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The Geometry of Character and Culture

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In returning to the application of typology we can consider what type of entity would be simple and what would be complex. A one-dimensional entity can be located by one piece of information. For example, a street number enables us to locate a person when we are on a specific street. If there is only one street, then all I need is the street number. In this regard, the street operates like a straight line and it only takes this one number to indicate where on this straight line a person or house is located. Similarly, if there is only one index of success in an organization (for example, profit or the bottom line), then it is easy to locate the organization on a one dimensional plain. What about multiple indices—which require that we conceive of the organization as occupying multiple dimensions (and as a result becoming substantially more complex)? What about an organization that requires all three of Watson’s dimensions?

When living in one dimensional space, one is simply looking up and down a line. There is no freedom of movement, As noted by Edwin Abbott (1992) in his classic piece of science fiction, Flatland, we can’t even imagine a 2nd or 3rd Dimension. One-dimensional character and one-dimensional cultures are set on a line. There is only more or less of the same thing (1st Order change). There is no freedom, no depth of perspective (1st Order Learning) –there is nothing more than a “bottom line” mentality or a “my way or the highway” attitude regarding leadership and top-down control.

Concluding Comments

The message contained in this essay is quite simple: we can help out client, as coach, recognize the need for an appreciation of all three dimensions identified by Watson. Additionally (and perhaps even more importantly), we can help them acknowledge that this broadening perspective on life in their organization will inevitably lead not just to new insights about their organization and about appropriate change strategies, but also to ironic recognition of many contradictions that inevitably arise when multiple dimensions are being explored.

In other words, we invite our clients to acknowledge that they are living in Hard Irony. They come to know that a multi-dimensional understanding and appreciation of the complex, unpredictable and turbulent world in which they work will inevitably produce irony and contradiction.

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