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zone theory

interaction between different styles of activity

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negative discourses
zonal issues
Technology Transfer
Lacan's Four Discourses
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We identify four zones: Modelling, Learning, Planning and Implementation. These zones may be combined synchronically or diachronically.

Each zone has its own characteristic discourse: Understanding, Knowledge, Action and Change.

4 discourses - understanding, knowledge, action, change

veryard projects - innovation for demanding change

Zonal Intervention

veryard projects > change > zones > intervention

Intervention to enhance capability demands activity across four zones. Each zone is characterized by a different discourse, a specific process of argument (or dialectic) having a particular perspective and goal.
The discourse of understanding is an analytical one, concerned with gaining systematic insight. It is also a catalytical one, concerned with stimulating the recognition of opportunities. This discourse is commonly associated with the consultant's mode of operation, talking about the underlying causes and structures, and building conceptual models.
The discourse of action is about decisive exploitation of knowledge in a specific context. This discourse is commonly associated with the behaviour of managers as agents, talking about the solutions, designing and planning actions for their construction and implementation. Debates between management and trades unions are commonly held within the discourse of action, with labour representatives using the language of management to discuss management decisions. (Of course, these debates are often conflictual, but even conflict requires a common language.)
The discourse of change is about 'symptoms', and their 'treatment', 'relief' or 'cure'. This discourse belongs to the organization itself, talking about a (presenting) problem or opportunity that requires attention or change.. (In many organizations it is a discourse of resistance - the cultural or technological legacies that serve to resist and frustrate any action.) This is what 'speaks' to the consultant. 
The discourse of knowledge is about knowledge-as-product, which should be generalized or generalizable. That which can be illustrated or theorized in academic papers, contained in text books, taught to students, or even tested in examinations. This discourse belongs in part to business schools and universities, but is also partly contained within any 'learning organization', talking about the general scientific or practical lessons that can be extracted from the other three discourses (by induction), and then fed back in (by deduction). 

These four discourses also correspond to a set of stereotypes: the superintelligent but passive consultant who appears in many anti-consultant jokes, the 'strong' manager who believes only in action and despises reflection, the organization that frustrates or counteracts any positive intervention, the business school that teaches simplistic frameworks and generalized slogans.

Descriptions of the four-discourse structure often (or, as some would argue, always) tend to privilege one of the four discourses. For example, discussing this under the heading of 'Organizational Change' privileges the CHANGE discourse.

veryard projects - innovation for demanding change

Negative discourses

veryard projects > change > zones > negative discourses

In the previous section, the four discourses were described in positive terms. Understanding, action, change and knowledge - these are all Good Things. We should remember that each of these discourses contains its opposite: In many organizations, these negative forms of the discourses will be more familar than the positive forms.

We are implying an ethic in which the positive discourses are better than the negative ones: thus understanding is better than misunderstanding, and so on. We are also implying an epistemology in which the positive discourses can be distinguished objectively from the negative ones: thus change is objectively different to inertia. Who would question these two implications?

veryard projects - innovation for demanding change

Zones and Competences

veryard projects > change > zones > competences

The four zones identified on this page can be mapped onto Kolb’s four-part model of experiential learning, in which he identifies four practical (management) competencies relevant to four modes of experience (learning styles). Kolb’s work is widely referenced in the field of management development and training.
Implementation Learning Modelling Planning
Change Knowledge Understanding  Action
Locus of Specialization
The organization itself The business school The consultant The manager
Mode of Experience (Learning Style)
Concrete Reflective Abstract conceptualization Active experimentation
Competence (Kolb)
Affective (e.g. being sensitive to people’s feelings) Perceptual (e.g. gathering information) Symbolic (e.g. building conceptual models) Behavioural (e.g. making decisions)
more Management Competence and Personality Style
Kolb on Creativity and Integrity

veryard projects - innovation for demanding change

Zonal Issues

veryard projects > change > zones > issues

Various issues gravitate towards particular zones.  Or contrariwise, the discourse in each zone problematizes certain issues:
project zone discourse issues
Implementation Zone Change ecological issues: problem, stakeholder, benefit, cost, risk, ... 
Learning Zone Knowledge epistemological issues: progress, paradigm, commodity fetish, ownership, ...
Planning Zone Action ethical issues: authority, responsibility, agency, ...
Modelling Zone Understanding practical issues: perspective, purpose, reflexivity, ...
more Four Zones of Modelling

Four Zones of Technology Transfer

Lacan's Four Discourses


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This page last updated on June 16th, 2003
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