Is it alive? LO16421

Ben Compton (
Mon, 05 Jan 1998 11:19:01 -0500

Replying to LO16387 --

Steve, et. al,

As I read through this thread I keep asking myself one question: How would
the belief that a company is a living entity change a companies day-to-day
operations? How would it change it's perspective on critical business

Phrased in a way that I understand it the question would be: Would
Microsoft or Novell sensed and responded to the business opportunities
created by the Internet sooner had they viewed themselves as a living
entity? I don't think so.

I think the factors that lead to decisions are not based on our perception
of what the organization _is_ as much as it is based on _why_ the
organization exists. The existential questions, in my mind, have the
greatest effect on a company. To demonstrate the point, what a company
_is_ may change many times over it's existence; but _why_ it exists will,
hopefully, remain pretty constant. Of course this point can be argued both
ways, but I think that I'm satisfied with my conclusions.

And so this leads me to think of an organization as a complex adaptive
system (CAS) and not a living entity. It is possible for some entity to be
a CAS and not be biologically alive. The explanations that I like to turn
to as I look a companies behavior are: What are their operational
theories? Are they good theories? Are the producing the desired result?
What are their values? Are their values to "stringent" and have the effect
of limiting choices? Or are they more "open" and act more as guiding
principles that maximize an companies choices? How sensitive is the
organization to information? Does it have external information sensors
that work as well as internal and vice versa?

In the example I gave, I think both Microsoft and Novell had harmful
operational theories and poor information sensors as the Internet
revolution began. Microsoft's operational theory was that the Information
Super-highway would be a combination of cable companies, phone companies,
and software. Novell's operational theory was that a change in the
networking standard could not occur without their permission as they owned
70% of the network market. Of course Novell failed to see how the Internet
extended the local network around the world! And both companies were
afraid of the security problems posed by the Internet.

Microsoft was first to realize they'd made a mistake and took aggressive
action to correct their course. Novell was slower to realize it's own
mistake, and is now paying a heavy price. I don't think that thinking of
an organization as a living entity would have had any bearing on this

This does represent a shift in my thinking. I've spent the last three
years trying to understand organizations as "living entities." And now,
within a couple of weeks, I've fundamentally shifted my thinking. I'm
grateful I've paid attention to this thread .

Benjamin Compton
DWS Computer Consultants
"The GroupWise Integration Experts"

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