Employers and employees may still be reeling from the global financial crisis (GFC), but it's not all doom and gloom. Tyrone Pitsis argues it's time to embrace the uncertainty and build a bright new future.

width=226Fear becomes an idea in our heads; an idea that once seeded is very difficult to deny its reality.

Franklin D Roosevelt once said, the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. I think of this line in terms of the reactions and responses to recent happenings like the GFC, swine flu, climate change and terrorism. The typical human response to such great uncertainty is on the one hand fear and anxiety, and on the other a frantic search for information and knowledge.

The generation and provision of information and knowledge is a contested space. In leadership it is all about how stories are told, generated and handled. For many, there is a great sense of fear and anxiety about the current economic state of affairs. A fear that is being fuelled by our leaders and the media.

If I was to be cynical, I might argue fear is one of the most effective forms of managerial and social controls available. The reason it is so powerful is that fear requires the person experiencing it to give it life and a sense of reality. Fear becomes an idea in our heads; an idea that once seeded is very difficult to deny its reality.

For many people the GFC might be seen as a time to tighten the belt, rationalise resources and cease any organisational behaviour not explicitly related to the business objectives of maintaining profit. At the personal level, people might see it as a time to keep their head down, follow the rules and be thankful they actually have a job. I see it differently.

In times of great uncertainty, I urge people to think entrepreneurially, to be creative and most of all develop and share ideas. Organisations are full of wonderfully creative people who have ideas, and the current climate is ideal for businesses to at least talk about doing things differently. If managers, leaders and owners view their staff as a font of knowledge and as active agents in the creation and innovation of services, products, policies, practices and processes; well, our imagination becomes the limit to our future.

Positive organisation scholarship (POS), which is the organisational studies off-shoot of positive psychology, offers great insights and possibilities for the management and organisation of ideas, and the people who have them.

Where mainstream psychology is about eradicating negative phenomena - such as depression, anxiety and jealousy - in order to promote 'normal' functioning, the modus operandi of positive psychology is, quite simply and crudely, to identify and foster those things that make us 'above' normal.

POS is concerned with the generative and positive aspects of organisations and their members. As a POS scholar, my primary concerns are ideas, their anatomy - how they happen, how they live and how they die - and the possibilities they generate.


Dr Tyrone Pitsis

Simply stated, ideas are the fantasies, dreams, shocks, realisations, inspirations and novel thoughts that reside at the most intimately personal level. Ideas are the essence of individuality and core to our sense of identity. However there is tension in transferring, transporting and sharing ideas beyond the intensely personal level, to one that is social.

Increasingly, studies from a POS approach are showing when people exist in an open, collaborative, trusting environment, where what they do matters and is valued and respected, ideas - and hence innovation and creativity - become common practice.

As part of an international team - including UTS's Stewart Clegg, Arne Carlsen and Grete Hakonsen from SINTEF (Scandinavia's largest independent research organisation) and Elena Antonacopoulou from GNOSIS at the University of Manchester in the UK - I am currently investigating 'idea work'. The concept refers to the practices and processes of organisational life in which ideas are central. It includes but is not limited to how ideas emerge, are managed, dispersed and realised.

Ideas are crucial to all types of organisations, not just creative industries where much of the research, theory and practice about ideas reside. Organisations can and should be exciting, vibrant and engaging places for the generation of ideas that promote the co-creation of wonderful opportunities, be they at a very small or global scale.

Individuals with ideas are key to core organisational capabilities, but are also prone to suffocation by organisational, managerial and individual level routines, systems, and practices. While organisations cannot stop people dreaming about possible futures, they can severely affect what is dreamt. The ability to identify and handle ideas and the people that have them is one of the most striking challenges facing leadership. People with ideas and the organisations that promote them are an absolute necessity for all areas of society, especially business. Times of uncertainty are a prime opportunity for exploration and innovation.

To put it succinctly, investigating ideas from a POS perspective is a 'really good' idea. Investing in people with ideas is an even better one.

Dr Tyrone Pitsis
Co-Director, Centre for Management and Organisation Studies, Faculty of Business