Some things are concrete, whilst others are wisps of ideas: confusion may arise when we confuse the two. One reason for this confusion is the elasticity of the language that we use to describe things. Some words mean a thing, whilst others mean a space that a thing may exist within!
Take the word ‘Chair’: most of us would agree that it is a thing that you sit on. Mostly they have four legs, although three will suffice. Or occasionally two. But you definitely sit upon it. There is a core concept of a ‘chair’ that we can probably all agree on, and hence the word suffices in day to day use. But what about the table: if i sit on it, does that make it a chair? Some people may say yes, others would say no. And probably no amount of logic will change either of our minds.
A table is at least a piece of furniture: what about a grassy forest knoll: if i sit on that, is it a chair? Or is the ground simply something that chairs (or tables) may sit upon? You can carry pretty much any concept to absurdity.
Closer to our Organisational homes, the notion of a radial concept may help us to understand forces like fairness, trust, or power. They are used often as if they are a ‘thing’ (like a chair), and yet in practice, they are often more like tables or grassy knolls: subsets of a shared reality that make perfect sense to me (because i’m sat upon it).
The elasticity of understanding may sound like a bad thing, and yet in many ways it’s a feature of language and meaning that allows us to operate efficiently (or indeed, operate at all). Yes: chairs may be covered in velvet or crocodile skin, have three legs or six and may indeed be made out of logs on the forest floor, but for all practical purposes, if i offer you a chair, you do at least expect to be able to sit on it.
The trick may be for us to understand, to diagnose, when we are operating within a shared conceptual understanding, or when we are operating within the outer layers, where our shared view may be incomplete.
Radial understanding may be why, within Organisations that articulate a common language of culture, in reality we see widely divergent expression: they are all ‘describing their chair’, and yet in different, regionalised, divergent versions of the truth. All of which are elastically connected to the broadcast central concept.