The Organising Property of Communication

March 21, 2012

I’ve been soaking up Francois Cooren’s wonderful work “The Organising Property of Communication”. ( It’s a very technical work, but no less important (like Einstein, I guess…).

I’m amazed that we can so chronically miss the core role of conversation in the very existence of human organisations. I guess we don’t spend much time thinking about water and oxygen either, and they are pretty basic! The difference is that we can’t do much about our cell-level dependency on water and air for life. But there is SO much we can do about our neural-cell level dependency on talk. Talk is the basis of our socialisation, of our competence in the world, and of our competence in aligning around any purposeful enterprise. So why wouldn’t all our HR experts also be experts in the cognition of talk – in “The Organising Property of Communication”?

Of course it’s not a topic that never arises. But so much of what we focus on is BAD PEOPLE in conversations – hence “Fierce Conversations”, “Crucial Conversations”, “Difficult Conversations” – but not the BAD PROCESSES we have embedded in our everyday practice. If you ever had the pleasure of reading “Cheaper by the Dozen” (about 40 years ago!), you’d be aware that Frank Gilbreth was a motion efficiency expert who saw that “brickies” bent over to pick up bricks from the ground, lowering and raising the entire upper body to pick up a brick. This “waste” had been built into the job through long practice. Guess what – our conversations in business are just like that. Our processes and practices of conversation have invisible waste embedded in them.

How much does it matter? Check out item 2 on this list (with a strong interaction with items 3 and 4):

The page is reproduced in full here because it is copyright material, and because you might be interested in the wider picture.

If conversation is actually the core organising property of communication, don’t you think conversation design might have something to offer to “Creating an organisational culture where trust, open communication and fairness are emphasised and demonstrated by leaders”?

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