Interpersonal Mush

I’ll take a break from the EAI crash course today, it’s Sunday, after all 🙂 .

I’ve just finished re-reading Clear Leadership by Gervase R. Bushe. He’s talking about interpersonal mush as being all the misconceptions and fantasies we all carry around about our colleagues, which creates a sort of haze in an organization. This mush makes it hard to make clear decisions, know who’s responsible for carrying them through, actually follow through on decisions that we all verbally agreed on and a lot of other stuff that members of any organization muddling along will recognize as more or less natural law, because we’ve never seen any alternatives.

I remember reading this book a couple of years back when we were only a handful of people and thinking that yes, I could recognize this from numerous (if not all) client companies I’ve ever worked with, but we were somehow magically spared from this mush. Well, since then we’ve grown, and sure enough, as we become more and more people sincerely pushing for growth and change with lots of good will, no matter how well intentioned we are, the mush creeps in.

Reading the book is a real eye-opener. It illustrates how certain basic human wiring will inevitably lead to interpersonal mush, unless we are aware of how we, as human beings, work and apply some disciplined techniques in our dealings with each other.

One of the most blazing revelations I had when I re-read the book has to do with what Gervase calls organizational learning. He outlines how we, when we try to decide a course of action, will operate from more or less clear maps of cause and effect. We will almost never try to uncover our conflicting maps (i.e. you have an idea of what will cause a desired outcome different from mine). Instead we will argue around superficial aspects of the problem, never really getting to the core problem, which is our differing perceptions of what will work and what will not. Gervase suggests techniques for uncovering those maps, until we reach the core assumptions. More likely than not, we will realize that either there will be facts supporting both assumptions, or (maybe most commonly) no facts. So what we’ll do is we make a best guess at what set of assumptions are most likely true, decide a course of action as an experiment, and agree to revisit our decision to see if the experiment confirmed or falsified our theories, always ready to change direction if our assumptions turn out to be false. In my view, this notion of decision-making as a constant process of experimenting and adjusting according to the results is the only way to navigate the uncharted waters of the precarious and ever-changing sea of business in the 21 century. The days when “experts” could be trusted with rational decision-making are over – we are all in this together, and all good ideas need to be floated and assessed for a company to flourish and gain competitive edge.

Now, for this to work at all, without people feeling threatened and guarding their pet theories in the face of evidence against them, a climate of interpersonal clarity (as opposed to interpersonal mush) must be established. Gervase paints a very convincing picture of both why the mush appears and how we can get rid of it.

For the interested reader, here is a paper outlining some of what’s in the book.

4 responses to “Interpersonal Mush

  1. Martin, what do mean with mush? Never heard that word before and the online dictionaries just say things like:

    1: a thick porridge made with cornmeal boiled in water or milk
    2: something soft and spongy or shapeless
    3 a: weak sentimentality : drivel b: mawkish amorousness

    As I believe that you’re not writing about cornmeal porridge it would be nice with some clearance. 🙂


  2. Well, ‘mush’ is not my invention, but word used un the book. But I think the second explanation above is the most accurate. Since you know Swedish, I may also offer a translation: mos, röra.
    In this context it is something thick and shapeless getting in the way of clarity between people.


  3. OK, well that makes sense. Thank you!

  4. Hi,
    If you are interested to know more about Clear Leadership, please do not hesitate to contact Clear Lernings partner i Scandinavia – Provins fem AB.

    Erik Edhag

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