© Patrick Trottier
Recently, people have been inquiring about the concept about ‘Self-Agency’ within the EODC® Platform. So I thought I’d give it a try to describe such.
What Is Self-Agency?
‘Self-Agency’ is simply ‘the realization that one can influence, and make things happen in the world’.
Self–agency is the sense that self actions are self-generated. Scientist Benjamin Libet was the first to study self-agency. He discovered that brain activity predicts the action before one even has conscious awareness of his or her intention to act upon that action.
Benjamin Libet was a pioneering scientist in the field of human consciousness. Libet was a researcher in the physiology department of the University of California, San Francisco. In 2003, he was the first recipient of the Virtual Nobel Prize in Psychology from the University of Klagenfurt, “for his pioneering achievements in the experimental investigation of consciousness, initiation of action, and free will”.
‘Agency’ means ‘generated actions’ in real time.
Self-Agency, in terms of EODC® is the process of manifesting one’s awareness:
- That one can influence new patterns within oneself.
- That one can influence new patterns in one’s environment.
- That one can be influenced by old, current and future expected patterns in one’s self and in one’s environment at any given time – in real time.
In this write-up, we attempt to explore the concepts and attributes of ‘Self-Agency’, what manifests such, and what inhibits such, in relation to self, groups, organizations and ’emergent change’.
Why is ‘Self -Agency’ Important?
We view ‘Self-Agency’ as integral to a person, a group, an organization, its culture, its innovation, its overall performance, and creating a great place to work where people actually brag about such.
We view ‘Self-Agency’ as critical for any organization to emerge naturally with its internal and external environments, and to develop new ‘forms’ of itself to emerge with the complexities and rapid changes of today’s world.
We view ‘Self-Agency’ as a core fundamental throughout the EODC® Platform.
Self-Agency Starts When We Are Born – An Innate Human Quality.
“The question of agency and directedness in living systems has puzzled philosophers and scientists for centuries. What principles and mechanisms under-lie the emergence of agency?
Analysis and dynamical modeling of experiments on human infants suggest that the birth of agency is due to a eureka-like, pattern-forming phase transition in which the infant suddenly realizes it can make things happen in the world.”
The main mechanism involves interaction and feedback from the infant’s environment:
“when the baby’s initially spontaneous movements cause the world to change, their perceived consequences have a sudden and sustained amplifying effect on the baby’s further actions. The baby discovers itself as a causal agent.“
J.A. Scott Kelso, On the Self-Organizing Origins of Agency, 2016,
Thus, we view ‘Self-Agency’ within the EODC® Platform as stemming from the innate, natural capabilities of our species – that which emerges naturally.
We also contend that many facors can inhibit ‘Self-Agency’ including one’s self, and one’s environments.
This natural capability of humans comes in contact with many experiences throughout our lives that are designed to control and/or diminish our natural tendency of emergent ‘Self-Agency’.
The interesting thing is that many of the organizational forms, norms, patterns and institutions we ourselves have created tend to destroy / inhibit such natural emerging self-agency rather than enhance such in people – even though we say we may want to enhance individual and group capabilities.
The constructs we have created often, based on our own design and thus ‘form’, often ‘disengage’ rather than ‘engage’ even though such may have been our intent – and I use the word ‘may’ cautiously.
Personal Attributes Of Self-Agency
Personal attributes of self-agency stem from how we learn to influence or not influence what is around us, to how we think and feel, to how we create our own perceptions, to how we interact with others, to our own attitudes, values, beliefs, assumptions, to what we create, to what we destroy, to our relationships with our self, and our environments.
So, what is Self-Agency within the EODC® Platform?
“EODC®, purports that ‘Self- Agency’ is the capacity of individuals to act independently and collaboratively to make their own free choices
within an ever expanding ‘sphere of influence’.
Self-Agency is the realization and manifestation
that one can change oneself, manifest new relationships,
and influence and make things happen in the world
(good or bad – healthy or unhealthy).” (Trottier, 1990s)
These propositions are based on, but not limited to, the following two EODC® core principles:
1. Existence precedes essence, which means that the most important consideration for individuals is that they are independently acting and responsible, conscious beings (“existence”) rather than what labels, roles, submissions, stereotypes, definitions, or other preconceived categories the individual may be fitted into by some artificial / pseudo-essence either by themselves, or by others. (contoured from the thoughts of Karl E. Weick)
2. A person creates ‘meaning’ and becomes who she / he is through one’s interpretation of their experiences within their interactions and their reflections within the ‘self’, and their relationships and their experiences with their environments.
Let’s create meaning… What do you see in this picture? What is it a picture of?
This picture may mean a ‘jazz player’ to one person, or a ‘woman’ to another.. or something else to another. It is all ‘perception’, a sort of ‘story telling’ based on former experiences from one’s environment we keep in our head either consciously, or unconsciously , and thus we create ‘meaning’ in our lives, in what we ‘see’ with our senses and in our reflections.
Self-Agency As An Emerging Aspect Of Oneself
Self-Agency emerges from a number of disciplines and theorems. To further support our contentions, we introduce a key theorem of Dr. Kurt Lewin, and Field Theory.
Kurt Lewin is considered the ‘father’ of Organizational Development.
Kurt Lewin and Field Theory
Field theory is a theorem which examines patterns of interaction between the individual and her / his environment(s). The concept first made its appearance in psychology with roots to the holistic perspective of Gestalt theories. It was developed by Lewin, a Gestalt psychologist, in the 1940s.
Lewin’s field theory can be expressed by his formula:
Behavior = a function of person and environment; B = f(p,e)
Meaning that behavior (B) is a function of the person (p)
and his/her environment (e).
This is fundamental to EODC® thinking.
Thus, it is not one OR the other. It has been determined that each influences the other. So whatever environments a person finds him/her self in, the person assimilates and accommodates feelings, thoughts, experiences that emerge and regulates their perceptions, thinking, feeling and behavior.
Field Theory came about when Lewin considered a person’s behavior to consist of many different interactions and experiences. He believed people to have dynamic thoughts, forces, and emotions that shifted their behavior, beliefs and perceptions to reflect their present state – an emergence of Self-Agency.
Question: Does one’s environment enhance self-agency or diminishes such? Can such environments inhibit self-agency from naturally emerging throughout all areas of a person’s life including work, beliefs systems, relationships, knowledge formation, socialization processes, institutionalization, etc.
Answer: One’s environments may enhance, diminish and also inhibit new patterns of thoughts, feelings and behaviors to emerge about oneself, and one’s world.
Kurt Lewin: One’s ‘Life Space’ – One’s Sphere Of Life
(adapted from Wikipedia; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Field_theory_(psychology ) and other sources…
The idea of ‘life space’ is that an individual’s behavior, at any time, is manifested only within the coexisting factors of the current “life space” or “psychological field”.
What we ‘do’, what we perceive, what we believe, our opinions, our knowledge comes from and exists within us and is limited or enhanced by
the internal and external ‘worlds’ we experience.
Note: ‘Knowledge in its categorized boxes can, and very much does diminish and control emergent leaning and novel forms of thought.’ (PT, 1970s)
Thus, what we are influenced by, comes from both within us,
and from one’s many external environments when we are open
to their influence.
So a life space is the ‘space’ within us that holds the combination of all the factors
that influences a person’s behavior at any time.
Such enhances or inhibits novel forms of emergence
and expression thereof within us and with our worlds.
Therefore, behavior can be expressed as a function of one’s life space B=ƒ(LS).
Furthermore, the interaction of the person (p),
and the environment (e) produces this ‘life space’.
In symbolic expression, B (behavior) =ƒ(LS) (is a function of Life Space) = f(p,e).
An example of a more complex life-space concept is the idea that two (or more) people’s experience of a situation can become one when they converse openly together. This does not happen if the two people do not truely interact and connect with each other at a certain level such as being in the same room but not talking to each other within an open, honest interaction as ‘people’ (vs. a pseudo role). This combined space can be “built” up as the two (or more) people share feelings, experiences, thoughts and ideas through open and generative dialogue to create a more complex, genuine ‘experience’ and thus a life-space together.
This manifestation, sometimes called ‘we made a connection’, emerges within personal relationships, work groups, between organizations and any form of elements and constituents that have potential to achieve ‘common ground’.
Within ‘a pseudo life space’ shaped with labels, roles, submissions, stereotypes, definitions, or other preconceived categories that an individual may be fitted into – well, not much real communication and genuine relationship can be manifested.
IT’S TIME TO GO INTO YOUR BOX NOW – FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE TO BE CATAGORIZED, JUDGED, SLICED AND DICED… HA!
As formerly mentioned, this is seen in many areas of our lives including work status, hiring, job placement, relationships, educational placement, promotion, socialization processes, institutionalization, etc.
When we are ‘labeled this or that’, we are treated as ‘this or that’ – objectified by ‘labels’ related to our perceived role, work status, job function, our socialization rank, one’s religion, educational system ratings, etc.
perceived simply as ‘being’ a person.
Draw your own conclusions of the consequences of ‘labeling and segmentation’.
One’s environment, as demonstrated in the life space, refers to the objective situation in which the person perceives and acts. The life space environment (e) is completely subjective within each context as it depends not only on the objective situation, but also on the characteristics, attributes, beliefs and perceptions of the person (p) and others within that life space.
In other words, many times what we perceive our environment to be is an illusion of our own creation.
This includes such things as organizational structures and cultures, financial systems, religions, belief systems, work relationships – power dynamics – roles – status systems – etc., as well as educational systems, socialization systems, untilization of resources, ownership of property, social relationships, national boundaries, etc., etc.
Thus, such ‘illusions of our own creations’ are not marked in stone but can evolve beyond the current rational that such are forever set, and nothing can be done to change things.
“How we see ourselves and our environment is what we create. What we have created is not locked into that which cannot emerge.
The unknown is constituted with ‘what is possible’, and ‘what is not possible’. We are the ‘self agents’ of our worlds – nothing more and nothing less.”
(P. Trottier, sometime in the 1960s)
Understanding As A Whole – A Gestalt
We all have heard the definition of a gestalt.
“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.“
(First coined by the philosopher Aristotle,
this phrase aptly defines the modern concept of synergy.)
Thus, we believe it is necessary to consider all aspects of a person’s conscious and unconscious experiences with one’s environment in order to understand a person and her/his ‘life space’ and one’s ability to influence and make changes to such – including the self, the group, the organization, and our environments that create our ‘life space’.
The combined state, influenced by the environment as well as the person’s perspective (conscious, and unconscious), must be viewed as a whole.
While each part can be viewed as a separate entity, to observe the totality of the situation, and the totality of a person, one must take all internal and external ‘influencers and patterns’ into consideration. The influencing patterns of the ‘self’ and the influencing patterns of one’s environment.
A Person (a group, an organization, a nation…)
Lewin applied the term ‘person’ in three different ways. EODC® applies this also to groups and organizations.
- Properties / characteristics / attributes of the individual. (needs, assumptions, wants, beliefs, values, perceptions, abilities)
- A way of representing essentially the same psychological facts of one’s ‘life space’ itself – thus, how one makes ‘meaning’ of things, people, places.
- The behaving ‘self’ – ‘you are what you do‘.
The behaving ‘self’ may be seen as the individual’s perception of his relations to the environment(s), what he filters through his perceptions, and how that person acts from those beliefs, perception, assumptions, etc.”
The development of the person inevitably affects the life space. As a person undergoes changes with their body or their image of themselves changes, this can cause an instability in the region of life space. Additionally, an instability in the psychological environment or life space can lead to the instability of the person.
Thus, within a person, so as in an organization, such ‘chaos is normal and is a indicator that a deeper transformation, like culture in an organization, is taking place.
Thus ‘chaos / instability’ is normal if a real transformations is to be experienced and appreciated.
‘Chaos’ is defined as patterns yet unknown.
“It seems as though little is happening in the unpredictable, chaotic zone,
however this is where real transformation is taking place.
Don’t jeopardize such by change management, control and force…”
(Lessons from the Wilderness…)
Behavior and Emergent Change®
Any change within the life space is subject to psychological understandings and the laws of physics and energy and their interactions. Accordingly, an action of the person (p) or a change in the environment (e) resulting from said action, can be considered behavior (b), and thus ’emergent change’.
These behaviors can make large or small influences on the compexities of ’emergent change’ – the continuous ebb and flow of the influencers and patterns of emergence. Regardless, these influencers and emerging patterns must be taken into consideration to understand behavior.
Field theory and EODC® hold that ‘any type of change’ is ’emergent change’, and must be derived from a totality of coexisting facts. These coexisting facts make up a “dynamic field”, which means that the state of any part of the field depends on every other part of it.
“Behavior is a gestalt – a network, of emerging influencers and patterns.”
(P. Trottier, sometime in the 1990s)
This not only includes both mental and physical fields, but also unseen forces such as events, magnetism and gravity. This can be elaborated by imagining the difference that a force / influencer can make by acting from a distance. When considering something such as the your country at war in some far away foreign country, it is clear that there is an effect even though it acts from a large distance away.
Behavior depends on the current field of influencing patterns rather than on the past, or the future. Even in regards to past or fufture influencers, those influencers exist in the ‘now’, since what is within you only can exist in the ‘now’. This can be a memory or to hopes and dreams that your stocks will make you a billionnaire.
‘All’ is in the present that one carries around and influences one’s thoughts, feelings, and actionable strategies, thus behavior.
The following diagram illustrates how ‘influencing patterns / emergent change’ occurs.
© Patrick Trottier and Associates, 2016
The Institute Of Emergent Organizatioanl Development and Emergent Change®
Development and Self-Agency
Development also plays a major role in one’s behavior. From the beginning of one’s life behavior is molded in all respects to his or her social situation. This of course brings up the sociological discussion of nature versus nurture.
Experimental psychology studies have shown the formation of aspiration, the driving factor of actions and expressions (behavior), is directly influenced by the presence or absence of certain individuals within one’s life space. A child’s development naturally leads to an opening up of new unknown life space regions. Transitional periods such as adolescence are characterized by a greater effect of these new regions. Therefore, an adolescent entering a new social group or life space can be seen psychologically as entering a cognitively unstructured field. This new field makes it difficult for the individual to know what behavior is appropriate within the field. This is believed to be a possibility for changes in child and adolescent behavior.
So… so far, so good… except when reality bites…
Depletion Of Our Natural Tendencies And Capabilities
Hearing the word “No” as a child…
“A UCLA survey from 2010 reported that the average one year old child hears the word, No!, more than 400 times a day!
You may, at first, think this must be an exaggeration but consider this…when we tell a toddler No! we usually say, No, no, no!. That’s three times in three seconds! If that child is particularly active, perhaps it’s true…perhaps that child really does hear NO mega times a day. And, although it’s a good thing that they come to understand NO early (so that they can live to celebrate a second birthday!), the bottom line is that toddlers, from all cultures and across all time lines, learn what to do by constantly being told what not to do.
Then they grow up.
They go to work… and the pattern of speaking and learning is set from the earliest of days and it is a negative pattern. So, by the time most hit the workforce, even if they are very positive, energetic and optimistically focused individuals, they are probably speaking, hearing and dealing with negative language throughout each and everyday without even knowing it! Although it is always more powerful, influential and persuasive to say what you do want rather than what you don’t want, most messages in organization are trying to fence a person into those hierarchical prescribed boundaries… which mean ‘no’ in one way or another.
What is really interesting is that the brain cannot process a negative command or statement.
If you say to your child ‘be careful, don’t spill your milk’ as they carry the glass full of milk across the kitchen the child has to actually think of spilling the milk so that it can take the necessary action not to do it. We tend to get what we focus on and so by the child thinking of spilling milk that is often what tends to happen which normally results in a loud ‘But I told you not to spill that milk’.
So the moral of the story is to design the organization to manifest the behavior of ‘self-agency’ and allow people to open up their own boundaries and the organizational boundaries to emerge into the unknown.
The Australian Association for Research in Education studied; “The Relationship Between Significant Others’ Positive And Negative Statements And Self-Talf, Self-Concepts And Self-Esteem.”
Positive statements correlated positively with self-esteem while negative statements correlated negatively with self-concept and authority figures.
So let us relate this to ‘toxic work environments’ since most of us have been there one way or another.
As Gary Hamel asked at the 2018 Drucker Forum:
- “How did we become so inured to the inhumanity of our hierarchically structured organizations?”
- “How is it OK that a scant 13% of employees around the world are emotionally engaged in their work?”
- “How is it OK that 70% of jobs in the US require little or no originality — according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics?”
- “How is it OK that only 12% of employees in Europe say they’re always consulted before objectives are set for their work?”
- “How is it OK that the average first level employee in a large organization is buried under 8 or more layers of management?”
- “How it OK that 50% of employees say they’ve had to change jobs to escape an incompetent or autocratic boss?”
- “How is it OK that in a global survey, 79% of respondents from large companies said new ideas get greeted with skepticism or hostility?”
- “How is it OK that in the same survey, 76% of respondents said political behaviors highly influence who gets ahead?”
Add to these in many organizations, I’ve worked with to get things straightened out:
- Major communication problems, territorialism, politics reign.
- Diconnected, disillusioned employees.
- Inconsistency in following policies.
- Narcissistic, condescending leaders and managers.
- Seething disgruntilement with drama, excuses, blaming, territorialism, disengagement, etc.
- A survival attitude after 6 months on the job.
- A ‘we-they’ perspective (eg., management vs. non-management vs. union admin.)
- A high rate of withdrawal from engaging others, or solving problems.
- Learned helplessness.
- An organizational structure with prescribed boundaries that inhibit self-agency, decision-making, collaboration, innovation, performance, effectivess and efficiency to name but a few.
This… creates this…
And, management says they want ‘engagement’, ‘innovation’, ‘loyalty’, ‘communication’, ‘performance’ and all those other fine, fine words we all hear.
If they really wanted such, then they would re-design the organization from ‘status and power-based hierarchies’ to some other organizational form that really promotes self-agency like ‘network forms’ as an example.
In these negative work environments with constant negative experiences,
self-agency is naturally depleted over a very short amount of time.
How many times have I seen a self-motivated, positive person with a stong sense of ‘self-agency’ come into the work place and after 3 – 6 months they learn to survive, and maybe just leave altogether.
How many times have I seen the ‘Parent-Child Syndrome‘ between Management and Non-Management carrying on the tradition and norms of ‘No’ in many subtle, and not so subtle ways.
It can be as simple as a non-managment person not being able based on norms to choose to sit in a meeting of managers discussing financial or operational matters that directly impact that person – but management wonders why people are not engaged – go figure.
Commonly asked inquiries about organizations and Self-Agency:
Q. Can a person have a degree of ‘self-agency’ in a closed, hierarchical system?
However such is mostly confined within the organization’s defined and prescribed organizational norms, expectations and boundaries. In closed systems, a person tends to emerge only within their environment’s prescribed forms and boundaries.
Thus, ‘self-agency’ is inhibited by current prescribed organizational boundaries.
However, an inhibiting form of self-agency can evolve where a person’s ‘sphere of influence’ can undermine the current norms, policies, expected behaviors of the organization eventually leading to a loose-loose proposition. Is cases like this, ‘push-back’ can be created to the point where no one wins.
Can a person have a form of ‘self-agency’ in a more open, organizational system?
The utilization of our natural abilities have more room and scope to further emerge beyond the current defined norms, expectations and boundaries of ourselves, our environments, and our organizations.
“In open systems, a person continually emerges and can shift their forms, norms, boundaries and processes as their environments shift. In this form of organization the individual / group has more influence on shifting the organizational climates, cultures and forms.”
Thus, ‘self-agency’ is expanded beyond current organizational emerging boundaries.
Q. Why, in the EODC® Platform, is ‘Self-Agency’ under Integrated, Open IT/IS/AI Systems and Processes’?
Note: This is an important question in regards to self-agency.
Answer; First, it is important to understand that ‘Self-Agency is predominant throughout every aspect of the EODC® Platform. It is just the way ‘to be’. It is also the outcome of how the organization is designed and how the organization interacts with its environments.
Let me offer to you a story that I was involved in with a client in the early 1990s that may answer the question a bit clearer. I learned much from this experience with this client about ‘self-agency’ that started myself on my own journey about such.
The story does not cover all the intricacies and dynamics of the ‘experience’, but gives a general flavor of such. To share all the things that contributed would be too long a description for this passage.
So, here we go…
In the early 1990s I was working with an international finance company in the U.S. While talking with the Sr. Management Team, they ask me; ‘How can we get our employees to think in terms of the overall business – to think cross-departmental and to take into consideration what they do impacts the whole place?’
I took a moment to think about this. The room was silent as they waited for my response. As usual, I asked them if I could ask them a few questions related to their inquiry. They were use to this approach from working with me as I do not come across as ‘the expert with answers’, but one who asks questions to explore their own insights and explorations.
So, I asked; ‘What allows you to think of the whole organization and how it works? What allows you to think like a business person rather than just doing tasks every day? What helps you think about what you do and how such influences others?
Their answer was that ‘information’ gives them the big picture so what they do day-to-day’ allows them to understand what is going on and to develop policies and strategies for the good of other people, the customer, the supply chain, how different departments were doing and the business itself.
Voila! The light went on!!
So then the dialogue went into ‘exploration – experimentation mode’. So from the exploration, this question emerged; ‘What if we did an experiment with a department to open up ‘information’ through the IT/IS systems to everyone in this department and see what happens?’ What if people could customize their own ‘dashboards’ to choose what information they wanted? An open information system. What would happen?
Operational people from managers to the people at the lowest levels (aren’t those traditional words) began to understand performance information in regards to those people / departments they normally deal with – be that inside or outside the organization like their suppy chain or their internal immediate support departments.
Then, they ventured out into information relatd to marketng, sales, external customers, finance, etc. They started to understand how other functions / department operated and their issues. They started to take into consideration how their decision-making paradigms had influenced and impacted others in the organization. When they met with different departments, their talk was different – they asked different and bigger questions, they asked about ‘connections and common goals’. They understood what other people / functionswere going through – their issues, problems, goals and objectives. They stated to know them as people, not phone numbers, boxes, email addresses (although email was new at the time), or just ‘who to contact when a problem occured’.
The experiment grew through the organization ‘organically’ – naturally. As always, I learn with my clients.
The whole organization started to understand ‘the business of the business’ as a whole. Sr. Management learned to shift with the tide. Yes, it took a few years, always growing, always emerging.
They did it themselves and it became just ‘normal’ – ‘it is just the way we do things now’.
People evolve on novel information.
Perceptions shift on novel information.
Organizations emerge on novel information.
Self-Agency manifests on novel information (and more).
So that is the story of how I started to really get into ‘self-agency’ as a core part of ‘Emergent Change®’ and ‘Emergent Organizational Development®’.
And, to answer the question above, that is why I put ‘Self-Agency’ under Integrated, Open AI/IT/IS Systems and Processes’ within the EODC® Platform within the platform diagram and throughout the whole emergent change process itself.
Thus… in the right organizational environment to develop the attributes of our innate, natural capabilities of our species – that which emerges naturally, you can grow up to be him, or her:
him or her…
P.S. I hope you got something out of my write-up on ‘Self-Agency’…
Impact To People
Impact To Organizations