VISTA Enterprise Network - Successful Implementation, World Class Support

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Values Conflict

[1777 painting by Jean-Baptiste Greuze of Benjamin Franklin, who exemplified both the need to choose among values and the ability to do so (Wikipedia)]

The first thing to understand about the tension between class-three and class-one software, that is, the tension between local and national development - that is, between innovation and standardization - is that there is that tension and it's neither subtle nor something you can safely ignore.

The important thing about values like innovation and standardization is not that we want them, but (a) which we are willing to sacrifice to get the other—how we prioritize them—and (b) how exactly our systems for achieving one are related to our systems for achieving the other—how we relate them.

The choices we make between values define us as individuals, organizations, cultures, because we can't have everything we want. When Benjamin Franklin wrote They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety, he was making a choice that helped define a nation. Our choices have consequences.

So do our failures to choose. They who give up essential liberty for safety almost never realize they are making a choice. They think they can strengthen one value without weakening another, if they even realize the two are related at all.

In modern, scientific culture, we like facts and theories and plans but we're pretty stupid about values, because generally we ignore their conflicts; we think we can have our cake and eat it too. Our mission statements read like Christmas wish lists, as though all our problems would be solved if we could just have all the great things on our list. We don't think we have to choose, but we do.

All good things come to those who wait, we are told, but no one tells us those good things arrive in a knock-down, drag-out fight. Values conflict. Every single value conflicts with every other value.

Heraclitus wrote "War is the father of all things." This is the war he meant: the invisible war among principles that creates reality, and the all-too-often unconscious war among values that creates us.

In this all-consuming war, no man is an island; no one stands apart, a neutral power. We all take sides, willy-nilly. Since we naively believe our values don't conflict, we take sides nilly, unconsciously, by default.

As a result, within each organization, through random, ignorant selection, for each pair of values one will tend to be exalted because its merits are better recognized, but then out of balance it will crush the other value and the organization will suffer for its loss, baffled by how the pursuit of good could have led to such an evil.

The only way to have both values in a competing pair is consciously, through a deep understanding of the nature of the conflict between them, so you can realize how to bend back the conflict into a self-reinforcing flux, a homeostasis. That rarely happens by accident in the conflicts among human values, and it never, never happens when a bold leader pushes some values at the expense of others.

With that understood, let's examine innovation and standardization and the conflict between them, so we can begin to understand how the VISTA community once achieved homeostasis between them and will again soon.