Evaluating OL, OL definition across cultures LO26268

From: Don Dwiggins (d.l.dwiggins@computer.org)
Date: 03/04/01

Replying to LO26239 --

Sajeela prods me gently thus:
> Having seen these now Dwig, please say more about how this impacts your
> work with organizations and this passage from your post:
>> (Oddly enough, while we seem to be in an abstract, speculative place, I
>> find these two themes constantly staring at me when looking at
>> individual or organizational dysfunctions.

This'll be a bit rambling, but I'll forge ahead; feel free to skip around
or drop out at any point (as though I could order otherwise 8^).

On poly-temporal/polychronic:

Your descriptions of two "chronic" cultures illustrates one aspect of the
well-known principle (all too often honored in the breach rather than the
observance) that different types of task call for different working
styles. In particular, the Monochronic attributes apply well to software
developers, who work best when in a state of flow for hours at a time.
I'd say the Polychronic attributes are more typical of e.g. administrators
and managers (especially the "one minute" kind). (Actually, I'm thinking
of 1 and 2 here; I'm not so sure whether 3 and 4 fit too well.)

Actually, I was thinking about other distinctions in views of time, e.g.:

Units of time: we tend to think about everything in terms of the units of
our immediate experience: minutes, hours, days, ... up to a year or so.
However, different units are appropriate depending on what you're thinking
about. At one extreme, geologists and astronomers work in terms of
millions and billions of years -- a millenium is simply too short a time
to be useful. At the other extreme, particle physicists work on scales
below the nanosecond level. (I suppose this could be considered another
sense of "polychronic".)

So, what units should senior managers of large corporations work with?
For example, how do you reconcile starting and managing an expensive
multi-year project with a corporate "planning horizon" of less than a
year? Or, how long should it take before a change initiative begins to
show effects? How long before it can be considered "mature"? Can the
organization sustain the effort and attention needed for the required
amount of time? In my limited experience in this area, I've seen a lot of
lack of attention to this aspect, as well as wishful thinking or even
flat-out denial in the face of the obvious.

I think this is also a factor in valuing actions that have social and
environmental consequences. Our economics is focused mostly on short-term
valuations, so that effects that take years to arise are discounted, if
not completely ignored. If corporations should be considered using
multi-year time units, shouldn't nations be considered in terms of decades
and generations? Here's a challenge for economists: find a way to value
the true costs and benefits of an action across all those who will be
affected, and across the time during which the effects will be noticeable.
Here's a challenge for voters and leaders in a democracy: find a way to
encourage elected officials to think in the appropriate time units, while
keeping office terms short enough to maintain responsiveness.

Subjective experience of time: in some situations, it's less important how
long something actually takes than how long it seems to take. A common
example of this is in software user interface design -- it's well known
that users will accept a response time of many seconds, even a minute or
more, as long as they're getting _some_ feedback. I think there are also
cultural differences here as well, such as the amount of time that
Japanese businessmen are willing to take in a meeting to maintain harmony,
avoid embarrassing anyone, etc., vs. the American "cut to the chase"

On the "different view of the relation of individual to collective":

This is a topic that I've been fascinated with for a while now, at many
levels. Here's a few connections that have come to mind:
- At's repeated theme of "one-to-many mappings"
- the contrast between individualistic and collectivistic cultures
- the dynamics of self-organizing teams, and self-sustaining organizations
- Simon Buckingham's "collapsible corporations" (www.unorg.com, also see his
  contributions to this list of a few years ago -- type "buckingham
  site:www.learning-org.com" into Google.) [without the quote marks ..host]
- the differences (and similarities) between mechanical and organic
  ensembles (Jan Smuts indeed has interesting things to say here; I'm in the
  middle of "Holism and Evolution")
- individual vs. collective salvation. As a teenager, I once wrote "damn
  the individual, but there is salvation for the aggregate"; I've been
  chewing on that thought ever since, and only recently am I beginning to
  get a glimmer of what I might at some point be able to assert with a whole

Elaborating a bit on what I wrote earlier tonight about empowerment, I
think it's important, in understanding or changing any aspect of an
organization, to look at the individuals, the 1-1 relationships, the
one-to-many relationships, and the emergent properties of the
organization. (I'm using "emergent" here in a slightly different sense
than At does when talking about bifurcations. For example, if you
remember (or look up) the thread about "boids", the discussion was about
the emergent properties of the flock arising from the simple behavioral
rules governing each boid.)

I'm also reminded of a thread a while back (as I remember, Doc and Fred
Nickols were the main participants) on whether there is such a thing as
"organizational learning". One (don't remember which) argued the
affirmative, while the other asserted that only people learn, and any
changes in the organization were the result of people's learnings. So,
can learning be an emergent property of collectives?

End of ramble, for this message at least.

> Here's to the wisdom of learning together,

> Sajeela

... and to the joy of it,



Don Dwiggins <d.l.dwiggins@computer.org>

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