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veryard projects > demanding change > balance
balance intervention examples material
In general, balance involves identifying a set of elements, and establishing a set of relationships between these elements.

Thus balance is a normative mode of stability, in which the desirable (desired) elements of a system support one another in a "healthy" way.

An enterprise may be balanced or unbalanced.  (This may apply to an organization, a project, a professional practice, or a social institution.)

An unbalanced enterprise may be dysfunctional.  (An obsessively balanced enterprise may also be dysfunctional.)

An intervention may attempt to restore a healthy balance, or may attempt to disrupt an unhealthy balance.

Chinese Elements

chinese balance

Viable Systems Model

Personality Balance (e.g. Belbin, Myers-Briggs)

Left Brain / Right Brain

Healthy / Ideal Balance

Subjects of Balance

Acts of Balance

Tips & Pitfalls


Patterns of Change

veryard projects - innovation for demanding change

Balance - Healthy or Ideal

veryard projects > demanding change > balance > healthy / ideal



A robust and stable set of relationships between parts.
Parts are in good enough proportion and harmony.
Can tolerate small imbalances.
Parts are perfectly in proportion.
Cannot change any part without losing the perfect balance.
Change is inhibited by organizational ideal.

veryard projects - innovation for demanding change

Subjects of Balance

veryard projects > demanding change > balance > subjects

The notion of balance applies to a range of social, technical and sociotechnical constructions.  We are particularly interested in the following subjects.
Organization A persistent social institution.
Practice Such as a professional practice or consultancy method. This may sometimes be represented by an organization, but the practice may be much more widespread. For example, there is a discursive practice associated with the Tavistock Institute. 

Descriptions of such practices are typically one-sided (unbalanced). They focus on a task structure, or a set of notations, or a set of design principles, or the use of particular knowledge, skills or technology. A balanced practice may require a good combination of stuff.

Intervention The interaction between an organization and an external practice.  This intervention itself may or may not possess balance. An unbalanced intervention may have a useful effect, but it may perish before it succeeds. At the extreme is a kamikaze intervention, which is designed to destroy itself. 

veryard projects - innovation for demanding change

Acts of Balance

veryard projects > demanding change > balance > acts

Assessment Practical approach for assessing the relative strengths and weaknesses of each element.  Identifying the immediate implications/ consequences/ symptoms.
Intervention Straightforward interventions (for example, supplying or supplementing the missing element) often fail. Instead, we sometimes have to look for strategic or paradoxical interventions, such as reversal.

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Quotes of Balance

veryard projects > demanding change > balance > quotes

“Ponderous and uncertain is that relation between pressure and resistance which constitutes the balance of power. The arch of peace is mortised by no iron tenons: the monoliths of which it is composed are joined by no cement. Impressive in their apparent solidity, these granite masses lean against each other, thrust resisting hidden thrust. Yet a swarm of summer bees upon the architrave, a runnel of April water through some hidden crevice, will cause a millimetre of displacement, will set these monoliths stirring against each other, unheard, unseen. One night a handful of dust will patter from the vaulting: the bats will squeak and wheel in sudden panic: nor can the fragile fingers of man then stay the rush and rumble of destruction.”
[Harold Nicholson, Public Faces (first published 1932, Penguin edition 1944) pp 111-2]

veryard projects - innovation for demanding change


veryard projects > demanding change > balance > reversal
veryard projects > patterns of change > reversal

Sometimes the most effective intervention into an unbalanced or overbalanced situation is to push the subject the wrong way.  The subject will then mobilize its own strengths to resist this push, resulting in a move in the desired direction.
the Symptom
One of the techniques used exquisitely by the hypnotherapist Milton Erikson was ‘prescribing the symptom’. So instead of preventing the patient doing or thinking X, the therapist may help the patient do or think X more effectively. For example, if a patient is anorexic or overweight, the therapist may demand that the anorexic lose even more weight, or the obese gain even more.

How does this help? Often there are hidden feedback loops that maintain X, and restore X after any intervention designed to reduce X. This is as true of organizations as it is of individual personalities. Prescribing the symptom can have the paradoxical effect of destroying the feedback loop, thus allowing the individual or organization to escape a vicious circle or spiral. The technique also demonstrates that the subject has control over X.

the Problem
A popular creative thinking technique uses reversal, in which the problem is hypothetically inverted for brainstorming purposes. (How could we make this situation worse?)
the Symptom
During the Second World War, Gregory Bateson established a radio station in the Far East, designed to ‘neutralize’ Japanese propaganda. The station’s policy was simple: listen to the Japanese propaganda, and rebroadcast an exaggerated version, pretending to be a Japanese station. This followed the principle of exaggerating the symptom. They assumed that the genuine Japanese radio stations were probably already going to the limits of plausibility; the fake station would therefore push beyond these limits, thus countering the credibility not only of its own stories but also of those broadcast by the genuine Japanese stations.
Some people do the opposite of whatever is suggested to them. This response may be intended to protect them against being influenced by other people, but actually makes it very easy for them to be manipulated.

veryard projects - innovation for demanding change

Tips & Pitfalls

veryard projects > demanding change > balance > tips & pitfalls

  • Recognize your natural preference and style, and its strengths and weaknesses. Recognize that other people have different styles – either natural or adopted for a particular situation.
  • Seek techniques and colleagues that are complementary to your own natural preference and style.
  • Seek situations and tasks that draw on your existing strengths and/or allow you to develop counter-balancing strengths.
  • Be prepared to vary your natural preference and style, in the interests of achieving an overall balance in a task or team.
  • Situations, tasks and teams that are unbalanced. Teams and organizations that lack diversity.
  • Institutional or cultural bias towards one style. Inability to recognize, tolerate or respect complementary styles.
  • Individuals who lack flexibility, because they can only operate in one style, using one set of methods, with colleagues who share a particular mindset.
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This page last updated on July 31st, 2003
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