PO: A suggestion for a de-patterning device for international
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Previously published in International Associations
26, 1974, 3, pp. 148-150.
Also in: Les Problèmes du Langage dans la Société Internationale
(Compte rendu du colloque, Paris 28-29 mars 1974). Bruxelles, Union des Associations
Internationales, 1975, pp. 151-153
The principal concern of this symposium is to examine how well a limited number
of key terms currently employed in international organization discourse convey,
in different sectors and language systems, the concepts and meanings they supposedly
represent. A related concern, however, is whether particular labelled categories
used in describing organizations, match in subtlety and complexity the social
reality which they are used to order. It is this second concern which is discussed
discussion of, and by, international organizations makes use of
category systems like the following :
- governmental; nongovernmental
- profit; nonprofit
- recognized; unrecognized
- formal; informal
- national; international
- permanent; temporary
- supportive; unsupportive
- autonomous; dependent.
This approach polarizes attempts to discuss and describe international organizations
so that any concepts representing intermediate conditions between the extremes
of each concept pair are automatically excluded, or at best can only be handled
inadequately with the use of neologisms which are themselves suspect. It is
the purpose of this paper to suggest that such two- term conceptual straight-jackets
are a direct impediment to creative thinking about the new forms of international
social organization needed to respond to the increasing number and complexity
of world problems. Just as it has been said that many organizations in existence
today are memorials to old social problems, so it could be said that many categories
in use today are memorials to old insights into the complexity of society, How
has this come about and what can be done to remedy the situation ? In answering
these questions and suggesting a solution, we shall make extensive use of the
arguments made by Edward de Bono in a series of books (Edward de Bone. The Use
of Lateral Thinking. 1967. The Mechanism of Mind, London. 1969; Lateral
Thinking; a textbook of creativity. 1970; Po. beyond YES and NO.
Nature of the difficulty
dealing with our environment we
have developed to perfection, aided by
traditional logic, a method of thinking
which depends upon a thing or quality
belonging or not-belonging to some
category. Intermediate conditions are
not permissable. An organization is
either governmental or it is not. A nation
is an aggressor or it is not. A society
is democratic or it is not. Language
needs such rigid definitions. Otherwise
communication would be impossible.
But creative thinking does not need
them, for rigid-box definitions make the
slow evolution of ideas impossible,
since an idea cannot drift in or out of a
definition but must at all times be either
inside or outside. Similarly new types of
social organization corresponding to
intermediate definitions are also inconceivable. The logical YES/NO thinking
system is excellent for manipulating
information held in fixed categories; it
is not much use in the perception of
new ideas and new ways of organizing
society. The result of our YES/NO
system is that the category systems
become self-perpetuating, since they
control attention. Category patterns
persist even though they are no longer
the best possible arrangement of
information. The effect is cumulative.
Patterns are created, become established and grow even more rigid. Conceptual patterns become reflected in
institutional organizations, legal or
administrative procedure and in educational programs which then help to
perpetuate the original patterns.
A de-patterning device
It would not be worth making the above points unless an interesting solution
had been put forward. Edward de Bono has done just that. He suggests that we
make use of a new word, not as a descriptor (Except to describe the suggested
de-patterning device itself, when it may be used as noun, adjective or adverb.)
but as a means of "
legitimately " placing a "creative " question
mark against the categories and category-systems which have to be used in the
grammatically correct sentences required for effective communication. The new
word is not a neologism in the conventional sense since all neologisms' tend
to be descriptors. The proposed word would have a status similar to the logical
operators AND, NOT, OR, etc which are each the basis for an important conceptual
operation between categories.
The particular world chosen by de Bono is "PO " (This could be considered
as an abbreviation of possible, but de Bono does not mention this, probably
because he wants PO to be free from associations.).
Use of PO
to the list of term-pairs given
in an earlier section we can now illustrate one use of PO by placing it as
follows, between our usual organization
descriptors, for example :
- governmental po nongovernmental
- national po international
- permanent po temporary
PO attacks the distinctions temporarily in order to let the information be
used in a different way. It may also be used to indicate the arbitrariness of
the division. Sometimes it may be the whole division that is arbitrary, at other
times the division is useful on one level but arbitrary if carried to other
levels. In the latter case PO may seem to be pleading for attention to what
unites the fragments rather than what divides them. If so, this is a by-product.
The function of PO is only to challenge the rigidity of the division. These
points are illustrated by de Bono as follows. If one were to say "men PO
women ", this would be the same as saying "
people "or "humanity
". It would, however, be very different from saying "men and women
"(or in the case which interests us "governmental and nongovernmental
organizations "), since this deliberately keeps them distinct in order
to add them together, whereas with PO the distinction itself is questioned.
Using PO suggests that differences might not be very basic, whereas the use
of AND highlights the separate classes as in the case of "a whites and
non-whites ". "Government PO people " would focus attention
on whether there was any common interest between the two. PO is never a judgement,
it is a device for legitimately challenging divisions within a frame of discourse
to see whether any more complex or more useful notions emerge. PO is especially
useful in bringing together those opposite extremes which are created by one
another. In the search for more adequate concepts and forms of social organization,
this is exactly what is required. It could be argued that the open society towards
which we would like to move would be made up of organizations and organization
networks with the following characteristics :
governmental po nongovernmental
- permanent po temporary
- formal po informal
- recognized po unrecognized
- autonomous po dependent.
One does not want to lose the distinctness of each extreme, but to keep it
and still show that an organizational system can be both of these things at
once. It is the division and separateness ("
the apartheid ") that is
attacked by PO, and not the nature of the two qualities.
Interrelationship of diverse forms of organization
PO could also be used to question creatively the conceptual barriers which
are imposed between a wide variety of forms of social organization. In each
society many forms of organization flourish. In a given society, however,
some may be more prevalent than others. It is most important to note that
different forms of organization can substitute for one another. So that in
one society a particular function may
be mainly performed by A-type forms of organization, whereas in another the
same functions may be mainly performed by B-type and C-type forms. In the diagram
(below), the central core represents the conventional, "
permanent ", highly-visible
organizations with which everyone is familiar. The sectors around it represent
a selection of different forms of organization which may substitute for some
conventional organizations under certain circumstances. In each sector an attempt
has been made to indicate some specific types of substitute organization, many
of which have well-established names (neologisms are shown in parentheses) (This
section and in particular the following paragraphs have been adapted from :
Anthony Judge and Kjell Skjelsbaek. Transnational associations and their functions.
In: A.J.R. Groom and Paul Taylor (Ed). Functionalism; theory and practice in
international relations. University of London Press, 1974.).
Diagram illustrating the various additional categories of organization
which are important to the functioning of the social system and which
may substitute for one another or for conventional organizations.
One example of how a need satisfied by a conventional organization may be satisfied
by a functional equivalent in the table is the case of a "
In one setting it may be necessary to have interaction between members via an
"organization ", while in another the need for such interaction may
be satisfied by a journal to which individuals can subscribe. Another example
is the case of an "agreement " which may be considered an hyperformal
organization. In one setting a written or even verbal agreement may satisfactorily
regulate relations between members, in another an equivalent agreement may have
to be administered by a secretariat via an organization. Where formal agreement
is not possible, an "organization " may even perform the necessary
mediating or negotiating functions between its members. A final example is the
case of a meeting, and particularly large regular meetings, in a series. In
terms of activity, this may be more significant than a small normally constituted
One consequence of focusing on conventional organizations only is that functional
equivalents, particularly in non-Western cultures, are excluded from the analysis,
thus introducing cultural bias and jeopardizing comparative studies. Another
consequence is that even within a certain culture an "
" will exclude many styles of organization performing functions which mesh
with those of the organizations we are trying to isolate for closer scrutiny,
thus rendering the analysis incomplete. A complicating feature is that a conventional
organization may, for example, perform functions for a "
at the same time produce a periodical which serves as a focal point for a
"subscribership " which is not identical nor coterminous with the
membership. A further complicating feature derives from the dynamics of a social
system in that the growth or decay of a particular organization form may be
accompanied by transference of functions to another organization form, for instance
due to change in technology. The ability to accomplish this transference may
be hindered by inertial features, such as vested interests identified with particular
patterns of organization.
Because we are trapped within our categorical straightjackets we are unable
to appreciate fully the complex and subtle ways in which the various forms of
organization share and switch the burden of particular social functions between
them. Proposals for social change therefore tend to be based on a rather myopic
vision of the functions currently performed by a limited number of conventional
organizations, rather than on a panoramic view of the rich and complex organizational
ecosystem in which many species flourish and interact. Perhaps discussion of
the need for PO can help us to complexify our conceptual systems.