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The Law of Organizational Variety Published: Sunday, March 23, 2008 By: Dr. Manuel Ángel Morales

Amitai Etzioni, a distinguished public policy researcher, alerted us that only 10 percent of the resources available in any social system are used to change and innovation at any one time, not because there is an upper limit on the ability of a community to use it own resources but, more likely, because inbred passivity and dependance.  Effective participation requires people every where in the system to put energy into re-creating the organization and re-directing it when necessary.  A democratic system requires intelligent participation, which in turn demands of pluralism and diversity of people, groups and perspectives.

The more we participate, the more we interact with people who do not share our views and approaches.  This fact has important survival value, for variety is a major source of innovation and responsiveness in any complex system.  In order to survive a system must be as diverse as the environment in which is trying to deal.  Unfortunately, in many social institutions, homogeneity is inbred…

There are many sources of variety such as race, gender, ethnicity, culture, age and formal education, among others.  We do not resolve diversity issues by getting to know one another’s culture or differences.  A more useful approach is to acknowledge that everyone bring his or her uniqueness to a situation and to adopt a childlike curiosity to the challenge of learning from that diversity.  Each situation gives us the opportunity to explore different perspective, points of view or knowledge-sets.  This attitude of exploration and learning is much important that knowing where does people come from.  Sensibility toward diversity has to be couple with institutional cognition.

It is not easy to accept and treasure organizational variety, because human beings over time develop views and values that become their personal “truth.”  Opening up to challenge and new perspectives takes a lot of mental health and self-confidence.  Human beings are easily xenophobic, meaning that they are frequently fearful of any stranger or different ideas.  It is also difficult because accepting the difference in others means that we must acknowledge and accept the variety within ourselves.  That is why, on many occasions, is very difficult to be consistent as we discover the variety within ourselves.  Carl Jung suggested that the enemy we fear is in us.  We project the parts of ourselves we do not accept or own into other people.  If I myself am the enemy who must be loved, what then?

The acceptance of variety extends to organizational and management issues.  People in participative institutions must work across functional boundaries and across levels.  Some of the most demanding challenges involved in managing variety occur when the finance and marketing people or a vice-president and an operator try to work together.

The same is true of the relationship between customers and suppliers.  The two groups seldom have the same requirements and work processes.  Yet increasing the interdependence and participation within a workplace inevitably brings very diverse work sub-cultures into contact to pursue a shared purpose.  The best solution is to create a very heterogeneous working culture that understands, values, and benefits from differences of individual subcultures, even if it means working through and with the attendant conflict.


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