Structure LO14628

Richard C. Holloway (
Fri, 08 Aug 1997 19:58:46 -0700

Replying to LO14621 --

John H. Dicus wrote:

> I would appreciate hearing the benefit of the thinking on this list around
> the use of the word structure. Partly to hear your thoughts and partly to
> help in developing different vocabulary (under the assumption that it
> might be helpful).
> ---snip---

> In the earlier years of my journey I learned about structure from Robert
> Fritz. The story in the beginning of his book "The Path Of Least
> Resistance" -- about the cow paths in old Boston being the structure
> generated by the cows which subsequently guiding their movement -- has
> always stuck with me.

---more snip---

> What do you think? How can we talk about new and unfamiliar "structures"
> without meaning that they are confining, limiting, and contain fewer
> avenues of choice for individuals?

John--you've raised an important opportunity for defining terms. I've
been having many conversations lately where there's been confusion over
the use of this word, structure. I believe that much of the confusion
comes from the fact that the same word is used by many disciplines to
describe similar but slightly different characteristics. The thematic
unity that runs through all of the definitions I've found can be described
by synonyms such as relationships, composition, systems, patterns,
organizations, and constructs.

I was profoundly influenced by Fritz' books (both "Paths of Least
Resistance" and "Corporate Tides"). I found a great harmony between his
concept of structure and the definition of structure used in the "key
criteria of living systems" that Capra restated in his "Webs of Life."
Indeed, all of the uses in my dictionary seem to harmonize with that
definition by leaving out one word, "physical." The reworked definition
would read, "the [physical] embodiment of the system's pattern of

Many of those involved in organizational development will probably conjure
a mental model of the "organization chart" when asked about the
organization's structure. However, most of them will simultaneously
realize that the actual structure of the organization seldom reflects the
two dimensional representation of hierarchy that is usually included in
annual reports and financial plans. The Boston cow paths (and the many
wild animal trails I've followed) are very definitely physical embodiments
of that eco-system's pattern of organization. Fritz' use of structural
tension also very definitely reinforces this definition. The human
ability to imaginatively create possibilities and to devise strategies and
implementing activities to move toward those possibilites, generate the
other two criteria of living systems. We engage in configuring the
relationships and activities needed to move us toward that vision of
possibility, and, in so doing embody the pattern of organization that
moves us toward that possibility.

I look at pattern, structure and process as the organizational
triumvirate, and their interdependence on one another are probably a
fundamental source of life's robustness and the cause for organizations
always being true to themselves despite our best efforts to make them true
to fancy words in vision and mission statements.

Well--that's enough mouthing (typing) off for me--and not sure that it
responds appropriately to your question and comments. I also want to
thank Innovation Associates for the beneficial influence that organization
has had on people and organizations around the world--and for supporting
this listing.



Richard C. "Doc" Holloway
Thresholds--Human Development and Networking for Learning Organizations
Visit the bookstore at <>

"To create a little flower is the labour of ages." William Blake

Learning-org -- An Internet Dialog on Learning Organizations For info: <> -or- <>