Ecological literacy and living organizations LO13730

Richard C. Holloway (
Mon, 26 May 1997 23:15:44 -0700

The variety of dialog threads seemed to me (today, as I perused the latest
offerings) to be weaving their own web of mental models. Reward systems;
returns on investment; the problems of learning (and teaching);
measuring; accountability & responsibility; evaluating.

This web we're weaving seems to me to be speaking of the conflict between
the linear mind-set demanded by our economic culture and the cyclical--or
natural--mental model on which systems thinking is based. It seems to me
that much of the effort involved in developing learning organizations
seems linked to an awareness that organizations need to evolve, to change,
to become more reflective of the natural world in which they exist. This
means, to me, that we should seek to understand organizations from an
ecological viewpoint.

One example of what I'm speaking occurred in the recent dialog about
learning--how can we get people to learn? How do we measure their
learning? How can we justify the expense to the organization (especially
if we can't get people to learn what we want them to learn!)? I see a
significant problem with this. Learning experiences that hinge on
trainers choosing what people need to know--presumes that what people need
to know has been invented or has occurred. What people frequently need is
the opportunity to experiment, to choose, to think, while being exposed to
the ideas and thoughts from professionals and academics. Now, many might
say that they don't intend to choose what people need to know--however, as
soon as they frame the questions to measure or quantify the learning, then
they've done just that.

I believe that Capra's "Ecological Literacy," (Web of Life) presents an
important view-point, within the context of presenting current thinking
from the world of Cognitive Science. I've also enjoyed some dialog with
Cliff Hamilton, who writes of fringes and elephants. I believe that his
contribution to our understanding of organizations may be very worth our
while to consider. Also, At de Lange seems to be proposing an intriguing
and challenging perspective, which I'm looking forward to reading more of.
The concept of organizations as organisms speaks profoundly to me. I'm
certainly not an authority, as are most of you, on learning organizations.
However, my intuitive skills respond to the concept of living
organizations (as proposed by Mr. Hamilton).

Finally, Mr. Capra proposes that ecosystems (including communities and
companies) must observe the principle of flexibility. He said, "The
principle of flexibility also suggests a corresponding strategy of
conflict resolution. In every community there will invariably be
contradictions and conflicts, which cannot be resolved in favor of one or
the other side. For example, the community will need stability and
change, order and freedom, tradition and innovation. Rather than by rigid
decisions, these unavoidable conflicts are much better resolved by
establishing a dynamic balance. Ecological literacy includes the
knowledge that both sides of a conflict can be important, depending on the
context, and that the contradictions within a community are signs of its
diversity and vitality and thus contribute to the system's viability."

I apologize for the length of this posting, and thank you for helping to
generate the thoughts that swirl behind it.


Richard C. "Doc" Holloway, Limen Development Network -

"You think because you understand one you must understand two, because one and one makes two. But you must also understand 'and'."

-Ancient Sufi teaching, from Margaret Wheatley's "Leadership and the New Science."

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