Cutting up an Ox

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This article has been removed. An edited version appears in the book, The People’s Scrum, published by Dymaxicon, May 2013.
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Read original comments…

This is a repost of an article I wrote in 2005. The current coaching gig I have, within a large, monolithic organization, brought the described approach to mind, and I felt this article deserved a second airing in the blogosphere.

I recently re-discovered the Taoist poem, Cutting Up an Ox (reproduced below) and recognized in it a pattern for how I’d like to introduce agility into an organization. The poem really speaks for itself in explaining this, but I’ll add a few words of commentary here.

An organization, on first encounter, appears as one mass – or [http://agilethinking.net/orgblob.html” target=”_blank”] blob; through working with the individuals, especially (but certainly not exclusively) those at a grass roots level the distinctions become apparent. Lines, channels of communication, begin to emerge and communication blocks are unearthed. The organizational flow (or lack thereof) becomes apparent. At this stage it is tempting to believe that the solutions are obvious, and to want to go in with advice – and change things. This is too soon, perhaps. Maybe, like the cook in the poem, we need to wait until we ‘see nothing’, but begin to apprehend in a new way altogether. Then perhaps the solutions will find themselves. Life flows.

Given the space, given trust, people will inevitably behave in the right way; it is in our natures to seek harmony. When the knife blade is ‘thin and keen’, it almost doesn’t hurt at all: it is invisible. As coaches sometimes all we need to do is pause, barely move the blade, and simply watch the barriers fall away. That place of trust will not be reached without effort, and there is much groundwork to be done to prepare the path.

The process begins with quiet listening; it does not begin with loud instruction.

One response to “Cutting up an Ox

  1. Hey Tobias – this has always been one of my favourite passages in the Chuang Tzu! You’re bang on about the temptation to fix things – you should check out Robert Kegan/Lisa Lahey’s work on transformational languages. Makes the point that when you solve a problem, you’ve lost something – the problem! In our rush to fix things we often lose something of value that could have taught us more, if only…

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