The Mary Parker Follett Network

Unity, not uniformity, must be our aim. - MPF

Systematic analysis of MPF's conferences on management

I started few months ago (just few weeks after the Boston Conversations in October) to study a kind of enigma (which is probably a too much provocative word).

We all understand through the study of MPF's life, MPF's mentors, MPF's inspiration sources, how did she come to speak about integration, circular response, group process, etc.

We all know how much did MPF inspire management academics and practicers (cf. Pauline Graham's collective book).

How did she make possible the transfer of her conceptual framework about democracy (and social process) to a theoretical basis for management practices?


I have made a systematic recension of possible answers to this question in MPF's business conferences (essentially collected in Dynamic Administration). I think that MPF has systematically call for this following process:

1. Starting from a relevant question for managers: appropriation of the question

For example:  "Let us take one of the many activities of the business man, and see what it would mean to take a responsible attitude toward our experience (...) I am going to take the question of giving orders.", 1925, The giving of orders in Dynamic Administration,

2. Showing that answers to the question can be found through considering it as a kind of "instance" of more general conceptual problems: management as an instance of social process

For example "(...) I should say that the given of orders and the receiving of orders ought to be a matter of integration through circular behaviour, and that we should seek methods to bring this about." 1925, The giving of orders in Dynamic Administration,

3. Using the conceptual references to show what kind of attitudes managers should come to (but not in a normative way): management practices through a Follettian prism

What do you think of this analysis?

PS: I will finish my paper within the next 3 or 4 weeks and submit it to the network.

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In order to be complete, you find as attached file a trial to make a systematic analysis of the reasoning of MPF in the communication "Constructive conflict" (sorry, it is in french). 

Attachments:

Hi Sebastien,

 I think you are on to something here!  We know Follett was an excellent listener, in that people felt what she was learning from them was part of something bigger than themselves. But, her listening was beyond a technique she used to make people feel good, or to "open up."  Just what was she listening for?  Yet, as I say that, I hear her warn "no relationship should serve an anticipatory purpose."  I imagine she tried to keep her mind open each conversation so that she wouldn't miss anything that might represent "the law of the situation."

I think I understand your number 1) starting from a relevant question for managers.  When she toured a factory or had lunch with a CEO, or sat on a wage arbitration board with a personnel manager, she was always "on duty," listening in the richest way possible.  So, when she prepared a talk for businessmen, she knew their concerns, probably better than they did.

Number 2) showing how management can be an instance or more general conceptual problems.  Yes, she definitely seemed on a quest for universal themes of human interactions.

Number 3) Using the conceptual references to show what kind of attitudes managers should come to.  This makes sense.  You're right, she does say, "I'm not saying what is, or what should be, but what could be." (Paraphrased from p. 34, Dynamic Administration)

I might add a 4) or perhaps it is woven into your 1 - 3.  She was a genius in taking the most humble interaction among people and using the experience to illustrate profound thoughts.  I suppose we might call that deductive reasoning. I'm sure she swung freely between the inductive/deductive pendulum.  I'm conscious of this right now, because I am in the process of examining many of her stories -- the two men in the library, used by Roger Fisher and William Ury to illustrate a major point in their 4 point "Getting to Yes" negotiation model is a rather well-know example.  (#2 Focus on interests, not positions) 

One of my favorites, however, is from Freedom and Coordination, first published in 1949 in Great Britain.  It contains six lectures--the first given in 1926 at a meeting of the Taylor Society in New York City, the other five given at the London School of Economics at its newly formed Department of Business Administration under the collective title: The Problem of Organization and Co-ordination in Business.  Lecture II, or The Giving of Orders (a title which confirms your premise #1) contains a story which always makes me smile. (p. 26)  In typical form she starts by saying, "I know a lady," and then goes on, "who posted over the sink in her kitchen the proper sequence of dish-washing.  Her cook did not say what she felt about it, but a few days later she put her own feelings into the mouth of someone else by saying, 'Mrs. Smith's cook came to see me yesterday and she said she wouldn't have that in her kitchen.'"

She then continues with what may confirm your #3:  "This instance throws some light, also, on what I have siad of the advantage of the rules of the job being the outcome of joint study.  If this lady had said to her cook and maids, 'Let us think out the proper sequence of dish-washing and then stick to it,' all might have been well perhaps.  There would be nothing to resent if they had had a share in the making of rules."  As I write this, I see it as a very practical grassroots example of the value of democracy, which probably meets the test of your #2.

The reasons I love this story is, like most women, perhaps, my Mother taught me the proper order of doing dishes.  AND, when I was fortunate enough to be able to visit Mary Parker Follett's summer home in Putney, Vermont (prior to reading Freedom & Coordination), and to be invited inside by its current owner, who's father & mother brought the house directly from Follett the summer after her long-time partner, Isobel Briggs died, complete with almost all the furniture & many other possession.  What did I see on the mantel piece of the fireplace?  A formal printed sign giving the proper order of doing dishes.  I took a photo because of my own experience of being taught that sequence.  A few years later when I read her line, "I know a lady . . . I realized this wonderful example came right from her own life. The lady was Isobel.  Mary felt free to use the story in 1933.  I don't think it appears any earlier. 

I've downloaded your diagram and will get out my French-English dictionary and begin decoding!  Thanks,

Albie

Thanks Albie for all these very very interesting comments. I wish I could provide an english translation of my paper and the diagram. Unfortunately, I do not have time to do it seriously. 

To continue to the end of your remarks, I would say that it is interesting to see how did Mary P. Follett use her personal life experiences (without always saying it explicitly) in order to support a kind of universality of her concepts and ideas. More generally, the way she demonstrated things is either surprising or astonishing. I think she was not using common demonstration frameworks as scientists used to (hypothesis, test, simulation, demonstration, etc.) but she convinced the reader that her concepts were deeply anchored to reality (for instance: circular response as a generic way of describing all kinds of natural phenomenon).

This is a real difference with F.W. Taylor who was using scientific demonstration (using time measures, decomposing work into elementary tasks) as a kind of "external way of integrating" (I use a term that appears in a recent discussion with Albert David, professor at Paris Dauphine).

Albie M. Davis said:

Hi Sebastien,

 I think you are on to something here!  We know Follett was an excellent listener, in that people felt what she was learning from them was part of something bigger than themselves. But, her listening was beyond a technique she used to make people feel good, or to "open up."  Just what was she listening for?  Yet, as I say that, I hear her warn "no relationship should serve an anticipatory purpose."  I imagine she tried to keep her mind open each conversation so that she wouldn't miss anything that might represent "the law of the situation."

I think I understand your number 1) starting from a relevant question for managers.  When she toured a factory or had lunch with a CEO, or sat on a wage arbitration board with a personnel manager, she was always "on duty," listening in the richest way possible.  So, when she prepared a talk for businessmen, she knew their concerns, probably better than they did.

Number 2) showing how management can be an instance or more general conceptual problems.  Yes, she definitely seemed on a quest for universal themes of human interactions.

Number 3) Using the conceptual references to show what kind of attitudes managers should come to.  This makes sense.  You're right, she does say, "I'm not saying what is, or what should be, but what could be." (Paraphrased from p. 34, Dynamic Administration)

I might add a 4) or perhaps it is woven into your 1 - 3.  She was a genius in taking the most humble interaction among people and using the experience to illustrate profound thoughts.  I suppose we might call that deductive reasoning. I'm sure she swung freely between the inductive/deductive pendulum.  I'm conscious of this right now, because I am in the process of examining many of her stories -- the two men in the library, used by Roger Fisher and William Ury to illustrate a major point in their 4 point "Getting to Yes" negotiation model is a rather well-know example.  (#2 Focus on interests, not positions) 

One of my favorites, however, is from Freedom and Coordination, first published in 1949 in Great Britain.  It contains six lectures--the first given in 1926 at a meeting of the Taylor Society in New York City, the other five given at the London School of Economics at its newly formed Department of Business Administration under the collective title: The Problem of Organization and Co-ordination in Business.  Lecture II, or The Giving of Orders (a title which confirms your premise #1) contains a story which always makes me smile. (p. 26)  In typical form she starts by saying, "I know a lady," and then goes on, "who posted over the sink in her kitchen the proper sequence of dish-washing.  Her cook did not say what she felt about it, but a few days later she put her own feelings into the mouth of someone else by saying, 'Mrs. Smith's cook came to see me yesterday and she said she wouldn't have that in her kitchen.'"

She then continues with what may confirm your #3:  "This instance throws some light, also, on what I have siad of the advantage of the rules of the job being the outcome of joint study.  If this lady had said to her cook and maids, 'Let us think out the proper sequence of dish-washing and then stick to it,' all might have been well perhaps.  There would be nothing to resent if they had had a share in the making of rules."  As I write this, I see it as a very practical grassroots example of the value of democracy, which probably meets the test of your #2.

The reasons I love this story is, like most women, perhaps, my Mother taught me the proper order of doing dishes.  AND, when I was fortunate enough to be able to visit Mary Parker Follett's summer home in Putney, Vermont (prior to reading Freedom & Coordination), and to be invited inside by its current owner, who's father & mother brought the house directly from Follett the summer after her long-time partner, Isobel Briggs died, complete with almost all the furniture & many other possession.  What did I see on the mantel piece of the fireplace?  A formal printed sign giving the proper order of doing dishes.  I took a photo because of my own experience of being taught that sequence.  A few years later when I read her line, "I know a lady . . . I realized this wonderful example came right from her own life. The lady was Isobel.  Mary felt free to use the story in 1933.  I don't think it appears any earlier. 

I've downloaded your diagram and will get out my French-English dictionary and begin decoding!  Thanks,

Albie

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