This week’s blog is inspired by the conversation Scott Allen and I had with Jimmy Parker, We Have a Measurement Problem. Parker identifies a number of measurement problems in the field of organizational development. There are a number of related issues, like how development itself is poorly understood in the context of organizations. His literature review and his own robust attempt to address this deficit in the field ended with the conclusion that such measures were overly representing individual differences in development.

While there are many fascinating aspects of Jimmy’s groundbreaking and robust research (you can find his dissertation here and related video and slides here), today I want to zoom out a bit and address the issue of measurement more philosophically. This is in part a long-time interest of mine, as for instance I have never been fond of definitions per se, finding them reductionistic and problematic in a variety of ways.

There has also been some public debate about adult development in general, with one of the concerns raised being about the urge to measure. I won’t try to cover those arguments here, instead focusing on my own concerns about measurement in general.

My main perspective on this come from my long interest in David Bohm’s inquiries into physics. His last book, The Undivided Universe, as well as his landmark Wholeness and the Implicate Order, laid a foundation for understanding that while reality is an undivided wholeness, our minds, or Thought as a System, is inherently limited. Thus, there is a need to draw lines that are fundamentally artificial. It is these lines that our minds need to function, and such lines are the basis of measurement.

As Bohm notes, there is not a problem with this. The problem lies in our forgetting the unreal nature of the reifications of our mental abstractions and taking them to be reality. This is the basis of objectification. This objectification has been discussed by many, such as Martin Buber and the Arbinger Institute, talking about I-thou versus I-it relationships. Our forgetting about wholeness and overly relying on the reified objects our minds create becomes a fundamental problem in human relationships.

The antidote mentioned in the conversation with Jimmy Parker is perspectival humility. Our perspectives, opinions etc., all entail a degree of ignorance inherent in the over reliance on the mind. Holding our perspectives with humility can go a long ways towards engaging others to see their wholeness. It is not that we should not take perspectives and have opinions. It is just to be cautious about being too attached to them. When this happens, we can get identified with them and then defend them beyond reason even in the face of evidence to the contrary.

The phrase I took from our earlier conversation with Aidan Harney is to have a stance of passionately detached curiosity. Coupled with perspectival humility, we can continue to inquire deeply and play with perspectives. At the same time, we can remember that people and things are both more than we can think they are.