11 responses to “History of Organization Development (Part 1 of 6) — “Prehistoric OD””

  1. Why couldn’t it have been a group of women, the “gatherers,” talking about how to address infant mortality?

    1. Yes, Kat! Absolutely! ‘The Clan of the Cave Bear’ series woke me up to that possibility some years ago. Next time, that’s the way I will tell it. . . Thank you for the wake-up and reminder. . .

  2. Now, here’s where the stories begin to take a very Judeo-Christian worldview and excludes therefore other civilizations from the imagination of OD. But that apart welcome the historical tinge here…

  3. As many times in the past, Carter, I appreciate your efforts to move the Organization Development field forward. I will stay tuned for further posts in the series.

    Because I too am a student of the field, these posts might be helped by a more thorough set of references, e.g., date of publication of the Diamond book. And I know that Practicing OD is now on its third edition. So, from which edition did this excerpt come?

    1. Hello, Julie,
      This first blog was from my first rough draft that contains a lot of material that did not make it into the final chapter. All the imaginary stuff about Karg and the Court Jesters wasn’t what we (and the editors) needed for a more serious handbook for OD Practitioners. . . Too bad. I kinda liked it, and am glad to have a less formal venue to get it out there.
      But our chapter is in both of the most recent editions of Practicing OD: 2005 and 2010 I believe.
      Blessings from Warsaw,

  4. I agree that this is a helpful blog/excerpt. And, it is worth noting that the writers are rooted in some biases that they have expressly imposed on their stories. I have no objection to the bible stories as a context – though it is worth noting that these are not really anything more than metaphorical fairy tales, and that there are numerous other traditions of stories we could also draw from that are equally informative and timely or totally out of whack with our modern sensibilities, and in any case, not to be taken as any kind of truth, relative or otherwise – rather they may be used to begin conversations.

    There is no reason to believe that a cave woman would have had to be “brave” to speak her mind in the scenario where the men are considering their hunting strategy. We don’t know that this was true in pre-historic times. Please check your assumptions. When I read this, I think you are assuming it was true, and unwittingly perpetuating the now widely-known fact that women must work twice as hard as men to even have a chance of being recognized in most, if not all of the cultures on earth today.

    How is it that as a sense of self developed in any leader group it seems to depend on all other groups being dismissed as irrelevant or wrong? This phenomenon, along with fear and unhealthy competition (other massive topics), seems to drive leadership in unproductive directions. It is no wonder that many women have no interest in joining the ranks of today’s leaders. It is one thing to represent history, quite another to perpetuate bias that keeps the “other” at bay. I think things are changing, but this kind of thing reminds me that it takes generations to shift thinking and behaviors. The speed of human psychological change is a LOT shower than organizational change!

    1. Thank you, Barbara, for your thoughtful comments.

      First, you have no way of knowing, but I share your view of the stories from the bible–and other religious primary sources–being metaphors and mythic/archetypical attempts by groups of people to explain their lives. If you read what I wrote carefully, you will see that I refer to the Moses-Jethro scene as an ‘ancient story’, my way of suggesting that way of reading these fascinating (to me) tales.

      You are also right in saying that my writing betrays the inherent narrowness of my worldview. While I am fairly well-read and comfortable with several religious traditions, I did speak here from the one I know the most about–and was raised in–the Judeo/Christian Bible.

      Re te guys around the Neanderthal campfire: as I said in response to Kat’s comment above, I will tell that story next time with a woman making the suggestion to the bunch of hunters who were trapped inside their paradigms of how to hunt. It will be much more powerful that way, and will also avoid contributing to some of the pitfalls and prejudices you point to.



  5. Thank you for this blog. I wish it well.

    I live some way away from most of the rest of ‘the world’. I work in various places, sometimes including the small nations of the Pacific. I’ve found twi intriguing OD processes common to nations that, prior to the twentieth century, had little to do with each other since their blood lines separated some 5000 years ago. The legends I heard are probably as true as any myths of cultural foundation.

    Venture (Human) Capital:
    When an island gets a bit full, the women encouraged young and adventurous men to set out in search of other places. The voyaging canoe was built, the adventurers set off and, every now and then, came back. Mostly, I understand, they disappeared without trace. The Pacific is seriously big and land is sparse. Sometimes they reached other lands and survived. But most importantly, the organisation at home (the originating island society) was able to get on with producing more children, food, shelter and culture. A good example, to me, of a learning organisation with an export-led OD initiative to solve a growth problem.

    Long-term Customer Relationships:
    Some records suggest that aluminium was smelted in what is now China as long ago as 5000 years. To have developed the complex sequence of conditions to refine aluminium required organisational learning of greater than usual duration, just as finding a means of navigating without landfall did. Years of data gathering was involved. Generations, at least in the case of navigation. An organisational culture was needed to sustain the strategic initiative over the period, or the vision would be frustrated. It seems there was a combination of earthly authority (emperors have persuasive forces beyond a commoner’s reproach) and celestial aspiration (shown in the subjects presented in poetry, art and science over the period). The strength of respect for ancestors was most useful. This may already have been strong, but without it, organisational change programmes of the duration recorded would have struggled. While the unity of modern China is easily critiqued, those who have lived and worked with Chinese who maintain their alignment with the mission of their ancestors know that effectiveness is eventually assured.

    To change one human’s behaviour is quite easy. To change a whole family’s is quite hard. And to change a society’s is truly difficult. But that’s the business we’re in, and there is much history we can learn from.

  6. Thank you for the wonderful reflections, Frank! Fascinating.

    I will now be telling your two stories in my workshops (with attribution, of course).

    BTW, where do you live?


    1. Hi John.

      New Zealand is home. I’ve lived and worked through the Pacific and Asia for the last couple of decades. Being among people who give more attention to staying connected with their history and maintaining their creative cultural character rather than pursuing the latest consumer toy has been informative. Of course consumption is attractive to them, but it is often simply unobtainable – and their happiness doesn’t seem to suffer much (despite often poor diet, life expectancy and what many outsiders regard as appalling living conditions).

      I’ve seen that for many, many people in the world, most of a day’s work (however organised) goes into staying alive and there is little scope for intellectual ‘growth’ or the sort of reasoning we might take for granted. But they eat, adapt and collaborate in all the same ways as we industrialised folk do – same species, after all, with the same shared capability of language and desire to see children grow, learn and feed us. Like us, they squabble over resources, worry about children going off the right path and are delighted when they see the sun rise again in the morning.

      Sometimes I think we fool ourselves into seeing greater organisational purpose than is actually present. Just because we feel more comfortable attributing the order of the universe to a superior being doesn’t mean there is one there! Organisations exist for tacit reasons as well – to give me a way of feeding my kin, to give me people to interact with, to give me the illusion of meaning when I’m really not sure what tomorrow brings. And in this way, the organisations of the isolated atolls of the Pacific are pretty much the same as the corporates or government agencies of social networks.

      But my bias is showing here. I tend to bring things back to behaviour and motive, albeit spread over generations rather than vested in whatever thought one person has had today or this month. I’m dimly reminded of something Marvin Weisbord wrote on our needing to remember than organisational behaviours, and (more importantly) values or sanctions, come from somewhere and are maintained by a mix of implicit and explict things. Well, I think he wrote it – maybe I’m adding to what he wrote as his Productive Workplaces has been on my desk for more than twenty years.

      So I’ll go now. Ü

  7. So you’re a Kiwi!
    Hawkes Bay is one of my favorite places on the planet and I have a great colleague there, Robyn Wynne-Lewis. She has been certified to offer the seminar based on The Five Questions and has a consulting firm based there. Look her up!
    We are in total synch about what you wrote.
    Marv has been a friend for over 30 years and every one of his books is dog-eared and on my shelf here in Poland where I have been living and working for the past 3 years.
    Blessings from Krakow.

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