Yes and no: a question of commitment
This one’s a return to the themes from that previous post on Power, people and responsibility in enterprise-architecture, and the dichotomy between power as ‘the ability to do work’ versus a supposed ‘power’ as ‘the ability to avoid work’.
We can also see this as the difference between yes and no; between for and against. In each of these it’s about the difference between a commitment to do something – which will involve real work of some kind – versus avoiding commitment, hence avoiding the work, and hence leading to the illusion of ‘power’ from avoiding that work.
From Yes comes commitment; something happens. The success when something happens is largely self-sustaining. A Yes usually leads to more Yes, is energising, empowering – and often literally so.
From No comes… well, nothing, really. Nothing happens. And another nothing happens. Until, eventually, nothing happens at all. No is negation, nullifying, disempowering: a slow spiral into stultifying stupor.
Yes creates a story, a narrative. No creates a non-story, a nothingness, an absence of story.
But Yes is scary. It means commitment, to change, to work, to effort. Yes introduces uncertainty; only No is certain – or seemingly certain, anyway. Far easier, then – far safer – to Just Say No. Avoid commitment. Avoid work. Avoid change. Avoid anything.
Saying Yes means that we open ourselves to being judged on the results of that effort, and perhaps failing to measure up in others’ eyes. Scary indeed. Far easier to say No, and feel powerful because we have the ‘right’ to tell others that they are ‘wrong’.
Making others wrong is easy. It is also, literally, a form of abuse. And everyone knows it – though they’ll often pretend not to know it. Fear breeds fear, breeds further abuse, further indulgence in “offloading responsibility onto the Other without their engagement or consent” – the definition of abuse from that previous post. Which, in turn, will spiral deeper into more serious dysfunction, “propping Self up by putting Other down” – the generic definition of violence. It can be very hard to for an organisation to recover when its culture has gone deep down into that spiral of self-destructive decay. And yet it all begins with one word: No.
For an enterprise-architect, the nightmare-client is the organisation that’s oriented itself around a culture of No. Government-organisations are notorious for this: seemingly everyone has a ‘right of veto’ – literally, “I forbid”. Anyone can say No, at any time – often with a double-serving of blame and recrimination on the side – bringing any activity to a grinding halt, often at the most dangerous moment of change. No-one dares say Yes, to anything. Hence nothing happens, very slowly, painfully, expensively in every sense. Everyone feels powerful for having said No; yet everyone also feels powerless; and still no-one seems to make the connection back to the dispiriting culture of No.
By contrast, working with an organisation that understands Yes can be a sheer delight. Things happen: yes, they’re questioned, challenged, assessed, re-assessed, but as part of the Yes, not a negation of it. Anyone can say Yes. And yet there’s no irresponsibility: people do still know when and how and why to say No when it’s needed. Because sometimes No is indeed necessary: yet it’s a No that is still for the purpose of saying Yes.
It’s a bit like the distinction between competition-with versus competition-against, cooperation-with versus cooperation-against. In a sense, competition is always a kind of No; cooperation is always a kind of Yes. Yet when we look deeper, what really matters is not competition itself, or cooperation itself: what matters is the aim or focus of the activity.
When we compete with each other, or with ourselves, such that the real aim is that everyone’s skill and competence would improve, it’s a Yes to the work of learning, a Yes to a new narrative. A runner competes against herself to improve her times, her expertise; she asks the help of others to compete with her, to push her to ever-greater achievement. On the surface, that kind of competition seems a kind of No: but it’s a No for the purpose of Yes. And yes, it’s hard work. Yet worth it.
Competition-against and cooperation-against are the inverse of this. Competing against others to put them down is, in practice, about avoiding future work: particularly relational work, or the spiritual work of creating one’s own sense of self. Command and control may seem so desirable in every organisation, every context, but in reality they are almost always about avoidance of needed future work. Basing one’s sense of self on being ‘above’ others is inherently fragile: we then need those others to be there to prop up our sense of self, and to do the work we avoid – yet if they’re not there, we have no identity, and no means to for the work to be done. Tricky… And there’s always the risk – the fear – that someone else will come along and put us down into the despised place of ‘the Others’, force us to do the work that we’ve avoided so long: hence the tyrant’s terror of growing old, and their ‘need’ to export that terror to everyone else… Then there’s cooperation-against: collaborating with others for the purpose of putting another group down. On the surface, it looks like a Yes; but it’s a Yes for the purpose of No, power-over or power-under, an attempt at avoidance of some kind of future work. And it’s not worth it: no matter what it looks like, even to the nominal ‘winners’, in the long term no-one wins from a war…
We see much the same with ‘for’ versus ‘against’. To be ‘against’ something is just another way of saying No: it’s about ensuring that something doesn’t happen, but the actual result is that nothing much happens to prevent that unwanted ‘something’ from happening. To be ‘for’ something is to say Yes, to be committed to that something: and it’s only through commitment, and action and work, that that ‘something’ will happen.
If we really are committed to to be ‘against’ something, the only way that works is to turn it round: to be ‘for’ the opposite of whatever it is that we’re ‘against’. For example, there’s not much point in saying we’re ‘against world hunger’ if we’re not willing to enact some kind of commitment about that supposed ‘against’: so instead of being ‘against’ world-hunger, we need to say Yes to something that will create conditions in which everyone is appropriately and adequately fed – and hence in which hunger no longer exists. Without that ‘for’, we’re just deluding ourselves: avoiding commitment, saying No through an empty pretence of saying Yes.
In short, if there’s no work involved, no commitment, it’s just another way of saying No. Which is pretty pointless, really.
Which brings us back to enterprise-architecture (of course? 🙂 ) – and, in this case, the role of the enterprise-vision. ‘Enterprise’ and ‘organisation’ are not the same. An organisation – a business, a corporation, a government-department or the like – is bounded by rules, roles and responsibilities: it’s defined by its definitions. But an enterprise is different: in effect, the organisation exists within a broader extended-enterprise, and expresses and incorporates ‘enterprise’ in the sense of drive and purpose, but is not itself ‘the enterprise’. Instead, an enterprise is a much looser structure, amorphous, tenuous, with porous boundaries delimited by by vision, by values, by commitments. In other words, it’s bounded by Yes.
And the ultimate Yes for the enterprise is its vision: an emotive descriptor of what the enterprise is for – a commitment shared in some way by all participants in that enterprise. Without that vision, there’s no clarity of commitment; not much to say Yes to. Which leads, inevitably, to an awful lot of No, an awful lot of nothing-much happening, slowly, pointlessly, expensively…
So that’s really the choice: Yes, or No.
And No doesn’t work. Literally doesn’t work.
So to what do you say Yes?
What about “maybe”? That’s a delay until “trust” is earned to continue.
‘Maybe’ is tricky (hence very popular! 🙂 ). It’s not a No as such (though often in practice actually a disguised No, but without such a rapid spiral into decay). But it’s also not a Yes – it doesn’t have that magic of commitment, and there’s no actual story that arises from Maybe. Instead it just sort-of dithers, dissipating energy in a vacillating nothing-much-ness. (And yes, I know it well… 🙁 🙂 )
Trust is classically described as “a leap of faith” – in other words, it’s a Yes. If we wait for trust, it’s like waiting on the edge of a jump: it doesn’t actually solve anything, we still either have to make the jump, or not. The real choice there is either Yes, or No: Maybe is a kind of non-choice that’s pretending to be a choice but in practice is a No to choice itself.
Hence, yes, tricky… 🙂
Tom, I would just like to say that I totally LOVE this post. Often I read your posts and – due to my background, not your writing – it sounds like you are saying “watermelon watermelon watermelon”. But I loved this one. At first I was not going with you, because I was like “but there are times when No is useful” – but then you got to your “no for the purpose of yes” and I jumped on board. I’d like to talk about these issues more sometime. Yes.