Monday, 19 September 2011

Can structure in poetry give us any clues for organisations?

Here's a poet writing about structure:


'Purpose is predominantly communicated through structure. It is through structure that a piece of writing releases its information to the reader. Most simply, structure is strategy imposed upon time.'


That comes from an essay called 'Writing the Reader's Life' in Stephen Dobyns' fine book of essays on poetry, Best Words, Best Order, but it struck me when I read it the other day that it could also be said of an organisation or a business.


Any organisation structure says something about the organisation, and about how it thinks the world works, as does how we structure the audience or participant experience. (You might, in this context, describe 'strategy' or as being 'how we think our world will/should work' or 'how we intend to work in this world to achieve our goals'.) One of the noticeable things in a number of the case studies Tony Nwachuwku and I researched for our recent paper was the deliberate openness and flatness of many of the structures. This helped avoid silos building up and encouraged networks, communication and customer-focus. This becomes harder to maintain as organisations become bigger, but definitely seems to have benefits for small to medium-sized organisation. The nature of the offer to the audience or partners is often also visible through structure - is it clear, is it easy or user-friendly, for instance - or is it clunky and layered, with frustrated or confused decision-making - the 'I'll have to talk to my manager/take it to Senior Management' syndromes?


Finally, I really like Dobyn's description of structure as strategy imposed upon time. In his essay this is mainly the time it takes to read a poem - reading as time-based experience, with structure playing with expectation and surprise. But it also makes me think of the way structures are best seen as temporal, maybe even temporary, rather than fixed. Among other things this reminds us that structure is there to serve the purpose and the work, not the other way round, as true in business as it is in poetry.


(Picture above from a fascinating article by Bill Benzon at http://new-savanna.blogspot.com/2011/08/pursuing-lust-in-web-of-language.html, used under Creative Commons.)

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