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Information Technology in Organizations: Theory as Metaphor . Sundeep Sahay. The use of a Metaphor: ”This man is like a lion”. Lion. Man. Why do we use Metaphors?. Metaphor implies a way of thinking and a way of seeing To help understand one element of experience in terms of another
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Why do we use Metaphors? • Metaphor implies a way of thinking and a way of seeing • To help understand one element of experience in terms of another • They tend to provide one sided insights • By deemphasizing other elements, they tend to create distortions
Metaphors (or Images) of organizations we live with (Morgan) • Organization as machines • Organization as organisms • Organization as brains • Organization as cultures • Organization as political systems • Organizations as psychic prisons • Organization as flux (networks)
Organization as Machines: What is Emphasized? • Set of mechanical relations (bureaucracy) • Routinization of activities • Division of labour • Standardization of tasks • Creation of command language • Focus on optimizing performance • Centralization of authority
Assumptions of Rationality • The “Economic Man”: “the manager makes portfolio decisions consistent with account objectives for individual securities, the beta or volatility of the security returns, & expected returns. The main information task is located in the analyst function, responsible both for the estimates of the relevant individual individual security data, and estimates of overall market performance.”
”Rational Navigation” • The European Navigator: • The European Navigator begins with a plan - a course which he has charted according to a certain universal principles, and he carries out his voyage by relating his every move to that action. His effort throughout his voyage is directed to remaining “on-course.” If unexpected events occur, he must first alter his plan, then respond accordingly.
Assumptions Made • Characterize situation in terms of identifiable objects with well defined properties • Find general rules that apply to situation in terms of objects and properties • Apply rules logically to the situation • Draw inferences on what should be done • Organization fundamentally about rules for gathering, storing, communicating and using information • Humans as ”Information engineers” – ”design of optimal systems”
What does this metaphor distort? • How to deal with changing circumstances? • Encourages unquestioning attitudes • Spcialization inhibits inter-departmental communication • Limits potential of human development • Limits cooperation as the emphasis is on control...etc
Organization as Cultures • Derives from the idea of ”cultivation” • Refers to patterns of knowledge, ideology, values, laws, everyday rituals etc • How are decisions made, what are the relationship of people with information • Japan: organizations seen to combine the spirit of the samurai with solidarity of ”rice growing”
“Situated Navigation” • The Trukese Navigator: • The Trukese navigator begins with an objective rather than a plan. He sets off towards an objective and responds to conditions as they respond in ad-hoc fashion. He utilizes information provided by the wind, the waves, the tide, the current, the fauna, the stars, the clouds, the sound of the water, and he steers accordingly. His effort is directed to doing whatever is necessary to reach the objective. If asked, he can point to his objective at any point, but he cannot describe his course.
Assumptions Made • Cultures favor different ways of acting • Europeans - abstract, analytical thinking • Trukese - wisdom, memory & experience • Plans are always situated in particular, concrete circumstances • Emphasis is on understanding encounters of humans and organizations with information in particular situations
What is Emphasized? • Directs attention to the symbolic aspect of organizational life: ”information as symbol and signal” (Feldman) • Organizations exist as shared systems of meanings • People can take more responsibility of their role in creating shared meanings • Emphasizes relation between organizations & environment as socially constructed • Emphasizes problems of organizational change
What is distorted? • Used instrumentally by managers (and consultants) as ”values engineering” • Ideological manipulation and control • Culture should allow rather than suppress expression • Culural values are dynamic • Cannot be reduced to a set of ”measureable variables” • Material properties of technology often deemhasized
Organizations as “Garbage Cans” • Organizations as organized anarchies • Problems looking for solutions • Processes poorly (or not) understood by organizational members • How and by whom is garbage removed? • Problems and solutions to be seen as social products
Organizations as models of “power and politics” • Power ability to produce desired outcomes • Power arises from a diversity of interests • Organizations as coalition of loose interests, both formal and informal • Role of gatekeepers • Information control as a power resource • New technologies, information, reconfigures power relations • Emphasizes the role of conflict in organizations
Organizations as models of “social influence” • Organizations deal with resource allocation situations • Rational approaches emphasize universalistic criteria • Under uncertainty, particularistic approaches are adopted • Role of social influence • Embedded in existing social relationships
References • Martha S Feldman and James G. March “Information in organizations as signal and symbol” Administrative Science Quarterly, 1981, 26, 171-185. • Gareth Morgan (1997). Images of Organizations, London: Sage.