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The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021

Adapting to the Speed of Organizational Change: Maintaining the Dialectical Interplay Between Destructive and Creative Process

In the wake of globalization (Friedman, 2000), organizations must adapt to unprecedented and accelerating speeds of change to survive in the global economy. A growing number of writers in both scholarly and lay literature have addressed speed of organizational change, focusing particularly on challenges and strategies for successful adaptation. While much of the literature reflects the conventional wisdom that organizational success depends on technological development to accommodate a digitally paced marketplace, some have considered the human dimension of organizational life. For example, Avey (1999), advocates redesign of organizational infrastructures into flexible frameworks to support people-centered cultures that move at the speed of thought. Using human development as a metaphor, Adizes (1998) suggests that organizations that change fastest are at greatest risk for disintegration; he describes disintegration as the enemy of any company and prescribes change strategies that mitigate disintegration across lifecycle stages. From a psychodynamic perspective, Kets de Vries and Balasz (1998) apply insights from individual change processes and conclude that organizations that promote constructive conflict will better align with a continuously changing business environment. In order to continuously respond to a rapidly changing environment, organizations must maintain a flexible and creative stance. Flexibility and creativity become even more critical as speed of change accelerates. Yet, under certain conditions, accelerated change can threaten disintegration of the characteristics most needed to sustain resilience. In this paper, we seek to add to the discussion of the human impact of high-speed organizational change by situating the concepts of disintegration and flexibility in an object relations framework. In particular, we extend Winnicotts (1971) concept of potential space and Ogdens (1989) reinterpretation of M. Kleins (1959) positions to inform an alternative understanding of the relationship between destructiveness and creativity in organizations experiencing the stress of rapid change. According to Winnicott (1971), creativity occurs in potential space. For Winnicott, potential space is an intermediate area of experience that lies between the inner world, or internal psychic reality, and the actual, or external reality. Central to Winnicotts concept of potential space is the notion of a dialectic that relies on the ongoing interplay between disintegrative and integrative processes. Potential space is characterized by dialectical relationships between annihilation and creativity, destruction and recreation, and regression and progression. In a dialectical relationship, each position simultaneously creates, preserves, and negates the other(s) (Ogden, 1989). Not withstanding their physical elements, Diamond (1993) argues that, insofar that we can say organizations are perceptual systems, they exist in potential space. If potential space is the area in which creativity occurs, it is then also the space in which organizations are not only created, but have creative capacity. From this perspective, destructive processes are critical, rather than inimical, to maintenance of the dialectic that supports creativity in organizational life. In this extension of M. Kleins work, Ogden (e.g., 1986, 1989) also emphasizes the importance of dialectical process, thereby acknowledging the critical value of both disintegration and integration. In addition to the depressive and paranoid-schizoid positions described by Klein, Ogden posits a third position that he calls theautistic-contiguous . He discusses human experience and psychological change in terms of the shifts in the nature of the dialectical interplay among these modes of organization experience, and further suggests that pathology is characterized by a collapse of the dialectical relationship among the positions. He offers the concept of dialectical process as a means of understanding the form of psychological activity that generates potential space in individuals (Ogden, 1985). An understanding of these three positions and the nature of the dialectical relationship among them have practical relevance for understanding both successes and failures of organizational efforts to effect rapid change. In particular, rapidly accelerating change may, under certain conditions, promote collapse of the depressive position. In this paper, we describe various manifestations of this collapse through the use of vignettes and examples drawn from consultation practice in healthcare, an American industry characterized by particular instability and rapid change. Theoretical considerations are also extended to offer practical implications for organizational interventions that foster maintenance of the dialectical relationship among positions and, therefore the capacity for organizational play and creativity. Speed and velocity are differentiated by the absence of directionality and the former and its presence in the latter. When potential space for creativity is maintained, organizations are able to transform a reactive, defensive stance towards high-speed change into a proactive pursuit of high velocity change. Organizations with capacity for high velocity change are capable not only of surviving, but thriving, in the global, digitally paced marketplace. For a copy of the full paper, please contact Karen Poulin at'