Home Tools Internal Politics The Art of Organizational Coaching: In Search of Patterns and Variations

The Art of Organizational Coaching: In Search of Patterns and Variations

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This is all very nice in the abstract—but what does this look like in the real life of organizations and the leaders of organizations and how does all of this relate to the profession of coaching? In this essay, I will specifically identify some of the major benefits and problems associated with organizational patterns and variations, and trace out the implications for professional coaches.

Patterns in the World: Fractals and Sonatas

There is a remarkable structure to be found in nature that exemplifies the interplay between patterns and variations. This structure is called a fractal.  We find natural fractals in the structure of pine trees, in the shape of many sea shells and in river deltas. We also find fractals in domains other than nature. One of the places where fractals are beautifully displayed is in classical music—particularly the music of the so-called classical era.  In the sonata form, which was frequently used by Classical era composers including Haydn, Mozart and early Beethoven, there are usually two major themes presented initially in the exposition. These two themes typically are contrasting. One is loud and the other is soft, one is fast and the other is slow, or one is in a major key and the other is in a minor key. It is in the exposition that we find the major tensions and often the energy in a particularly movement. This is not sufficient, however, to make the movement memorable for most listeners.

It is in the second part of the movement that the piece of music becomes most interesting. This second section of a sonata is typically known as the development and it contains several (or many) variations on the two major themes. As listeners we may not even be conscious of the fact that these are the same two themes as in the exposition (providing continuity), but also that these two themes are being presented in a wonderfully varied way, often playing off in new ways against one another. The sonata movement then (as a rule) concludes with a recapitulation of the original two themes (allowing us as listeners to return to “the home base”) and perhaps a coda (usually a new theme) that allows the movement to end with a flourish.

If you want to get a sense of how the sonata form operates listen to a symphony by Mozart or Beethoven (though Beethoven often does a whole lot of new things with the sonata form). You can even listen to a later symphony by Brahms or Dvorak to get a good feel for the sonata form. Beethoven’s piano sonatas (as the name implies) are built around this musical model. And to get an even more dramatic sense of a theme that is offered in diverse forms, listen to J.S. Bach’s amazing Goldberg Variations.

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