Services and disservices – 4: Priority and privilege

Services serve the needs of someone.

Disservices purport to serve the needs of someone, but don’t – they either don’t work at all, or they serve someone else’s needs. Or desires. Or something of that kind, anyway.

And therein lie a huge range of problems for enterprise-architects and many, many others…

This is the fourth part of what should be a six-part series on services and disservices, and what to do about the latter to (we hope) make them more into the former:

  • Part 1: Introduction (overview of the nature of services and disservices)
  • Part 2: Education example (on failures in education-systems, as reported in recent media-articles)
  • Part 3: The echo-chamber (on the ‘policy-based evidence‘ loop – a key driver for failure)
  • Part 4: Priority and privilege (on the impact of paediarchy and other ‘entitlement’-delusions) (this post)
  • Part 5: Social example (on failures in social-policy, as reported in recent media-articles)
  • Part 6: Assessment and action (on how to identify and assess disservices, and actions to remedy the fails)

In Part 1 we explored in some depth the structure and stakeholders of services, and explored how disservices are, in essence, just services that don’t deliver what they purport to do.

In Part 2 we illustrated those principles with some real-world examples in the education-system context.

And in Part 3 we outlined some of the main factors behind one of the key causes for disservices: the echo-chamber of misplaced, unexamined belief.

In this post we’ll explore the background and everyday impacts of the other of those two key causes, namely arbitrarily-assumed or asserted priority and privilege.

There’s a catch…

(Yeah, there’s always a catch…)

Remember how they warned you, when you first started out in enterprise-architecture or service-design, that those so-called ‘soft-skills‘ were going to be important? Well, this is where you find out why they’re so important – because if any part of our work could be called a minefield, this would definitely be it…

So let’s put up a warning-sign straight away:

Which at first glance might seem odd, because all of this is about as ‘political’ as it gets

The warning, though, is more for us to watch out about our own echo-chamber, and keep our own politics at bay. As enterprise-architects and the like, our role is usually one of decision-support, not decision-making – and most of the decisions here are not ours to make. So whilst working on this, keep the focus on the factors of the assessment, as dispassionately as we can, so that others can make the choices that they need.

And yeah, this one ain’t easy… – but let’s go to it, yes?

Jostling for position

You’ll remember that back in Part 1 of this series we looked at the total scope of the shared-enterprise, and the full range of stakeholders – transactional, direct and indirect – within the overall context for any given service:

You’ll also remember that the respective service-entity (the ‘service-in-focus’, or ‘the organisation’ in this example above) in effect presents a value-proposition to every one of those stakeholders, which it must deliver via the respective parts, or all, of the service-cycle:

The service-entity delivers its greatest value when all of the stakeholders work together to support it, in context of their respective roles and suchlike in relation to the service. That’s the ideal, anyway.

Yet in practice, what we see all too often is that one or more stakeholders or stakeholder-groups will decide that they’re entitled to more than just their respective part of the value-proposition: they want special priority, special privileges, special rights relative to everyone else. They’ll believe that they’re entitled to win – and if that means that others will lose out, then so be it.

(‘They’, by the way, will sometimes actually be ‘Us’… – we all fall for this type of mistake from time to time, no matter how self-aware we might think or hope we are!)

In essence, it’s a ‘power-problem’ – a problem arising from dysfunctional concepts of power, often grounded in an arbitrary and mostly-invalid notion that there’s only so much power or resources or whatever to go around:

Which leads to an often tangled, tortuous, highly-‘political’ jostling for position, each one trying to get to be ‘top dog’, the one who ‘wins’ the most, by making everyone else lose.

But the catch is that in a service-context, those kinds of games really don’t work, not just for the ‘losers’, but for everyone – in fact for anyone. In reality, it’s not about ‘win or lose’ – either everyone wins, or everyone loses.

Which means that, as enterprise-architects and service-designers who do want our services to work, we need to be right on top of this one. We need to be able to identify and mitigate against any instance of where some stakeholder is trying to assign themselves priority and privilege over others – trying to place themselves as ‘The Centre Of Everything’. Perhaps especially, we need to beware of how such priority and privilege can become built-in within the underlying structures of our services – creating disservices to various of the stakeholders with every instance of supposed service-delivery.

(We saw a clear example of that in Part 3 of this series, where an intended new service of cross-disciplinary courses for arts-students fizzled out into a pointless make-work exercise for excess administrators…)

These games ultimately arise from what I’ve described elsewhere as paediarchy, ‘rule by, for and on behalf of the childish’ – and in which, in this or any other possessionist culture, ‘the childish’ is pretty much all of us. In short, what’s going on underneath the surface is a mess of childish demands for attention and importance – a possessive temper-tantrum that looks much like this:

But to see its more masked everyday-face, just look at the nominal-‘adults’ around you. Or, to be blunt about it, just look in the mirror…

One of the key factors that drives that paediarchy – apart from its near-rabid self-centrism – is a simple misperception about the nature of power:

  • the physics definition of power is the ability to do work
  • the paediarchal definition of power is the ability to avoid work, to bully or cajole or entrap others into doing our work for us

And the more people try to avoid work, or to dump it on others, the less real work gets done… – a fact that becomes all too evident in the context of services, and in the mutation of services into disservices. The SEMPER framework takes this split between ‘ability to do work’ versus ‘supposed ability to avoid work’, and reframes it as a diagnostic scale:

  1. (–) active-dysfunction – destructive competition and suchlike
  2. (-) passive-dysfunction – ignorance of and/or evasion of responsibility
  3. (=) neutral – best that can be achieved with command-and-control
  4. (+) local-effective – control is dropped, enabling local self-adaptation
  5. (++) system-effective, or wholeness-responsibility – command is also dropped, enabling autonomous systemic-adaptation

Which we can describe in visual form as follows:

Functional-power – power as ‘the ability to do work’ – comes out in two forms:

  • ‘power-from-within’ – the only source of human power is from within the self
  • ‘power-with’ – individual people can assist each other in finding that power-from-within

Which we can summarise in visual form as:

Power-from-within (such as in Daniel Pink’s ‘mastery, autonomy and purpose’) and power-with (such as in coopetition) will both tend to push upward on the SEMPER scale, leading to more real-work being done within services.

Dysfunctional delusory-‘power’ – power as ‘the ability to avoid work’ – likewise comes out in two fairly distinct forms:

  • ‘power-under’ (colloquially known as abuse) – offload responsibility onto the Other without their engagement or consent
  • ‘power-over’ (colloquially known as violence) – prop Self up by putting Other down

Which again we can summarise in visual form as:

Power-over (as active-dysfunction) and power-under (as passive-dysfunction) will both tend to push downward on the SEMPER scale, leading to less real-work being done in services – sometimes betraying or abandoning altogether the service’s nominal value-proposition.

(We could also describe power-over and power-under collectively as ‘power-against‘ (in contrast to ‘power-with‘), because, rather than doing the requisite work, the the Self’s effort is instead focussed against others, attempting to control or force them to do the work – typically treating those others as ‘objects’ or ‘subjects’ of the Self.)

Hence what we’re dealing with in any service-context is usually some kind of knotty confusion where all of these different forms and concepts of ‘power’ are all inter-tangled with each other, all at the same time:

Some of these threads and stakeholders are genuinely helping as much as they can (i.e. mostly power-with) towards the overall aims of the service; others aim towards helping only themselves (i.e. mostly power-against), but actually help no-one; and yet others – probably the majority – are kinda somewhere in between. In short, it’s a mess…

Yet it’s our responsibility, as enterprise-architects and service-designers, to help sort out that mess as best we can – particularly at a structural level, because aspects of structure can and do either incite or dissuade either of those two concepts of ‘power’.

But to do that, we first need a better understanding of what the different types of behaviours look like in real-world practice – and especially, for this purpose in any kind of service-context.

For a more general overview, particularly in a business-type context, I’d recommend taking a look at the ‘manifesto’ on power and responsibility in the work-place, used as the underlying structure for my book ‘Power and response-ability: the human side of systems‘.

To drill down into the detail, though, I’d suggest to use the following diagnostics-table, adapted from my ‘de-gendered’ redesign of the Duluth model, on interpersonal violence and abuse. The original model was, to be blunt, a gendered mess that is more likely to cause more harm than good; but with some quite small changes, it’s possible not only to resolve most of the structurally-embedded dysfunctions, but also make it useful for broader-scope contexts as well – including interactions or blocked-interactions between stakeholders and stakeholder-groups in a service-context.

What follows here uses essentially the same categorisation as in the original Duluth model, but de-gendered, without the original arbitrary-prioritisation and Other-blame, and with the addition of two new sections: ‘Using sexuality’, which sort-of appeared in the original as a headline, but without further explanation; and ‘Using others (third-party abuse)’, which is completely absent from the original model. I’ve also added category-labels, A-K (excluding I, to avoid confusion with numeral-1): the key point is that all of the categories need to be understood as essentially-equivalent in priority, without any implied hierarchy of severity.

Remember that every instance of power-against – ‘offloading responsibility onto the Other’, or ‘propping Self up by putting Other down’ – will cause loss of effectiveness for the respective service. Conversely, every instance of power-from-within or power-with is likely to enhance service-effectiveness. In that sense, the choices here really are quite straightforward. What this is not, however, is easy…

The aim here is to use this table as a means to identify any structural potential for dysfunctional behaviours (‘Misuse, abuse and violence’ – power-against) within a service-entity, and from there find ways to embed stronger structural support for the counterpart constructive behaviours (‘Equality, fairness and non-violence’).

(Remember that our tasks here are about structure, about service-architecture, service-design and service-implementation, from the perspective of risk-management and the like, to provide guidance for other decision-makers – nothing more than that. This aspect of architecture is ‘political’-enough already: but if we’re foolish enough to stray over too far into critique of service-operation, we’ll likely find out the hard way just how ‘political’ this can really get… You Have Been Warned, please?)

I’ve tried to retain the wording of the original Duluth model as much as practicable, so what follows here does at times tend to focus perhaps a bit too much on interpersonal issues. Yet all of it is still relevant even for the most abstract whole-of-context level – though yes, sometimes we might need a bit of sideways-thinking to see how that’s so. To help in this, I’ll add suggestions and examples after each category-listing, about how the respective themes can play out in a service-context, and what we can perhaps do about them.

Category A: Using coercion and threats → Negotiation and fairness

  • Misuse, abuse and violence: Using coercion and threats
    • using physical assault against the Other – including any hit or slap
    • making and/or carrying out threats to do something to hurt the Other
    • threatening to leave the Other, to commit suicide, to report the Other to welfare
    • making the Other drop charges
    • making the Other do illegal things
  • Equality, fairness and non-violence: Negotiation and fairness
    • seeking mutually satisfying resolutions to conflict
    • accepting change
    • being willing to compromise

Perhaps the simplest example here is the overall ‘justice-system’. Wherever coercion and threats are allowed into the mix, what we’re likely get is not so much a ‘justice-service’ as a state-mandated ‘retribution-service’, often itself skewed in favour of arbitrarily-dominant stakeholders, and which tend to trigger subsequent tit-for-tat reprisals, making things worse with each iteration.

By contrast, a refocus on negotiation and fairness usually enables a ‘win/win’ that is experienced by all stakeholders as ‘justice’, and takes the heat out of the conflict, reducing the risk of recurrence.

Category B: Using intimidation → Non-threatening behaviour

  • Misuse, abuse and violence: Using intimidation
    • making the Other afraid by using looks, actions, gestures
    • smashing things
    • destroying the Other’s property
    • abusing the Other’s pets or other animals
    • displaying weapons
  • Equality, fairness and non-violence: Non-threatening behaviour
    • talking and acting so that all parties feel safe and comfortable expressing themselves and doing things

Probably the keyword for our purposes here is intimidation – perhaps particularly as the phrase “making the Other afraid”. We’ll see examples of this just about everywhere in the business-context, such as all the many forms of advertising that depend upon artificial manufacture of fear: “Do you have enough insurance?”, “Aren’t you afraid you’ll miss out?”, “Is your family safe?” – that’s another list that goes on and on… We also see it, a lot, in all manner of forms of bullying, threats and the like – sometimes even state-sponsored or state-condoned – and in conjunction with other categories such as ‘Coercion and threats’ or ‘Economic abuse’. And we also see it in active suppression of and threats against whistleblowers and the like – who are exactly the people we need to help us improve our services.

By contrast, we need to look for all possibilities and options to help the various stakeholders feel more safe in interacting with and around the service – and be more safe, too.

Category C: Using economic abuse → Economic partnership

  • Misuse, abuse and violence: Using economic abuse
    • preventing the Other from getting or keeping a job
    • making the Other ask for money
    • giving the Other a restricted or conditional ‘allowance’
    • taking the Other’s money (including using the Other as a ‘provider’)
    • not letting the Other know about or have access to shared-income
  • Equality, fairness and non-violence: Economic partnership
    • making money decisions together
    • ensuring all parties benefit from financial arrangements and work arrangements

To be blunt, economic-abuse pretty much sums up our current ‘economic-model’ in a nutshell: there’s not much in a possessionist-economics that isn’t economic-abuse… On top of that, there are all manner of threats and abuses that come with the ‘right to hire and fire’ – particularly those purported ‘rights’ that give rise to concepts of ‘insubordination’ and the like, but without matching acknowledgement of the very real dangers of insuperordination. And given that so many business-models all too literally depend on price/value mismatches and other forms of (let’s be blunt about it?) theft and life-theft, then we definitely have a problem here… – but also a lot of paediarchal pressure to keep things as dysfunctional as they are. Politics indeed…

What works is exactly what this category says: economic-partnership. Anything that we can do in that regard, to bring the service back into better balance across the shared-enterprise, will likely help everyone a lot.

Category D: Using emotional abuse → Respect

  • Misuse, abuse and violence: Using emotional abuse
    • putting the Other down
    • making the Other feel bad about themself
    • calling the Other names
    • making the Other think they’re crazy
    • playing mind-games
    • humiliating the Other
    • attempting to control the Other feelings
    • forcing the Other to control or deny what the Other feel
    • making the Other feel guilty
  • Equality, fairness and non-violence: Respect
    • listening to each other non-judgmentally
    • being emotionally affirming and understanding
    • valuing each others’ opinions

Office-politics, anyone? Customer-(non)-service? The restaurateur’s infamous ‘service with a sneer’? Yep, emotional-abuse is another one that we’ll see pretty much everywhere – perhaps especially in conjunction with Category K, ‘Minimising, denying and blaming’, Category B, ‘Intimidation’ and Category F, ‘Privilege’. This is where we’ll also see a vast amount of ‘should-ing’ – particularly in the form “you should have“, which by definition is impossible to resolve, because doing so would require going back into the past to change choices and actions at that time.

As the category-tagline suggests, the type of work being avoided here is emotional-work and relational-work – which does need to be understood as work, and very necessary work at that. As service-designers, what we need here is to ensure that the service’s structures support respect of all stakeholders across the overall shared-enterprise – not just an arbitrarily-selected subset who claim the ‘right’ to bully others in that way.

Category E: Using sexuality → Sexual respect and trust

  • Misuse, abuse and violence: Using sexuality
    • acting as the ‘owner’ of the Other’s sexuality
    • ignoring or overriding the Other’s sexual choices, feelings or fears
    • denying or mocking the Other’s sexuality
    • promising or withholding sex to control or punish the Other
    • blaming the Other for sexual miscommunication
    • using pornography or sexual/romantic fiction to justify sexual abuse
    • assigning to the Other the sole responsibility for sexual safety and birth-control
    • misleading the Other about sexual safety and birth-control
  • Equality, fairness and non-violence: Sexual respect and trust
    • respecting all parties’ sexuality as real and natural
    • being open and honest with each other about sexual needs, desires, feelings and fears
    • being responsible with each other about safe sex and birth-control
    • negotiating mutually appropriate types and levels of sexual relationship

Some people do express surprise at seeing sexual-abuse listed as a potential problem-category for service-contexts, but unfortunately even this is disappointingly common. To give one perhaps rather-more-blatant example, the business-model for pornography is, by definition, is making a promise of, uh, services, that it does not intend to keep – in fact its continued business depends on creating dissatisfaction rather than satisfaction… Likewise the infamous ‘booth-babes’ at trade-shows and the like, whose role is to distract awareness away from the probable low-quality of the respective product. Or, to bring it to a more everyday level, every time we talk about ‘sexing-up’ some report, or describing something as ‘sexy’ we’re almost indulging in some form of implicit sexual-abuse. Not A Good Idea…? And, sadly, many workplaces and elsewhere are at present utterly riddled with ‘political-correctness’ and the literal terrorism of omnipresent threats of litigation and the like – not only a form of sexual-abuse in itself, but frequently combined with Category A, ‘Coercion and threats’, Category B, ‘Intimidation’, Category C, ‘Economic-abuse’ and just about every other category as well, perhaps especially Category K, ‘Minimising, denying and blaming’. In short, all too easily a recipe for a very unhappy mess all round…

As for what to do about it, the simple answer is to keep the whole issue of sexuality firmly in its place. It’s not that there’s no place for it – after all, some aspects of flirting and the like are not only socially important, but can also act as a valid form of power-with, lifting everyone’s day. The catch, in a business-context especially, is that developing those skills does take practice, with inevitable mistakes along the way. Hence if we want the real social and other advantages of flirting and the like, there does also need to be respectful tolerance of mistakes; clear guidelines on how to distinguish between genuine mistakes versus potential or actual abuse; and clarity on what to do when things do go wrong. Not easy, at all, but very necessary.

Category F: Using privilege → Shared responsibility

  • Misuse, abuse and violence: Using privilege
    • treating the Other like a servant
    • excluding the Other from making decisions that concern them (‘making all the big decisions’)
    • acting like the Other’s ‘owner’, assuming authority from social stereotypes
    • being the one to define [business]-roles, or other social or familial roles
  • Equality, fairness and non-violence: Shared responsibility
    • mutually agreeing on a fair distribution of work
    • making family decisions together

In a business-context, this is a ‘biggie’ – a real ‘elephant in the room’. The entire context – in fact the entire culture – is riddled with people all jostling for position, all trying to claim and assert priority and privilege over all others: paediarchy run rampant… To give just one example, consider management: almost every manager is quite certain that they are more important than everyone else, have the ‘right’ to tell everyone else what to do (and to punish them if they don’t do it), and have the ‘right’ to higher pay than everyone else, too. And yet, from a service-perspective, management is just another service, with no more inherent importance than anything or anyone else: which means there’s no actual justification for any of the managers’ purported priorities and privileges. Oops…

There’s no easy way round this one: just slow, careful mapping of all of the unfounded assumptions, and gentle demolition of arbitrary grounds for privilege, instead re-emphasising shared-responsibility (rather than, as all too often, shared-evasions of responsibility…). But whichever way we do it, we need to be really careful here, using every one of the soft-skills to the maximum – because this one will always be really, really ‘political’, sometimes to extremes. Yep, another You Have Been Warned item, unfortunately.

Category G: Using isolation → Trust and support

  • Misuse, abuse and violence: Using isolation
    • controlling what the Other does, who they see and talk to, what they read, where they go
    • limiting the Other’s outside involvement
    • using jealousy or envy to justify actions against the Other
  • Equality, fairness and non-violence: Trust and support
    • supporting each others’ goals in life
    • respecting each others’ right to their own feelings, friends, activities and opinions

These days, in the business-context, we perhaps mostly see this in the infamous ‘micromanager’ – not only trying to control what everyone does, who they talk to, and so on, but keeping everyone apart via isolation-tactics such as ‘divide-and-rule’. We used to see much the same in organisations’ shutting-out of complaints from customers and the like – but the growth of social-media means that complainers and other anticlients can now communicate with each other much more easily, and simply bypass any blocks that the organisation tries to put up in their way.

The most common driver for this is fear – particularly fear of loss of control, or fear of the consequences arising from perceived loss of ‘control’. As architects and service-designers, we need service-structures that can inherently allay such fears, making it not only safer for the various stakeholders to create trust and support, but also making it clear that everyone wins by doing so. Understanding that feelings are facts, and as such cannot be ignored, also helps in this too. In a business-context, ‘supporting each others’ goals in life’ also extends to career-development and skills-development – both of which are very much needed for services and service-support over the longer-term.

Category H: Using children → Responsible parenting

  • Misuse, abuse and violence: Using children
    • making the Other feel guilty about the children
    • using the children to relay messages
    • using visitation to harass the Other
    • threatening to take the children away
  • Equality, fairness and non-violence: Responsible parenting
    • sharing parental responsibilities
    • being a positive non-violent role model for the children

This is another theme that might seem odd at first for a business-context, until we consider the ways in which advertisers misuse children to manipulate parents into buying otherwise-unwanted goods or services, or that managers and others assert that business’ needs must always have priority over familial ones. And in a nominal ‘justice’ context, or even in an education-context, the state may assert a purported ‘right’ to separate children from parents – literally “threatening to take to take the children away” without the parents’ consent. Not trivial…

To resolve this, again especially in a business-context, we perhaps need to reframe this one not so much as responsible parenting, but more ‘responsible about parenting’ – that children’s needs, and parents’ needs too, generally should come before crude commercial profit or the needs of the state. Note, though, that this is another theme that is likely to be regarded by some as too ‘political’ for comfort – yet I’d suggest that we should do whatever we can to bring somewhat more of a balance back into this?

Category J: Using others (third-party abuse) → Social self-responsibility

  • Misuse, abuse and violence: Using others (third-party abuse)
    • spreading rumours about the Other
    • misinforming others (family, friends, colleagues, police, court, state agencies) about the Other’s life or actions
    • denigrating the Other’s natural groups (gender, nationality, race, birth-religion, etc.)
    • using others’ stories to justify actions against the Other
  • Equality, fairness and non-violence: Social self-responsibility
    • being aware and honest with self, with each other, and with others
    • sharing social respect and social responsibility
    • creating trust with others and with the wider community
    • respecting each others’ history, background and humanity

This one can take a bit of explaining, but it’s a very important mechanism to understand, not least because it’s a common means via which other forms of abuse are both covered-up and then redoubled. In third-party abuse, the reality is actually back-to-front from how it appears on the surface: a nominally-independent third-party such as a court or tribunal is misled by fake-‘evidence’ from the purported-‘victim’ to punish the purported-‘perpetrator’ – when in fact the real roles of ‘perpetrator’ and ‘victim’ are the other way round. We see this very often in commercial contexts: such as incumbent cartels using long-outdated law to protect against newcomers (car-dealerships against Tesla, for example) and against the wider public-interest, or dishonest customers using Better Business Bureau or equivalent to blackmail small-business. The short-term gains for the actual perpetrator may be considerable, but over the longer term the pain for the victims of these scams, and the confusion overall, leads to erosion of trust in the very institutions that are supposed to protect trust itself. Not A Good Idea…

As with so many of the other categories here, the only way that doesn’t create disservices here is simply to be honest, to fully engage in social self-responsibility – which, sadly, seems very hard for many (most? all?) people to do, especially in a possessionist culture. As service-designers, we do need to be very wary of the risks for third-party abuse, and design into our services explicit checks and balances to counter against it. And yet do that whilst also presuming and supporting mutual-trust as a default, wherever we can – which isn’t easy.

Category K: Minimising, denying and blaming → Honesty and accountability

  • Misuse, abuse and violence: Minimising, denying and blaming
    • making light of the abuse and not taking the Other’s concerns about it seriously
    • saying the abuse didn’t happen
    • shifting responsibility for abusive behaviour
    • saying the Other caused it
  • Equality, fairness and non-violence: Honesty and accountability
    • accepting responsibility for self
    • acknowledging past use of violence and abuse
    • admitting being wrong
    • communicating openly and truthfully

This is the other ‘biggie’ that runs rampant in the service-context, perhaps especially inside larger organisations: “it’s not my fault, they did it, no-one will notice anyway if we just keep quiet about it”, a crescendo of blame and counter-blame, and an ever-deepening morass of Somebody Else’s Problem. We don’t have to look far for examples of the disservices that minimising, denying and blaming can cause: they’re everywhere around us…

One of the main reasons for this mess is that for many people it often feels ‘just too dangerous’ to do otherwise – particularly so because a paediarchal culture largely runs on a kind of inverse ‘pass-the-parcel’, in which anyone unable to blame someone else gets all of the culture’s abuses dumped on top of them. As service-designers, we do need to find ways to make it safe for honesty and accountability to occur – otherwise disservices will result, often to the point of complete service-failure.

(Note: Whilst working on this list, I realised that there’s another distinct category that we need, to address specific issues that aren’t fully covered by any of the other categories above…)

Category L: Lying and dissembling → Truthfulness and transparency

  • Misuse, abuse and violence: Lying and dissembling
    • making claims and statements that are known not to be true
    • destroying evidence or actively concealing the truth
    • being manipulative or ‘economical with the truth’
    • using distortions and other dissemblings to distract from or conceal pertinent facts
  • Equality, fairness and non-violence: Truthfulness and transparency
    • being open and truthful in all dealings with others
    • actively assisting others in identifying the truth
    • fully accepting the implications and consequences of the truth
    • actively supporting truthfulness and transparency

This is another category of power-against that’s so prevalent – particularly in advertising and the like – that we barely even notice it any more. In the supermarket, I pick up a pre-packed meal from the frozen-food shelf. Bright, shiny packet, looks appetising, and the price is good, too – only £1, it says on the label. Then I notice that that label also adds, in very small letters, the word ‘Save’ – so the label actually reads ‘Save £1’. I hunt around on the freezer-cabinet for the real price, which turns out to be £2.99 – the ‘.99’ again in very small print – so I have to remember that that’s effectively £3, not £2. Not such a good price, then, given that it’s almost three times the price as that big bright-red label on the packet had implied. I slide the meal out of its cardboard sleeve: it appears to be some kind of dull-coloured lumpy gunk, with no resemblance at all to the gleaming ‘serving-suggestion’ shown on the sleeve. I turn the sleeve over, and note that the first ingredient listed is some kind of synthetic sugar, followed by poly-something-or-other and saturated-fat. Yuk. I drop the carton back into the freezer in mild disgust, and walk away, feeling, I dunno? – somewhat sleazed? slimed? something like that? – and also cheated, in a way, even though I hadn’t even bought the thing. That’s what lying and dissembling does: nothing much on the surface, perhaps, but slowly, slowly, the implicit disservices corrode away the soul, the heart, the trust in the overall system, such that it becomes harder and harder to see the true value-proposition in anything. And no-one ‘wins’ from that.

The blunt reality is that, despite its apparent risks and costs, truthfulness and transparency really is the only that works. As enterprise-architects or service-designers, it can sometimes be hard to explain this point to our stakeholders – or, for that matter, to build explicit support for it into our services – but the effort really does pay off, for everyone. There are, fortunately, plenty of success-examples to point to – perhaps particularly in social-media, where prevarication and fudging about service-failures will merely fuel the fire, whereas rapid, honest and respectful responses by senior executives and suchlike can forestall serious damages, and rebuild trust across the whole shared-enterprise.

Practical implications for enterprise-architecture

By this point you may still be wondering how the heck that sad catalogue of human misery and self-delusion can have any connection with services. If so, here’s the blunt reality: every instance of power-against will create disservices. It really is as simple as that. And hence why this is of crucial importance to enterprise-architecture and service-design.

(Note also that much the same will apply even between IT-systems: for example, a system that runs open-loop and assumes that its service-partners will keep everything else in control is, in effect, “offloading responsibility onto the Other without their engagement and consent” – in other words, an IT-oriented version of power-under. Which is Not A Good Idea, because it will create ‘unexpected’ service-failures somewhere down the line. Yes, that sad catalogue above is nominally about human issues, but a little bit of metaphorical thinking can go a long way here, towards helping make sense of some of the more intractable IT-issues too.)

What can we do about it? Lots. Perhaps the first point is that, with that categorisation-model above, we now have a diagnostic instrument that can help us identify some of the drivers that cause so many of our services to collapse into disservices – and therefore help us to design in such a way as to prevent those drivers from taking hold, and thence prevent the collapses from happening. It’s not easy, but it’s also not all that hard, either: mostly all we have to do is to keep our own echo-chamber filters under careful watch, and then just look – because when we do that, the answers we need pretty much present themselves to us, all on their own.

The one part that is hard – not just hard, but downright dangerous – is all the politics. In many of these domains and concerns, we’re almost literally dealing with the mindset and mentality of a rampaging two-year-old, with all that that implies… Which, again, is why strong soft-skills are an absolute prerequisite for almost any real-world enterprise-architecture or service-design.

From a practical perspective, that list of categories above provides a checklist of warning-signs, and what to do to mitigate against the respective risks:

  • A: Coercion and threats → Negotiation and fairness
  • B: Intimidation → Non-threatening behaviour
  • C: Economic abuse → Economic partnership
  • D: Emotional abuse → Respect
  • E: Misusing sexuality → Sexual respect and trust
  • F: Priority and privilege → Shared responsibility
  • G: Isolation → Trust and support
  • H: Misusing children → Responsible (about) parenting
  • J: Misusing others (third-party abuse) → Social self-responsibility
  • K: Minimising, denying and blaming → Honesty and accountability
  • L: Lying and dissembling → Truthfulness and transparency

More generally, there are some well-worn keywords or keyphrases to watch for in everyday language, that can act as warning-flags about the probable presence of power-against. These include:

  • entitled‘ or ‘entitlement
  • it’s my right
  • insubordination!
  • should‘ (especially as ‘you/They should have‘)
  • any form of blame, whether of others or self
  • deserve‘ (especially as ‘you/They don’t deserve‘)
  • everyone’s doing it‘ (a classic indicator of a industry-wide ‘game’ of ‘Pass The Grenade‘)

Those are some practical tools and principles to use, anyway. Yet now that we have some means to tackle both of those major causes of disservices – the echo-chamber, and the power-against that underlies claims of priority and privilege and the like – how does it actually work in real-world practice? To illustrate this, let’s move on, in the next post in this series, to some real-world examples of services and disservices in the realm of social-policy.

In the meantime, any comments or questions so far? Over to you, if you wish.

3 Comments on “Services and disservices – 4: Priority and privilege

  1. This particular piece leaves me with a deep feeling of sadness. I guess the point here is to call attention to the concept of disservice, but this really feels like your experience of life has led to a point of seeing the world through a lens of disservice and negative interactions. Maybe I’m missing a bigger picture where disservice, in your mind, is balanced in some way by the win/wins and true altruism of actual service? Right now, I’m left feeling pretty gloomy (and, of course, feelings are facts 🙁 are they not?)

    • @Doug: “This particular piece leaves me with a deep feeling of sadness.”

      Personally speaking, I’d say that’s a healthy response – but that is just my opinion, of course.

      One of the realities that comes through from using the extended-Duluth is an awareness of just how deeply-ingrained abuse and violence really are within our culture: so deeply-ingrained that it’s kind of ‘the sea that we swim in’, and hence probably can’t even see unless we make intentional effort to see it.

      The Dalai Lama and so many others would echo core Buddhist teachings here, that one of the first things we experience when we start become truly aware of the world is a deep sadness at the way things are, and how little we personally can do about it. Yet we can each do something – that’s the point. And even the smallest of actions can push towards true-service – towards the positive rather than negative in the SEMPER scale above.

      What this series is about – and, again, you’ll see much the same in Buddhist or Taoist or Christian practice (and I presume other similar-practices as well, but I don’t happen to know them) – is about becoming more aware of how these mechanisms work, so that we can ‘do something about it’ in some small way when the opportunity arises.

      One of the key points here is that, as enterprise-architects, we have probably much opportunity than most people to make or guide structural changes that can push gently towards true-service rather than default to non-service, misservice or disservice. Which, in turn implies that we perhaps have more responsibility than most to do something about this, wherever we can. The aim here in this series is to describe some of the tools that we can use to assess the respective structural-concerns, and from there identify what changes could be made to create win/win true-service for all of a service-entity’s stakeholders.

      @Doug: “I guess the point here is to call attention to the concept of disservice…”

      It is.

      @Doug: “…but this really feels like your experience of life has led to a point of seeing the world through a lens of disservice and negative interactions”

      This isn’t about me – really, it isn’t. Yes, I’ve seen and see a lot go wrong in the world, yet I also see a lot go right (‘right’ in the sense of true-service – sometimes in quite startling and heroic ways, and from men, women, children, young and old alike, across every culture).

      All I’m doing here is presenting a set of diagnostic tools for what is a very common architectural concern. Really, nothing much more than that.

      (“Nothing much more” rather than “Nothing more” because yes, I’m human too, with opinions and feelings like everyone else. Yet I do go to some real care to keep those opinions and suchlike at bay in this – as you saw with the point you commented in in Part 2, about using the word “pay”.)

      @Doug: “Maybe I’m missing a bigger picture where disservice, in your mind, is balanced in some way by the win/wins and true altruism of actual service?”

      I do indeed see that balance. Yet do note that, as architects, surely we’re not tasked with setting out to make things worse, to intentionally create disservices? 😮 Given that assumption, then surely, we’re more likely to need to focus quite carefully on how things go wrong, in order to find ways to make things work better, rather than focus on how things go right, in order to find out how to make things work worse? 🙂 Hence the apparent ‘imbalance’ in the diagnostics described here.

      @Doug: “Right now, I’m left feeling pretty gloomy (and, of course, feelings are facts 🙁 are they not?)”

      Yes, facts indeed – and important ones, too.

      Yet remember that what we’re dealing with here is that all-too-common challenge of moving from incompetence (things that don’t work, and probably getting worse) to competence (things that do work, and, with care, probably getting better). So note that that sequence of change goes as follows:

      1. unconscious-incompetence
      2. conscious-incompetence
      3. conscious-competence
      4. unconscious-competence

      The first stage, then, is a transition from unconscious-incompetence to conscious-incompetence: rather than hiding in a comforting but dangerous delusion of ‘competence’, we start to see just how bad things actually are. Which brings on all of the feelings of conscious-incompetence, including shame, confusion, fear, uncertainty, and, yes, an often crushing sense of sadness. Although it will definitely seem counter-intuitive, we need to embrace that sadness as an indicator of improvement, not ‘failure’. (We can cross-check that it is an improvement in that we can now see what we’d previously ignored.)

      So yeah, in some ways that “feeling pretty gloomy” is something more to celebrate than to worry about! 🙂

  2. It is helpful to have this diagnostic in the tool-kit. If you’ve dipped into my book, you’ll have seen that the central point is about diagnosing conditions of health and ill-health in organizations, leading to prescriptions that point into the (largely incoherent) marketplace of B2B remedial services (that “service thing” again!). Good to have the pointer back to the level of competence model. The diagnostic approach that I think we’re both talking about really addresses that unconscious incompetence, or the blind spots of what we don’t know that we don’t know. Which is why, for one thing, I have the whole chapter on coaching, where we’re looking for 20% speaking via open-ended questions, and 80% active listening as new (and maybe unexpected) awareness dawns.

    That particular 80/20 rule, by the way, is why my coaching “career” failed to take off! Can’t keep my damn mouth shut and my opinions to myself 🙂 🙁

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