Alternating between Complementary Images of Coronavirus


Anthony Judge | Laetus in Praesens – TRANSCEND Media Service

Requisite Variety to Enable Viable Strategic Engagement


27 Apr 2020 – The response to the coronavirus, COVID-19 and the pandemic is variously framed in terms of threat, fear, surprise, panic, evil, pestilence, and the like. There is a case for exploring the set of such images as a source of insight in its own right.

The inspiration for such an approach follows from the much-cited study by Gareth Morgan (Images of Organization, 1986), reviewed by Matthew J. Lambert III (A review of Images of Organization, Complicity: An International Journal of Complexity and Education, 6, 2009, 2). It has since been the focus of other works (Anders Örtenblad, et al, Exploring Morgan’s Metaphors: theory, research, and practice in organizational studies, 2016; Gareth Morgan, Reflections on Images of Organization and Its Implications for Organization and Environment. Organization and Environment, 24, 2012, 4). Morgan offers the following frameworks through which organizations can be perceived: machines, organisms, brains, cultures, political systems, psychic prisons, flux and transformation, and instruments of domination.

Presented in this way, the question is through how many distinct frameworks can the coronavirus be fruitfully perceived and what does such an exercise suggest in terms of strategic governance. What might it suggest for future pandemics — COVID-21, COVID-22, etc — or other crises? Although there are many “coronaviruses” (first discovered in the 1930s), it is appropriate to note that “COVID-19” does not imply that there were 18 previous variants (as has been assumed by a Minister for Health), but refers to the year of its detection in 2019 (Simon Harris sorry for ‘awful boo-boo’ about 18 viruses before Covid-19, The Irish Times, 22 April 2020).

In particular are the distinctive frameworks to be understood as complementary in a manner which could recall the fundamental significance of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle as it might have been applied to the psychosocial domain (Garrison Sposito, Does a generalized Heisenberg Principle operate in the social sciences ? Inquiry, 1969). That early possibility is now all the more credible in the light of the arguments from the perspective of international relations of Alexander Wendt (Quantum Mind and Social Science: unifying physical and social ontology, 2015).

Any such reframing of uncertainty would of course be valuable, given the degree of disagreement between health experts on the appropriate strategies of lockdown and social distancing. These they have variously advised governments to adopt — and are in process of clumsily planning to rescind. The resulting chaos of misinformation, fake news. and conspiracy theories, has itself been noted by the UN Secretary-General as highly problematic — in the desperate quest for a unified global response (Hatred going viral in ‘dangerous epidemic of misinformation’ during COVID-19 pandemics, UN News, 14 April 2020). The latter assertion has the unfortunate implication that any criticism of UN-authorised policies is held to be problematic, thereby making questionable UN perspectives as much a part of the problem as of any solution.

Missing at this time is any sense that the distinctive “truths” so vigorously upheld by opposing forces (deprecating each other’s existence) might be better interpreted in the light of some form of probability theory — rather than being necessarily upheld as either true or false. This would be consistent with emerging insight into a so-called “post-truth” context with which people are now obliged to live (Surreal Nature of Current Global Governance as Experienced, 2016; Living with Incomprehension and Uncertainty, 2012; Living as an Imaginal Bridge between Worlds, 2011).

The following argument follows from earlier exploration (using 3D visual models) of the challenge of framing the global strategic response using conventional planning methods constrained by two-dimensional thinking (Coronavirus — Global Plan, Doughnut, Torus, Helix and/or Pineapple? 2020; Engaging Playfully with Coronavirus through “Organizing” Global Governance? 2020).

The emphasis here is that a requisite variety of images to encompass the complexity of the strategic challenge implies the need for a form of “strategic nimbleness” to shift between them, as has been variously articulated (Deborah Ancona, et al, Nimble Leadership, Harvard Business Review, July–August 2019; Burke Powers. Strategic Nimbleness as a Business Culture, Strategic Change Management, 2 August 2005).


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