WOA 2021, Genoa 4th-5th February 2021
Organizing for what?
Meaning and Purpose in human action
In his keynote speech delivered at WOA 2019 (Palermo), Prof. Yannis traced the evolution from classic organization theories to an emotion-, meaning- and identity-seeking context. While the iron cage of bureaucracy was deemed responsible to eliminate the subjectivity of individuals, the focus has now moved to an ‘empowered’ individual constantly looking for meaning and identity, to the point of becoming more insecure or even victim of a ‘control illusion’. While this movement has been differently interpreted by different schools of thought, it can be surely said that the quest for meaning is a fundamental psycho-social process through which people try to find their place in organizational contexts.
Beyond the meaning-seeking individual, sense- and meaning-making processes importantly span the individual, group, organization, community, and societal levels. While organizational boundaries and traditional motives for people to participate in organizations somewhat loosen, the quest for meaning and purpose in coordinated action is all but losing importance, as envisioned in the garbage-can model where human actors, technology, problems, and solutions mix together, and a coherence is found precisely through organizing.
Technology, as pervasive it may be, is a key variable, because its effects crucially depend on how it is made sense of and enacted by human and non-human actors. The increasing relevance of technology in the way we communicate, learn, work, or entertain calls into question the role and the importance of individuals as architects or agents of change in the organizational domains they inhabit. While digitalization is key to organizational success, unconditional faith in Artificial Intelligence or Big Data Analysis can easily bring upon the idea that implementation is what really counts in the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution. However, this idea neglects the paramount importance of creativity, critical thinking, and meaning-making in understanding technological innovation and the effects thereof, beyond implementation. Rather, in a macro-organizational perspective, it is essential to look at the aims of organizational action (organizing for what?) and, understanding technology as an instrumental element of organizational action, at the meaning and sense behind the organizational regulation toward desired outcomes.