin of the Bihar School of Yoga. He is on the Board of Directors of ISPSO. He has received several national and international honours and awards.