The importance of context

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The importance of context

In reading a book by Eugene Peterson, I came across this paragraph:

“Apart from the before the now has little meaning. The now is only a thin slice of who I am; isolated from the rich deposits of before, it cannot be understood. … The before is the root system of the visible now

While this is most certainly true for individuals, we also know this to be true for organisations. It once again re-iterates the importance of context when dealing with any kind of change in large organisations. Often times, surveys such as change readiness assessments only give us a current view of the ‘visible now’ of the organisation, without taking into acount the ‘before’. This can be an extremely dangerous thing to do, as change messages may inadvertantly trigger negative knee-jerk reactions based on similar messages associated with negative experiences in the past.

We often encounter a mind-set in organisations to not want to delve into the past; an aversion to revisiting negative experiences. This has no doubt been influenced by the ‘appreciative enquiry’ and positive psychology approaches that have moved into the business arena during the last few years. What we’ve experienced though, is that it is crucial for us to know the ‘before’ (positive and negative) that is shaping the values and beliefs in the organisation before we can effectively understand and influence the ‘now’. This is probably the biggest lesson I’ve learnt in dealing with change, that nothing can be separated from context, no matter how good the process is, or how big the expertise.

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