Intro -- Mark Rolfson LO19739

Rolfson, Mark (
Wed, 4 Nov 1998 12:36:05 -0700

Hello to all,

My name is Mark Rolfson, and I have been a subscriber to the LO listserv
for about two weeks. My knowledge of LO concepts and practice is limited,
and comes from some reading of Senge, magazine articles, and dipping into
the content of this conversation. I work in training & development for a
3200-employee health care system in New Mexico, USA. I recognized my
organization's approach to LO ideas in a posting here which described how
companies use LO and related concepts as buzzwords and not as principles
to be implemented. I suspect that LO ideas, much like biblical writings,
can be used to reinforce mental models almost as effectively as they can
be used to question them. Still, I see my organization learn by taking in
new ideas and individuals, and creating new relationships, but much of
what happens seems adaptive, not generative, in nature. There is
unconscious "learning" going on, beyond what conscious efforts are made.

So much for some of my assumptions, based on my limited experience. I also
am very curious and excited about the explorations currently going on
here. In particular, At de Lange's essay, "Systems Thinking vs Belief?"
(LO19730) piqued my interest, suggested some related threads, and raised
some questions in my mind.

At de Lange wrote: "[Steve Randall's] view is in the direction of
increased complexity. I am very happy with that. But if we do not look
also in the opposite direction, I will not be so happy anymore because
complexity is concerned with all possible perceptions. What will we get is
we keep on reducing our systems thinking until we are left with next to
nothing." This reminded me of what Gary Zukav wrote in his book about
physics called "The Dancing Wu Li Masters" (1979): "To 'understand'
something is to give up some other way of conceiving it." Zukav's
statement invited me to consider understanding as a form of self-imposed
limitation, which caused me to think that resisting understanding or
interpretation was (by inference) the opposite, or freedom from limits. At
de Lange's statement provokes me to realize that I was letting another
dualistic assumption go unexamined. The question before us may not be
whether to accept limitations or not, but perhaps which form(s) of
limitation we choose to accept and use. In each situation, we can ask
whether want to embrace a particular meaning or structure, or include that
which lies outside that meaning/structure in our consideration. What if we
want it all? This begins to sound a little like a Zen koan. If a journey
toward either pole (is this analogous to LO19730's "mark and unmark"?) is
a journey toward limitation, where is inclusion? A journey seems linear;
is inclusion a nonlinear concept? Can meaning exist without structure,
boundaries, or limits?

I keep feeling this tug toward either/or. Should I follow that direction,
or not? :-) Sorry, I find it hard to stay serious for too long, and my
introduction appears to be lengthening.

At de Lange's description and observations of George Spencer-Brown's book
"Laws of Form" also got me going: " GSB"s system is so simple that it
almost appears to be the work of a moron. Almost everything can be
constructed upon it. This makes GSB's enigmatic because without sufficient
creativity, very few people get any further than GSB himself. The symbolic
logic of mathematics, on the other hand, is so complex that it can almost
work by itself. Thus Rosser, an emminent mathematician and logician, noted
that once a mathematician has discovered a theorem, the details of its
proof can be worked out by a moron using the symbolic logical system. Is
it not extraodinary, the moronic simple system (GSB's work) requires a
little less than a genius to employ it usefully while the ingenious
complex system (symbolic logic) requires a little more than a moron to
employ it usefully." So, these examples illustrate a systems principle:
More structure = less choice = easier to use, and less structure = more
choice = harder to use. The "use" of these systems I am taking to be
"finding a solution" or "creating meaning." This goes back, for me, to the
question of which forms of limitations we choose (or are forced by other
limitations?) to accept. Now, to another inductive leap -- tell me if I
am making meaning or making things up (curses!! Dualism again!!). If my
observation in the previous paragraph is true, then it may also be true
that the less structure (boundaries, rules) in a system, the more it can
include. This brings me to the question of closed, open, and isolated
system boundaries. At's description of an open system as one where "
'anything' can cross the boundary" stimulates questions for me. If
anything can cross a boundary, what makes it a boundary? Is there some
structure or meaning inside the border that is discrete from what lies
outside? Further, if anything is welcome to add (or subtract) itself from
this structure, what is there inside the border that abides with, and
defines, the structure? I guess I am wondering if or when complete
openness can be a characteristic of a system. I am struggling with how to
define a system which excludes nothing -- is this a silly conundrum, or is
this a way for a system to become the "grand system", to use At's phrase?

The other thing At set me to thinking about was the question of which
terms to use for boundaries in systems. If we are talking about
organizations as living systems, it made me think about permeable
membranes. Language is clumsy, but it is interesting for me to think about
such membranes between organizations and their environments, between
departments within the organization, and between individuals in the
departments. There are "self" and "not self" parallels for me in how
organizations and organisms include, exclude, or attack new things trying
to enter. I wonder which new things are entering organizations today
wearing a protein coat that masks the virus within? Sometimes I think that
ideas (especially "fads") seem viral in the way they can enter and
appropriate resources within an organization, to grow and replicate with
sometimes disastrous results.

At, I also appreciated you using your dogs as examples of the power of
symbolic exchange among living things. I have a young retriever who is an
excellent model of a system that invites everything -- and everyone --
inside, via his mouth! He is tirelessly insistent and engaging, always
eager for new experience and new connections with others. It can be
frustrating to be around him at times, but his unapologetic, authentic
presentation and his welcoming energy are gifts, and his joy nearly always
infects me when I am in his presence. On the human side of the mammalian
experience, I feel that same kind of energy from you, At. You are a
welcoming, playful, and wise presence, and I thank you.

As a new person drawing his chair up to the fire, I want to thank Rick
Karash for creating and holding this space for us, and to express my
appreciation of the dialogues happening here. I really enjoy reading your
contributions. I feel that I am in the company of very interesting people
possessing a broad range of education and experience, and I am grateful
for the chance to learn from you. I also pledge to speak less, and listen
more, for now.


Mark <>


"Rolfson, Mark" <>

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