LO and its environmental conditions LO30339

From: AM de Lange (amdelange@postino.up.ac.za)
Date: 07/09/03

Replying to LO30329 --

Dear Organlearners,

Leo Minnigh <minnigh@dds.nl> wrote:

>At, thank you for your intriguing thoughts. Together with the
>story of Wilf Mbaga from Zimbabwe, it makes me not happy.
>My knowledge of trajectories towards the edge of chaos and
>the subsequent bifurcation is not enough to sustain my prediction.
>However, I guess that the changes in this world are going so fast,
>that the dramatic point will be rather soon (as I said, some 15-20
>years). I have seen it with some other smaller events that public
>behaviour, thinking, opinion and reactions could change very fast.

Greetings dear Leo,

The course of events in Zimbabwe provides fruitful lessons for those who
observe it. I myself did not expect the total collapse of civilisation so
soon. It was about three years ago that i became aware that a total
collapse was inevitable, but it was only in January this year that i
became aware how soon it will be because of an acceleration which i was
blind to.

>In my book-in-becoming which is still in a state like like the
>'excrements of a baboon' (I know it yet too little to be sure
>that it is a Othona cacaloides), there is a chapter in a common
>type of problems - too much, or shortage problems.

Leo, you will really be amazed when you see an Othonna cacaloides in
habitat. I knew it from cultivation, but when i first saw it in habitat, i
was dumbfounded. Its mimicry is incredible. It was one of many lessons how
vastly different is the natural form the artificial.

>> Most of the surface of South Africa has changed vastly
>> during the 20th century. Many living plant species got
>> eradicated in the increasing aridness of some regions --
>> the "creeping desert". These plants species could not
>> adapt to it whereas desert plants can.
>The process of desertification is in many parts of the world
>a most serious problem. Perhaps the things I want to write
>now are too much offthe record of this list. Please see it as
>an analogue for many other situations. The problem of
>'becoming a desert' is partly due to the fact that .......
>At, possibly you have acquaintances among farmers and you
>could discuss this method with them. What I could remember
>from that report is that productivity of the land will increase in
>the beginning slowly, but later one may pick the fruits from this
>treatment. And moreover, the process of desertification is stopped.

Thank you Leo for going "off the record"! It provided me with clues to
something which i now want to write about. But i have to ask fellow
learners to have patience with me since it will seem that i will also go
"off the record"!

In the days (1968-71) when I still did research on soils, the department
of agriculture made extensively use of Agricultural Advisors (AAs). Most
of South Africa's farms had been in use for between 50 and 150 years.
Because of these agricultural practices, many of these farms began to show
an alarming decrease in productivity. The AAs had to guide farmers to
restore some of the productivity of their farms.

Some of these AAs, especially the old-timers, made use of the concept Soil
Fertility (SF). The SF is the capacity of the farm to sustain life (plants
and animals) in both quantity and quality. Many farmers as well as the
younger AAs found this SF too nebulous to use practically. Its use began
to fade out gradually. Why?

The SF is not a nebulous concept, but a holistic one! Thus every person
used to fragmentary and disciplinary thinking found it a nebulous concept.
The SF of a soil expresses the whole of its physical, chemical,
geological, microbiological, botanical and zoological characteristics. It
is not merely finding a sum of all these diverse characteristics, but
knowing how they interact to form a whole more than the sum of the parts.

Every virgin piece of land has its own unique SF. Although a mere
approximation, it can be quantified by counting the number of species and
specimens in each for every form of life sustained by that piece of land.
When that piece of land is subjected to agricultural practices, its SF
alters significantly. At first little degradation is noticeable because
that land has much in reserve which is taken for granted. But as these
reserves get depleted, the SF of that land (capacity to sustain all life)
gets remarkedly reduced. Eventually it is not even good for subsisting
farming, what to speak of commercial framing.

The old-timer AAs pain stakely tried to teach farmers the secrets of SF.
One of them had been my own mentor. I always listened in awe when he
visited a farm by his extensive comments on the farm's SF status when
merely stopping behind the gate and observing the characteristics there.
He taught me how to form a general impression with one sweeping glance,
taking a few minutes, to identify geological disformations, nutrient
deficiencies in leaves and abberations in insects and small animal life.
Knowing the farmer through his management of the farm became a passion
with me. He was seldom wrong with respect to the rest of the farm -- the
metanoia of the farmer had a spell-bound effect on the farm's management.

Now let us move from farming to organisational management. Let me
introduce the concept Organisation Fertility (OF). OF will then be the
capacity of the organisation's environment to sustain the development of
that organisation. Leo, I think that this is what you had in mind when you
introduced this topic to our LO-dialogue. Ordinary Organisations (OOs)
(business, leisure, culture, educational, religious, etc.) come and go in
the organisational environment. Their coming is an advantage to many, but
their going often causes miseries for many. Their existence depends to a
large extend on the OF of their environment. Their transformation into LOs
(Learning Organisations) is thought to increase their advantages while
still living and to reduce the miseries should they ever die off. However,
how much do LOs depend on the OF of their environment?

I often get severely cynical when encountering any advertisement like
"produce with us", "bank with us", "invest with us", "franchise with us",
"distribute with us" and "act with us". As organisations they make promises
which could only actualise when they are LOs. But they feel so much for
the concept of a LO as a cat for lettuce. They actually promise OF
(Organisational Fertililty) which is most inferior as a result of their
They make promises without having a cat's clue what it takes to deliver
these promises. Sometimes I feel like an anarchist -- nihilate them with
their empty promises.

I have been fortunate enough to be involved in a few "tacit LOs". It means
that they functioned as a LO without knowing Senge's articulation what a
LO entails. What surpised me much, is how these "tacit LOs" tried to
improve the OF (Organisational Fertility) of their environment and not
only rheir own learning. They knew collectively that their own welfare
depended on that of the organisations in their environment. Thus they did
not only care for themselves, but reached out to any responsive
organisation in their environment.

Perhaps we should focus more on this concept of OF (Organisation
Fertility). For example, when advising organisations on their creativity,
I found that they all complain about the practices of banking
institutions. I made a thorough survey of these banking institutions and
found that they are bent on only one thing -- how to make a profit in a
world which is not LO orientated. I also had discussions with several
banking employees -- they would have preferred another work as soon as
possible. So with banks operating as they do, how much do they contribute
to the OF of an organisation's environement? Very little, i am afraid.

I think that when an OO (Ordinary Organisation) wants to transform into a
LO (Learning Organisation), it has to make sure as much as possible of the
OF (Organisation Fertlity) of its environment. As a result of my recent
experiences, i have concluded that these OOs over estimated the OF of
their environment by far.

Now what will constitute this OF? I have mentioned that the SF (Soil
Fertility) of a piece of land expresses the sum of its physical, chemical,
geological, microbiological, botanical and zoological characteristics AND
MUCH MORE because of the interactions between them. I think that in the OF
banks will play a major role. But what else? Let us try to identify all
the major role players and how they interact. Let us then try to estimate
the OF of an organisation's environment.

>The birds are still singing.

It is somewhat quiet here because of the winter. Many birds have migrated
to warmer places. But there is one bird species called by the vernacular
name Hidida. It is black, half the size of a stork and looks somehat like
it when it is disturbed, it flies away with a loud "ah-haa" sound. It is
extraordinary how this species has adapted to city conditions. It makes
the best of a poor SF.

With care and best wishes,


At de Lange <amdelange@postino.up.ac.za> Snailmail: A M de Lange Gold Fields Computer Centre Faculty of Science - University of Pretoria Pretoria 0001 - Rep of South Africa

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