Communities of Practice LO27103

From: Fred Nickols (
Date: 08/05/01

Replying to D P Dash in LO27093 --

> A. Can organisations do to people what people are capable of doing to
>each other? The answer seems to be 'yes'. Organisations can inspire, make
>one feel secure, give money, as also demotivate, cause stress, take away
>money, etc.

I don't believe that organizations do the things above; I believe that
people do them.

> B. Can organisation takeover part of the responsibility of people? Again
>the answer seems to be 'yes'. Economic organisations take over the
>responsibility of producing everything one needs to consume. Legal
>organisations take over the responsibility of deciding violation of
>codified social norms and awarding suitable penalties. Sports
>organisations take over the organising tasks thus freeing up the players
>to concentrate on playing.

I disagree. People do indeed assign responsibility to organizations;
however, it usually proves devilishly difficult to hold organizations
accountable. Responsibility without accountability strikes me as a
quality shared by many organizations.

> C. Can organisations pass on memories and experience to people? Again the
>answer seems to be 'yes'. In fact, some organisations are created mainly
>for the purpose of passing on experience, e.g., educational organisations.

I still disagree. People pass along memories, organizations don't.
Organizations are indeed created for the purpose of passing along
experience, however, it is the members of the organization (e.g., faculty)
who actually pass along the experience.

> D. Can organisations be influenced by ideology and value systems? Again
>'yes'. Political organisations are the most obvious examples. All other
>types of organisation seem to allow various ideologies to influence them,
>including the ideology of 'free thinking'.

Again, anthropomorphizing is hard at work in the paragraph above. The
leaders of organizations allow ideologies to influence them and they in
turn might attempt to influence other, less powerful members of the
organization, but the organization itself is not open to influence. It
cannot be; it cannot make decisions, only people can do that.

> E. Can two (or more) organisations interact the way two (or more) people
>can? 'Yes.' They either get into a mutually supportive mode, parent-child
>mode, or even an exploitative mode, etc., much as we would expect in the
>human world.

Again, it not organizations that do these things; it is people who do
them. We speak of organizations behaving but that is a figure of speech,
not an observable behavior by a sentient being.

> F. Can organisations be short-sighted and consume their own future as
>well as the future of the people they consist of and the societies of
>which they are a part? Clearly 'Yes.' Organisations can destroy
>shareholders' value, employees and customers' health, the natural
>environment, society's evolutionary potential by taking away resources
>from some (e.g., those who are less efficient today), etc.

Ah, here's an important point. The CEO and other executives can indeed
and sometimes do destroy the organizations they supposed lead (although
I'm not sure driving a company off a cliff is a good example of leading),
but organization's don't do these things, people do. Sadly, it is all too
often the case that ordinary people do extraordinary damage at the behest
of those in charge.

> G. Can organisations learn? Of course this is the moot point.

I agree; it's a moot point.

>Some tend
>to see this as a philosophical question (i.e., in the sense that one might
>have a 'strong point of view'). I am sure, some of you will appreciate
>that philosophical questions arise when language goes on holiday (this
>point of view is originally attributed to Wittgenstein)! I found an
>interesting linguistic twist on this question in an article by Roger
>Martin some years back: ** If 'learning organizations' are not possible,
>we must still act as if they were. ** [Source: Roger Martin (1993).
>"Changing the Mind of the Corporation". Harvard Business Review, Boston,
>Nov-Dec 1993 Vol. 71, No.6, p 81-94.]

Hmm. Interesting title. I missed that one. I'll get it, read it, and
get back to you.

No disrespect intended, D P, but I believe all you've done above is state
your beliefs (which is fine) but I don't see any real arguments in support
of them. Consequently, they stand as assertions but not much else.


Fred Nickols
The Distance Consulting Company
"Assistance at A Distance"
(609) 490-0095


Fred Nickols <>

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