Organizational Patterns LO18058

Paul Evitts (
Sun, 10 May 1998 01:59:29 -0400

Replying to LO17947

Gene Bellinger said

>The work we've been involved in at OutSights for the last 18
>months centers around the identification, management, and access
>of organizational interaction patterns.....
>this work began with a recognition of the systems archetypes as
>knowledge patterns, well differentiated from data
>and information

>From a patterns perspective, there seems to be a lot of confusion about
the connection between Senge's archetypes and patterns a la Alexander.

Senge's 'archetypes' have nothing to do with Information Systems and at
best complement pattern-thinking in organizational problem solving. When
Senge refers to 'systems thinking' he means a deliberately simplified
version of the "Systems Dynamics" that Forrester invented back in the 60's
(based on General Systems Theory) and later popularized in "Limits To
Growth". Senge and Forrester's use of the term systems is meant to suggest
a holistic approach to understanding and modeling an economic, social
and/or organizational 'problem space'. Senge deliberately simplified what
he regarded as a powerful tool in order to (as he put it) "influence the
fad" called the Learning Organization. In "The Fifth Discipline" and the
associated fieldbook, it's made clear that "archetypes" are generic and
repeating problems - NOT solutions, and that the purpose of these
archetypes is to provide a starting point for identifying and
understanding problems - NOT solutions.

The simplistic definition of Patterns a la Alexander (and in the software
community) is Solutions To Problems In A Context.... not just problem
statements. Archetypes are orthogonal to Patterns. And the 'knowledge
patterns' etc. in The Way are structures of Sengian archetypes, but they
have no relationship to patterns as being discussed in the software
community. Whether this matters or not is another question, but at least
we need to be comparing apples and oranges if we're going to have a

A better approach to archetypes-as-(small p)patterns can be found in
"Explicit and Implicit Structuring of Genres: Electronic Communication in
a Japanese R&D Organization" by Yates, Orlikowski, and Okamura, at They use the term 'genres' in much the
same way as small-a archetypes - and in another paper Orlikowski talks
about templates as the basis for application development. But despite both
Orlikowski and Yates having been, at least at some point, associated with
that part of MIT responsible for the Learning Org stuff, they are
specifically NOT reworking 'archetypes' in this paper, as variations on
patterns, Alexandrian or otherwise.

I've been having an ongoing kitchen debate with my wife about all of
this... she's taking her M.Ed in Organizational Development with a heavy
emphasis on Senge and Systems Thinking as a tool. Senge's Archetypes ARE
tools that complement pattern-think... analytical tools that contribute
to a 'reductionist' understanding of a problem (I know Senge says more or
less the opposite, but read the literature about the application of
Archtetypes). Senge's archetypes and so-called systems thinking provide a
'dynamic' and analytical view that goes well with Patterns. So, while I'm
not a big fan of Senge generally (for reasons that probably don't belong
here), Senge's systems thinking does add value.


"Paul Evitts" <>

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