The More You Know, the More You See

I was once on a scuba diving trip to the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia, and one of the dive masters who knew a lot about marine life would always say, “The more you know, the more you see.” With over 1,500 species of fish, 1,000 species of mollusks and crustaceans, and 600 species of coral, it was easy for divers to get overwhelmed by the sheer number of types of sea life living on the reef. It was also easy to misidentify species because a diver had an inadequate (or incorrect) knowledge of the taxonomies and empirical and theoretical foundations of marine biology. Before each dive, two marine biologists would give workshops on marine life that taught us how to recognize the differences between the myriad fish, coral, and the other sea life that we would likely encounter during our next dive. This new knowledge paid big dividends because divers were able to identify subtle differences in what formerly seemed like an overwhelming visual array of sea life pulsating on the reef.

The process of assessing and changing organizational culture has some important things in common with this diving example. When first entering an organization, it’s easy for consultants to get overwhelmed by the sheer number of variables because, like the coral reef, even small organizations of less than 100 people are complex goal seeking organisms composed of structures, systems, human performers, and culture. It’s also easy for consultants to misidentify the underlying causes of organizational and individual behavior if they have an inadequate (or incorrect) knowledge of the empirical and theoretical foundations of how organizations work. In the absence of models that are reliable predictors of organizational and human behavior, it’s easy for consultants to misdiagnose what’s actually happening in an organization by focusing on symptoms and causal factors, rather than the underlying “root” causes of organizational performance and culture which are often invisible and function like an Invisible Bureaucracy that frustrates and undermines organizational and individual performance. Reliable empirical and theoretical models help make Invisible Bureaucracy visible, so the more a consultant knows about them, the more they will see in terms of being able to help their clients assess and change organizational culture.

For example, Chris Argyris explores the issue of needing reliable models to see the underlying causes of effective and ineffective organizational and individual behavior in his book, Flawed Advice and the Management Trap. Argyris evaluates representative examples of over 100 books and myriad articles published by the world’s most respected business gurus, and then uses his own theoretical model (theory of action) to evaluate the kind of causal analysis and recommendations for change that these publications give readers. His study includes the likes of Stephen R. Covey, John Kotter, Jon Katzenback, Peter Drucker and other business-literature experts. He concludes that much of the causal analysis and many of the recommendations given by these authors is appealing, and even compelling, but most of it is not actionable. In other words, even if a manager could fully implement the recommendations these business luminaries give them, the resulting corrective actions would not lead to the kind of positive change and sustainable improvement that the authors claim it would.

Argyris concludes that, “Since thoughtful and well-intentioned advice givers do not intentionally offer counsel that is full of gaps and inconsistencies, there must be something in the frameworks on which they rely that makes them unaware of these problems – as well as unaware that they are unaware.” In other words, the “surface theories” that these writers espouse are based on tacit, unexamined assumptions, beliefs, and models that are not reliable in the sense that they do not accurately describe and predict the behavior of organizations and the people in them. So it’s important that consultants understand the tacit, unexamined assumptions, beliefs, and models upon which their causal analysis and recommendations are based by evaluating them against criteria like the ones listed below.


HBR Editor’s Blog

Every month, the senior editors of the Harvard Business Review (HBR) invite internationally recognized organizational theorists and practitioners to raise issues and answer questions about leadership and management issues on the HBR Editor’s Blog. This month, we provide Pinnacle readers with links to two important and interesting discussions (see below).

Daniel Goleman, When Your Business Has Nowhere to Hide
Vineet Nayar, The Long View Versus the Short View

We encourage you to join the conversation on the HBR Editor’s Blog and voice your opinions, commentary, and insights on these and other important topics.


The Breckenridge Institute® has developed a key partnership with the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) which is headquartered in Melbourne, Australia. ACER will be a distributor of the Majors PT-Elements™, Majors PTI™, Majors OEM™, BTI™, and the BRI™ and have qualifying training programs for these instruments. For more information go to or contact Li Lim at
The Breckenridge Institute® has developed a key partnership with Direct Results Asia Pacific Consulting Group which is headquartered in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia. Direct Results will be a distributor of the Majors PT-Elements™, Majors PTI™, Majors OEM™, BTI™, BTI™, and the BRI™ and have qualifying training programs for these instruments. For more information go to or contact Ong Chan at
Mark Bodnarczuk has been invited to speak about his new book, The Breckenridge Enneagram at the upcoming European Type Conference in Berlin in May 2010
For a more complete listing of recently published on-line articles, white papers, and books from the Breckenridge Institute® go to
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Underwater Photo: © Annie Crawley, 2009,


Culture Corner

“We tend to think that we can separate strategy from culture, but we fail to notice that in most organizations strategic thinking is deeply colored by tacit assumptions about who they are and what their mission is.”

Edgar Schein, The Corporate Culture Survival Guide


Majors PT-Elements™

The Breckenridge Institute® is proud to announce the publication of the Majors PT-Elements™ - an online personality assessment tool that is based on the popular Myers and Briggs personality type theory. Developed by Dr. Mark Majors, the Majors PT-Elements™ is a 127-items questionnaire that helps you or your clients learn valuable information about their psychological type (common 16 personality types). The report provides results on the dichotomies of Energy acquisition and distribution, Extraversion (external) and Introversion (internal); Perceiving or attending to information, Sensing and iNtuiting; Deciding or making judgments, Thinking and Feeling; Orientation to living, Judgment and Perception. The reported result for the individual's 16-type indication is given, as well as results on the 32 Elements sub-scales, which illuminate personality differences within the dichotomy or type. In addition, the all new "Elements of Personality Formation™" statements are included in the report which will help you or your clients understand some of the complex ways that they interact with others, and respond to situations. The Majors PT-Elements™ is now available to qualified users 24X7 anywhere in the world with an Internet connection.


Contact Elin Larson at or
1-800-303-2554 for details about how you can begin using this exciting tool in your organization or with your clients.

What We’re Reading

Harry Levinson, Organizational Assessment

A definitive work on conducting organizational assessments, Harvard professor Harry Levinson presents the key elements of analyzing, diagnosing, and improving organizational performance. By integrating concepts from organization development, sociology, systems theory, and psychology Levinson has created a powerful diagnostic method that can be used by consultants and managers alike. Built on extensive research, the book presents both theory and practice and walks readers through the entire assessment process, including: a) conducting interviews, b) observing the actual process of work, communications, and work relationships, c) gathering both quantitative and qualitative data, d) interpreting data, drawing inferences, and arriving at conclusions, e) synthesizing a broad range of information into a comprehensive summary report, f) presenting assessment results to senior managers and staff members, and g) developing effective strategies for change. The book is especially good at helping managers and consultants see below the surface of day-to-day organizational life to the destructive and tacit elements that tend to frustrate and undermine organizational performance. Teaching powerful lessons in the psychology of organizations and the people who inhabit them, Organizational Assessment is a valuable reference tool that readers will refer to again and again.