Home | Blog | In Memoriam | Jay Galbraith (1939-2014)

In Memoriam | Jay Galbraith (1939-2014)

jay w border copyMost Enneagrammers will not recognize Jay’s name, though most OD (organization development) professionals who have been in the field for 20+ years will instantly remember Jay’s massive contributions, particularly in the area of organization design, strategy and structure. He influenced the way I think more than any other person I have ever met and so I wanted to honor him with this blog.

My history with Jay goes back almost 30 years when I met him, me as a mid-thirty year-old and him, with an area expertise so far different from mine. He had an engineering mind, as did many early OD consultants, and mine was a human relations mindset, as many other OD professionals also held.

Over the years that I knew him well, he taught me how to make a fire that would last, how to think about patterns, and the importance of strategy in just about everything.

Once I was making a fire very poorly, and Jay showed me in five minutes how to make a fire that would last. “Think in triangles. Everything is a triangle.” Essentially, he said that a fire started with a flat elevated surface of easy-burning small pieces of wood (a platform) under which paper was placed. On top of the flat elevated wood, wood pieces needed to be placed in a triangular solid (like an teepee). Lighting the paper then lit the flat wood that then ignited the triangular wood. Over time, I became quite a good fire maker, but Jay’s simple lesson was about more than wood fires. It was about having a strategic understanding (in this case, triangles) from which structure followed. About the importance of triangles: future state, present state, transition state; thesis, antithesis, synthesis; three centers of intelligence – head, heart, and body. Triangles and sets of three are everywhere. Now, I almost always look for threes and especially triangles!

Jay was master of understand the meaning of data; he viewed organizations as information processing entities. He would say there was a pattern in all data, and there were patterns of patterns. Then, there were patterns of the patterns of the patterns, and so forth. This was and has continued to be an extraordinarily useful way of thinking for me. Organizational data analysis is all about the meaning of the patterns of the data, whether it be financial, decision-making, or relational data. You just have to step back far enough to glean the patterns of patterns. And so I began to become passionate about and really good at data collection and data analysis. Two points do not necessarily make a line. Three points might make a line. More data and the line, if there is one, becomes apparent. Or maybe it’s a triangle, or even some shape not apparent to the unobservant eye.

The Enneagram is all about patterns, nine different patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving. There are patterns within the patterns, which has really useful in being able to decipher type from behavior. The behavior of two people who are the same Enneagram type may be different, but the pattern of their behavior is the same. One person may withdraw while the other may speak out, but the pattern of thinking and feeling beneath may be the same.

Patterns are also abundant in nature, in art and in music, if we just look for them without placing our pre-made notion of pattern upon them. Patterns are also useful in understanding politics. Here is one pattern Jay often highlighted: split-level power. In this idea, if one organizational level has a great deal of power, the layer above it and below it does not. As the pattern emerges, the next level down would be fairly powerful but the layer below that one, not so much.

Recently, a younger friend was pursuing a grievance against a university, a very difficult situation for her. Using Jay’s split-level power concept, she and I could easily predict the university’s decision making and appeal results even before they had occurred. For example, if the faculty were powerful, the dean level above would not be, but the provost level above the dean would be so. This power analysis (pattern analysis) was extraordinary in its accurate assessment of the situation, its prediction of the outcome, and my friend’s ability to understand what she was dealing with.

This can be used to understand how power works in government or even the IEA (International Enneagram Association). You just have to understand the levels accuracy, make a determination of where there is a powerful level within the layers, and then work upwards and downwards. It is pretty awesome.

Few, if any, wars have been won without a strategy. Rarely has an organizational change succeeded without a strategy driving it. Few organizations last very long if they don’t have a focused strategy. Strategy tells us what we should pay attention to, our high leverage areas. It is from strategy and only strategy that we can structure ourselves to execute well and know what action to take (or not to take).

Jay understood this so clearly and firmly that he had absolute certainty and he had a way of explaining it so it was absolutely clear to the listener. The importance of strategy applies to all aspects of our lives, from how to deal with your career, how to design an organization, where to go on vacation, how to deal with a difficult challenge, and so forth. With a carefully conceived and effective strategy, execution becomes straightforward. When I first joined the IEA Board of Directors in the early 2000s, we recreated and resurrected the organization through the strategic approach (using vision first, then strategy); I work with clients constantly with these concepts; I run my own business this way; and I teach strategy in my leadership Train-the-Trainer program on the Enneagram and leadership.

Jay’s legacy
Jay left a legacy of books and theories that have stood the test of time. He certainly left an intellectual legacy in me and I am sure, many others. He was also smart, unpretentious, and a little shy. I knew him before I knew the Enneagram, but I think of him as likely an Enneagram Five, a lovely person who wanted to share what he knew with the world.

Leave a Reply

Notify of