My Theory of Organizational Learning LO30813

From: Bill Harris (
Date: 11/26/03

Replying to LO30806 --

Fred Nickols <> wrote:

> Our host, Rick Karash, writes:
> >The Theory Underlying Organizational Learning

Rick, you and Ray both put many deep thoughts into the system at once.
That's a nice gift to us, but it may take time to assimilate.

> > 8. Living systems are structurally determined systems (Maturana).
> >That is, a wide range of stimuli can cause a living system to make a
> >response, but the nature of the response is determined by the internal
> >structure of the living system and not by the stimulus itself.
> Closed-loop feedback systems, I suppose. I think that's true of
> living systems. I'm not sure an organization qualifies as a living
> system. The people who populate it are but I'm not convinced the
> organization per se is.

Bob Williams, a colleague with whom Glenda Eoyang and I taught a
recent systems thinking workshop, would likely say, "There is no such
_thing_ as a system." (I think he's here somewhere; he can correct
any misimpressions I give of his thoughts.) That is, a system is a
mental or intellectual construct we create to make sense of reality.
We find people and frogs and chairs and trees and pencils and ... in
the world; we find systems in our heads. I think that's helpful to
avoid reification.

I think Kurt Lewin postulated that our responses are a function both
of ourselves and our environments (our internal structure and the
stimulus -- e.g., Of
course, because he thought that doesn't make it right or wrong, but I
see a contrast in your statements.

If I look for a moment at a system as being modeled by a set of
differential equations (the system dynamics approach, at least if you
make them into integral equations), the response of that system has
two parts: a free response and a forced response. We get incredible
insight from looking at the free (internally generated) response, and
I think it has the good philosophical leverage of suggesting to us
that the world is under our control, that we aren't merely subject to
external forces.

Nonetheless, I think we can't understand the nature of the responses
we see (or generate) unless we take both the structure and the
stimulus into account.



PS: Don't worry about appearing pompous. I see your posting as
evidence of searching for learning, not of pompousity.


Bill Harris 3217 102nd Place SE Facilitated Systems Everett, WA 98208 USA phone: +1 425 337-5541

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