Development Is Not an Item

So much to say. So little room to say it.

Development (personal, organizational, evolutionary — and maybe those ought not be separated) winds up as a noun in normal speech. Nouns wind up as things (as in “person, place or thing”, as if those were similar categories). Development, however, is not a thing.

A friend of mine used to speak of nouns as “slow verbs” — an evolving activity that looks to have continuity (much like a “tornado” whose winds and forces keep changing and yet the image of a funnel seems coherent and “thing-like”.)

At the low-end, I would be willing to consider development to be a “slow verb” that unfolds over time. The problem with this approach is that development then gets considered to be an activity. And the source of power for development isn’t within activities.

The source of power for ongoing, evolutionary, congruent development is as a way of being, an orientation, a context to live from. It alters the very “self” of the people and organizations engaged in it. Having development that calls you and your organization to get ever more congruent and confluent with life shapes the sense of what kind of self you are/ what kind of self your organization exists as. If evolutionary unfolding is primary, then structural changes, innovation, correction of processes in favor of something to which they contribute becomes the fallout of something inspired and larger, and not the separate “pieces” that hopefully will add up to something grand.

Development, and selves, don’t work well as piecework. Piecework produces what I call a “patchwork” self. It is composed of conflicting elements that shift their timeliness based on how useful that approach is at the moment. What is sacrificed is real depth of coherence of oneself or of the organization. What is lost is a focused, intentional, adaptable core that can be strengthened through adversity and through the need for greater power and flexibility (without sacrificing primary virtues to accomplish them.)

If development has become part of the mandate of a human resources department, it is highly likely that it is held as an item — a tool, a benefit, or something handy in a crisis. It is also likely that its place is not considered to be fundamental as a primary driver of the evolution of the organization. Politically, it is misplaced.

If a CEO, a COO, and a CFO cannot together have an intelligent conversation about what is the current and through time (more than a financial quarter) developmental theme that the organization stands in front of  and is called to address, then development is missing as a fundamental driver of organizational evolution. Without this coherent orientation to what an organization is becoming, exhorting employees to be “innovative” and “entrepreneurial” lacks substance and focus. The question, “in behalf of what?” becomes quite legitimate and quite fitting. And whose job is it to come to know and to say, “in behalf of what?”

Losing the freedom and power that comes from real development, and collapsing it with training (processes) or learning (new concepts), is like turning real relating into a checklist of what kind of talk to have when, and a periodic survey as invented by Zippy the Pinhead regarding “are we happy yet?”

There ought to be Grand Prize for anyone who establishes a coherent approach and basic competence at developing organizations and the people within the organization that pays millions of dollars to whoever leads the charge. The price of that prize would be much less than the cost of failing to establish that power of development throughout an organization.


About Ken Anbender

Kenneth Anbender Ph.D. has spent the last 50 years working with more than a hundred thousand people directly on the principles and methods that support the fulfillment of a human life -- in community and at work. He has developed a body of work that is licensable called The Contegrity Approach.
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