mardi 20 mars 2012

Paradoxes et management

Je vous propose un petit billet (que j'ai fait en anglais) sur les paradoxes et le management. C'est une courte introduction sur la notion de paradoxe, qui présente quelques paradoxes organisationnels et qui débouche sur une question fondamentale en management : que doit faire un manager si le management est en lui-même paradoxal?
Logical paradox

The term paradox literally means "contrary to received opinion or expectation" (after the ancient Greek paradoxa, para "by the side of", hence "alongside of", "by", "past", "beyond", and doxa "opinion").

In logic, a paradox is “an apparently absurd or self-contradictory statement or proposition, or a strongly counter-intuitive one, which investigation, analysis, or explanation may nevertheless prove to be well-founded or true”.

Common themes in paradoxes include self-reference, infinity, circular definitions, and confusion of levels of reasoning. Other paradoxes involve false statements or half-truths and the resulting biased assumptions

Famous instances of logical (or semantic) paradoxes are statements such as :

  •   “this sentence is false”: if this sentence is true, then it is true that this sentence is false; that is, this sentence is false. If this sentence is false, then it is false that this sentence is false; then, this sentence is true.

  •   “the set of all sets that are not members of themselves”: such a set appears to be a member of itself if and only if it is not a member of itself; hence the paradox.

Famous examples of paradoxical “situations” are:

  •    Achilles and the tortoise : Achilles and a tortoise have a race. Achilles, being the fastest runner in Athens allows the tortoise some heads’ start. For Achilles to win, he must first reach the tortoise’s starting position; but, by the time he does, the tortoise has moved to a new position. By the time Achilles reaches that new position, the tortoise has moved a little further. Although the tortoise’s extra distances ahead become smaller and smaller, it looks as if they must go on for ever. Hence, it seems, Achilles cannot reach the tortoise, let alone win the race.

  •    A heap of grains – say it is a million seeds – remains a heap even with one grain removed. One grain does not make a difference between a heap and just a few grains. From the heap, remove one. We retain a heap. Removing another should, therefore, still leave us with a heap – and it does. And so we continue the process – yet, of course, we end up without a heap. We end up heapless!


Organizational paradox

More generally, a paradox is “a proposition or statement that is (taken to be) actually self-contradictory, absurd, or intrinsically unreasonable”.

Organizations are full of paradoxes as understood in this generic sense, that is as contradictory, or even mutually exclusive elements. The next figure presents instances of such organizational paradoxes.




Management could be considered in itself a paradox. Indeed, if managers do not do things but get things done, what is the role/function/usefulness/value added of managers?

So, if management is itself paradoxical and if managers have to take care of organizational paradoxes, what is it that managers can/must do?


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