Shared Lenses: General Semantics and the Organizational Culture Perspective

By Burk, John | ETC.: A Review of General Semantics, Fall 1994 | Go to article overview
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Shared Lenses: General Semantics and the Organizational Culture Perspective

Burk, John, ETC.: A Review of General Semantics

GENERAL SEMANTICS has been applied to many academic, professional, and personal areas and is a unique, alternative lens through which to view the world. G.S. i a non-linear, non-reductionistic, process-oriented perspective which examines, among other things, the use of language on different levels (see Bois, 1957; Bois 1966; Korzybski, 1948). G.S. can be applied from a low level of descriptio (e.g., pointing at something with our mouth covered) to geopolitical considerations (e.g., the G-7 response to Yugoslavia). Much has been written about the use of G.S. in business and it has been applied to a variety of organizational contexts. Recently, a new paradigm for organizational research has developed which parallels many of the assumptions of G.S. This new paradigm is called The Organizational Culture Perspective (hereafter TOCP) and it can be supported by adopting a G.S. perspective.

Ott (1989), an advocate of TOCP, indicates that researchers need to find new ways of looking at organizations and that TOCP is a unique way to do so.

Instead of viewing an organization as a goal-oriented structure (formal or informal) with functions, information systems, and decision processes, or as groups of members, the organizational culture perspective puts on a different set of "lenses" through which to "see" an organization. When we look through these special organizational culture lenses, we see a mini-society made up of social constructions.

Ott is a firm believer in the social construction of reality whereby all that i known to a culture (facts, values, beliefs, truths, etc.) are agreed upon perceptions.

This perspective is anathema to more popular methods of organizational research which study parts of the organization in isolation to determine what works and what does not. Ott (1989), considers TOCP to be:

a call for balance; a plea for the acceptance of diverse views about and approaches to studying organizations; a cry for breaking out of the information systems/logical-positivist/quasi-experimental mold that has placed a mental and emotional straight jacket on organization theory and theorists for too many years.

This perspective is clearly non-Aristotelian and would be congruous with G.S., in that we need a radical change of thinking about how our world works around us. In particular, we spend most of our lives in some type of organizational setting and understanding that setting is crucial to our sense-making. If TOCP and G.S. can help us in that understanding, then they may serve as useful and viable research methods.

Another perspective of organizational culture embraces a pragmatic, functional, strategic approach, which differs from the social constructionist approach. Thi approach suggests that while organizational cultures do exist, they can also be manipulated if change in the culture is desired. "This explicitly managerial orientation views culture as an organizational variable (something an organization has) which can be manipulated to best suit the needs of the organization -- normally the rationale for changes lies with efficiency, productivity, and worker morale" (Mumby, 1988, p. 7).

Conrad (1990), who adopts this strategic view, sees culture as a communicative creation. Cultures emerge, are maintained, and change through communication. Consequently, the combination of culture and communication is the root of Conrad's perspective. "This dual relationship between communication and culture is the basis of strategic organizational communication. Choosing among availabl communication strategies involves analysis of cultural characteristics and predicting the probable impact those strategies will have in particular organizational situations".

Given either perspective, organizational culture is an elusive concept. "The word 'culture' is a little like the word 'love' -- almost everyone has experienced it and knows what it means, but almost no one can explain what it is" (Conrad, 1990, p.

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Shared Lenses: General Semantics and the Organizational Culture Perspective


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