Self-organising complex marketing systems LO26620

From: Robert McDonald (
Date: 05/04/01

Replying to LO26614 --

Hi Gavin,

Re: The discussion on whether marketing can be a system

Thank you for your response. My purpose in writing originally was to
address the very point that you make in your note, that most people in
business (I don't think marketers have cornered the market (UGH) on this)
do not think systematically about the organization. In fact, until I
expanded beyond my engineering training during an MBA program, I didn't
truly understand the holistic picture of an organization.

I always try to explain to my students that the reason for a business
degree is to develop skills in ALL of the major disciplines necessary to
successfully manage a business/organization. We also need to understand
the environment that the organization functions in because it affects the
organization and is affected in return. To paraphrase the zen master
Thich Nhat Hanh, the organization and its environment "inter-are."

Just as ocean waves cannot be separated from the ocean water, so too no
organization can exist as a single discipline, whether it be marketing,
management, finance, accounting, or info systems. To extend the human
body analogy that you put forth, the body has multiple systems:
circulatory, respitory, neurological, lymph, digestive (many people think
this is marketing), musculoskeletal. The body needs all of these in
working order to survive. None can stand alone.

I'm not sure that any system can stand alone, including the human body, or
its cells. Of course we isolate these "systems" to develop personal
mastery in them. An orthopaedist can't divert her attention from the
study of bone and muscle to become an expert in the circulatory system.
However, that surgeon better know how to control bleeding and infection
for the overall good of the patient. That is the same approach that we
need to take in business schools, and I believe that it is what is
generally intended.

Rather than trying to be self-serving, the market orientation stream of
research focuses on the point of looking beyond the organization to its
environment. It supports the notion that a market orientation leads to
improved organizational performance. Focusing on customers, competitors,
and other external factors is the first discipline. A related stream of
research in the field is organizational learning. Yet another from the
field of economics is absorptive capacity, an organization's ability to
absorb and utilize/transform external knowledge.

Peter Drucker wrote that the only two fundamental functions of a business
are "marketing and innovation." In the more than four decades since he
made that statement, I believe that we are improving on our understanding
of what marketing is. Marketing is a discipline, a skill that can help
many different kinds of organizations, but clearly not the only one.

As an example of my point on governments' use of these skills: just as a
business will study its present and potential customers to determine what
products to sell, a city goverment might study its constituents' needs for
such services as a new hospital, mass transit system, or perhaps a much
needed professional sport facility. The city will then decide which
projects should be pursued to do the most good with limited resources
(finance comes in here), just as a business would decide which product to
make and sell. The city might even promote/advertize the new facility if
a bond issue vote is required.

As a recovering engineer and aspiring marketing academic, I appreciate
Scott Adams' portrayals of the conflicts between engineering and
marketing. I have even heard of an organizational health index called the
Dilbert scale. The more Dilbert cartoons posted in an office, the bigger
their problems. This is systematic of the isolationist or functionally
bounded thinking that is prevalent in many businesses. When an interview
subject used the term silos to represent this phenonmenon, I asked if he
meant missle silos. (This was before reading Senge.) He chuckled and said
that unfortunately, it does escalate to that level sometimes. The
solution is of course systems thinking, and that is why we are here, no?

Please excuse the spelling errors, as I have no spell check function in
this email program, and am a notoriously bad speller. I've enjoyed the
postings that I have read in the week or so that I've been on the list,
although I don't have the poetic chops to truly appreciate some of them.
Now I have this little matter of a dissertation to tackle.

Keep on learning,

Bob McDonald
Fellow Student


Robert McDonald <>

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